Peace in Bougainville and the Work of the Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency
Bougainville is in the South Pacific, approximately 1,000 km. northeast of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and is part of the Solomon Islands group in Melanesia. It has a land area of some 10,620 sq. kms. Bougainville comprises two large islands, Buka to the north and Bougainville less than a kilometer to the south, and about 168 smaller groups of islands and atolls scattered over 450,000 sq. kms. of the Solomon Sea. At its southern end, Bougainville is barely 20 km. from the neighboring Solomon Islands.
Like its neighboring Pacific regions, Bougainville was administered as a colony for many years. Buka and Bougainville were a British possession until 1898, when they were traded to Germany. They were occupied by Australia at the beginning of World War I. In 1942, the Japanese invaded the islands, but the Allied forces recaptured them in 1945. After the war, Bougainville came under Australian administration as a United Nations Trust territory. In the late 1960s and early '70s, when Papua New Guinea achieved independence from Australia, Bougainville was declared part of the new nation, over the objections of the Bougainvilleans--one of the world's many examples of colonial powers drawing borders that do not correspond to long-standing relationships between indigenous peoples.
Bougainville has nineteen distinct groups, each with its own language, customs and traditional practices, and a further 35 dialects. Its population is somewhere between 160,000 and 200,000 people. (There was no census in Bougainville between 1980 and July 2000, and at this writing there are no figures available.)
Except for two districts, Buin and Nissan Island, Bougainville is a matrilineal society; kinship, descent and inheritance of property--including land--are determined in terms of matrilineal lines, and Bougainvilleans see women as equal partners in the political, economical and social development of Bougainville. The women of Bougainville, like all other women in Papua New Guinea, produce and process about 80% of their families' food and commonly have the responsibility for raising young children.
Most people live on the coast and in central villages. Sweet potato and fish are the main foods. The second starch foods are taro in the northwest and yams in the southwest. A variety of traditional and introduced foods are grown in swampy areas. Sago is an emergency food.
Bougainville has many natural harbors. Large swamps dominate the west coast. Plantations line the east coast and the inland lowlands of the Buin district. Most of Buka is coral that has been raised above sea level by earth movements over thousands of years. Coconut and cocoa plantations cover most of the coastline.
Bougainville is almost all of volcanic origin, and rich volcanic soil covers most areas. There are two dormant volcanoes, Mt. Bagana and Mt. Balbi. The Emperor Crown Prince and Deuro Ranges form a central mountain spine, where the Panguna mine is situated.
The people of Bougainville always wanted self-determination; they never wanted to be part of a united Papua New Guinea. The fight for self-determination started back in the early 1950s. This is not a new issue. Bougainvilleans strongly align themselves with the people of the South Solomons, which went from British colonial rule to independence in 1978. Bougainville has traditional ties and a lot in common with the South Solomons.
The recent political crisis, however, could be said to have its origin with the commissioning of the Panguna mine by the government in 1969. The traditional Bougainvillean landowners were vigorously opposed to the mine. In the 1970s, those who lived or owned land near the mine were unable to protect their land, houses, and other properties. The treatment of the landowners and others by the administration and mine officials further alienated them from the Papua New Guinea political leadership.
The formation of the Bougainville Special Political Committee in 1973 gave a boost to the idea of political development in the North Solomons province. On September 1, 1975, Bougainville declared its independence from Papua New Guinea in a demonstration of both Bougainville's cultural unity and identity and widespread reluctance among Bougainvilleans to be railroaded into a united Papua New Guinea. Bougainville and the new government of Papua New Guinea reached a peaceful compromise when the Papua New Guinea government offered partial self-determination to Bougainville through the formation of the North Solomons Provincial Government, the first of its kind in Papua New Guinea.
But during the 1987 national elections in Papua New Guinea, one Bougainville political party strongly opposed Bougainville Copper Ltd., which developed into a very serious confrontation between security forces and the traditional landowning communities in the Panguna area. The crisis heightened in late November of 1988 when the militant landowners took to the jungle as the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) and caused damage to properties. The militants demanded the closure of the mine, 10 billion kina in compensation, and the secession of the North Solomons Province from Papua New Guinea. The national government offered a development package that was irrelevant to issues raised and thus both inadequate and impractical.
