News release

Papua New Guinea: Bougainville government adopts missing persons policy

Port Moresby (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) applauds the decision of the Autonomous Bougainville Government to unanimously adopt a policy on clarifying the fate of people who went missing during the crisis that affected this Papua New Guinea island from 1989 to 1998.

The policy was adopted on 30 September 2014, more than 10 years after the signing of the peace agreement.

“These are the voices of the voiceless,” said the president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG), Dr Chief John Momis. “We have waited far too long, but this is now a major priority of the ABG.” ABG Minister for Public Service Joel Banam first raised the issue in the Bougainville parliament in 2011. He reiterated the importance of letting “spirits finally come to rest and stop interfering with all of us.”

The new policy acknowledges the continued suffering of relatives of missing persons, and the collective responsibility of all parties to the conflict under international humanitarian law to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, wherever possible.

The policy provides for a coordinating mechanism to implement the decisions, involving all sides. It also calls on the ICRC, which brings extensive experience of such issues in other parts of the world, to provide technical expertise and act as neutral intermediary whenever necessary. “The ICRC is ready to support the process in any way,” said Tobias Koehler, the organization's representative in Bougainville, “but the process must be driven by people in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea, to make sure the right solutions are found.”

The ABG decision does not deal with accountability or compensation, focusing on a purely humanitarian approach in the interests of families and communities. It defines missing persons as “individuals, regardless of their affiliation (PNGDF, BRA, BRF or other) of whom their families have no news, whose remains have not been returned to the families or who, on the basis of reliable information, have been reported missing as a result of the Crisis.”

The next step will be to discuss the issue with the government of Papua New Guinea and to bring all parties together to start implementing the policy.

“This is not the time for finger pointing, this is the time to straighten out our home,” concluded President Momis.

For further information, please contact:
Tobias Koehler, ICRC Arawa, tel: +675 7213 9890
Andrea Lunt, ICRC Canberra, tel: +61 2 6273 2968 or +61 418 485 120