PNG police rapes undermine AIDS fight-report

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Papua New GuineaSYDNEY (Reuters) - Papua New Guinea has failed to stem abuse by police who beat, torture and rape children, undermining the fight against an escalating HIV-AIDS epidemic, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report on Monday.

In its second report in two years on police brutality in Papua New Guinea, the human rights group said a lack of prosecutions meant people feared the police as much as criminals in the South Pacific island nation.

"Police rapes and torture are crimes, not methods of crime control," said Zama Coursen-Neff, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch's Children's Rights Division.

"These brutal tactics have destroyed public confidence in the police," Coursen-Neff said in a statement releasing the report.

The 50-page report, "Still Making Their Own Rules: Ongoing Impunity for Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture in Papua New Guinea," cited one case in July 2006 where police raped a six-year-old girl in a police station.

"I hate the police on duty...we go to them for help and they are turning around and doing that," a woman who recalled the rape told the human rights group.

The human rights report found that police routinely lock children up with adults, even when separate space was available, placing them at risk of rape and other forms of violence.

It said corrections officers at a prison in the city of Lae beat and sexually abused boy detainees by forcing them to have anal sex with each other in January 2006.

"The abuses perpetuated by the police contribute to a quickly escalating HIV epidemic," said the report.

HIV-AIDS has found fertile ground in Papua New Guinea, a jungle-clad, mountainous nation, where polygamy is common and rape and sexual violence widespread.

Officially there are only about 12,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS, but AIDS workers estimate that under-reporting and reluctance to be tested mean the real number ranges from 80,000 to 120,000.

The island's 5.4 million people, most of whom live a rural subsistence life, presently face an epidemic on a par with Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.

But AIDS experts say that, with an annual infection rate of 33 percent, PNG is on the verge of an African-style epidemic that could kill millions and destroy the economy.

The report found abusive police rarely faced punishment and that stemming police violence was difficult because violence was culturally acceptable in Papua New Guinea.

In one case, police officers opened fire on unarmed school boys in October 2005 and while two officers were charged, the case has not been sent to the public prosecutor.

While no one has been charged over a March 2004 raid on an alleged brothel in the capital Port Moresby during which police beat and gang-raped girls and women. The raid was documented in the human rights 2005 report.

"By choosing not to punish abusive police, Papua New Guinea's leaders leave ordinary people as afraid of the police as they are of criminals," said Coursen-Neff.

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