The Panguna mine ceased operation in May 1989, and Papua New Guinea declared a state of emergency in June. In 1990 it imposed a blockade around the island, cutting off trade and the import of many necessities. The national government tended to approach the crisis as a law and order problem rather than a political one, as have successive national governments ever since the North Solomons Province was granted partial self-determination (albeit with very little legislative power).
Other issues that contributed to the conflict include:
- A priority among Bougainvilleans on employment of Bougainvilleans at the copper mine, then largely in the hands of non-Bougainvilleans;
- The destruction of land and the environment in an area of about ten square kms. around the mine;
- The refusal by the Papua New Guinea government to pay the 10 billion kina compensation demanded by the Panguna landowners;
- The unfair distribution of financial benefits from the sale of gold, copper and silver, accounting for some 20% of Papua New Guinea's gross national product.
- A desire for the political decision-making process to be brought closer to the people;
- A long-standing resentment on the part of many Bougainvilleans toward the Port Moresby government for years of neglect, marginalization and disrespect--especially in terms of economic development; and
- The belief of many Bougainvilleans that, after successfully running their own provincial government and its business arm, the Bougainville Development Corporation Ltd., they had the capacity to manage their own affairs.
Thus, what started as a land use issue, with the Panguna landowners against Bougainville Copper Ltd. and the Papua New Guinea government, turned into the armed conflict Bougainvilleans call the "Bougainville crisis."
The conflict caused enormous suffering for innocent people, especially women and children. An estimated 10,000 to 18,000 were killed during the conflict. Atrocities were committed by all the armed forces. Villages were burnt. Millions of kinas worth of investments owned by the government, businesses, and ordinary people were ransacked and destroyed. At the height of the conflict in 1989, all administrative, social, and economic services came to a standstill. Nearly ten years of fighting resulted in total destruction of the island's economic and social infrastructures and greatly sabotaged the Papua New Guinea economy as well. Destruction, death, and suffering became the hallmark of the "Bougainville crisis."
The damage had a psychological component as well. The conflict caused people to become their own enemies. It created disunity, hatred and a desire for payback. Power came to be seen as coming from the barrel of the gun. Some uncontrolled elements claimed the right to lead by force and terror; those who did not toe the line were beaten up or killed. Everyone was subject to all kinds of humiliations and abuse. Fear was instilled in the minds of the people. Innocent Bougainvilleans were forced to do things against their will.
In short, the conflict created a long nightmare of anarchy, destruction, chaos, and despair, leaving in its wake a way of life that needs healing and rehabilitation from within and a shattered economy that needs reconstruction from external sources.
At their twelfth negotiation, the Papua New Guinea and the Bougainville leaders agreed on amendments to the Papua New Guinea constitution to allow for the establishment of the autonomous government on Bougainville and a referendum on Bougainville's future political status, to be held no earlier than ten years and no later than fifteen years after the election of the first autonomous government. The agreement on the referendum was a gesture to the people of Bougainville in recognition of their long struggle for self-determination. The Bougainville leaders also agreed to dispose of weapons and implement good governance.
In early 1990, there was a lot of peace reconciliation work throughout Bougainville under the guidance of the Bougainville Council of Elders supported by the women's and youth organizations. Within their respective communities, at the councils of elders are well respected on Bougainville and have a lot to say on what goes on the community level. The Bougainville Council of Elders with the assistance of the Papua New Guinea government has now established authority and has basically brought everything under its control in Bougainville. The Council has played a very big role in peace and reconciliation and general maintenance of law and order.
The women's, youth, and church groups and non-governmental organizations have also played a pivotal role in the peace process. At times, women's organizations even walked into non-government controlled areas to bring peace to the armed forces and beg them to lay down their arms and talk peace. The women's groups made their pledges for peace known in meetings, peace negotiations, and political meetings between the Papua New Guinea government and Bougainville leaders.
