Isidor Kaupun

Role: Community Facilitator for Wide Bay Conservation Association & Member of Sulka Tribe
Active in Country: Papua New Guinea (PNG)
DTP Program: 2018 Business, Human Rights & the SDGs in the Pacfic, Fiji

Here in PNG, I started working as a volunteer with the community on certain gender issues and also rights to our land and the environment. I facilitate for the communities, going in and helping them organise, in terms of land use planning and also by advocating on customary culture: the different values which our ancestors have passed on. I have two local organizations. One is Wide Bay Conservation Association, which is our most effective organization, doing a lot of work with our communities, and also Klampun Conservation Association, which partners with others within our local area.

The land that we own is community land and it was communal land from prehistory till today. The problem now is that the government is using land laws to remove land ownership from the clans and communities. It means that when we adopt the new law into our communities, we give away communal rights to an individual person. That's where this issue happens. It's transferring powers from the community to individual persons and to the state.

So we are fighting against land-grabbing, against stakeholders who are involved – the lands department, the forestry department and companies – and also the illegal signing of documents. There are local people who now live in towns and companies organise with them… these people sign agreements to which most of our community does not give consent or does not even know about these developments. There are no proper consultations, no information or awareness about what type of development is going to occur. We are just taken by surprise when machines come into our land. When we stand against it, they tell us that the development that will give us money, that it will provide roads, a hospital, and all these dreams that they use to get support from the community. Many individuals think that through engagement with companies, they will gain a lot of money. And that they will have a changed life and they will enjoy the luxury of living in town.

There are different forms of development on the land. Foreign companies first come in to harvest timber, polluting rivers and denuding the land. And then there are government initiatives for new development through agriculture, which includes oil palms, cocoa and other cash crops. This is done without our consent; that’s how we have started losing our land and also our forest.

By seeing issues that were occurring around land, I started doing research into our matrilineal society. In the past our grandfathers stood up on behalf of our grandmothers to make decisions that were in favour of women. But now men make decisions for and on behalf of our women without their consent. Most men look upon women as only having the right to do kitchen work within the family, and they have no space for them to express their consent to be part of decisions. So I started doing research into the matrilineal rights in our culture and traditional mediation processes that our grandparents used to settle issues on their land.

So we have started conducting these traditional mediation processes and have organised communities to understand who is the landowner before any signing off on any form of development or land use plan. Most communities are not organised and that’s where companies can take advantage. It's a very big issue that most of our communities do not understand their different rights. We started this mediation process in one community and it went well. Now, neighbouring communities are requesting that we help them settle their land issues.

We do not actually get help from any organization outside our community or outside our country but I believe that through networks, maybe organizations will start to see the importance of the work that we are doing to stand up for our rights. I wish and I hope that we would have some support in the future.

The DTP training definitely taught me a lot about rights and the different ways of how to tackle or to handle different situations on the ground. And that's where it empowers me to stand firm with the victims and also the affected land owners to stand up for our rights. Through the program, I actually made contact with other human rights defenders and I keep them informed about my situations in community through this network.

The work that I'm doing is very challenging and very risky. The government fully supports the companies so a lot of times when we stand up to fight against the company or this type of development, the government through the police department, threatens us. The work that I'm doing means I'm really risking my life by standing against the government and the companies. Most of us have been in prison for protesting against what have been doing on our land. The other day we were captured and put in jail just for peacefully protesting against the company. To date I'm still in custody and I hope I can get safely back to the village.

Even though we have been threatened so many times, we'll continue to advocate and stand for and on behalf of our silent majority who are suffering.  We still stand firm and work within our local areas. 

In 2018, Isidor wrote a report based on the logging and palm oil developments within Papua New Guinea. His report can be found here.



Profile written in July 2021