by the Editors
The growing regional concern over the plight of Papuans in West Papua has been demonstrated in such key regional groupings as the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) (see past articles from the West Papua Report on the MSG) and the Pacific Islands Forum (see article below ). Now, regional leaders have brought their concerns to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Their remarks sparked what may be the first discussion in the UNGA on West Papua since the UN body "took note" of the Act of Free Choice in 1969.
On October 1, the chair of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare and on September 29 the Prime Minister of Tonga Samuela 'Akilisi Pohiva raised the issue of West Papua at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Indonesia then exercised its right of reply to the Prime Ministers' remarks, prompting replies from the delegations of the two Pacific countries.
In 2013 Vanuatu's then-Prime Minister Moana Kalosil Carcasse, called on the UN to "rectify" the "historical error" that led people of West Papua to be "sacrificed to gratify the appetite for the natural resources which this country possess. Today they are still the victims of ignorance of the UN."
Sogavare called attention to "the continuing concerns of human rights violations in the Papua and West Papua regions of Indonesia." He said that the "Solomon Islands together with the Pacific Islands Forum are seeking genuine dialogue and cooperation with Indonesia. The outreach is to resolve and dissolve reported allegations of human rights violations occurring on two of Indonesia's ethnic Melanesian regions namely Papua and West Papua."
He called on the UN Human Rights Council "to do more in investigating and monitoring of allegations of human rights abuse and violence on ethnic Melanesians in the concerned regions of Indonesia."
He concluded by stating: "In the long term however, the United Nations cannot shy away from the root causes of these violations." Earlier in his speech, he called "for the full and swift implementation of the 1960 declaration on the granting of Independence to colonized countries and peoples."
SAMIUELA 'AKILISI POHIVA, Prime Minister of Tonga. UN Photo.
Tonga's Prime Minister urged the General Assembly "to work together against injustice and cruel violations of human rights. And in the case of West Papua in Melanesia in the Pacific, this is within our power. It is a choice that those with power and privilege can make. The United Nations has the duty to closely follow up this West Papua case, and necessary action be taken to stop the brutal and inhuman activities."
Indonesia exercised its right of reply by rejecting Tonga's and the Solomon Islands' "references to the 'so-called human rights issue in West Papua' as "dangerously misleading,'" according to a UN media summary. Indonesia's representative said that "her country had a robust national human rights protection system and continued to strengthen its related institutions and legislation." Any references to "inaccurate allegations" of human rights violations were politically motivated.
"The provinces of Papua and West Papua enjoyed wide-ranging autonomy, guaranteed by national laws, including in the election of governors and other heads of regional Governments. The Government was committed to continuing engagement, in good faith, with Pacific island countries, with which some of its people had strong commonalities, for peace and prosperity in the region," according to the UN report.
Tonga's delegate responded that "his country had received reports of and was concerned about alleged human rights violations." His country "would like to engage in friendly dialogue with Indonesia to gain a better understanding of violations and perhaps establish a fact-finding mission to determine the situation on the ground."
The delegate from the Solomon Islands noted that "All States had a legal responsibility to uphold human rights and to take measures against human rights violations. The Solomon Islands would like to work with Indonesia on violations in Papua and West Papua. Indeed, his country was also ready to work with Indonesia and with everyone in the multilateral system through the Human Rights Council."
Pacific Islands Forum Addresses West Papua Issue Gingerly
The 16-country Pacific Island Forum (PIF), which met in Port Moresby from September 8-10, addressed the plight of West Papuans under Indonesian rule, but did so gingerly reflecting divided opinion among Forum members. The Forum's largest members Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea were reluctant to challenge Indonesia directly.
The Forum's statement recognized Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua but noted concern over human rights and "called all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents in Papua." Members empowered the forum chair, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, "to convey the views of the Forum to the Indonesian Government, and to consult on a fact finding mission to discuss the situation in Papua with the parties involved." (see following item on this decision).
Indonesia's Vice Foreign Minister, Abdurrahman Mohamed Fachir argued that the PIF was "not the right forum to discuss West Papua." He explained that the forum was intended to discuss "important economic development, co-operation, how to address climate change, maritime, fisheries and ICT connectivity for the Pacific." He did not suggest in what forum West Papuan human rights might appropriately be discussed, but implied that Indonesia's constitutional protections and human rights commission were adequate.
