The issue of self-determination for West Papua has been highlighted at the most recent general assembly of the United Nations.
Papua New Guinean prime minister James Marape spent more than 40 minutes addressing the assembly, but his speech included some brief indirect and ambiguous remarks that have been widely interpretated as referring to the situation in occupied West Papua.
“While commenting on the United Nations’ peace effort in PNG, I would also like to recall the Pacific islands leaders forum in 2019 and the outstanding visit by the UN human rights’ mechanisms to address the alleged human rights concerns in our regional neighbourhood,” Mr Marape said.
“This visit is very important to ensure that the greater people have peace within their respective sovereignties – and their rights and (the) cultural dignities are fully preserved and maintained.”
The territory’s Free West Papua movement applauded the remarks, suggesting that “those 30 seconds are highly valued, appreciated and respected because every second counts to prevent another Papuan death accompanied by another loss of land”.
While his speech was carefully constructed and avoided naming Indonesia directly as responsible for human rights abuses, Vanuatuan prime minister Bob Loughman was more direct.
“In my region, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and West Papua are still struggling for self-determination,” he said. “Drawing attention to the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as stipulated in the UN charter, it is important that the UN and the international community continue to support the relevant territories giving them an equal opportunity to determine their own statehood.
“The indigenous people of West Papua continue to suffer from human rights violations.
“The Pacific (Islands) Forum and ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific states) leaders, among other leaders, have called on the Indonesian government to allow the United Nation’s office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua province and to provide an independent assessment of the human rights situation.
“Today, there has been little progress on this (UN) plan. I hope that the international community, through appropriate UN-led process, takes a serious look at this issue and addresses it fairly.”
Resolutions that were adopted, which were met in 2019, had called for the root causes of the West Papuan problems to be addressed.
But according to an academic from West Papua, it has been proven that violations of human rights have resulted from deeper problems that are often “forgotten or ignored”.
“This deeper problem relates to sovereignty,” anthropologist Yamin Kogoya wrote on Green Left blog, a not-for-profit activist and social justice organisation.
“Papuans contend the means by which Indonesia claimed sovereignty over West Papua — the so-called ‘act of free choice’ — was fraudulent and immoral.”
The leaders of Vanuatu, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands first raised the issue of West Papua with the UN at a 2016 general assembly.
“To date, we are no closer to having a conversation about these issues than we were a few years ago,” Mr Kogoya said.
“It would appear that voices like those just heard from (the) two leaders in Melanesia at the forum occur once in a blue moon – and then vanish into a sea of deaf ears.”
The West Papua situation appears to have since deteriorated.
Shootings continue unabated and prominent Papuan leaders continue to be arrested and imprisoned.
There are still reports of Papuan bodies being found in the gutter on the street and in the bush along with others in hospitals, houses and hotels.
The internet is also filled with images and videos depicting Papuans who have been tortured, abused, burned or killed.
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Young Papuan leader Abock Busup who was once the chair of the Papua National Mandate party’s regional leadership council died suddenly in a hotel in Jakarta on October 3.
Papuans also lost the vice-governor of the Klemen Tinal province at the Abdi Waluyo Hospital in Jakarta.
Bertus Kogoya, a powerful leader from the Lanny Jaya highland region in the Papua province, was another to die in a Jakarta hotel room back in September 2020.
In response, the West Papuan National Liberation Army, the armed wing of its resistance movement, has retaliated following several deaths of security personnel and migrants.
The liberation army often claim its victims are not ordinary migrants but people who have been either “directly or indirectly” integrated into the state’s security apparatus, which threatens Papuans throughout the land.
In recent weeks, the West Papuan force killed 22-year-old health worker Gabriella Maelani in the Kiwirok district in the last of the reprisals.
A military post in Sorong, in the Mybrat region of West Papua, had been attacked in September, resulting in the death of four Indonesian soldiers.
Three years earlier, in December 2018, at least 19 workers in the Nduga region, who were suspected of being members of Indonesia’s security forces, were also killed.
“The government of Indonesia has attributed all forms of violence to the liberation struggle’s armed wing, which just conveniently justifies its securitisation of the entire region,” Mr Kogoya said.
The result of the conflicting narratives between both of the parties is that a humanitarian crisis has displaced residents of entire areas from their homes, forcing them into forests causing further deaths of villagers, either through starvation, sickness or attacks by the Indonesian military.
“The colonial Indonesians and imperial West have thrust the Papuan people into a fierce struggle for survival in their ancestral homeland,” Mr Kogoya said.
Great to get your feedback on one of our stories that our PNG staff writer put together. I am the senior journalist on the website and I read your letter here.
I am interested to know if you have witnessed some of these atrocities that you speak of and if you’re keen to have a chat with me one day next week – either via email, messenger, perhaps WhatsApp, so I can put together a story about the plight of the West Papuan movement from your perspective. I think for a lot of readers who live well away from the New Guinea archipelago (PNG and West Papua), it would be interested reading about the atrocities that they hear about but don’t have an eyewitness account to some of these horrors.
If you are interested, let me know. You can message me back here or email me at email@example.com, addressing it to Andrew (me). No problems if you are not keen but I am happy to not reveal your name if you feel more comfortable as we will always protect someone’s anonymity if they can provide us a story worthy of such an act.