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Marcelline Tunim
Vice President
Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom

Report on Representation for Bougainville women to the Asia Pacific Human Rights Tribunal, December 2001

Often people or countries fight because of greed. The powerful nations want all the good things for themselves, even if it is not theirs. So when the rightful owner defends his rights, this is the time when fights and wars start.

I stressed that Bougainville is in peace process. It is the work of men and women who have the real desire for peace, and our vision is to get all Bougainvilleans to reconcile, forgive one another and live in Peace, once and for all.

The feedback I got from all the speeches at the Human Rights Tribunal was enormous. The crowds cheered and were happy to see a first hand Bougainvillean standing up.

They said it was different hearing it from the media, because by actually standing up and talking to them or with them, thatÕs the only time when they really feel, see, hear, and they then believe.

I spoke on the first session on Tuesday morning (UNSW, Sydney - December 2001) and was asked again to speak in the second session, which was held in the evening.

Being a refugee on the two occasions, that is in Gizo (Solomon Islands) and within Bougainville behind the Papua New Guinea imposed blockade. I shared my experiences, my joy, my fears, my anxieties and hopes for the future.

To be a refugee on two occasions was the hardest thing for me to do, in my life history. To leave my land, my family, my country, my lifestyleÉis to leave everything. It was hard for me to settle on the land, which was foreign to me. To cross the border between Bougainville and Solomon Islands as sick pregnant mother with only five of my seven children was even more frightening.

We were crossing the border when PNG Army was shooting at us from all sides accusing us of breaking the law by crossing while they themselves were breaking the most sacred law by shooting us, that was that has left a scar in my heart that I live with even now. All the equipment was directly funded by Australia.

I crossed to the other-side in search of medical attention because we were running from a total blockade of air and sea. Bougainville was at war with PNG, which PNG claimed to not be a war but merely anÉÔInternal matterÕ. To my horror, I found the reality of what itÕs like to be a refugee.

TO BE A REFUGEE IS LIKE A SILENT WAR, YOU SUFFER SILENTLY; IT IS A WAR WITHIN A WAR. I was cut off from connection. I experienced what it was like to be cut off from your sweetheart, what it is like to be cut off from your mother and father and other loved family members.

You have no means of communication. You just tell the wind and the wind tells your loved ones how much you love them and yearn to see them. I felt empty; we were always hungry not just for food but also for love and acceptance that comes from a pure heart.

We felt naked not just for good clothes but for that beautiful respect and dignity for our bodies that we tried so hard to earn. Although we needed shelter, we needed a heart that covers, that truly understands. Please, let us join our hands and love each other, in a way there will be no more wars and no more refugees.

We have been hearing about suffering after suffering. But what can we do now? Where do we go from here? Can anyone here or out there, in the space or on earth tell me how we can form one strong voice or a group as a watch-dog, so that we can stop that causes people to suffer, to actually stop them from hurting other people? No one seems to speak or to be against the bomb-makers, how do we expect peace, when the materials are available everyday. Those are the materials that people use to break our brothers and sisters. Those are the very materials that Australia used to kill my people in Bougainville.

My daughter, Stella, shared her education experiences, which were similar to most other young people from Bougainville during the crisis. She shared how she struggled and managed to get to where she is currently studying. Her experience represented the many young Bougainvilleans who were struggling all through the crisis for a chance to be educated.

Many students at the Tribunal in Sydney, both from high schools and universities, were inspired and impressed at the way the students of Bougainville (through StellaÕs experience) had great determination and perseverance towards completing their education. They were amazed at how Stella overcame living Ôon the run in the jungleÕ and being separated from me and the other children when I had to leave Bougainville as a medical evacuee. How she overcame impossible odds to attain the highest-level possible and to make use of the many opportunities that eventually came from her hard work and perseverance. Stella is currently on an Aus Aid study scholarship at university.

Not all of my family has been able to achieve their potential in life and they really require trauma counseling and assistance. My parents will never recover from the grief they have lived with since Kaea, my young innocent brother never returned from the market because he was picked up by the army, brutally tortured and murdered by PNG soldiers in 1999.

We lost all our possessions and still have no home today but a lean-to and tarpaulin for my large family who has returned home to settle in the village. It is a joy to be able to care for the precious women and widows in our clan and I do what I can for them and for the women of Bougainville everywhere by working with our very own BWPF womenÕs group. We mothers of the land are working very hard for peace and freedom and for human rights and for the rescue of our environment back from mining and war.

Biography Author: Tunim, Marcelline Vice President BWPF

Marcelline Tunim comes from Vito village, on the eastern coast of Central Bougainville. Marcelline worked at Arawa Pharmacy in town and married Bernard Tunim, who was to become the Clerk of the Provincial Assembly. Together they raised their nine children in Arawa until events of the crisis forced Marcelline back home to the village. Events overtook the family in Vito as well and, together with their children, Bernard was forced to flee high into the mountains to live in bush camps rather than be herded into the Care Centres. They lived on the run with other civilian Bougainvilleans who had chosen to remain free, even if that meant being hunted by the Papua New Guinea Defence Forces.

In 1994 Marcelline became a medical evacuee to the Solomon Islands having Ôrun the blockadeÕ in a small outboard motor boat from Bougainville to seek urgent medical help during the 10 year blockade and PNG/Bougainville war. Ill and pregnant, she became a refugee with several of her small children in tow and survived in nightmare conditions on the edge of the swamp. In 1996, Frontyard Films found and filmed Marcelline in a small bamboo hut on the fringe of the industrial wharves near the refugee camp in Ghizo. Her story is told in their short documentary film Refugee Story.

On repatriation to Bougainville following the Bougainville/PNG Truce, Marcelline continued her advocacy and poetic writings of womenÕs stories of suffering in short essays such as ÔMagotaÕs MotherÕ. Her earlier letters tell of life on the run as a displaced mother, birthing babies and struggling for survival in the jungle. These accounts were smuggled across the blockade to friends in Australia and are amongst the only first hand material presented to the Australian Senate and tabled in Hansard records.

Marcelline is a gifted speaker and advocate for women and indigenous issues that impact on subsistence living including Trans National Corporations mining versus environment. After being elected Vice-President of the Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom (BWPF) and in April 1999 Marcelline was sponsored by WILPF International to represent her people at the Hague Appeal for Peace world conference in The Netherlands where she spoke on the topic ÔIndigenous Cultures Gifts to World PeaceÕ. MarcellineÕs current concerns are to care for the widows and suffering elderly women victims within her community and to restore the environment of her beloved Bougainville.

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