CAIRNS FORUM: WEST PAPUA OFF THE FORUM AGENDA
Following the Forum leaders meeting, West Papuan leaders expressed disappointment that the issue of human rights in the Indonesian-controlled territory was not discussed by regional leaders.
Speaking to ISLANDS BUSINESS in Cairns, the Vice Chair of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) John Ondawame stated: “We don’t expect much from this meeting but we are here to set out our objectives for the future. I’m very pessimistic—with Australia in the chair, it’s unlikely our calls will be considered.”
In the past, countries like Vanuatu and Nauru have supported the West Papuan movement by raising the issue of human rights in the Forum and the WPNCL has an office in Port Vila.
But this year in Cairns, Vanuatu Prime Minister Edward Natapei told journalists the issue had not been discussed by Forum leaders.
Ondawame said West Papuan leaders had three clear requests for action by Forum member countries.
“We call for Forum leaders to send a fact-finding mission to West Papua,” he stated.
“Secondly, we’d like the Forum to call on the Indonesian government to hold a formal dialogue with leaders of the West Papuan people.
“Most importantly, we want to see an end to human rights abuses in West Papua—we want the Pacific to call on Indonesia to withdraw its troops and police or at least reduce their numbers.”
Ondawame argues that the 2001 autonomy law for Papua has not ended abuses by Indonesian forces—claims that are backed by international human rights groups.
On 24 June, the US-based Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting abuses in the town of Merauke by troops from Indonesia’s elite Special Forces unit Kopassus. Kopassus soldiers have been arresting West Papuans without legal authority and beating or mistreating those taken back to their barracks.
There have also been recent killings near the giant Freeport copper and gold mine in the Grasberg mountains, including the July 11 death of Australian mining technician Drew Grant.
He was shot and killed in an attack on vehicles travelling near the mine site.
Two US schoolteachers and an Indonesian worker were killed in similar attacks in 2002.
In the Indonesian capital, the Jakarta Globe reported: “One well-placed government source and a top official with the national Police’s intelligence directorate told the Jakarta Globe that an elite military unit may have been behind the attacks.”
Forum support over a decade
The issue of West Papua was formally included in the Forum communiqué for the first time in 2000, at the 31st Pacific Islands Forum in Kiribati.
In Tarawa, four members of the newly created Papua Presidium (Franz Albert Joku, Nick Messet, Paul Masta and Martin Raklung Mehue) were given official delegate status as members of the Nauru delegation, to lobby for Forum support.
The 2000 Forum communiqué from Kiribati stated: “Forum leaders expressed deep concerns about past and recent violence and loss of life in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya (West Papua).
“They called on the Indonesian Government, the sovereign authority, and secessionist groups to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue and consultation.
“They also urged all parties to protect and uphold the human rights of all residents of Irian Jaya (West Papua).
“Leaders would welcome closer dialogue with the Government of Indonesia on issues of common concern”.
This Forum statement came soon after the 1998 collapse of the Suharto regime and the “Jayapura Spring”, which saw widespread public debate over independence amongst the West Papuan population.
But the 2001 murder of Papua Presidium leader Theys Eluay by Kopassus soldiers and subsequent operations by Indonesian police and military closed this window of opportunity for dialogue between Jayapura and Jakarta.
While some Pacific countries such as Vanuatu and Nauru continue to declare their support for the issue, other Forum members like Australia and Papua New Guinea stress their support for Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua.
Concerned over security and border issues, PNG representatives were initially reluctant to see a strong Forum statement in support of the West Papuan cause and asked other Pacific countries to recognise the “sensitive” nature of PNG’s relationship with Indonesia.
However, over the next few years, Forum leaders continued to call for an end to military human rights abuses, while welcoming the 2001 special autonomy law which outlines the transfer of greater powers and finance from Jakarta to the local administration in Jayapura.
After the Tarawa Forum, communiqués from the next three leaders meetings—Nauru (2001), Fiji (2002) and New Zealand (2003)—continued to include the West Papua issue.
Then the issue dropped from the agenda over the next two years, and apart from brief mentions in the communiqués from Fiji (2006) and Tonga (2007), the issue is again off the agenda.
In 2000, welcoming the Forum’s first statement on Papua, the West Papuan delegates stated: “This is a historical moment for the people of West Papua. After four decades, we are back in our natural habitat, the South Pacific.
“Our existence and future is beginning to get the attention they deserve amongst the countries and people of the region to which we rightly belong.”
In Cairns this year, John Ondawame reaffirmed these regional links, arguing: “Organisations like the Forum should remember the history of West Papuan involvement in the early days of Pacific regionalism.”
Under Dutch administration, West Papuans were active in regional Pacific meetings in the 1950s and 1960s. West Papuans participated in the founding of the South Pacific Commission and Pacific Conference of Churches, before Indonesia’s take-over in the 1960s severed links with other island nations.
In 1950, Pacific islands delegates came together in Suva for the first South Pacific Conference—the meeting of the newly formed South Pacific Commission.
Representatives from the colony of Dutch New Guinea joined fellow Pacific Islands delegates at this important regional gathering.
Photographs from the time show the West Papuan leader Markus Kaisiepo seated beside Ratu Sir Edward Cakobau of Fiji, Albert Henry of the Cook Islands and Prince Tu’ipelehake of the Kingdom of Tonga.
In the 1960s, West Papuans were studying at the Fiji School of Medicine and Pacific Theological College.
Growing from the Malua Conference of Churches and Missions in Samoa in 1961, Pacific churches worked together to found the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).
At the founding meeting of the PCC, one of the church delegations came from Dutch New Guinea. Reverend Kabel and Reverend Maloali of the Evangelical Christian Church joined fellow Christians from around the region to establish the regional ecumenical body.
With Australia’s Kevin Rudd chairing the Forum over the next year, Canberra is unlikely to advance the issue within the regional body.
But WPCNL Secretary General Rex Rumakiek is hopeful that islands leaders will continue to monitor this part of Melanesia, especially with Vanuatu hosting the 2010 leaders meeting.
Speaking after the Forum, Rumakiek stated: “Regardless of this setback, our Coalition will continue to work for a peaceful and dignified solution to the West Papuan issue.
“We will never stop until once again we become part of the Pacific community, as we were when we were a member of the South