Briefing / March 19, 2015

Papua New Guinea – One of the Biggest Land Grabs in Modern History

Global Witness has been documenting the Papua New Guinea government’s failed response to one of the largest land grabs in modern history. In recent years roughly 12 per cent of the country has been annexed to timber and palm oil companies using a leasing system intended for small-scale agriculture. Three years after a national inquiry was launched into allegations of widespread fraud and illegality surrounding the acquisition of this land, the government has taken no meaningful action to defend its citizen’s rights to their land and halt the wholesale destruction of rainforests of global importance.

Our briefing paper documents:

  • Government inaction – The government has failed to stop any logging operations under Special Agriculture & Business Leases, even where an official investigation recommended they be cancelled. 
  • Breakdown in law and order – Logging and exports continue unabated and with the support of local police and forest authorities in the one operational Special Agriculture & Business Lease the government has cancelled. 
  • Failure to complete review of leases – More than three years after committing to review the legality of these leases, around 40% have not been reviewed, including the three largest timber exporting operations. 
  • More logging authorized – The National Forest Board continues to issue and renew permits to log and clear rainforest under this leasing system, ignoring community complaints and the government’s own decision to repeal it. 
  • Timber grabbing – Many Special Agriculture & Business Leases have been used for industrial logging rather than their intended purpose to promote agricultural development. These leases now account for nearly a third of the country’s total log exports, with an export value of roughly US$100 million a year. 
  • Total impunity – No government officials or companies involved in the abuse of these leases have been prosecuted or sanctioned where evidence of criminality or negligence was uncovered by an official investigation.