Note Jowiki's trip cancelled
2) The Pacific is divided on West Papua
1) Australia should go to Papua and see the human rights situation for itself
Support of Indonesian sovereignty over Papua does not mean shying away from scrutiny of abuses
As Indonesia’s president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, touches down in Australia for the first time since assuming the presidency, will human rights feature at all in the talks? Indonesian officials are already working overtime to control the agenda, with the defence minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, warning Australia against “interfering in the West Papua issue” and asking Australia to send a message to Pacific Island nations that support autonomy for Papuans.
Ryamizard told an Australian journalist, with no apparent irony: “Those countries better keep their mouths shut and mind their own business. It is better that Australia speaks to them gently. If it was left up to me, I would twist their ears.”
Although Australia has consistently supported Indonesian sovereignty over Papua, the issue remains one of various sensitivities in the Australia–Indonesia relationship. But that discomfort does not give Indonesia a free pass to commit human rights abuses in the province, nor should Australia shy away from discussing such matters at the highest levels.
The provinces of Papua and West Papua are a remote, isolated region, where the OPM (Free Papua Movement) has led a low-level insurgency for decades. That insurgency has long been the excuse for significant military involvement in Papua. With the heightened police and military presence, there have been reports of security force abuses including killings, torture, excessive or unnecessary use of force, and mistreatment of peaceful protesters.
At least 37 Papuans remain behind bars for peaceful acts of free expression or expressing solidarity with the independence movement. All of this impunity is aided by reduced scrutiny of abuses as foreign journalists and human rights organisations face a half century-long restriction on visiting the province.
Perhaps Indonesia feels especially confident in rallying Australian support, since it scored something of a coup in August with the Papua visit by the attorney general, George Brandis. He was the first Australian cabinet minister to visitPapua, and human rights were glaringly absent from all public statements he made about that visit. His choice of travelling companion was also troubling – he was accompanied by Wiranto, Indonesia’s poster child for impunity for serious abuses.
Wiranto, the co-ordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, was Indonesia’s armed forces chief in 1999 when the military and government-backed militias carried out atrocities against the East Timorese after they voted for independence.
In fact, given that background, it’s even more important for the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and foreign minister, Julie Bishop, to ask some hard questions about what Indonesia is doing to address human rights violations in Papua and how Australia can help.
Australian acceptance of Indonesian sovereignty over Papua does not mean discussion of human rights concerns in Papua should be taken off the table. Let’s remember that Jokowi himself has previously called for greater respect for human rights in Papua and for the Indonesian government to stop blocking foreign journalists and observers from visiting Papua.
Here’s one suggestion that Turnbull could broach with Jokowi: if Indonesian officials are so keen to gain Australia’s support on Papua, then why not allow a multi-party parliamentary delegation from Australia, accompanied by journalists, free access to visit the province?
Australia’s parliament has long had an interest in the region, with a Parliamentary Friends of West Papua group co-chaired by Jane Prentice MP and Senator Richard Di Natale. Such a visit, not a junket, should include a range of Australian politicians armed with expertise in trade, tourism, economic and social portfolios and include meetings with Papuan leaders, civil society, imprisoned activists and ordinary Papuans.
In fact, when General Luhut Pandjaitan, then coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, visited Canberra in June he extended an invitation to the Australian government to visit Papua, saying,
I ask also any member of the cabinet to join us to go there. We have nothing to hide. It is not the time to hide something. Let us work together to make it transparent. If you want to criticise Indonesia we are happy to receive that criticism. But please, give that criticism based on data, not rumour.
A visit would help Australian politicians understand more about a region only a few hundred kilometres to our north that remains isolated and undeveloped. It would enable Australians to hear directly from Papuans about the issues affecting their lives – surely this is part of what Jokowi wants in trying to win the hearts and minds of Papuans.
Elaine Pearson is the Australia director at Human Rights Watch.
Author: Patrick M. Walsh, Observer Research Foundation
The United Liberation Movement for West Papua has just been given approval to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as a full member this December, which advances their position from the observer status granted in 2014. This marks the most significant recognition of West Papua as a political identity since the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority administration in the 1960s.
This decision by the MSG is rich with political meaning and adds further depth to the already intricate mosaic of Pacific island relations: the Free West Papua campaign celebrates a tangible advancement in its age-old bid for self-determination; the MSG wrangles with its own internal politics; and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) emerges from its last annual gathering two members larger (with admission of French Polynesia and New Caledonia) but apparently hamstrung on the West Papua issue.
Although the Free West Papua campaign has gained considerable momentum and popular appeal in recent years, the bid for self-determination has been long, tragic and even to this day deliberately overlooked by the international community. In 1969, the UN acknowledged Melanesian rights to self-determination in Western New Guinea by facilitating an ‘Act of Free Choice’.
Many claim that Indonesia interfered with the referendum through intimidation and coercion of voters. Since the so-called ‘Act of No Choice’, Melanesian sovereignty in West Papua has been reduced to a memory and a fringe resistance movement.
The international community’s neglect of indigenous Papuans forms a familiar story — the rights of a sovereign people subverted by Cold War politics, under-the-table mining contracts and a fear of antagonist aggression. West Papua is still held in this decades-old inertia.
While Pacific island nations have undoubtedly been the most vocal in support of their Melanesian brothers and sisters, the Free West Papua campaign has driven a wedge within regional forums.
The Pacific Islands Forum has several times attempted to address the West Papuan issue throughout their annual meetings. But the Forum has been careful to avoid specific mention of the indigenous quest for self-determination and consistently recognises Indonesia as the sovereign power of former Dutch New Guinea. In 2016 the Forum seems to have shelved the issue, given the cursory and almost dismissive mention of West Papua in the official communique.
The actions of seven Pacific island leaders at the 71st UN General Assembly revealed the lack of internal PIF consensus. In the absence of a whole-region forum to lobby on their behalf, leaders from Tuvalu, Palau, Vanuatu, Tonga, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands individually called for immediate global attention to human rights abuses in West Papua. Notably, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands associated human rights abuses against indigenous Papuans with their right for self-determination.
While Pacific activism at the UN is almost becoming an institution, this latest round of politicking is a useful litmus test of the current state of Pacific regionalism.
Critics would argue that PIF inactivity on West Papua is yet another example of the organisation’s inability to act collectively on behalf of their constituencies. Although a changing diplomatic dynamic in the Pacific might justify the PIF diverting sensitive issues into sub-regional and individual hands.
Regardless of the interpretation, it is obvious that West Papua has brought to public attention an unresolved issue within the Forum — their collective stance on decolonisation. The West Papua case sits alongside the puzzling granting of full PIF membership to New Caledonia and French Polynesia, both French colonies. This seems inconsistent with the PIF’s identity as defender of independence and self-determination in the Pacific.
Perhaps West Papua is appealing to the PIF at a bad time: an age of ‘new diplomacy’ characterised by internal fractions, a potentially unwieldy number of interest groups, and the rise of sub-regional identities. Or perhaps the PIF has decided to bet on Indonesia as an emerging partner in the region, perpetuating the political inertia that has prevented West Papuan independence since decolonisation.
In contrast with the PIF, the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s acceptance of West Papua as a full member cements their role as the new regional champions for self-determination, even if PNG and Fiji did not seem to actively support the decision.
It is unlikely that extra-regional support for the Free West Papua campaign will happen without regional cohesion. The PIF needs to wrangle out of their 18 members a clear message on decolonisation. And the MSG should at least appear united in their acceptance of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Ambivalence on the West Papua issue won’t help gain the attention and sympathy of a historically reluctant international community.
Patrick M. Walsh is a researcher at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.