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Backgrounder on Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom

January 2001

The Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom (BWPF) have developed a human rights programme in the formerly blockaded areas of Bougainville. This programme is in response to community grief, trauma and the perceived need of acknowledging people's suffering in the hope of redressing this continuing lack in their communities.

Human Rights workshops were held in Central, North and South Bougainville in 1998 Although the meetings were held for women large crowds of men and chiefs joined in. They were all anxious to know what the UN Charter identifies as basic human rights, and their response to identified abuses was overwhelming.

While the war was on 2 volumes of these abuses were compiled by Marilyn Havini and these have been recognised by both the Bougainville Interim Government (BIG) and the BWPF as their own documents even though they contained information of abuses committed and suffered by all sides in the conflict. Many risked their lives to send their information over the war years to the Sydney office.

The University of NSW School of Information, Library and Archives Studies created a database specifically for the Bougainville HRA Compilation. At the end of the war the Bougainville Reconciliation Government wanted this database to be set up in Bougainville. The BWPF selected one of their members to be trained in human rights and NGO representative work for women.

Members of the BIG and Bougainville Transitional Government (BTG) in Bougainville had discussed looking into the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. After having experienced all manner of human rights violations and abuses during the nine year conflict it seemed urgent that every man, woman and child on Bougainville must be availed of a process where they could bring up their human rights grievances.They have learned a hard lesson from countries such as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) where it has taken years to implement UN directives to establish these Commissions.

Four women from North Bougainville attended the Diplomacy Training Programme at UNSW in 1996, and this was organised through the Inter-Church Women's Forum based in Buka. To achieve this with the assistance of the Uniting Church of Australia they had to be very careful not to incur the wrath of PNG by going into areas of Bougainville under PNG military occupation, so Central and South Bougainville, where the crisis hit hardest, continued to miss out. It was also in those unreached areas that most of the hideous human rights abuses and atrocities were committed, and where the people suffered most in the nine year war conflict and crisis.

Since the signing of the Burnham Declaration in 1997, followed by the Burnham Truce in October of that year, the deployment of the Truce Monitoring Group, the Leaders Political Meeting in Lincoln(NZ) and the final signing of a permanent ceasefire in April 1998, a peace process has been in place in Bougainville

There is now a Regional UN sponsored Peace Monitoring group in Bougainville. The UN has established an office in Arawa to independently monitor the peace process.

This secured peace process has provided opportunities for the women of Bougainville to be fully involved in peace building, reconstruction and development of the war weary island. The women are not involved by 'default' but because of their own traditional roles within the culture and tradition of Bougainville. This is because Bougainville is a matrilineal society were the women are natural leaders in their own right within their respective clans and tribes. Their roles are very much respected within Bougainville society.

The women of Bougainville have become a major part of the current peace process in their own right as matriarchs of the Bougainville culture. The Bougainville leaders, by acknowledging this, are committed to peace by peaceful means and it has been a new initiative for the men to include in all peace negotiations. The people value the women's contribution and see the need for specific training.

This information is from a report and request for funding prepared by Marilyn Taleo Havini the overseas coordinator for BWPF.

This request was made to aid agencies in 1998-9 to provide funds for the woman who had been selected to do the Diplomacy training programme in Manila and the training in database computing in Sydney. The request also included funding for office equipment in Bougainville to carry out the work. Several people from Corso Aotearoa who attended a conference in NSW where the request was made took it back to their organization which agreed to provide a major part of this funding with the aid of a government subsidy. The office equipment was delivered courtesy of the RNZAF as it is very difficult to get aid into Bougainville, particularly the occupied part, from New Zealand, as it has to go through Australia and PNG.

At the end of 2000 Bougainville leaders called on the New Zealand and Australian governments to help break the deadlock which has arisen in the peace process and get the process back on track. The last round of peace talks had broken down because PNG opposes the independence option. In a press release in mid December Bougainville leaders Governor John Momis and President Joseph Kabui warned that a renewed war of secession could erupt on Bougainville island unless the PNG government addresses the issues of a referendum on independence.

Since then there have been more discussions in Kokopo, PNG, and an agreement was reached on 26th January 2001 for "Agreed Principles on a Referendum". This a compromise agreement to hold a referendum, in which independence and greater autonomy would be the options. This referendum to be held within 10 to 15 years form the date of the election of a Bougainville government. The agreed principles are however conditional on weapons disposal by the BRA and "good governance." Sam Kauona Sirivi a former commander of the BRA at present studying in New Zealand has given a cautious welcome to the Agreement but has also commented that "it's an unfair agreement and a vote on independence in a referendum should not be made conditional on BRA weapons disposal only." He pointed out that the Lincoln Agreement, provision 4, of which he was a signatory, clearly emphasised the withdrawal of the Defence Force from Bougainville in a phased withdrawal subject to the restoration of civil authority and this should have been included in the new agreement.

Joan Macdonald, WILPF (Aotearoa)

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