The fragile peace process in Bougainville is now moving in the right direction supported by countries such as Australia and New Zealand. There is a Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) that consists of seventy-five peace monitors--twenty from New Zealand, thirty from Australia, fifteen from Vanuatu, and ten from Fiji--to monitor the progress of the peace process. Its prime role is to monitor the adherence of the parties to the undertakings they have made concerning the peace process and in particular to monitor the cease-fire agreement. The second task is to provide assistance to the parties so as to facilitate the peace process. The PMG has done an excellent job. Its presence has helped to build confidence in the peace process throughout the province.
The Bougainville leaders and the Papua New Guinea government both still consider the PMG presence as essential, in part because, unfortunately, the program on arms disposal has not been accomplished as yet. The guns used during the armed conflict are still in the hands of the ex-combatants. A working committee known as the Peace Process Consultative Committee has been formed under the chairmanship of the Ambassador of the United Nations in Bougainville to formulate a program on arms disposal.
Since the beginning of the Bougainville crisis in 1989, women were the among its principal victims. Women were raped, tortured and abused by the armed forces. At the height of the crisis and the blockade imposed by the Papua New Guinea government around the island in May 1990, all administrative, social and economic functions came to an abrupt halt. At the same time, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army destroyed many of the health and education institutions that were left in the province. Women and children suffered the most, as there was no medicine available on the island. Many women died during childbirth; many lost loved ones--husbands, sons, and daughters. (A survey conducted by our organization revealed that there are 2,000- plus widows in the province.) Others were deserted by their husbands, and there was an increase in the number of single mothers. There was total breakdown of family values.
Also, during the crisis, women's freedom of speech was restricted; they were afraid of being harassed and abused even more if they expressed their views openly. And their movement to attend to their families' needs was restricted. They were not free to go to their gardens to collect food for their families.
Yet during that time, many Bougainville women, even when they were suffering, pulled their families together as the basic unit of community support. Even during the worst of the crisis--as well as after it--women organized themselves into church groups and stood together praying for reconciliation and peace.
The conflict brought about many changes and challenges. Bougainville will not be the same again politically, economically, or socially. New roles are being imposed on the women of Bougainville, and new roles need new approaches. We need a new vision that can be put into practical use for the betterment of Bougainville women and of all of us. This is an important task that needs expertise and funding.
Women have a special place in our society. They are mothers, teachers, owners of land, they have traditional values and responsibilities. Bougainville is predominantly a matrilineal society, and under the traditional system women are responsible for making decisions on the use of the land. The cultural rights of the women of Bougainville had been suppressed since foreign colonization of the island, but women are still well-placed and well-respected in the Bougainville social system and are in a good position to influence our leaders to restore peace on Bougainville.
Those are some of the reasons women organized themselves to end the conflict. As a result of the countless problems they encountered, they have taken an active role in the process of finding lasting solution to the ten-year conflict. Women's groups are very much aware of the lessons of the conflict, and many have organized themselves to face the present challenges and are involved in community rehabilitation programs. They feel that their potential and capabilities for rehabilitation and development need to be recognized because they hold important keys that no one else can turn. At the same time, the women feel strongly that they will not be safe until the guns in circulation are completely destroyed.
My wife, Helen Hakena, and I personally experienced many of the horrors of the crisis on the island of Buka. In 1990, when the Papua New Guinea government withdrew its troops and services from Bougainville, BRA commanders quickly took up positions throughout Bougainville and on Buka. Their troops went on patrols, checked registration of vehicles, and carried out raids on the homes of ex-soldiers, businessmen, educated people, government workers, people who were suspected of having guns, and people who supported the Papua New Guinea government and were opposed to secession.
Helen and I saw our home, our business, and our entire village looted and burnt by elements of the BRA. We saw people at Helen's village being shot at indiscriminately and beaten with grass knives and gun barrels by the BRA, which also confiscated our two vehicles. We witnessed young Bougainvilleans left out in the sun by the Papua New Guinea security forces in efforts to collect information from them on the whereabouts of the BRA. I witnessed a gun battle at night between the Papua New Guinea security forces and a group of BRA that saw many BRA troops killed. We were so closely monitored by the BRA that we became depressed and traumatized. Under the stress, Helen gave birth prematurely to our son Max. We had no medicine and we were constantly on the move to avoid being captured by the BRA. Our lives were shattered.
