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By Staff Reporter : PNG Today

West Papua an issue to be pursued, says Forum Secretary General

By Nic Maclellan (Islands Business magazine) in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia

The issue of West Papua will be on the agenda at this week’s Pacific Islands Forum, in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia.

Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, says that West Papua is a sensitive issue for some Pacific governments, but one that needs to be debated.

“It’s an issue that needs to be pursued and it’s not going to go away,” she said. “Our bigger countries in the region like Australia and New Zealand realise that this issue is just not going to go to sleep – and it shouldn’t go to sleep, because it is very important for our region.”

At last year’s Forum in Port Moresby, West Papua was one of five core topics proposed to Forum leaders through the Framework on Pacific Regionalism – a new mechanism to develop regional policy and collective action.

In the final communique from the Port Moresby summit, Pacific leaders reaffirmed Indonesia’s sovereignty over the two Papuan provinces but “called on all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents in Papua and to work to address the root causes of such conflicts by peaceful means.”

Forum Chair PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill was tasked to approach Indonesia to propose a Forum fact-finding mission to West Papua. As outgoing chair, O’Neill will report back to this week’s meeting in Pohnpei, but Indonesia has already made it clear that any mission is unwelcome.

In Pohnpei, Dame Meg Taylor confirmed that the Indonesian Embassy in Suva has told the Forum Secretariat that Jakarta would not welcome a Forum delegation, and was uncomfortable with the term “fact-finding.”

Indonesia is clearly unhappy that the issue of human rights is being connected to broader questions of self-determination, in a region where independence movements in New Caledonia, Bougainville and Guam are preparing for referendums or plebiscites on their political status.

Speaking after a ministerial meeting in Australia last December, Indonesia’s Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu – a former army chief of staff - said that West Papua should not be an issue for regional discussion:

“There are countries that are getting involved in the issue of Papua. For us, Papua is in the United Republic of Indonesia. There is no other solution to talk about it, that’s it, that’s the way it is. So this is so that everyone will know that that doesn’t need to be spoken about.”

Even with the Forum constrained by the policies of larger members like Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, other Pacific Islands countries have continued to advocate for West Papua on the regional and international stage.

At the 2015 summit of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), Melanesian leaders granted associate membership to Indonesia, but also observer status to the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), the umbrella organisation for West Papuan nationalist groups campaigning for self-determination.

The ULMWP’s bid for full membership of the MSG has been blocked by Papua New Guinea and Fiji, despite support from the other three MSG members: Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s independence movement Front de Liberation Nationale Kanak et Socialiste (FLNKS).

Under Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Solomon Islands has expanded its diplomatic support for the West Papuan nationalist movement, aligning with long-standing supporters like Vanuatu and the FLNKS.

On the sidelines of last week’s Pacific Islands Leaders Conference (PICL) in Honolulu, Prime Minister Sogavare convened a meeting of the People’s Coalition on West Papua, first proposed last July.

As Forum leaders arrive in Pohnpei for this week’s summit, Forum Secretary General Taylor notes: “The Prime Minister of Solomon Islands has called together other countries that are interested in pursuing an alternative strategy to ensure that the issues pertinent to West Papua are raised at the international level.”

Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and the FLNKS are now joined by Nauru, Tuvalu, Tonga and Marshall Islands, which have expressed support for self-determination and an end to human rights abuses in West Papua. The Coalition also includes the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO), reflecting growing public awareness on the issue, as information from within West Papua is shared internationally through social media.

Noting that the MSG was also split on the issue, Dame Meg acknowledged that Forum debate would continue to be a sensitive one for the regional organisation: “The challenge here is - will there be a consensus amongst all the leaders of the Pacific?”

Prime Minister Sogavare will not attend this Saturday’s leaders’ retreat, but the debate will continue in the region and internationally. Next April, Indonesia must submit its five-yearly Universal Periodic Review on human rights to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the issue of West Papua will be central to the review.

The ongoing issue of impunity for human rights abuses in Indonesia has been re-kindled by the recent appointment of an indicted war criminal, General (retired) Wiranto, as Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security Affairs. In 2003, Wiranto was indicted by a UN-backed court for his role as commander of the military in the security force violence during Timor-Leste's 1999 independence vote.
Despite pledges to improve dialogue with West Papuan leaders in Jayapura, Wiranto’s appointment by Indonesia’s President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo has signalled that the army and police will continue to play a central role in Indonesia’s democratic transition.

As West Papuans continue to seek regional support in the Pacific islands, “this issue is just not going to go to sleep, said Dame Meg.


Posted by Staff Reporter : PNG Today on 1:25 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Share this Article


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