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International surge on West Papua amid mass demos

May 12, 2016

eight_col_IPWP.jpg?1462346740 International surge on West Papua amid mass demos
More mass demonstrations are expected in Indonesia’s Papua region amid growing international interest in West Papuan self-determination aspirations.

1) international surge on West Papua amid mass demos
3:29 pm today Johnny Blades, RNZ International

More mass demonstrations are expected in Indonesia’s Papua region amid growing international interest in West Papuan self-determination aspirations.

Last week’s demonstrations in cities across Papua region and other Indonesian cities came three weeks after similar public mobilisations, and resulted in mass arrests.

It’s traditional for West Papuans to demonstrate around May the 1st. This date is the anniversary of transfer of administration in the former Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia in 1963, a process in which Papuans were not consulted.

But this year they were also demonstrating their support for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s bid to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, as well as the International Parliamentarians for West Papua.

London summit

The IPWP, a network of politicians from around the world who support self-determination for West Papuans and are concerned about ongoing human rights abuses against Papuans, held a summit in London last week.

One of the IPWP’s founders is the British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn who said at the summit that he wanted support for West Papuan self-determination, and recognition of the human rights issues, to become central to policy in his Labour Party.

Attended by MPs from the wider Pacific, Europe and Britain, as well as Liberation Movement leaders such as Benny Wenda, the summit resulted in a declaration calling for an internationally-supervised vote on independence in West Papua.

The West Papua-based journalist Victor Mambor said people demonstrating last week in Papua’s main centres supported this call.

"They want a referendum, they want the right to self-determination. As far as I know the authorities never talk about that, they didn’t want to talk about that," he said.

However Jakarta insists that there is no going back on the what it calls the ‘final’ incorporation of West Papua into the republic, and has been swift to condemn the London meeting.

In a series of posts on Twitter, the Indonesian embassy in Australia called the meeting a publicity stunt organised by a ‘small group of Papuan separatists and sympathisers.’

Jakarta said the United Nations and international community already recognised Papua as part of Indonesia, saying the region already has self-determination through special autonomy, elections and education.

However, the 1969 referendum by which West Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia, named the Act of Free Choice, is widely regarded as having been stage-managed.

A leading Vanuatu government minister who attended the London summit, Ralph Regenvanu, said there was growing international support to address what remained an unresolved decolonisation issue.

"According to international law, that self-determination issue has never been addressed by a proper vote in West Papua, and that’s been recognised at a number of forums," said Mr regenvanu.

"Decolonisation never happened and in fact this colony was simply passed from one colonial power, being the Dutch, to another colonial power which is Indonesia which continues to colonise the territory to this day."

Jokowi’s Papua drive

The demonstrations came just a day after Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo visited Papua region to open a major port facility and preside over a new market construction designed to assist Papuans.

Less than two years since taking office, President Widodo, or ‘Jokowi’ as he is known, has already visited Papua several times – more than any previous Indonesian president.

Jokowi has embarked on a major development drive in Papua, including plans for an 800-kilometre Papuan highway and an ambitious 1,390-km railway project.

"Within the first one-and-a-half years of Jokowi’s administration, eastern Indonesia’s economic growth has surpassed that of the western part of the country," according to a statement from Indonesia’s House of Representatives following last week’s London summit.

The president’s focus on economic development in Papua has been welcomed but for many West Papuans has not addressed the self-determination issue, nor ongoing human rights abuses.

The Jokowi administration appears limited in its ability to rein in the military and police forces who run Papua; gains in living conditions for Papuans have yet to eventuate.

Indonesia’s leading human rights body said last month that abuses in Papua, generally by security forces, remained as rampant as they were under previous governments.

Furthermore, health and education outcomes in Papua are typically Indonesia’s worst – for instance, Papua region has a rate of HIV/AIDS which is 20 times the national average.


Indonesian police said that the West Papua National Committee (which is part of the Liberation Movement) requested permission to hold the demonstrations and failed to meet the requirements. They proceeded anyway.

The demonstrations have gone wider, spreading even to Indonesian cities outside Papua, including Semarang and Makassar, with significant West Papuan populations.

