Human rights and due process concerns over wrongful arrests of OTFRDF trust members in Papua New Guinea
Due Process International calls out extrajudicial police abuses in PNG Ok Tedi Fly River Dispute
18 July 2021
Due Process International is bringing the world’s attention to recent extrajudicial arrests and charges of Directors, lawyers and supporters of the Ok Tedi Fly River Development Foundation in the Western Province (Papua New Guinea).
At Due Process International, we are deeply concerned about due process and human rights. We note the developments in Papua New Guinea in relation to litigation around the Ok Tedi mine and associated compensation funds.
For decades, many millions of tonnes of contaminated mining waste have been discharged annually into Papua New Guinea’s (PNG’s) Ok Tedi and Fly River systems. There are several compensation funds meant to be assisting the 165 pollution affected villages in the Ok Tedi and Fly River region.
The control of these compensation funds, and whether they are being properly utilised to assist the pollution affected communities, has been the subject of considerable litigation over many years. In the case of the Western Province Community Mine Continuation Agreement Region People’s Dividend Trust Account, on the 5 September 2018, PNG’s National Court ordered that Ok Tedi Fly River Development Foundation (“OTFRDF”) be appointed trustee of those WPPDTA-CMCA funds.
We express alarm and concern in relation to the arrests of the directors of OTFRDF Directors Edna Oai, Annie Smerewai and Boston Kasiman as well as the arrest of Gregory James Sheppard, the lawyer representing OTFRDF.
The manner and circumstances in which these arrests have occurred causes Due Process International concern as to the due process of these procedures and the human rights of the accused.
For example, Edna Oai is 45 years old of ill health, a mother of 3 children, and a director representing girls and women on the OTFRDF board. She was extremely ill and was undressed at the time of her arrest, with no time given to her to dress herself. Shortly after arrest, she was admitted to hospital while in custody.
Further, serious allegations backed by considerable evidence have been made that these arrests were ordered and funded improperly, making them entirely extrajudicial in nature.
In a related development, PNG's financial regulator the Financial Analysis and Supervision Unit says an investigation of local Bank of South Pacific (BSP) has found "detailed and compelling evidence" of contraventions of the country's anti-money laundering act.
While the allegations have predictably been denied, the circumstances and evidence have put DPI on the alert of what are deeply concerning allegations. The matters Mr Namah raises in his letters and the evidence he outlines in those letters, give rise to the need for further clarity and accountability of the situation.
Due Process International will be monitoring the situation closely and keeping the world’s media informed.
The BHP-founded Ok Tedi Mine has caused significant environmental damage over a number of decades. As result of this, numerous compensation and redevelopment funds have been established.
Ownership and management of these funds have been hotly contested, including an ongoing legal dispute over the Western Province People’s Dividend Trust Fund ($106m AUD). After winning legal action in 2018 (as well as a subsequent appeal to a superior court), Ok Tedi Fly River Development Fund Ltd (OTFRDF) was appointed the trustee of certain funds and commenced administration of the funds.
Notwithstanding the court direction, which has been upheld on appeal to a senior court, factions within the PNG Government are now alleging and charging directors that their administration of this fund amounts to conspiracy and misappropriation.