UPNG STUDENT LEADERS, UNIVERSITY BOSSES CAN BE SUED: EX-JUDGE SAYS"FORCED" BOYCOTT VIOLATED STUDENTS' RIGHTS

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UPNG STUDENT
LEADERS, UNIVERSITY BOSSES CAN BE SUED: EX-JUDGE SAYS "FORCED"
BOYCOTT VIOLATED STUDENTS' RIGHTS

By Kevin Pamba

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Oct. 26, 1999 – The National)---There is room for class action against student leaders and the University of PNG administration by students and parents who feel victimized by the ill-fated boycott of classes and the consequent closure of the Waigani campus, a former National Court judge told The National yesterday.

Brian Brunton said that the allegations of intimidation, threats and violence against students to force them to take part in the ill-fated boycott at the Waigani campus over the 25 percent fee increase was criminal and violated students' rights to freedom of choice, movement and speech.

Mr. Brunton said the boycott featured "bully boy elements" where certain students from one part of the country, who were in favor of the prolonged boycott, forced others to join them even though the other students wanted to return to classes and address the issue diplomatically.

And Mr. Brunton said the University Council was "negligent" in not calling in the police to deal with those individuals who allegedly intimidated, threatened and assaulted students so as to force them to take part in the boycott.

He said while under PNG laws no one has the right to education, students who were unfairly victimized by the prolonged protest and university closure can seek legal redress, particularly through class action.

Meanwhile, the former judge cited a case in 1985 when student leaders at the Waigani campus, led by then SRC President Ume More, appeared before the National Court at the behest of the UPNG administration for similar offences.

In that incident, Mr. More and the ringleaders were arrested by police and locked up and later appeared before the National Court.

The National Court heard in the 1985 case that "certain students of the University of PNG, over a period of ten days, forcibly disrupted lectures, erected and manned barricades at the main entrance road and restricted entry thereto to those of their choice."

They were charged under sections 32, 37, 46, 52 and 57 of the Constitution.

The court decided in March 1985 that some of the leaders be stripped off their SRC office titles and all of them were barred from UPNG campus, Port Moresby and Lae for the remainder of 1985.

However, a successful appeal in the Supreme Court later in the year resulted in the ruling being overturned.

Mr. Brunton said the university mishandled the 1985 case, as the student leaders' actions were not allowed to be treated as criminal by police.

Mr. Brunton said what has and continues to happen at the university campuses, particularly Waigani, shows there is a need to register all student societies and the SRC with the Registrar of Industrial Associations so that the actions that they wish to take can be carried out through a "secret ballot."

He said once all student groups are registered with the industrial registrar, they will make decisions only after a properly conducted secret ballot.

Mr. Brunton said this will give every student their democratic freedom to choose what course of action they want to be taken on an issue.

"You can't go on strike without a secret ballot (if all student groups are registered)," Mr. Brunton said.

He said it will also ensure that student leaders are held accountable for their actions.

Mr. Brunton also pointed out that, at present, PNG laws are such that no one has "the right to education."

"You can't sue the State for not having access to education." He said the case in PNG is against international law, which calls for right to education for every citizen, particular children.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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