Pacific Islands' Leaders Support West Papua at the UN
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.
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."
Prime Minister Sogavare updated the UNGA on developments at the MSG and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). He urged Indonesia to accept unrestricted access to a PIF a fact-finding mission to West Papua. (See below on prospects for the success of this fact-finding mission.)
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."
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.
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.
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.
President Widodo's Bad Faith Promises to Papuans Revealed in Merauke Project
In recent months the West Papua Report has noted the repeated failure of Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to live up to his pre- and post-election promises to begin to deal fairly and honestly with Papuans, whose abuse at the hands of security forces and nefarious corporate developers has gravely threatened their existence. (See for example What to Make of President Widodo.)
The President's "bad faith" vis-a-vis the Papuans is underscored once again by the President's support for continuation and even expansion of the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate Project (MIFEE).
The project -- initially announced in 2009 by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono -- was purportedly intended to raise production of crops like rice, corn and soybean. The project faced massive opposition from indigenous Papuans who protested developers confiscation of their land, environmental degradation and violation of indigenous property and other human rights.
"[This project] will [cause] a humanitarian and ecological disaster victimizing the Papuans," he said, noting the project has affected up to 100,000 people," said Yosafat Leonard Franky of the indigenous rights group Pusaka.
This local opposition was heard on the international stage when, in August 2013, 27 organizations petitioned the UN Committee On the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The groups noted that the MIFEE project threatened indigenous food security and the local peoples cultural survival.
Opposition effectively stalled progress on the project in recent years. But in May, President Widodo announced plans to re-launch the project and said that the area allocated to it would be expanded to 4.6 million hectares nearly tripling the original plans for 1.6 million hectares.
This plan to revive and expand this massive commercial agribusiness and biofuel project will bring greater violations of the land rights of the indigenous and local communities than was originally feared at the plan's inception, dramatically changing their way of life. MIFEE will convert land used by the local Malind people into a plant for food, timber and biofuel production.
"We call this robbery," Sacred Heart Father Anselmus Amo, director of Merauke Catholic Diocese's justice and peace secretariat, told UCANews.
"The project is full of bad practices, and it is difficult to expect that it will bring about any positive impact on Papuans. Instead, what happens is marginalization," Father Amo added.
The government has granted permits to 41 plantation companies to operate on 1.5 million hectares of land reports Pusaka, an NGO working on indigenous rights. Pusaka's Franky said that companies have cleared thousands of hectares of palm trees. As a consequence, sago, a major food staple extracted from the trees, is disappearing.
"Sago serves as the tribal people's cultural and religious identity. It is used in the traditional ceremonies, such as birth and death. Its value is very vital," he said.
Indonesian Police Continue to Assault Papuan Youths, Killing one in Timika
Indonesian police in Timika, September 28, shot and killed one student and critically wounded another. The dead student, Kaleb Bogau, is the son of a pastor and an activist associated with the National Committee West Papua (KNPB). Efrando Sabarofek was shot in the chest and leg. Both are 17 years old. The police had raided a student gathering at a residential building and fired on the students as they ran into the street.
According to the Papua Advocacy and Human Rights - Australia (IPAHR), the Indonesian police have killed eight civilians in five incidents during the past year.
The September 28 incident also follows a police assault on students on September 16 in Yahukimo. Hariel Lulu and Arpius Magayang had been handing out leaflets about developments at the Pacific Islands Forum. Police reportedly stopped the students, beat them and forced them to eat the leaflets.
Laurenzus Kadepa, a member of the Papua Legislative Council, told Jubi that it seemed like military and police officials in Papua "are racing to kill Papuans."
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) urged Indonesia's government to conduct an investigation for this shooting. MRG said perpetrators must be held accountable.
"There is no justification for these senseless murders and the Indonesian government must urgently establish an independent inquiry to hold perpetrators to account," said Claire Thomas, Deputy Director at MRG. "Extrajudicial killings in West Papua have reached unacceptable proportions, with the indigenous population living in daily fear of security forces and for their lives."
