Bougainville is an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea (PNG), and is geographically the last island in the Solomon Archipelago island chain. The island experienced a sustained violent conflict through the 1990s.
Interlinked grievances including desires for self-determination, land ownership and environmental damage related to mining, helped fuel the conflict. In 1989 these grievances resulted in the outbreak of a number of localised violent incidents and the closure of the Panguna copper mine (at that time one of the largest mines in the world). With the intervention of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) violence escalated resulting in the 8-year conflict.
Over the years of fighting, different armed factions emerged (including the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and the Bougainville Resistances Forces). Combined with the PNGDF there was a complex conflict context on the island, resulting in the displacement of a large proportion of the population, and the death of over 15,000 people.
Peace negotiations and the BPA
From the mid-1990s, accompanied by a ceasefire, a series of peace negotiations took place, which led to the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement (BPA) in 2001. The BPA granted Bougainville autonomous status, establishing the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG). The agreement also stipulated that there would be a referendum on Bougainville’s political status. The target date for this referendum is October 2019.
Current challenges and the way forward
Bougainville society is infused with community resilience and traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms - mechanisms that have built peace in many parts of Bougainville within the post-conflict era. Yet serious challenges remain. Divisions within and between communities are prevalent, and much of the trauma and other post-conflict issues have not been dealt with. This is particularly challenging for some youth and young adults – a generation that missed out on education as a result of the conflict.
Considerable work is underway, including by individual Bougainvilleans, civil society and faith-based groups, and by the ABG, to address these challenges and to prepare communities for the up-coming referendum.
Conciliation Resources first worked in Bougainville in 2001, documenting the Bougainville peace process in an Accord publication and supporting civil society to share information about the peace process with communities across the island. Our current work in Bougainville aims to support the peacebuilding capacities of Bougainville civil society and the ABG and to support collaboration and joint analysis among peace building groups working in Bougainville.