Indonesia’s government says it’s working with the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner to arrange access to West Papua.
The Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, last week indicated her office had been unable to secure permission from Jakarta to visit Papua region.
In January, Indonesia agreed in principle to allow a visit by the rights chief but this has not yet eventuated, despite strong international backing for it.
Andreano Erwin from Indonesia’s Permanent Mission at the UN addressed the matter at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He said Jakarta last year invited the previous UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to visit Papua.
Due to his tight schedule, the High Commissioner delegated the planned visit to the regional (UN Human Rights Commission) office in Bangkok,” Mr Erwin said during the council’s 42nd regular session.
“We are currently working with the regional office to prepare this planned visit, designed to showcase the development in the province in Papua and West Papua (provinces).”
He was exercising Indonesia’s right of response to an an earlier joint statement of concern about the human rights situation in Papua by Vanuatu and Solomon islands.
It followed weeks of protests and related unrest in Papua which left at least ten people dead and dozens of Papuans arrested.
Mr Erwin characterised the unrest as “unfortunate” and “isolated”, saying the security in Papua was now “conducive”, after Indonesia deployed 6000 extra military and police personnel to the remote region which remains restricted to outside access.
The Melanesian countries told the UN council in Geneva of their deep concern about ongoing rights violations against the freedoms of expression and assembly, as well as racial discrimination towards Papuans in the Indonesian-administered provinces of Papua and West Papua.
Their statement was delivered by Sumbue Antas from Vanuatu’s Permanent Mission to the UN.
“Related to this agenda item, we are concerned about the Indonesian Government’s delay in confirming a time and date for the Human Rights Commissioner to conduct its visit to West Papua,” Mr Antas said.
At the recent annual Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit in Tuvalu, regional countries called on both Indonesia and the UN Commissioner to finalise the timing of a visit to West Papua, and to submit an evidence-based report on the situation before the next summit in 2020.
Mr Erwin also addressed widely reported cases of racist harassment of Papuan university students in Javanese cities which sparked the recent wave of protests in Papua.
“The Indonesian government deeply regrets the (aforementioned) incident, and has consequently brought the perpetrators to justice,” he told the session.
“The government and the people of Indonesia… will continue to take action to combat racism and discrimination, not only through a law enforcement approach but also through education and effective public dissemination efforts.”
He also confirmed that a block on the internet in Papua, implemented by the government last month, started being lifted two weeks ago.
Ms Bachelet last week raised issue with the blocking of the internet in Papua, issuing a statement with her concerns about human rights in the Melanesian region.
“The temporary restriction was based on the interests to prevent the spread the contents of false and inciteful information that provokes disunity among Indonesians, and guarantee the rights of citizens to enjoy their freedoms insofar as it does not contravene the rights of others and public interests,”
Mr Erwin said.