Still no justice for rural people

The government still has plenty of work to do to redress the injustice of the SABL land grab and illegal logging.

ACT NOW! is cautiously optimistic the government is moving in the right direction by cancelling most SABL leases, if the statements by the Minister for Lands are true, but this is only a first step.

After years of delay, there are other vitally important measures that still have to be implemented to ensure justice for rural communities.

First, the Department of Lands must publish a comprehensive list of all SABLs showing their current status.

Second, the Police Commissioner must ensure all police personnel are immediately withdrawn from SABL areas and they stop arresting and intimidating local people who are only trying to peacefully defend their land against illegal occupation and damage.

This is especially urgent in Pomio district where there is a long documented history of police violence against local people that is still continuing. This is even though the Lands Minister has said clearly and unequivocally, it is the logging and oil palm companies who are illegally occupying the land. It is the companies who should be ordered off the land or face arrest.

Third, the Minister for Forests and PNG Forest Authority need to confirm that all logging operations in SABL areas have been permanently halted and all Forest Clearance Authorities issued for SABL areas have been cancelled.

Fourthy, the Attorney General needs to announce plans for assessing the compensation due to customary landowners who have been unlawfully deprived of the use of their land and, in some cases, have seen their forests destroyed and suffered extensive environmental and economic losses.

Finally, there must be no further attempts by the government to alienate customary land using Voluntary Customary Land Registration or any other legal mechanisms.

The SABL saga is far from over. There must be a comprehensive approach by the government to ensure all abuses are ended and landholders are compensated for their losses.