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  • Bougainville
  • Volker Boege (bio)

Vanuatu is not reviewed in this issue.

In 2017, the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) entered its final and decisive stage of peacebuilding, with preparations for a referendum on the future political status of the region commencing in earnest. Peacebuilding on Bougainville began in the late 1990s after a decade-long violent conflict. During the conflict, Bougainvilleans suffered from the collapse of basic services such as health and education and the breakdown of infrastructure and public administration. Out of the almost 20,000 Bougainvilleans who lost their lives, only a minority were combatants killed in action; the vast majority were civilians. Fighting also led to the displacement of more than 40 percent of Bougainville's population of approximately 250,000 people.

The root causes of the war were the negative social and environmental effects of a giant mining project, the Panguna gold and copper mine, which had been established in Central Bougainville in 1972. In the late 1980s, locals in the mine area started to demand meaningful environmental protection measures, compensation for environmental damage, and a larger share of the revenues generated. The multinational mining company that operated the mine (known today as Rio Tinto) and the government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG), both of which profited enormously from Panguna, disregarded the locals' concerns. As a consequence, disgruntled young Bougainvilleans brought the mine to a standstill through acts of sabotage in late 1988. The GoPNG sent its police riot squads and later its military to the island and declared a state of emergency on Bougainville in June 1989. Opponents of the mine established the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (bra), which took up the fight against the PNG security forces. Fighting that started in central Bougainville soon spread across the whole island. The bra adopted a secessionist stance and called for political independence for Bougainville. bra fighters managed to overrun and shut down the mine at an early stage of the war, and it has remained closed ever since.

In its war against the bra, the PNG military was supported by local Bougainvillean auxiliary units, the so-called Resistance Forces. Over time, it became the Resistance that bore the brunt of the fighting for the government side. Moreover, long-standing local conflicts were also carried out violently under the umbrella of the war of secession. Parties entangled in local conflicts either joined the bra or the Resistance, the war became more and more complex, and the frontiers blurred. The time of war was to a large extent a time of statelessness. The institutions of the PNG state were forced to withdraw from Bougainville, and the secessionists were unable to build their own state institutions. This opened the space for the resurgence of non-state, local customary governance institutions so that traditional authorities, [End Page 482] such as elders and chiefs, became responsible for organizing community life. They drew on long-standing customary norms when dealing with conflicts in the local context, often facilitating reconciliations at the intra-and inter-community levels.

Thus, local peacebuilding had already generated positive results well before a high-level political peace process commenced in 1997. A formal, Bougainville-wide ceasefire came into effect at the end of April 1998, paving the way for official peace negotiations, which finally culminated in the Bougainville Peace Agreement (bpa) on 30 August 2001. The bpa has two core political provisions: first, the establishment of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB) as a special political entity within the PNG state, with far-reaching autonomy; and second, a referendum on the future political status of Bougainville—either complete independence or remaining with Papua New Guinea. The bpa stipulates that the referendum has to be held ten to fifteen years after the establishment of an autonomous government for Bougainville (which took place in 2005). The ARoB has its own constitution, adopted by the Bougainville Constituent Assembly on 12 November 2004. The first elections for a Bougainville House of Representatives and a president were held in June 2005, followed by two more elections in 2010 and 2015. At present, Bougainvilleans are governed by their own Autonomous Bougainville Government (abg).

In May 2016, the abg and the GoPNG...


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