Some Forum participants were notably determined to press West Papua concerns. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manesseh Sogavare has emerged as strong defender of West Papua rights. He brought his recently appointed Special Envoy for West Papua Matthew Wale to Port Moresby and included Octo Mote, Secretary General of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua, in his delegation.
|If a member of the UN is committing human rights violations against its own people, it is no longer the issue that is domestic to that country but one that must be addressed by the United Nations.|
Sogavare insisted that "Bringing West Papua to the agenda of the Pacific Islands Forum is within the framework of the Leaders meeting." He added that "By virtue of our membership of the UN we recognise the sovereignty of Indonesia over West Papua. But the same United Nations recognises the rights of people for self-determination and violation against human rights."
He added that "If a member of the UN is committing human rights violations against its own people, it is no longer the issue that is domestic to that country but one that must be addressed by the United Nations."
Leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) expressed gratitude to the Pacific leaders "for being the sole moral voices on West Papua at the United Nations." ULMWP spokesperson Benny Wenda said that "We the people of West Papua listened to your historic speeches at the UN, which have brought great hope, emotion and positivity, which has displayed true Pacific solidarity for our people."
Pacific Island Forum To Seek Fact-Finding Mission to West Papua
The September Pacific Island Forum gathering of regional leaders agreed to send a fact-finding mission to West Papua. The decision reflects growing regional concern about the plight of Papuans who have suffered grievously under Indonesia's five-decade long occupation.
The call for a fact-finding mission went forward notwithstanding doubts about its utility. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully did not support the mission commenting that he had not seen a role for such a mission. However, he did support discussion of the issue at the forum.
|There are only two possible outcomes to expect from here on and that is either Indonesia refuses outright the request of all Forum leaders and face the consequences or they agree to begin a difficult process that includes terms and condition for the fact-finding mission.|
Hopes for a successful mission rest largely with Jakarta with whom the Forum, under the aegis of the Forum Chair Papua New Guinea, must negotiate its terms. Indonesia rendered a similar mission proposed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in July 2013 useless. That mission failed to undertake a comprehensive survey of conditions in West Papua and was boycotted by Vanuatu, which protested the conditions imposed by Jakarta on the mission. Credible reports indicated that the Indonesian government had bribed some regional officials in order to suborn the mission.
But there was a wary optimism that a Pacific Forum mission might conduct a successful investigation. The Solomon Islands Special Envoy on West Papua, Mathew Wale,called the decision "historical," adding that "we see an opening that gives us some comfort and hope that all Pacific leaders want all parties to protect and uphold our human rights and put an end to this atrocity."
Wale added that "There are only two possible outcomes to expect from here on and that is either Indonesia refuses outright the request of all Forum leaders and face[s] the consequences or they agree to begin a difficult process that includes terms and condition for the fact-finding mission."
He indicated the complex regional politics involved: "The role of PNG entrusted as chair of the Forum to begin these negotiations (with Jakarta) places significant burden on PNG to ensure that it does not confuse its bilateral economic and trade interest with Indonesia and its moral responsibility to seeking a just resolution on behalf of the Forum member countries and the people of the Pacific.
For its part the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua, which strenuously lobbied for the Forum to consider the plight of Papuans during its September meeting, cautiously welcomed the prospect of a "fact finding" mission. UMLWP spokesperson Benny Wenda called for the mission to include "independent candidates from all sectors of society." In this context, Wenda underscored the role of civil society in the region in advancing the cause of rights for West Papuans:
"Solidarity support from the Pacific and globally have heard the cries from West Papua, and we thank our people who continue to support us. We appeal to our people to continue to hold their respective governments to account and lobby our leaders to support our quest for an independent fact finding mission, and also at the United Nations to be listed on the Decolonisation List and for the UN to appoint a Special Envoy for West Papua."
Octovianus Mote, Secretary-General of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and a member of the Solomon Islands delegation to the Forum, said "What this means for us is that we have a right to be part of this process."
WPAT Comment: Many regional governments have in the past succumbed to Indonesian threats and blandishments again and again over the issue of rights for the Papuans. Only the vigilant involvement of civil society in the region and groups who have long supported the cause of Papua rights can assure that their governments pursue terms for an effective mission.