Pacific Scoop

PIF: Vanuatu stands alone on West Papua human rights violations

Disappointed: Spokesperson for West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, Rex Rumakiek (left), and West Papua indigenous advocate Dr John Otto Ondawame (far right). (Photo by Josephine Latu.)

    The plight of West Papua’s indigenous Melanesian peoples has been ignored by leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Josephine Latu, in Port Vila.

Vanuatu continues to stand alone in the Pacific on the issue of extensive human rights abuses allegedly wielded on West Papuans at the hands of the Indonesian military.

At the same time, West Papuan activists have expressed frustration that Vanuatu Prime Minister and Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Edward Natapei did not bring up the issue at this week’s leaders’ meeting in Port Vila.

“We are deeply disappointed because [Natapei]… has failed to take a decisive role to facilitate the aspirations of the people of West Papua and Vanuatu,” read a statement released yesterday by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL).

“For too long the West Papuan issue has been swept under the tapa mat of Forum meetings, but if the forum is to truly represent all Pacific peoples it must confront the occupation of West Papua.”

Some of the 2.5 million West Papuan population are demanding independence from Indonesia, as well as international action on gross human rights violations reported in their community. The colony is about the size of Papua New Guinea – with which it shares a border – and rich in natural resources.

Local activists were supported last week in a letter signed by 50 members of the U.S. congress calling for President Obama to make West Papua a “high priority”.

Little support

However, the Pacific Islands Forum did not discuss the issue despite the Vanuatu parliament passing a bill in June for the government to sponsor a move to grant Observer Status to West Papua at the PIF.

At an impromptu press conference yesterday evening, indigenous advocate Dr John Otto Ondawame said the lack of support for neigbouring countries’ fight for independence was a “dilemma” in the Pacific.

“West Papua is a rich country, we can play an important role in the region,” he said.

Along with fellow West Papuan colleague Rex Rumakiek, he made his statements immediately official statements on the forum’s communiqué made by PIF Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, chair and host country prime minister Edward Natapei, Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith and chair for the Ministerial Contact Group to Fiji, Tongan prime minister Feleti Sevele.

“At this very moment as we speak, the military is conducting operations in the highlands of West Papua,” said Rex Rumakiek, one of the spokesmen for WPNCL.

Human Rights Watch reports that the Indonesian army has responded to separatist movements in Papua with “a strong troop presence and often harsh and disproportionate responses to non-violent dissent or criticism.”

The report adds the government restricts foreign human rights monitors and journalists, making further investigations “extremely difficult”.

Ondawame and Rumakiek are calling on the PIF to send a fact finding mission to West Papua to monitor the situation.

However, forum chair Natapei said dealing with the West Papua issue will take time.

“[West Papua] is a major Melanesian country. There are millions of Melanesian West Papuans who are affected by human rights issue,” he told media today.

“Before we can give it any definite [timeframe] we will need to discuss it with the MSG and then bring it to the other countries of the forum. The last thing we want to do is for Vanuatu to go with it alone and fail miserably”.

No support from NZ, PNG

But he added that if Vanuatu did not take up the issue “no one will.”

West Papuans cannot look forward to support from New Zealand, nor their closest neighbour Papua New Guinea.

“It didn’t come up in the forum… With the issues West Papua face, we respect Indonesia’s rights to exercise territorial authority,” New Zealand prime minister John Key said yesterday.

Papua New Guinea – West Papua’s nearest neighbour – holds the same position.

“West Papua is an integral part of Indonesia and they have their own issues with their own government and if one of our members is pushing it, then that’s a matter of discussion later on,” the PNG minister for Physical Planning and District Development Paul Teinsten told the media in Port Vila.

Meanwhile, Rumakiek appealed to the general public to act despite the stances of their governments.

“My message is governments come and go but the people remain,” he said.

Their coalition will move to table the case at the September session of the United Nations General Assembly, and then refer in to the International Court of Justice.

Josephine Latu is reporting for Pacific Scoop at the 2010 Pacific Islands Forum in Port Vila, Vanuatu.


  1. Trevor Freestone, 8. August 2010, 23:02

    The Australian Government has been aware of Indonesia’s human rights abuses since before 1967. They even had a special branch officer on the border at Pagei interviewing refugees coming across the border. They were interviewed then sent back over the border, to an uncertain future. Australia has not ever supported the West Papuans request for independence, inspite of Indonesia’s unspeakable brutality towards the West Papuans. The UN should have been forced to take action, and Australia should have been at the forefront of the fight. Shame on the mining companies who are Raping the resources which traditionally belong to the land owners not Indonesia. They only care about their profits and could not careless about the people. Congratulations to Vanuatu for trying to bring this issue to the attention of the Pacific Island Forum and eventually to the world. Wake up Australia our nearest neighbours are crying out for help. How much longer are you going to ignore their screams?

  2. Tasi, 9. August 2010, 12:22

    Kalofae… Indonesia holding too much influence?

  3. fira, 20. August 2010, 2:18

    I am glad vanuatu help Indonesia not support issue of Papua at Pasific Island Forum. Vanuatu have realized that Papua is integral part of Indonesia. No countries in the world are supports referendum in Papua. before give the respond, please read tha history of Papua. Every country have the problems of Human Right abuses, so positive thinking and dont intervere of Indonesia homes affair

  4. Allen, 4. December 2011, 18:03

    Indonesia has a long history of violating the rights of the West New Guinea people. They violated the rules set down for West New Guinea free elections by imprisoning the village chiefs who were supposed to vote on independence and even threatened to kill them and their families. Then they allowed 600 of non-indigenous people to vote who were actually already Indonesians. The whole thing was full of voter fraud and yet both Indonesia and the U.N. allowed it to be aired to the world as a “free” election which of course was not! It is time for Indonesia to relinguish their false claim on West New Guinea!