On June 8, 2016, protests by students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) reportedly led to destruction of campus property, as well as violence by both protesters and police, including reports of police firing live ammunition on students.
Beginning in early May, students held protests, boycotted classes, and submitted petitions asking Prime Minister Peter O’Neill to step down over alleged corruption. As students marched on parliament on June 8, 2016 to support a no-confidence vote against O’Neill, police reportedly opened fire on protesting students. Reports indicated that as few as five or as many as two dozen students were injured as a result. Throughout the month of June, further reports have documented additional violence, looting and destruction of property at university campuses throughout the state as a result of the continued political clash.
After these violent events occurred, the University of Papua New Guinea successfully sought an injunction to prevent further protests on campus.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about reports of violence and destruction of property on campus. While authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, minimize the risk of physical injury, and otherwise respect institutional autonomy, academic freedom, and other applicable human rights standards. Use of excessive force or overbroad restrictions on expression in response to campus unrest may unnecessarily increase risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Likewise, while students have the right to free expression, that right does not extend to violence or the destruction of property. On-campus expression must be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with university values including social responsibility. Student violence against persons or property also creates unnecessary risks of physical harm to individuals and undermines academic freedom and institutional autonomy.