"It is not enough for President Joko Widodo to make bold promises about promoting human rights in Papua unless it is followed up with concrete action," added Thomas. "This must include addressing the underlying causes of violence and insecurity in West Papua, including endemic impunity for state-sponsored violence and the disregard for minority and indigenous rights."
Defense Ministry Wants Return to Suharto-Era Paramilitaries
The Indonesian government plans to provide military training to civilians living in border areas. Announcing the plan, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said "If the country faces serious threats, people should assist the military to protect the country. It is impossible for the military to protect the country without getting any support from the people."
Ryamizard was visiting Natuna, Riau Islands, said that while the military would train civilians in border areas, such as Merauke, Maluku, and in the border areas of Sulawesi and Kalimantan, there was no plan to distribute weapons to them.
Ryamizard had earlier said that he wanted to enlist at least 100 million reservists. A draft government bill - opposed by human rights groups - would conscript nearly all citizens older than 18 into five years of military service
WPAT Comment: Throughout the Suharto dictatorship the Indonesian military relied on paramilitaries as a quasi legal force for use against those who spoke out against the dictatorship and the military repression which kept it in power. Perhaps the most egregious employment of paramilitary forces was in East Timor. Armed thugs worked with the military throughout the 24-year Indonesian occupation of East Timor serving the military as a force for intimidation of the civilian population. Paramilitaries in East Timor were the tip of a lance which savaged the Timorese in the run up to the 1999 referendum which freed East Timor. Following the vote, paramilitary thugs worked alongside the military in killings and property destruction that devastated East Timor. Paramilitaries in West Papua and perhaps elsewhere seem likely to act similarly as nationalist bullies and thugs serving as a cats paw for the military.
Progress In Paniai Case Remains Stalled
The December 2014 murder of four students by Indonesian police remains stalled as the Indonesian government refuses to its press investigation of the case. In its latest delaying tactics, investigators pressing for autopsies which would entail disinternment of the victims' bodies.
An Ad Hoc Team operating under the auspicious of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) which was delegated to investigate the murders, meanwhile, has been stymied in proceeding with its investigation by a lack of government funding.
The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict's latest report, The Current Status of the Papuan Pro-Independence Movement is problematic. It devotes an inordinate amount of space on the on the status and conflicts among different armed OPM groups, which have become increasingly militarily and politically irrelevant. The more interesting final third of the report looks at the "far larger and far more active presence of the political pressure groups." It notes the increasing unity inside the territory and among the Papuan diaspora, but repeats past IPAC and International Crisis Group reports' thinly-sourced accusations that some have been directly involved in violence. While presenting an interesting mapping of the actors, it fails to adequately present the full range of human rights violations inflicted on the Papuan people by Indonesian authorities. It does, however, acknowledge the effectiveness of the United Liberation Movement (ULMWP) in building "an unprecedented and probably temporary degree of unity to the movement."
Maori TV Reports from West Papua
Maori TV's Native Affairs program broadcast a two-part report on West Papua in late September. Its report was by the first New Zealand television crew allowed to visit West Papua in 50 years. The first part of the report provides background with a focus on the the political and human rights situation. Part 2 features a village based project funded by New Zealand supporting the farming and marketing of sweet potatoes. In a separate segment, producer Adrian Stevanon provides insights into reporting in West Papua.
An Indonesian diplomat responded to the article, "A new hopeful chapter in West Papua's 50-year freedom struggle," in the comment section of the Waging Nonviolence website where it was originally posted. Yayan Gh Mulyana argues that while conditions are pretty good in West Papua thanks to Indonesian government policy, President Widodo's policies will improve them even more. He says that the Indonesian government stepped up 'aid' to Pacific island countries had nothing to do with ULMWP's growing support in the region and that "protecting and promoting the political, social, cultural and economic rights of the Papuans is of paramount importance" to the government. Jason Macleod, the article's author points out that Dr. Mulyana, an Indonesian Consul-General of Indonesia in Australia and responds that the root cause of the conflict is "not economic, but political." He adds that "Until there is a much deeper movement towards a just and sustainable peace by Jakarta and its international political allies, West Papuans will continue to internationalize the conflict. Among other things that will include challenging the United States and Australian governments who continue to train and arm the Indonesian security forces."
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