Forum urged to act decisively on West Papua

Once strictly confined as an Indonesian domestic issue, advances in telecommunications and Pacific regionalism have internationalised the plight of West Papuans.

RNZ reports for years Papuans have claimed they have been denied basic rights, particularly self-determination, and are constantly subject to Indonesian state oppression.

Demographic change in the region has also left Papuans fast becoming a minority, dominated by Indonesian culture, and has added urgency to the latest call by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) for help from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Its Australia-based Pacific regional ambassador Amatus Douw is travelling to Suva, Fiji, in the hope of joining discussions around tomorrow's meeting of Foreign Ministers from Forum member states.

"ULMWP believe our people and society need support on the ground from the PIF for the native peoples and territories," he said.

The Suva meeting comes ahead of the upcoming Forum leaders summit in the Federated States of Micronesia early next month.

Amid increased engagement between Pacific regional governments with West Papua through the Liberation Movement, Mr Douw says the time is right for the Forum to place Papua issues, of self-determination and human rights, on the international stage.

Indonesia's government is opposed to the Liberation Movement's involvement in regional fora, and has lobbied against the organisation's current bid to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

The Movement was granted observer status at the MSG last year.

There is no official application by the Movement for membership in the Forum however members of its executive such as secretary-general Octo Mote and spokesman Benny Wenda have travelled widely to consult with Pacific governments in the past two years.

For the upcoming Forum summit in FSM, Mr Douw has urged the leaders to take up aPacific civil society recommendation for taking the case of West Papua to the UN.

In particular, Pacific people increasingly see the controversial UN-sanctioned 1969 referendum under which Papua was incorporated into Indonesia, the so-called Act of Free Choice, as fraudulent.

Regional governments such as Vanuatu and Solomon Islands believe it needs revisiting.

Mr Douw claims there is sound basis in international law for this to happen, but said there was a pressing need for a peaceful solution to ongoing alleged abuses against Papuans by security forces.

Indonesia's government recently established an inter-agency team to address historical human rights abuses in Papua, but signals from Jakarta that abuses are a thing of the past are contested among Papuans and human rights bodies.

However the Papua provincial police commander Paulus Waterpauw has recently said his force had made gains in opening up communications with grassroots communities in Papua.

Two weeks ago,Mr Waterpauw conducted mediations between two warring ethnic factions in the Papuan town of Timika following violent clashes there which caused dozens of Papuans to flee to the bush.

Jakarta says it is helping to improve living conditions for West Papuans, and has attacked other regional countries for criticising its rights record in Papua.

But the United Liberation Movement says the root cause of Papuans' disillusionment with Indonesia remains unaddressed.

"The root case is territorial status," explained Mr Douw. "West Papua is undeniably a Pacific territory, not an Asian territory."

The Liberation Movement has expressed disappointment that the resolution at last year's Pacific Forum summit in Papua New Guinea to request Jakarta to allow a fact-finding mission to visit Papua had so far come to nothing.

Mr Douw said Pacific leaders must show leadership to address West Papua as an international issue.

"Other regional leaders and international community are watching how the best of the pacific leaders to make sure their pacific people are saved and secured, how their oppressed people of West Papua is protected."


Pacific regional ambassador of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua Amatus Douw, third from left next to the Movement's secretary-general, Octo Mote (centre) talking to New Zealand MPs in 2015. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades