Friday, May 9, 2014

OPEN letter to Pacific Islands Forum Leaders

Australia West Papua Association (Sydney)
PO Box 28, Spit Junction, NSW 2088

OPEN letter to Pacific Islands Forum Leaders

10 May 2014

Dear Pacific Islands Forum leaders, 

On behalf of the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) in Sydney, I am writing to you concerning the issue of West Papua and about the ongoing human rights abuses in the territory.  AWPA uses the name “West Papua” to refer to the whole of the western half of the Island of New Guinea.  However, “West Papua” at this time is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.

Unfortunately there has been little improvement in the human rights situation in West Papua since the last Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Summit was held in Majuro in 2013.
Before the last PIF Summit we raised concerns about the crackdown on the rallies on the 1 May 2013, when Papuans commemorated the 50th anniversary of the administrative transfer of Papua to Indonesia. Peaceful demonstrations went ahead despite a ban issued by Indonesian authorities in contravention of the right to free expression and assembly. Police opened fire on demonstrators killing three, seriously injuring others and arresting leaders. When civil society groups gathered on 13 May to peacefully demand accountability, more arrests were made.   As recently as the 11 February 2014, the district court of Biak sentenced five Papuans to jail terms of between 20 months and three years simply because they were involved in one of the rallies on the 1 May last year where the Morning Star flag was raised. 

This crackdown was not an isolated incident and the security forces continued to crackdown on peaceful rallies throughout the rest of the year.  Many of the rallies called by civil society organisations were banned by the security forces although permits had been applied for permission to hold the rallies.  The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) does not apply in West Papua.

A number of indicators point out the worsening situation in West Papua. The increasing number of political prisoners is one. Papuans behind bars in their January 2013 update stated that  “At the end of January 2013 there were 33 political prisoners in Papuan jails.”   In its update for the end of March 2014 it stated that they were at least 73 political prisoners in Papuan jails.

Intimidation of journalists is another.
The media (including alternative media information) is an important part of democracy and threats against the media should always be of concern. In West Papua the local media are on the ground and can be first with reports of human rights abuses, intimidation by the security forces against civil society organisations and of reports of the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations. In a press release the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Jayapura stated there were  “20 cases of intimidation and violence against journalists in Papua in 2013.

Papuans Behind Bars also reported that  “ Indonesia’s top-down approach to development in Papua, as well as its unwillingness to consider a range of Papuan views, appears to be causing increasing unrest. When criticisms are expressed through peaceful protest, these actions are met with heavy-handed tactics leading to further unrest. Intransigent government approaches to development are in this way becoming a significant factor in fuelling instability Papua”.

Impact of security sweeps on local people
Since the beginning of the year there have been a large number of shooting incidents (particularly in the Puncak Jaya region) with the military responding to many of the incidents with security sweeps (security operations). The various clashes and shootings around Mulia in the highlands caused fear in the local people disrupting their normal activities. One of the residents of the area reported that about 200 residents including himself had to leave Puncak Jaya because of fear. 
“I am a Dondobaga resident who lives in Kulirik village. I chose to flee to Nabire with other people because the TNI-Police frequently conducts incursions. This made us feel unsafe, uncomfortable and afraid ”. The Jakarta Globe (27/1) also reported on the ongoing fighting in the area.  It reported that local residents in the Mulia sub district of Puncak Jaya, Papua, have yet to resume their normal activities due to an ongoing firefight in the area between forces from the Indonesian Military, or TNI, and members of the separatist Free Papua Organization, known as the OPM. “The situation in Puncak Jaya is uncertain; the people are in a state of panic because of a shooting in Kota Mulia,” Puron Morbinak, a resident of Mulia, said in a text message to the Jakarta Globe. “People in the villages of Kulirik, Dondobaga, Talileme, Karubateand Yalingga are terrified and they’re scared of going to church. “Members of the military and the National Police have been operating in the area up until Sunday, making the shooting unavoidable,” he added

The deteriorating situation in West Papua is also affecting neighbouring countries.   There were a number of armed clashes and shooting incidents on the West Papuan-PNG border area during April 2014. On the 5 April there was a clash between the security forces and approximately 40 civilians in the Wutung area. The border crossing was closed following the shoot-out.  The group blocked the road and lowered the Indonesian flag and raised the West Papuan and UN flags.  A number of buildings were damaged as a result of the incident. A soldier and a police officer suffered minor injuries in the clash with the civilians and Mathias Wenda’s OPM group.

There was also a clash between Indonesian and PNG troops on the 19 April. Although there were no reports of casualties and the Indonesian military denied there was a clash, these incidents could lead to further tension in the border area.

AWPA believes the PIF could play an important role in helping resolve the conflict in West Papua by encouraging the Indonesian Government to actively engage in peaceful dialogue with representatives of the West Papuan People.

AWPA also urges the PIF to discuss the human rights situation in West Papua at the coming PIF summit in Koror, The Republic of Palau. We urge the PIF to acknowledge concerns about the human rights abuses committed by the security forces in West Papua in the official communiqué as did the MSG leaders in their official Communiqué in Noumea in 2013.

We also call on the PIF to urge the Indonesian Government to release all West Papuan political prisoners unconditionally as a sign of good faith to the West Papuan people.

We note that a number of articles in the Indonesian Criminal Code such as articles 106 and 110 are used to stigmatize West Papuans as separatists when in fact all they are doing is using their democratic right to freedom of expression. Another article of concern is Article 6 of Government Regulation 77/2007 which prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua. All these articles are used to charge peaceful demonstrators as so called separatists. We urge the PIF to ask the Indonesian Government to amend or repeal these articles of the Indonesian Criminal Code otherwise we will continue to see West Papuans jailed for simply exercising their to freedom of expression and assembly.

AWPA has noted over the years the granting of various types of association to non-self governing territories and organisations at the PIF. The most recent being the US territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas in 2011.   We believe that it is now time to bring the Melanesian people of West Papua back into the Pacific community by granting observer status to genuine representatives of the Melanesian people of West Papua who are struggling for their right to self-determination.  

Yours sincerely
Joe Collins

AWPA (Sydney)

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