Melanesian leaders condemn UN for turning ‘a deaf ear’ to West Papua atrocities

Solomon Islands and Vanuatu leaders want investigation into alleged abuses and support for independence campaign

Charlot Salwai
Vanuatu’s prime minister, Charlot Salwai, says the people of West Papua must be allowed the right to self-determination. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Melanesian leaders have accused the United Nations of having “turned a deaf ear” to human rights atrocities in the Indonesian province of Papua and urged the world to support the region’s campaign for independence.

At the UN General Assembly in New York, the prime ministers of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu called on the UN’s Human Rights Council to formally investigate long-standing allegations of human rights abuses in the provinces.

Vanuatu’s prime minister, Charlot Salwai, said the people of West Papua must be allowed the right to self-determination, to free themselves of the “yoke of colonialism”.

“For half a century now the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitation, sexual violence and arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua, perpetrated by Indonesia, but the international community has turned a deaf ear to the appeals for help. We urge the Human Rights Council to investigate these cases.

“We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination and to jointly with Indonesia put an end to all kinds of violence and find common ground with the nationals to facilitate putting together a process which will enable them to freely express their choice.”

The Solomons leader, Manasseh Sogavare, said the UN’s sustainable development goal motto of “no one left behind” would be “synonymous to empty promises unless we in the United Nations take active steps to address the plight of the people of West Papua”.

“Failing this, we as a family of nations will become complicit in perpetuating the sufferings and becoming blind to the injustices, missing yet another golden opportunity to remain true to the saying of ‘leaving no one behind’.”

Indonesian-controlled Papua and West Papua form the western half of the island of New Guinea. Political control of the region has been contested for more than half a century and Indonesia has consistently been accused of gross human rights violations and violent suppression of the region’s independence movement.

The people indigenous to the province are Melanesian, ethnically distinct from the rest of Indonesia and more closely linked to the people of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

Formerly the Netherlands New Guinea, Papua was retained by the Dutch after Indonesian independence in 1945 but the province was annexed by Jakarta in 1963 and Indonesia control was formalised by a 1969 referendum widely condemned as having been fixed by the Suharto government.

Known as Irian Jaya until 2000, the province has also been split into two provinces, Papua and West Papua, since 2003.

Many Papuans consider the Indonesian takeover to have been an illegal annexation and 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 extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detention, excessive 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.

There is little independent scrutiny of the situation in West Papua, human rights organisations and journalists are restricted from visiting.

On taking office in 2014, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, pledged to boost economic development of Papua and he –ostensibly – eased restrictions on external scrutiny of the region, though travel strictures have not substantially changed. He visited the province in May.

Last month Jokowi met with Papuan civil society, church and customary leaders to discuss establishing a formal mechanism for debating Papua’s long-standing issues. However, Jakarta opposes independence and regards retention of Papua as a fundamental to its “territorial integrity”.

 

UN video sourced from the West Papua Liberation Organisation.

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas has expressed his country’s concern about the vast flows of refugees and migrants, noting that in 2016 the number of displaced people around the world stood at 65 million during his speech today to the 72nd United Nations General Assembly.

He also appealed to France to honour the will of the people with the 2018 referendum on independence in New Caledonia due next year and appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violations in West Papua.

UN summary

An exodus to cities and a high rate of urbanisation was a challenge as well. There was a clear link between forced migration and the responsibility to protect. As a small island developing state facing rising sea levels, Vanuatu appealed to the international community to consider a legal framework to address the issue of climate change refugees.

For Vanuatu, the United Nations represented the best hope and catalyst for peace and security, as well as for lifting millions out of poverty, he said. To remain relevant, however, strategic reforms were needed. Being a permanent member of the Security Council was a responsibility and it was incumbent on the organ to move beyond the political interests of its members and to find compromise solutions. Vanuatu supported Council reforms which reflected current geopolitical trends with fairer regional representation, he said.

Vanuatu’s graduation from least developed country status did not eliminate its vulnerability to natural hazards, nor must it upset or hinder its development, he said. The transition mechanism for graduating countries must be strengthened. Conveying his government’s concern about threats to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, he urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to halt its missile and nuclear development programme, reaffirmed Vanuatu’s commitment to the denuclearization of the Pacific and welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Hurricanes and tropical cyclones around the world were warnings from Mother Nature that climate change was happening faster than efforts to respond to it, he said. Deeper thought and greater efforts were needed. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would make a difference, he said, urging the United States to review its decision on the Paris Agreement and to implement it. He emphasized his country’s commitment to reverse the decline of the health of the world’s oceans, including through a ban on plastic bags by 2018.

Looking ahead to the 2018 referendum in New Caledonia, he urged the administration there to honour the will of its people. The Human Rights Council should meanwhile address the situation in West Papua, he said, calling for decolonisation to be put back on the United Nations radar.

Full address in French

 

Transcription by ETAN

16:55:

My government, Mr President, is worried to note that the UN has lost a lot of its capacity and will to implement Resolution 1514 of 14th December 1960 which expressed the need to put an end swiftly and unconditionally to colonialism in all of its forms and manifestations.

Ending colonialism has to reappear on the UN radar and all efforts in this regard have to be free of international political pressure. We all have a collective responsibility to guarantee self-determination to people who are under colonial yoke …

18:10:
Mr President,

For are half a century now, the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitations, sexual violence, arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua perpetrated by Indonesia. But the international community turned a deaf ear to their appeals for help.

We urge the Human Rights Council to investigate these cases. We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination and to jointly with Indonesia put an end to all kinds of violence and find common ground with the nationals to facilitate putting together a process which will enable them to freely express their choice.