DTP Alumnus Jonathan Mesulam is a leading environmental and human rights defender in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Jonathan is from New Ireland Province, but was born in Simbu Province. New Ireland province is an island province of PNG in the beautiful and pristine Bismarck Sea. His island hosts two gold mines – Lihir and Simberi – and is also affected by legal and illegal logging of its natural timber and the spread of palm oil plantations.
Jonathan was a secondary school teacher until concern about the impacts of mining and forestry drove him to become a fulltime environmental human rights defender.
Jonathan is the Founder and Director of the West Coast Development Foundation (WCDF), a key CBO Community Grassroots Organisation working with communities to respond to the impacts of the extractive industries, and to promote conservation and environmental protection. He is also a Spokesman and coordinates the Alliance of the Solwara Warriors network. This award-winning network has been leading the campaign against Deep Sea Mining (DSM) which threatens the fragile ecosystems and sustenance of Pacific island communities.
PNG is a resource rich island with extraordinary biodiversity, and home to hundreds of unique languages and cultures. Its economy depends heavily on the extractive industries of mining and forestry, but these have often had negative human and environmental impacts on local communities – and on governance, with corruption a major issue. The wider negative impacts of mining, monoculture such as palm oil, and the loss of forests and biodiversity are increasingly being recognised as a critical challenge in responding to the climate emergency.
Jonathan’s sense of responsibility to his community led him to leave classroom teaching to take on the challenge of educating his community about their rights in response to the destructive impacts of mining and logging companies. He saw the necessity for a different model of development, that responded to community needs and priorities and was sustainable.
He applied to participate in DTP’s programs after learning about them from other PNG community advocates. Jonathan said that DTP training enriched his advocacy toolkit.
“I chose to specialize in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and human rights, recognizing their direct relevance to the challenges faced by my community. The SDGs provided a framework for addressing issues related to forests, oceans, education, and more. The SDGs were not well understood within my community, and the DTP training allowed me to bridge that knowledge gap.”
Jonathan said that the DTP training also helped him to be a more impactful speaker in international forums.
“One of the standout experiences from the DTP program for me was the role-play exercise simulating a presentation at the United Nations. This practical exercise proved invaluable when I attended the United Nations ISA International Seabed Authority meeting, where I had just three minutes to present an intervention. The training’s impact was evident in my ability to effectively compose and deliver my community work to a global audience.”
Jonathan’s decision to leave his teaching career behind in 2016 was rooted in the recognition of a significant information gap in his community. He realised that there was a lack of accessible information on issues related to human rights, environmental conservation, and the impacts of extractive industries like logging and mining. He felt that it was vital for local communities to have this knowledge so they could respond to these challenges effectively.
Jonathan emphasised the uniqueness of the DTP training, especially in the context of Papua New Guinea. DTP not only provides essential human rights training but also empowers participants to take on leadership roles within organisations – and government agencies.
Jonathan has been deeply involved in advocacy over DSM – successfully stopping initial attempts to mine in the Bismarck Sea with this unproven technology. The Alliance of Solwara Warriors brings together churches, environmental NGOs, and local coastal communities around the Bismarck Sea. The alliance educates communities about the potential benefits and drawbacks of DSM enabling them to make informed decisions and assert their rights in negotiations with governments and developers.
A pivotal aspect of Jonathan’s advocacy has been engaging the media. The DTP training equipped him with skills to create impactful videos that highlight critical issues. These videos, often shared on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, have garnered public attention, putting pressure on companies and government authorities to address the concerns raised by local communities.
In 2021 Jonathan was engaged by IOM International Organization for Migration as Senior Project Officer leading a regional program called the Pacific Climate Change Migration and Human Security Program PCCMHS. He later resigned in early 2022 to go back home and continue his work on issues affecting local communities as he finds his passion working with communities.
Jonathan’s knowledge and expertise has been widely recognised internationally. In 2021 he received the 2021 Bob Brown Foundation Community Environmental Award on behalf of the Alliance of Solwara for their work to stop Deep Sea Mining. He has presented at conferences across the world and addressed the UN. His work has also highlighted the risks faced by environmental human rights defenders in PNG and Jonathan participated Front Line Defender’s Global Platform for Human Rights Defenders in Dublin. He is now a part of their network as well as DTP’s.
Following his own participation Jonathan was instrumental in bringing DTP to PNG in 2019, for its Human Rights and Business and the SDGs course, ensuring more human rights defenders had access to DTP’s training. He continues to recommend others to join DTP’s courses and is providing advice and support to DTP for its work in PNG and the Pacific, including on the critical issues of the climate emergency for Pacific communities.