Huli bridge over a river in Papua New Guinea ©

Conciliation Resources is providing peacebuilding support to address some of the issues causing violent conflict in Hela province. In 2021, we conducted an initial scoping project to understand existing capacities for peace as well as peacebuilding needs within the province. Our new report Conflict challenges and opportunities for building peace in Hela Province, Papua New Guinea presents our preliminary analysis of the underlying causes of violent conflict, and begins to map opportunities to support peacebuilding initiatives.

What’s driving violence in Hela?

Customarily, fighting has been a legitimate way to resolve conflict in Hela. Outbreaks of violence are often underpinned by long conflict histories of past grievances which can span generations and are often recreated in community narratives. But violence in Hela is not driven by these harmful customary practices alone.

As violent conflict is highly localised in Hela, the report cannot capture every conflict dynamic at play. Further analysis is needed on a community-by-community basis. However, overall findings indicate intergroup conflict, gendered norms around violence, an increase in the proliferation of high-powered weapons, political and economic competition, and the limited access to law and justice mechanisms are contributing to the rates of violence people experience.

Prospects for peacebuilding

Peaceful management of conflicts has always existed alongside fighting in Hela. Community forms of mediation and reconciliation have saved countless lives for generations. Civil society are seeking to build peace in diverse ways including mediation and negotiating peace agreements, raising awareness on the impacts of violence, and aspiring to transform norms around the use of violence. They are doing this work amidst significant conflict challenges, a lack of resources, and limited opportunities for collaboration.

Current efforts to address violence are often aimed at bringing a cessation to fighting. The report suggests opportunities to move beyond this to transform relationships between individuals and groups so as to breakdown cycles of violence. Those working for peace in Hela – such as government, civil society, church, community and international partners – are often working alone. They need to be supported to learn from and work with each other, as well as peacebuilders from different conflict contexts, to jointly analyse the diverse drivers of conflict in Hela, and come up with creative, locally owned strategies to build peace.

Photo: Huli bridge over a river in Papua New Guinea ©