All those events, plus other experiences of atrocities witnessed and reported by others, gave us the idea of starting an organization that could bring about peace and normalcy to the province. The thing that drove us above all was how the vulnerable and innocent people were being affected by the conflict, in particular the women and children.
Thus we came to found the Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency (LNWDA) to "meaningfully contribute to restoration of peace on Bougainville by promoting nonviolence and women's rights and empowering women as agents of change to improve their social status." (The language is that of the organization's vision statement.) Prior to founding LNWDA, Helen worked with the Catholic Women's Association to get clothing, medicines, and cooking equipment to both government and BRA-controlled areas.
Leitana is the original or traditional name for Buka, as Nehan is for the island of Nissan. We coined the name to reflect the community-based nature of the organization and its ownership by the local women from northern Bougainville. Since our programs have gone into mainland Bougainville, there has been debate about changing the name to reflect our Bougainville-wide aspirations and to counter the criticism that Buka women should not seek to do the work that should be done by local women in other districts.
LNWDA is an NGO, registered with the Papua New Guinea Investment Promotion Authority. It carries out community education workshops and advocates on behalf of women on issues affecting them. Its goals are:
- to reduce gender violence in Bougainville;
- to work towards a nonviolent Bougainville through the creation of healthy and self-sufficient communities;
- to help Bougainvillean women provide for and meet their own basic needs, such as healthcare, food, education, shelter, and clothing by encouraging small income-generating projects;
- to strengthen the ability of women to effectively participate in social and economic development in Bougainville and decision making; and
- to provide leadership in promoting a greater public understanding of the importance of achieving these goals.
The LNWDA agenda is set in the community workshops that we hold, a "bottom-up" approach. A "shopping list" of requests and suggestions come from these events and the board works with the staff to cluster these and set program priorities.
The organization is governed by a voluntary board of directors who meet quarterly. Of the eight board members, five are women and three are men; we included men because we want to promote gender balance and because in our Melanesian culture, men, women, and children work together to complement each others' work. Board members are selected and elected for their experience and commitment to the goals of the organization. We come from an established social network of friends and colleagues in the islands of Buka and Nissan in northern Bougainville.
With our mission statement realized and our goals and objectives set, we went about identifying the sort of programs and activities that could best suit the mission. Our first activities, while the conflict still raged, involved organizing and helping to organize conferences, meetings, and marches for peace; later, we were able to create continuing programs to help Bougainvilleans recover.
LNWDA, together with the Bougainville Catholic Women's Association, organized the first women's reunion (predominantly Catholic), which, surprisingly, brought together more than 2,000 women from all over Bougainville. At that time the conflict was at its peak, but with their commitment to the return of sanity, peace and harmony to the province, the women who attended felt they had to do something.
The aims of the reunion were to unite the attendees to end the conflict through prayers and other nonviolent approaches; to reaffirm their commitment to peace on Bougainville--that is, personal peace, community peace and peace in the province; to strengthen their network in the province; to participate meaningfully and effectively in decision-making; and to participate in all forms of development affecting their lives.
Again LNWDA and the Bougainville Catholic Women's Association organized 105 women on a peace trip to Port Moresby that coincided with a National Catholic Women's Federation conference. The trip's expenses were personally met by the women themselves. The aims of the peace trip were for Bougainville mothers to reconcile with mothers of soldiers killed by the BRA and for all Catholic women in Papua New Guinea to unite and influence the national government to stop the fighting and find peaceful means of ending the conflict that was bringing havoc, despair and destruction to the people and the nation.
LNWDA assisted in organizing women to attend the 1994 peace conference in Arawa, the first of its kind since the conflict started in 1988. This peace conference drew thousands of people from both sides the BRA- and government-controlled areas. Though leaders of the BRA like Joseph Kabul and Francis Ona did not turn up, this was the beginning of the realization by the people of Bougainville that they had to unite and work together to achieve common goals. This conference resulted in the attendance by more than 200 Bougainville leaders from the BRA and Papua New Guinea government at peace meetings in Burnham and Lincoln, New Zealand. After the Lincoln meeting a cease -fire was signed by both parties on 30 April 1998.
