Monica Paulus

Papua New Guinea, CAHR, Spring 2016

Monica Paulus

Hi, Monica Paulus is my name and I am a mother of three. I come from a small village called Aregol in the Simbu Province of Papua New Guinea. I grew up in a life that was full of different experiences in the form of violence. Not knowing my rights as other normal children I took it as a challenge in life and moved on.

In 2000 I felt I would not go on with that life so I moved to find a way to help myself and I joined a women's organization called Meri I Kirap Sapotim (Women Arise and Support). In the organization the focus was on good governance, active citizenship and women's and children's rights. I did not do much in the group but I helped in arranging logistics and I attended trainings.

From the grassroots level I started putting into practice the little that I had learnt in order to become more active in standing up to defend women and children in village courts and mediations. I recall times when I had to challenge the men in cases having to do with culture. There were times I challenged my immediate family members by reporting them to the police in different cases in order to make them understand to respect women and children, and also explaining to the perpetrators that the law was to guide and lead us in protecting and respecting one another.     

In March 2005 women human rights defenders in the highlands came together to form the Highlands Women Human Rights Defenders Network with the help of Oxfam and the UN. We were working in small groups trying to address the issues of sorcery related violence, but managed to make a change in the country. The government has now set up sorcery related violence committees and allocated three million PGK to address the issue.  

We were trained to document cases of abuse and to send reports to the UN and Amnesty International. The responses received from them have made me stronger and enabled me to continue my work as I also understood that I was not alone but I had other counterparts - defenders from other countries who help us when we are in need.

There are times I have to travel to visit families who have fled for their lives and are in hiding. I collect their stories and if it's not safe for them to stay where they are, I take them to stay in my house and I find ways to feed and clothe them. I assist them to go to the police and to find and get the perpetrator arrested, but when cases are not prosecuted or sent to prison, I have a lot more to do.

With the work I have done I have put myself and my children at risk from the police, the community and also the families of the perpetrators. I had my house broken into and they took everything I had. Another time my clansmen threatened to kill me. Many times I was told by certain people to leave the place and go because they were planning to kill me. Moving from place to place became a normal thing for me, but eventually I had to apply for urgent funds from Frontline Defenders and I moved to stay in another province. Since it was not safe I had to move to another province again, but I was still able to continue with the work of defending women and children.

In 2015 I was awarded in the Papua New Guinea Awards for Women for bravery and courage. In 2014 Amnesty International Australia reported me as one of the bravest women in the world in its International Women's Day celebration piece.

My coming to CAHR in York was a stepping stone in my work as a HRD. My independent project is to compare the PNG national action plan on sorcery and witchcraft related violence and its activities, to find the missing links, and incorporate the Highlands Women Human Rights Defenders' activities into their plan so that we are able to work together with the government in order to better address the issue of sorcery and witchcraft related violence.

Without the support from other human rights defenders I would not be like this; we really need each other at all levels. Human rights is everyone's business.