Report – By By Henry Yamo
“Free West Papua” – the Pacific is not free until West Papua is free. This 42-year-old slogan of the indigenous people of West Papua has been reverberating for almost a week in Auckland as the Pacific Islands countries gathered to convene for the Pacific Islands Forum in New Zealand.
West Papuan human rights advocate Dr John Ondawame from the West Papua People’s Representative Office in Vanuatu, told Pacific Scoop: “Our call to the leaders of all Pacific countries is to support the West Papuan peoples’ call for peace talks between the government of Indonesia and the people of West Papua.”
He said Pacific leaders must remember that the Pacific will never be free unless West Papua is free from the current oppression and atrocities that have lasted for more than four decades caused by the Indonesian government.
Dr Ondawame said their concerns were voiced particularly to the Melanesian block of countries – which West Papua is traditionally part of – to call the Indonesian government to take decisive decision on the proposed peace talks and to push for a Forum fact finding mission report on the root causes of human rights abuse in West Papua.
“We are calling as Melanesian brothers, as Pacific brothers, for support. So we are very keen to meet with Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman who has indicated support for our call,” he said.
“We also want to lobby with the leaders from other Melanesian and Pacific countries to support Vanuatu when it raises the West Papua issue with other leaders.”
He said the freedom of West Papua was a Pacific issue that had received “embarrassingly little” attention from Pacific countries.
Dr Ondawame added that the United States, the United Kingdom and African states had made clear their position on the issue of West Papua, calling for constructive and peaceful dialogue.
“At least Melanesian countries must act and we are pleased that Vanuatu is the only country that has come forward to firmly support the aspirations and independence of West Papua while our very close neighbour PNG has been silent and has been working closely with Indonesia,” he said.
Dr Ondawame said the United Nations could not do much with human rights issues in West Papua unless Pacific Island countries stood together and raised the issue of West Papua, calling for the UN to provide a legal advisory opinion on the political status of the territory.
The secretary-general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPCNL), Rex Rumakiek, said: “West Papua is part of the Pacific since the establishment of the South Pacific Commission [now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community] and also as founding member of the Pacific Conference of Churches set up in 1956.
“And so it is about time our Pacific brothers should adhere to our concerns when the opportunity arose. We are here to seek that support.”
Rumakiek said the people of West Papua would continue to take up the call until “we can find a peaceful solution to the problems” and ended the “shameful atrocities” being encountered by the people of West Papua.
The West Papuan delegation, which also included Paula Makabory of the Australian-based Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights (IPAHR), were hosted on the AUT University marae for a two-day hui by the Indonesia Human Rights Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Pax Christi and Peace Movement Aotearoa in association with the Pacific Media Centre.
Henry Yamo is a Masters in Communication Studies student from Papua New Guinea on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.