“This is our land, our forest, our life. We want justice.”
Coming from one of the most remote corners of the world, the people of Manus Province, Papua New Guinea, seem like an unlikely match for the might of logging companies.
But they’re not alone. With the help of our legal advice centre, one community is demanding their rights.
It’s the middle of the day in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea, but the children of Butchou village aren’t in school.
Or rather they are, but there are no lessons and no teacher. The building they’re playing in is the disused school house. It’s been like that for years.
This needn’t be the case. The money to keep the school open should have come from logging companies who are cashing in on the region’s valuable timber.
According to their permit, they should provide facilities like schools and aid posts in exchange for access to the land. But they haven’t.
Despite this, in 2012 the government extended their permit.
“They were supposed to meet and consult with the people, but they did not do this,” says Peter Sindra, who grew up in the community. “It is very disappointing.”
“When I see children not going to school, I worry,” he says.
“It’s a common situation,” says Natasha Kasaipwalova from Transparency International Papua New Guinea.
We’re working to help citizens fight back. With mobile advice clinics, we travel to remote communities, helping people understand their rights and speak out when they’re violated.
When Peter attended such a clinic session he learned that Papua New Guineans’ customary rights to the land – to be consulted and give consent before any development takes place – gave villagers a legal recourse against the logging companies.
With guidance from our legal advice team, he filed information requests to the land office, demanding they share the logging agreement with him and the community. He catalogued the rights that had been violated, and the terms of the agreement that had not been met.
Then he shared the information – both in his community and with those who come from Manus and now live in the capital. Together they called on leaders to investigate.
The people of Butchou may live many hundreds of miles from the capital. But armed with information and hard evidence, they’ve successfully rallied support for their cause.
Their battle continues, but the people of Butchou are unwavering in their demand that logging stops until the conditions in the agreement are met.
Working with our team from our advice clinic, they’re determined to secure a fair deal in return for the lucrative land they’re giving up.