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Independence referendum a first step for self-determination for Bougainville 

Bougainville’s landslide vote for independence from Papua New Guinea is history making. But the right to self-determination must be upheld in all its fullness, says Jubilee Australia Research Centre.

In a historic vote that’s been more than 20 years in the making, Bougainville has voted overwhelmingly for independence from Papua New Guinea. Of the 181,067 votes cast, 176,928 voted for independence: approximately 97.7 per cent. After years of waiting for this event to occur, the referendum vote has been surrounded by flowers, feasting, music and dancing.

“The people of Bougainville have spoken, and made their desire for independence and self-government clear,” said Dr Luke Fletcher, Executive Director of Jubilee Australia Research Centre.

“The independence referendum is the culmination of a twenty year process that began with the negotiation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. That Bougainville has been able to hold a peaceful referendum is a substantial achievement and one for which it deserves just praise.”

“We understand this vote as a vote for self-determination: the right for a people to determine their own destiny,” said Dr Fletcher.

“However, self-determination is a right that extends beyond systems of government; it also means the rights of communities to understand and choose their own pathway to economic, social and cultural development.”

The right to self-determination is the first right acknowledged in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.

“We hope that moving forward from this point, the Bougainvillean people will recognise their power to choose their own path for their economic development as a nation.”

“Our research in PNG and Bougainville has shown the hazards that may follow if an extractives-led development path is chosen,” said Dr Fletcher. “We have tried to emphasise through that research that the future is not inevitable: Bougainville does have choices of what economic development path it may take from here.”

In 2018, Jubilee Australia Research Centre released its report Growing Bougainville’s Future: Choices for an island and its peoples. The report is a collation of 12 experts’ views on the development challenges facing Bougainville, and offers solutions, including the importance of agriculture, sustainable fisheries and the role of women.

The report can be accessed below:

Growing Bougainville's Future 2018 (14549 KB)