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Leaders agree to disagree on West Papua

November 30, 2016

Islands Business, October 2016

The Region

Leaders agree to disagree on West Papua

by Nic Maclellan

THE issue of West Papua remains a headache for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).

Member countries like Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are reluctant to grant full membership to the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), which is lobbying for . regional support. But the issue will not go away, as civil society networks call on their leaders to support the right to self-determination.

First adopted in 2014, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR) is the new policy mechanism for business and community organisations to put forward submissions for regional action by the Forum. In both 2015 and this year, the largest number of submissions through the FPR called for action on West Papua.

In Pohnpei, civil society representatives also met over breakfast with a troika of island leaders, lobbying for the Forum to take the West Papuan issue to the international community. Despite this, the final Forum communique simply states that "leaders recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua should remain on their agenda. Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue."

After the meeting, Emele Duituturaga, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) said: "We know that the draft text reflected their intention to take West Papua to the United Nations, but when the final communique was released, it had been watered down." "We know that a couple of members had hoped the issue of West Papua would be removed altogether," Duituturaga said. "It is obvious that geopolitics were at play, which brings to question whether in fact our leaders can be bold and courageous in the presence of neighbouring powers like Australia and New Zealand."

Sources from the leaders’ retreat confirmed to Islands Business that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull personally changed the language from the communique.

The reference to "alleged" human Dame Meg Taylor … the West Papua issue "is just not g( it’s very Important to our region". rights violations is much weaker language than used in other regional statements – for example, the 2013 Melanesian Spearhead Group summit supported "the inalienable rights of the people of West Papua towards self-determination" and condemned ‘human rights violations and other forms of atrocities relating to the West Papuan people"!

The reluctance of some Forum leaders to state the obvious is striking. More than 100,000 people have died in West Papua since Indonesia’s annexation under the Act of Free Choice in 1969. Ongoing human rights violations by Indonesian police and military have been documented by a range of independent bodies – from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM).

Speaking after the leaders retreat, Forum host FSM President Peter Christian explained: "There are two main issues. One of them is the allegations of human rights violations. The other is the wish of the West Papuans to have a more sovereign independent state. These two issues are very important, but the second one is kind of tricky because West Papua is under Indonesia. So we decided that we should deal with this as a bilateral issue with the state of Indonesia."

Christian noted: "The leaders made a decision to move forward, but to take it to another forum that is larger than us, and that’s the United Nations, most particularly on allegations of human rights violations. At this point. Pacific Island Forum leaders cannot say with certainty there were human rights violations. What we’ve decided is we will go to the United Nations and try to project our views to them to see if they could help address the issue of West Papua."

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi – who will host the 2017 Forum in Apia – told journalists: "It must be understood that West Papua ing to go to sleep … it shouldn’t go to sleep, because is part of Indonesia and any other way of handling it is interfering with Indonesia’s national interests. That is why the only way to do this is through the United Nations under the right to self-determination."

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill reaffirmed the same stand: "We’re quite happy for member states to debate on those issues, but we’ve always stated that we must engage meaningfully with Indonesia on this issue."

O’Neill noted: "Papua New Guinea is in a very sensitive position because of the border that we share with Indonesia. Our position has been very clear from day one. This is not an issue that Pacific Island Forum leaders and the Forum itself has been mandated to do, but it does not stop Forum members from listing this issue at the United Nations and for the United Nations to determine under their decolonisation program."

Given the lack of agreement in the Forum, individual countries will now work through the Pacific Coalition on West Papua (PCWP), to lobby at the United Nations Human Rights Council and other UN structures. Under the coalition umbrella, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s FLNKS independence movement are now joined by Nauru, Tuvalu and Marshall Islands, as well as churches and civil society groups like PIANGO.

The leaders’ agreement that West Papua should remain on next year’s Forum agenda in Apia reflects ongoing concern from citizens around the region. In Pohnpei, Forum Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor noted: "It’s an issue that needs to be pursued and it’s not going to go away. Our bigger countries in the region like Australia and New Zealand realise that this issue is just not going to go to sleep – and it shouldn’t go to sleep, because it is very important for our region."

• nicmac3056
Islands Business, October 2016

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