Information for U.S. Citizen Victims of Crime in Papua New Guinea
When a U.S. citizen is the victim of a crime overseas, he or she may suffer from physical, emotional or financial injuries. It can be more difficult because the victim may be in unfamiliar surroundings, and may not know the local language or customs. Consular officers, consular agents, and local employees at overseas posts know local government agencies and resources in the country where they work.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Papua New Guinea is provided for general information purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Papua New Guinean laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Papua New Guinea. The investigation and prosecution of crimes committed in Papua New Guinea are solely the responsibility of local authorities.
Reporting Crimes: If you are a victim of crime, you may report or register a complaint at any police station in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. There are no special police officers to assist foreigners in Papua New Guinea. Please file a police report as soon as possible after the crime has been committed. If you, as the victim, are not capable of reporting the crime in person, someone else may file a police report on your behalf. You will be given a copy of the report after paying the required fees. The police will provide an interpreter, if needed. You can report a crime to the nearest Papua New Guinea Embassy in the U.S. if you have already left the country. If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need a police report to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. While we are not authorized to act as your legal representative, prosecutor, or investigator, our office can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
Investigations: In Papua New Guinea, the police have the sole authority to investigate crimes. Unfortunately, many crime investigations never result in the arrest of a suspect. Victims of rape can expect forensic evidence to be collected. The victim should receive information from the police regarding the progress of the investigation. If threatened, harassed, or intimidated by the accused or his/her family and friends, the victim should contact the police to report the threat. In the case of summary offenses (misdemeanors), the investigation will remain open for six months if there has been no arrest. If it is a criminal case, the investigation will remain open indefinitely.
Arrests: Individuals who have been arrested will appear before a judge. Depending on the severity of the crime committed, the perpetrator will be detained until the trial. The victim should be notified by the police of the arrest and may be asked to identify the perpetrator in a police lineup. While there are facilities available in PNG to separate the victim and the perpetrator during a line-up, depending on where the police station is, the police lineup could consist of no more than a one-room building, where the victim would be in the same room and in close proximity to the perpetrator during a line-up.
Pretrial Period: There is a legal distinction between misdemeanor and felonies. Misdemeanors are summary offenses such as assault, theft, swearing or indecent behavior and these cases are handled by the Magistrate Courts. Felonies are serious crimes such as rape and murder, which the National Courts have jurisdiction over. While the police can decide if charges will be filed, the courts decide if the case will go to trial based on sufficient evidence. The police are given four months to investigate and bring charges against the suspect. The Public Prosecutor’s office is responsible for prosecution once the police have presented the case to the courts. In PNG, there is no equivalent to plea-bargaining. Most victim advocates that represent the victim’s interest are small non-government agencies including church groups who provide professional, credible, and testimonial statements about the victim. Every victim has the right to an attorney. Victims who cannot afford a private attorney are represented by the Public Prosecutor’s office.
Trial: The trial process can be lengthy depending on the availability of judges, lawyers, and other elements of the judicial system. If a case goes to trial, the victim must return to the host country to testify; otherwise, the case could be thrown out due to an alleged lack of evidence. If the victim is unable to appear in court, a written statement or testimony may be submitted to the closest Embassy of Papua New Guinea. Court cases are open to the public. Translation services are not provided by the courts for witnesses who do not speak the local language. There is no jury system in Papua New Guinea; the judge is the sole decision maker in a trial. Attorneys should advise victims and witnesses on any protocol requirements within the courtroom.
Sentencing: If a victim is found guilty, the sentencing will occur as soon as the trial is completed. The victim is allowed to have some input into the sentencing. Once the judge has made his decision on the case, the sentence is served immediately. There is no formal mechanism to inform victims when the perpetrator is transferred or released.
Appeals: The accused may appeal their convictions, and there is no timeframe on how long the appeals process may take. Victims are not expected to testify during the appeals process.
Attorneys: You may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the public prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting your case, an attorney you hire can promote your interests with the police and the court. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, please see the list of attorneys who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens.
Victim Compensation in Papua New Guinea: There is no national crime victim assistance office in Papua New Guinea but there are non-government organizations that assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. There is also a victim assistance hotline number to call, 180-1991. The government of Papua New Guinea does not provide monetary compensation to crime victims, but the court may order the perpetrator to pay restitution, and the victim can file a civil suit for damages.
Embassy Location: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Papua New Guinea are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration website to stay informed about travel and security within Papua New Guinea. By registering, you can make it easier for the Embassy to contact you in case of an emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby, tel. (675) 321-1455. The after-hours emergency telephone number is (675) 7200-9439.
Special Information for Cases of Sexual Assault and Rape: Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution later, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. In Papua New Guinea, sexual assault is defined as all sexual behavior such as unwanted touching, incest, or indecent exposure that is achieved out of violence. Rape is defined as forced sex without the person’s consent or agreement. The legal definition for sexual assault and rape do not vary from region to region.
While rape/sexual assault charges may be filed without a medical exam, the lack of medical exam may affect the trial. Forensic sexual assault exams are authorized by the police and the courts. Obstetricians and Gynecologists normally perform the sexual assault exams. Victims of sexual assault may go to any medical clinic. Most private hospitals charge a minimum fee of at least K50. A forensic sexual assault exam involves taking fingernail scrapings, saliva samples, vaginal/penile/anal swabs, pelvic exams, DNA samples, and photographs. You may bring a support person along with you during the examination. If you have consulted a private doctor, you will be responsible for the cost of the examination. You should seek medical attention to determine if you have been injured in any way and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) is available in Papua New Guinea as well as HIV prophylaxis.
In the case of rape or sexual assault, the police will conduct the interview with the victim. You should be prepared to be interviewed by multiple people. There are no laws to protect the identity of sexual assault survivors, and s/he can expect media attention. Papua New Guinea does not have a rape crisis hotline.