LNWDA organized a silent peace march attended by hundreds of women in Buka in December 1995. The aims of the march were to show and voice concern about the continued atrocities and violence committed against the women of Bougainville by the armed forces and to move toward ending the conflict by peaceful means. Women's groups from all over Buka and Bougainville organized for the march and paid their own expenses to attend it.
The organizers moved ahead despite the ambivalence of the Papua New Guinea security forces about the march. The security forces questioned Helen about the aim of the march, but then released her. The silent peace march was filmed by a TV crew from Port Moresby and showed in 45 countries all over the world.
Helen and two of LNWDA's directors, Agnes and Alina, attended a number of international conferences to get support from women from all over the world to end the violence and the conflict. Expenses for these conferences were funded by people and organizations that are committed to peace throughout the world. Both the BRA and the Papua New Guinea security forces made traveling overseas difficult at that period because they feared international condemnation of their activities. The BRA had a very sound and effective intelligent network in Papua New Guinea and strong support from people and organizations in other countries, especially Australia.
On one of Helen's peace trips to Australia she was quietly held up by two men at the Port Moresby airport. They harassed her, confiscated her documents--including video tapes to be presented at the conference--and told her to return to Bougainville, which she did for fear of being killed. We had to engage a security service for her in Port Moresby. We are still puzzled as to who organized the holdup and confiscated her documents, but such is the fate of people who work for peace or who believe in nonviolent approaches to finding peace.
This is a program that was developed in 1998 by LNWDA and an Australian-based NGO, the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA). It builds on an eight-year partnership between IWDA and members of LNWDA on a working-toward-peace project that sought to address conflict-based homebrew alcohol abuse and community violence in Buka, Nissan, and the northwest district of mainland Bougainville. Through the SCP project, LNWDA has expanded its program of community awareness throughout Bougainville and will offer communities follow-up workshops to facilitate the development of strategies to deal with social problems.
The overall goal of the project is to contribute to the restoration of peace on Bougainville by promoting nonviolence and women's rights. One of its main objectives is to strengthen the ability of women, communities, community leaders and LNWDA trainers to address violence on Bougainville in general and violence against women in particular.
Because of the physical and psychological effects caused by the conflict, our people, especially the youth, turned to homebrew alcohol in order to put the past behind them or try to shield themselves from the full horror of their bad experiences, not knowing that they were indirectly causing more problems for themselves and the community. Most people affected by homebrew-related problems are women. These problems include incest, rape, break-ins, abortion, weekend divorce, murder and marital rape. Most cases of domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment are homebrew- and crisis-related. In just one incident, a women who was pregnant with twins lost both babies when her drunken husband threw a chair at her, killing one baby on impact; the other one died later in the hospital. Recent thefts or holdups by drunken youths of vehicles belonging to overseas aid donors like Ausaid and the European Union is a great cause for concern. This is going to affect reconstruction programs that are funded by those agencies, like rebuilding Bougainville's roads.
LNWDA has organized seminars and workshops and has ongoing community awareness campaigns to schools, market places, villages, and communities to educate people about the health problems and other social effects related to the consumption of homebrew alcohol and promote discussion among families and the community about how to deal with trauma and address conflicts in a nonviolent way. In follow-up workshops, communities will devise strategies to reduce the incidence of homebrew abuse and address violence, particularly violence against women. Homebrew awareness programs are directed at families, couples, youth, ex-combatants, and the community at large.
LNWDA was given air-time of 20 minutes every Thursday by the management of Radio Bougainville, where we broadcast our programs to thousands of people throughout Bougainville so those we do not reach in our community awareness and workshops can hear our programs. This has proven to be very successful, judging from the number of people writing to tell us that they like our programs and the number of people, especially women, who have sought counseling services from us.
We also focus our efforts on raising awareness on women's rights as human rights, doing work on gender sensitivity and creating opportunities and creating links between violence against women and alcohol abuse. This promotes limited services available for counseling for victims of rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence. This topic has changed the hearts of many youth who have attended our workshops. In our youth mobilization workshop in 1999, where more than 700 youths, including ex-combatants, attended, many of them cried openly when they shared their experiences of violence inflicted, especially upon women. This was true rehabilitation and healing from within.
