Friends of the Earth Papua New Guinea/CELCOR works to strengthen and defend customary land rights by challenging land grabbing directly in the courts, providing legal training to impacted communities and campaigning for law reform. In Papua New Guinea (PNG) 97% of the total land area of the country is under customary ownership, therefore by strengthening the legal framework on land rights we aim to transform the country to be more just and sustainable.
FoE PNG focus their program on legal education and informing people of their customary rights and laws governing natural resources. Communities are often taken advantage of by multinational corporations because they are not made aware of their rights. FoE PNG’s basic legal trainings have given thousands of people a better understanding of their rights, enabling them to make well informed decisions with regard to their land.
Illegal land grabbing is a massive problem in PNG and has a big impact on rural subsistence farmers. Once a company holds a lease title over the customary owned land, communities are displaced; and as a consequence, the forest dependent subsistence farmers, mothers and children are greatly affected as their movement is restricted. They lose access to gardening grounds, fishing, hunting and sacred sites.
FoE PNG uses the courts to directly challenge illegal land grabs and in doing so aims to set a precedent to stop future human rights abuses. In 2014, the local communities of Collingwood Bay, Oro Province won a court case supported by FoE PNG against a Malaysian Oil Palm giant KL, with the land given back to the customary landowners.
It has been estimated that a total of 5.2 million ha of customary land throughout the country have been alienated from customary landowners. This is acquired for Special Agriculture and Business Lease (SABL) under the lease-lease back scheme captured in the Land Act 1996. In 2011 a Commission of Inquiry (COI) was set up to investigate SABLs that had been issued. The inquiry is complete; however the recommendations are yet to be implemented. FoE PNG in collaboration with other NGOs is campaigning for the government to take appropriate action and reform the law to support landholders. We are making our voice heard through the media, reports, public forums, advertising and court injunctions.
National Policy Recommendation: We call on the National Government to fully recognise and respect the rights of customary landholders, and implement the recommendations as per the COI. We call on the Lands Department to cancel all SABLs fraudulently acquired and that customary land be returned to the landowners. We call for the revoking of Section 11 and 102 of the Lands Act 1996.