The fight for West Papua might be far from a victory for people there but at last week’s 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting; the vocal local protesters who made the issue known can claim a moral victory.
The mere fact it was acknowledged in the official communiqué is a step in the right direction. Some people might say it is not enough but it must be said that small steps are better than no step at all.
On the other hand, for allowing the protest to proceed – barring an incident where protesters were asked to produce a permit – the government of Samoa can also hold its head up high that it allowed a basic freedom in a democracy to be exercised.
The fact that the protesting group was allowed to express their views without having anyone dragged into Police cells, as we’ve so often seen in these things, is a good sign for Samoa.
The only downside was the Police demanding a permit when from what we’ve been told such a permit is not required.
We are not lawyers but this is perhaps something that needs to be clarified in terms of going forward. Whether the Police made a mistake, someone should own up and acknowledge that.
What we do know is that the second protest went ahead unopposed.
Which was a massive relief.
We say this because wherever protests are involved, there is no guarantee that there will be no confrontation. In countries near and far, we’ve often seen these confrontations turn ugly, extremely ugly.
Yet in Apia last week, while it did create a scene, common sense prevailed in the end for the sake of Samoa and the preservation of democracy on these shores.
The mere fact that the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Dame Meg Taylor, made an appearance to acknowledge the views of the protest group speaks volumes about the mutual respect we have in the Pacific. She could’ve just ignored them but she didn’t.
What’s more, the recognition of the issue in the official communiqué is even more encouraging as it means the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua is not being ignored, as some people say.
Reads the Communiqué: “Leaders recognised the constructive engagement by the Forum countries with Indonesia with respect to elections and human rights in West Papua and Papua and to continue a dialogue in an open and constructive manner.”
Well that’s great, isn’t it?
Interestingly enough, this completely throws Indonesia’s official response to the protesters out the window. Last week, an angry Ambassador of Indonesia to New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga, Tantowi Yahya, criticised the protest.
“The Pacific community should stick to the main agenda of the conference which is the Blue Pacific. You know everything is connected to that,” he said.
“In our perspective, talking about West Papua in this conference is not the place because from the beginning there is no agenda as such.”
A colleague of the Ambassador, Mr. Joku became angry and raised his voice to journalists present.
“No! We just stick to the main agenda... but not the Papuans,” he said insisting that the Forum is not the place for the issue.
Perhaps someone should have reminded both Mr. Yahya and Mr. Joku that this is not Indonesia.
This is Samoa where people are allowed to express their views and opinions.
Besides, who gave them the right to dictate what can and cannot be discussed in the Forum?
Folks, this is the Pacific Islands Forum after all held in Apia where Samoan people are free to do whatever they want in their country.
The protest last week was perfectly legitimate because the last time we checked, we are a free people who are allowed to protest and express ourselves freely. So good on the protesters for exercising their freedom.
Let’s hope the momentum is not lost and that at the next Forum meeting, the issue of human rights abuses at West Papua will feature a bit more prominently in the communiqué and that officials like Mr. Joku and Mr. Yahya will learn to leave their dictatorship mindset in their country.