Now that the guns are silent, the violence is not over for the people of Bougainville, as shown by our counseling figures and data. With staff trained in feminist counseling at the Fiji Women's Center, LNWDA offers a popular confidential drop-in service for basic counseling, couples counseling, and legal advice on rights and procedures for survivors of rape, trauma, incest, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and child abuse. This service is also provided in our weekly radio broadcast on Radio Bougainville. Our counselors sometimes travel to other districts of Bougainville to see clients, and sometimes LNWDA receives referrals from other organizations such as the police department, the courts, and the government welfare office. A boy who as a four-year-old became mute after witnessing combatants rape his two sisters was given range of medical treatments to no avail. LNWDA's trauma counseling was successful: He burst into tears and regained his speech after six years.
Last year there was a big increase in clients seeking services from our office. There were 458 cases of rape, domestic violence, child abuse, etc.--too many for our counselors to handle. This caseload could result in our counselors getting secondary trauma which could have a very devastating effect on their lives.
The organization believes that there are a lot of women in Bougainville who are in need of special counseling services and legal advice about rights and procedures. These women are very unfortunate as they are not able to present themselves for counseling and advice by trained counselors. Counseling is greatly needed throughout the province, due to the experiences of the past ten years of crisis and the rapid changes threatening family life.
This is another area of work we do to promote peace on Bougainville. During the weekly broadcast on radio Bougainville we share information about women's rights and concerns: What rape is, and its effects, domestic violence and its effects, sexual harassment and its effects, and child sexual abuse and its effects. On or around International Women's Day and Papua New Guinea Women's Day we have organized workshops (instead of dancing and partying) since 1998 at which the women talk about the peace process (apart from other women's issues and concerns), its political implications, and how it affects them. Since 1999, we have been able to bring together more than 3,000 women from all over Bougainville to attend these workshops.
This is another core area of LNWDA's work, which we started in 1992. From evaluations done by the participants in our workshops, we concluded that there is a big need in Bougainville to empower groups such as youth and the communities with the right information for them to meaningfully participate in the peace process and development in Bougainville. We have taken on this task, since the government's extension agencies (including the youth office) are not doing enough to visit communities and carry out their extension programs. Their presence in rural areas is very limited and in some areas, non-existent. While the administration blames insufficient funds for not doing more extension work, its absence can have a very negative effect on the peace process.
Our program provides an opportunity for the youths to come together, to learn about each other, to explore reconciliation issues, and to promote respect for one another. It is also an opportunity for the youth to talk about the issues that concern them and to plan to collaborate on these issues in the future, so that the issues can be given to the politicians and public servants to formulate. As yet the government has not formulated a youth policy that could guide the development of youth in the province. Most organized activities with youth are sports-oriented, and there is very little being done to help young people into economically productive activities.
Our youth mobilization workshops have been very popular. In 1999, on the first day, we had 100 participants, and by the third day, we had more than 700. Because we simply could not feed them, we had to turn some away. Participants in these workshops have included ex-combatants who, with great emotion, shared atrocities committed during the crisis. This has been true healing for them.
The workshop on integral human development seeks to develop the whole person--the spiritual side, the emotional part and the physical--helping him or her understand who he or she is in relation to others. We are convinced that this is an important and effective part of social rehabilitation and reconciliation.
In the final analysis the peace process is moving very rapidly at the initiative of the Bougainville people. The people of Bougainville have publicly declared that "enough is enough" of the pain, suffering and killing of innocent people. People want peace and nothing else.
The people have a commitment that peace on Bougainville is owned by the people of Bougainville. It is their property. They themselves have to find a lasting peaceful solution to the ten-year armed conflict. The Bougainville people were responsible for an undertaking that lives and property. The onus is on us the rebuild lives and infrastructures.
Without the sheer determination and commitment of the people of Bougainville to the peace process, we would not have come this far. A lot is owed to the people for taking a united stand for peace on Bougainville--people's power moved the peace forward from all corners of Bougainville.
Kris Hakena was a co-founder of the Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency in Bougainville. This paper was delivered at the Nonviolence and Social Empowerment Conference in Calcutta, India, 15-24 February, 2001.