On September 29th, 2016, the Alexander Soros Foundation announced that it has conferred its annual Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism on Paul Palosualrea Pavol of New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG) for his courage and commitment to protecting his community’s land and forests from the illegal and aggressive operations of one of the world’s largest logging companies.
Since 2010, Paul has spoken out fearlessly against the appropriation of vast areas of rainforest in his home district of Pomio by Malaysian logging outfit Rimbunan Hijau (RH), which is only one of many companies bulldozing PNG’s forests.
Home to one of the world’s largest stretches of rainforest, which contain seven percent of the world’s plant and animal species, PNG is seeing increased deforestation as logging and palm oil industries expand following government hands outs of huge areas of land mostly belonging to communities like Paul’s to companies.
Between 2002 and 2011, the PNG government handed out over 50,000 square kilometers of community land using so-called Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). Though a government inquiry found that nearly all the SABLs reviewed were issued in violation of PNG law, the government never followed up on the investigation, and logging exports supported by SABLs—and timber buyers in China—continue.
Alex Soros opened the ceremonies with remarks framing the award and why Paul was the recipient. Paul's colleague and close friend Cosmas Makamet, the head of a PNG-based NGO called FORCERT, then spoke about the larger SABL land grab plaguing PNG. Paul Pavol then gave his acceptance speech, accompanied by his wife Janet in addition to Cosmas.
The Alexander Soros Foundation Award for Environmental and Human Rights Activism, which annually recognizes activists working at the nexus of environmentalism and human rights, is chosen by a nominating committee comprising Global Witness Co-Founder Patrick Alley, Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino, human rights scholar Aryeh Neier, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, and attorney William Zabel.