AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS CONCERNS IN MELANESIA

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PNG, Fiji, Solomons singled out for problems

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 29, 2009) – Amnesty International has highlighted a climate of fear in Fiji, high levels of violence and impunity in Papua New Guinea and a growing health crisis from spreading slums in Solomon Islands.

In its 2009 annual report, the human rights group condemns Fiji's suspension of the constitution and legal processes and says its contributing to growing violence, impunity for police and soldiers, and a declining economy.

'Rampant violent crime in PNG' says Amnesty

The report is scathing about rampant violent crime in Papua New Guinea, including attacks on and murders of suspected sorcerers, particularly in the Eastern Highlands, and the use of excessive force by police.

And it says those responsible were not brought to justice.

Rapes reported to PNG police between January and October numbered 654, up from 526 reported the previous year, with few cases prosecuted amid fears of retribution.

Amnesty also says maternal mortality and HIV infection rates were high in PNG because of poor health services, despite the allocation of $US78 million for the health department.

The group's deputy director for the Asia Pacific, Donna Guest, told Radio Australia the police must investigate and bring to justice those responsible for all forms of violence.

She says that as the major aid donor to PNG, Australia has a particular responsibility on the issue.

"I would say that the Australian government as I'm sure they do needs to be particularly vigilant as to the economic situation, where the aid is going there, but also with regregard to policing in PNG which is highly problematic," she said.

"[The police are] not being effective, they're not at this stage preventing this high level of violence which is particularly targeted against women."

Fiji report

The human rights group says the interim, military-backed government of Fiji continued to violate freedom of expressions and use intimidation, particularly through a pattern of short-term arrests and deportations.

Amnesty has called on China to use it's influence to urge a restoration of legal processes in Fiji.

Ms Guest says that with few signs Fiji cares about pressure from its neighbours and the Commonwealth, others should step in.

"Of course China gives them quite a bit of aid and we feel this is very important and just generally China, now that it really is a world player it needs to start expressing some concern in some of these areas where it does have influence," she said.

Growing slums in Honiara

The Amnesty report also documented the growing slums around the Solomons' capital, Honiara.

The report says the government's has failed to provide low cost housing over ten years of increasing rural-urban migration, creating mounting health concerns.

Amnesty says Solomon Islands also has one of the world's highest rates of violence against women by their partners, while the government had not produced a promised plan to address gender-based violence.

Radio Australia: www.abc.net.au/ra

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