A Papuan who works with political prisoners, Ruth Ogetay, said there was a common theme among the demonstrators.

"All over our land, West Papua, in cities like Wamena, Jayapura, the expression of West Papuans has been in support of independence," she said.

While there was a more restrained conduct of police forces in handling last week’s demonstrations compared with past rallies, the number of arrests was massive.

Some local media reports had the number of arrests as high as 1700.

While the vast majority of those detained have since been released, images of hundreds of Papuans being held semi-naked in the midday sun at paramilitary police headquarters have caught international attention.

In the wake of the arrests, New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully, not for the first time, was pressed about the rights situation in West Papua.

"The government is concerned about these matters," he told parliament, "and the government wants to see an improvement in the situation in that part of the world.

"The government does not believe that megaphone diplomacy will serve that objective."

Politicians in Australia have frequently claimed that the economic and social plight of the indigenous people of Indonesia’s West Papua region was improving.

But a new report called ‘We will Lose Everything’, based on a fact finding mission the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in Brisbane, concludes otherwise.

Some Papuans say life in their region has improved significantly, compared to the years under the rule of Indonesia’s President Suharto who fell in 1998.

Yet the proportion of West Papuans to the overall population of their region is declining quickly as non-Papuan migrants stream in on a regular basis, via the state-facilitated transmigration system.

As a result, in their homeland Papuans are increasingly marginalised, in terms of culture and economic activity.

International pressure

The internationalisation of the West Papua issue continues, despite Jakarta’s insistence that it is a domestic matter.

As Tonga’s prime minister Akilisi Pohiva said following his attendance at the London summit, United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were ‘impossible to achieve without the full support for the human rights of all people living in areas of conflict throughout the world and in the peaceful Pacific region.’

Grassroots support for governmental action on West Papua is steadily growing in the Pacific Islands region, particularly Melanesia.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group’s decision last year to grant the Liberation Movement observer status within the group was a recognition of that.

Concurrently, Indonesia with its claims to a large Melanesian population, became an associate member of the MSG in 2015.

The changing shape of the MSG – whose full members are Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia’s Kanak peoples – has become a divisive issue.

Ralph Regenvanu said Indonesian inclusion in the MSG was supposed to have opened the way for dialogue about West Papua. But he said that unfortunately the MSG’s call for Jakarta to dialogue had been ignored.

"And in fact they rebuffed the prime minister of the Solomons (Manasseh Sogavare who is the current MSG chair). There’s been no response to the letter from the prime minister of Papua New Guinea as the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum to them, asking for some sort of human rights assessment to be done," said Mr Regenvanu.

"The question is: do they really want to engage or not? If it (Jakarta) is not coming to the table, then why are they in the MSG?"

The MSG is expected to have a leaders summit before the end of June in Port Vila where the full members are due to discuss the Liberation Movement’s bid for full membership.

As this draws near, more West Papuan demonstrations are likely.


2) Indonesia condemns MPs’ Papua meeting in London

1:24 pm today

The government of Indonesia has condemned a meeting by international parliamentarians who called for Indonesia to address problems in West Papua.

At the International Parliamentarians for West Papua meeting, that took place at the British Houses of Parliament in London, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a UN-supervised independence vote in West Papua.

A statement from the Indonesia government says the meeting was a "reflection of colonial acts" that should be condemned by the world and the British parliament.

The statement then went on to outline President Joko Widodo’s stated commitment to resolving issues in the region.

It said within Jokowi’s tenure, eastern Indonesia’s economic growth had surpassed that of the western part of the country.

In a string of tweets on Friday, the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra disputed claims at the meeting and reaffirmed the government’s plan to revitalise infrastructure in Papua.


3) West Papua: Footage exposes new mass arrests, human rights abuses

Monday, May 9, 2016

Nearly 2000 people were arrested in the Indonesian-occupied nation of West Papua on May 2. The crackdown came amid a mass unarmed civilian uprisings across West Papua. Jason MacLeod, the author of the recently published Merdeka & the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua, told We Are Moving Stories: “The Indonesian police were completely overwhelmed by the size, scale and disciplined defiance of the activists who came from a range of groups organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.”

