With support from UNSW’s Institute of Global Development (IGD), the program identified gaps in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) governance and business infrastructures -analysing the harmful environmental and human rights impacts on local communities. The pilot program’s purpose is to address these challenges and build the knowledge and skills to advocate for change and strengthen ethical business practice. The program’s curriculum was developed with local partners with input from DTP board members, including Professor Justine Nolan.

DTP is an NGO affiliated with the Faculty of Law at UNSW.  It was established 30 years ago by the Nobel Peace Laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta.  DTP’s Executive Director, Patrick Earle, said one of the key objectives of the program is to support a strong community of voices who are working for human rights and sustainable development. The program in PNG connected a national network of advocates who can support each other and collectively work together to push for change, beyond the parameters of the program and their own local issues. “The content of the programs is focussed on building the knowledge and skills of community advocates to effectively engage governments and business and hold them accountable,” Mr Earle said.

Funding and Approach

DTP secured funding for an initial 5-day capacity building pilot program, working with United Nations Development Programme and Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The program integrated content on both theoretical frameworks and practical skills – with an emphasis on business & human rights frameworks (UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights), as well as the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). “We have developed expertise in making international legal standards more accessible as useful tools in community advocacy, and teaching how to use human rights mechanisms,” Mr Earle said.

The trainers, including Professor Surya Deva of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights, tailored their lessons based on the participants’ concerns and issues they were working on. Participants were able to put the knowledge and skills they learnt into practice and develop their confidence through small group exercises and role plays. “The methodology is very participatory – with participants largely coordinating the program and managing the process,” Mr Earle said.


The interactive program encouraged participants to learn from each other and share experiences and lessons learned from their experiences of advocacy on land and environment issues – the threats to livelihoods and biodiversity and cultures. Following the program, participants united and launched a national communications platform (primarily through Whatsapp & email) where advocates can share news, updates and seek support. They recorded a video message to screened at the UN Global Forum on Business and Human Rights calling for responsible and sustainable investment.


Despite the initial training program only lasting 5 days, the skills and knowledge participants learnt have already been put into practice and produced tangible changes that will impact generations to come. Participants are using their knowledge and skills to lobby against and prevent the development of a proposed Frieda River Mine, a development threatening the livelihoods and unique environment of the Sepik River Basin. DTP participants were also involved in the successful campaign to halt seabed/deep sea mining. “There is a heightened acknowledgement that investment in development needs to involve and benefit communities and be environmentally and socially sustainable,” Mr Earle said.

DTP’s methodology is respectful of the knowledge, cultures and experiences that participants bring to each program. Bringing people together to learn and share, and to build their support networks can have a profound impact on participants, changing the trajectory of their lives.

As the course was running in PNG, DTP received the news that it was to receive the 2019 Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award recognising 30 years of service to human rights movements in the region. 

Mr Earle received a subsequent testimonial from a program participant, who said the training sparked personal growth and paved the way for a positive ripple effect across the wider community: “After the training, I got promoted. I stopped beating up people, I educate the other police officers about human rights. Many of the others saw the changes and have approached me.  They are listening to me. I stopped alcohol abuse, and I am more at home, thinking about my career and possibilities.  I am also more a family man. At this moment, I am the Acting Commander for Task Force in the Province but I want to be in Community Policing department so I can influence more.  I am also going back to school and I have influenced others to go back to school. Doing Grade 11 and 12 by distance education.”

DTP recognises that participants will need additional support in the issues they are working on, and in using international legal and development frameworks.  DTP is working with UNSW’s IGD to explore how to better access and engage the knowledge and expertise that exists at UNSW to support sustainable development in PNG. 

The Future

Following the success of the pilot program, there are plans to expand the DTP engagement in PNG into a longer-term initiative, and build upon the connections between UNSW and PNG, with the support of IGD. Mr Earle said the program highlighted the urgency in finding solutions to environmental, economic and social issues that hold damaging ramifications. “We see how little benefit that has gone to PNG from the vast wealth extracted from its land through its minerals and forests, the loss of biodiversity and damage to fragile and unique environments,” he said.

But despite the challenges PNG faces, Mr Earle said its peoples are its greatest asset the resilience, courage and creativity of advocates and communities proved that change can occur.

“With the right support from the international community, including Australia and UNSW, sustainable development is possible.” he said.

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