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CRSV: Papua New Guinea

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Bougainville Civil War was a multi-level armed conflict that was fought between 1988 and 1998 (Bohane 2019). It was mainly fought between the Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) forces and the secessionist forces of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), and between the BRA and other armed groups (Bahcheli et al. 2004; Phillips 2015). The conflict was largely fought in the North Solomons Province. The conflicts began when it was colonized by Australia. When gold and other mines were discovered in Bougainville, thousands of workers were recruited from among the Papua New Guineans (Bohane 2019). Conflict began with the mining operations, as local landowners were opposed to the mines, worried about the adverse effects on the environment, and the extractivism (Phillips 2015). The conflict gained ethnic and separatist characteristics when Bougainville split up into multiple factions (Wehner and Denoon 2001). By 1988, tensions over these mines culminated in local violence, which invariably turned into a full blown civil war. It was called the largest conflict in Oceania since the end of World War II. The conflict resulted in the deaths of 15,000 to 20,000 Bougainvilleans (Bohane 2019). The conflict ended with the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 1998. Following this, the PNG government founded the Autonomous Bougainville Government.

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

Rape and sexual violence were rampant during the armed conflict. A number of criminal gangs that were affiliated to the BRA were particularly involved in committing rape and sexual violence (Braithwaite 2010). These crimes were perpetrated by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinean security forces alike (Amnesty International 1997; Braithwaite 2006). According to the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, which had opened in 1992, over 1,000 women who had been raped by soldiers during the armed conflict sought support (Richards 2002). While actual numbers have not been documented in full, there were several instances of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions as a result of these rapes, and women were vulnerable everywhere – right from home to the camps and “care centres” set up by the government (Amnesty International 1997). Women reported instances of torture and sexual violence at checkpoints and during detention (Human Rights Watch 2005, 2006). During the crisis, women suffered significantly from the lack of access to medical and healthcare support, which increased their vulnerability to harm (Hakena 2001).

Basis of the use of Sexual Violence

Sexual violence was perpetrated as a calculated measure by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Papua New Guinean security forces to humiliate and intimidate women. Rape and sexual violence also took place as opportunistic crimes, where women were targeted when they gathered food in the gardens (Amnesty International 1997). Women who worked to restore peace were targeted with rape and sexual violence, surveillance, and harassment by the authorities to demand comply or to silence them. Women were also targeted for political killings by the PNG, the BRA, and other resistance forces (Amnesty International 1997).


1. Bahcheli, Tozun, Barry Bartmann, and Henry Srebrnik, eds. De facto states: the quest for sovereignty, p. 242. Routledge, 2004.

2. Bohane, Ben (8 October 2019). "The Bougainville Referendum And Beyond". Lowy Institute.

3. Braithwaite, John (2010). Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing Peace in Bougainville. Canberra, Australian Capital Territory: ANU Press.

4. Wehner, Monica; Denoon, Donald (2001). Without a Gun: Australians' Experiences Monitoring Peace in Bougainville, 1997–2001. Canberra: Pandanus Books.

5. Amnesty International (1997) Papua New Guinea: Bougainville: The Forgotten Human Rights Tragedy.

6. Braithwaite, J. “Rape, Shame and Pride”, Address to Stockholm Criminology Symposium, University of Stockholm, Stockholm, 15-17 June 2006.

7. Garasu, L. (2002) “The Role of Women in Promoting Peace and Reconciliation”, ACCORD: Weaving Consensus: The Papua New Guinea-Bougainville Peace Process.

8. Hakena, K. “Peace in Bougainville and the Work of the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency”, Nonviolence and Social Empowerment Conference in Calcutta, India, 15-24 February 2001:

9. Human Rights Watch (September 2005) “Making Their Own Rules”. Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture in Papua New Guinea.

10. Human Rights Watch (October 2006) Still Making Their Own Rules: Ongoing Impunity for Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture in Papua New Guinea, 1.

11. Phillips, Keri (2 June 2015). "Bougainville at a crossroads: independence and the mine". Rear Vision: Radio National. Australian Broadcasting Commission.

12. Richards, C. (October 2002) “Making Waves: Interview with Helen Hakena, Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency”, New Internationalist 350:

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