West Papua, one half of the island of New Guinea, has been occupied by Indonesia for more than five decades. Like East Timor, which won independence from Indonesia in 1999, West Papuans want to be free to determine their own political future. At least 100,000 people have been killed by the Indonesian military since it took control in 1963 but the West Papuans continue to struggle.

MacLeod, an organiser, educator and researcher who has been active in the West Papuan solidarity movement since 1991, spoke to We Are Moving Stories on May 5, which is abridged below.


How many people were arrested on May 2? Why were they arrested?

Nearly 2000 people were arrested on May 2, in mass unarmed civilian-based uprisings across the country: in Jayapura, Wamena, Merauke, Manokwari, Timika, Sorong and Fak Fak.

The Indonesian police were completely overwhelmed by the size, scale and disciplined defiance of the activists who came from a range of groups organised by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

In Jayapura, for instance, activists were detained on the oval inside the mobile police brigade’s headquarters. Most people arrested were released by last night. At the time of writing, 45 people, including 19 children aged 8-18, remain in detention in Fak Fak.

The Indonesian police routinely use torture against Papuan dissenters, so we are concerned about their welfare. I expect the organisers will be charged with treason and rebellion later this week.
At the same time we are noticing that Jakarta is becoming constrained, or at least uncertain of what to do, in the face of rising international support for a free West Papua, especially in the Pacific.

Your exclusive video from West Papua has been posted at We Are Moving Stories. What does it show?

The video shows activists being transported by an Indonesian police truck from Waena, a suburb in Jayapura, to the Mobile Police Brigade’s headquarters in Kotaraja, about 15-20 minutes away, where they were detained on a sports oval.

You can see fists being raised in defiance and hear them yelling “merdeka” (freedom). This is the fifth truck with activists that went past in minutes. The film was shot by a local organiser hidden behind a fence.

Much of the equipment — weapons, trucks, body armour — is supplied by foreign countries, including Australia and the European Union.

What are the demands of the West Papuans?

Since November last year, the ULMWP has been campaigning to become a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub regional forum comprised of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and the pro-independence coalition from Kanaky (New Caledonia), the FLNKS (the National Liberation Socialist Front of Kanaky).

In June last year, the ULMWP gained observer status. At the same time, Indonesia was accepted as an associate member. Through the MSG the ULMWP has an opportunity to take their concerns to the 16-member country Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations.

That is why activists in West Papua are calling for the ULMWP to get full membership of the MSG. This will legitimise and internationalise the struggle in a major way.

Of course, that move challenges Indonesia’s legitimacy and the economic and political interests of other countries – notably Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa, and is being resisted.

Consequently, the ULMWP is taking to the streets inside West Papua to raise the political costs of the occupation for Indonesia and the same time try to compel Pacific Island countries to take a position on West Papua.

It’s a strategy that is working. Last month for instance, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat agreed to put West Papua on the agenda of the forthcoming leaders meeting in September as a result of grassroots pressure from across the region.

Why is it so difficult to see videos about what’s going on in West Papua?

Foreign journalists are effectively banned from travelling to West Papua. In recent years, particularly since 2011, social media has been the quickest and most reliable way to get information out. It has only really been in the last six months that we have been able to send video out quickly.

Given the Indonesian government’s media blockade, citizen media activism is vital. The movement is seeking to strengthen its capacity to use video and various digital platforms to extend its reach into new audiences and deepen its impacts on those audiences, mobilising them in support of movement-led goals.

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?

The ULMWP together with their allies invite film makers to come to West Papua to tell the story of Papuan resistance to the Indonesian government occupation. But we are also looking for other industry people who can work with movement leaders to develop short 90 second films that we can integrate into various campaign strategies — such as the campaign to end foreign support for the Indonesian police in West Papua, to secure full membership of the MSG and other campaigns. \

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

What would it take for film and creative industry people to work with movement leaders and solidarity groups to mobilise resources in support of West Papuans’ aspirations for self determination and independence?

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