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Let the world see what's going on in Papua

Continual denials of abuse claims are not enough to dispel concerns over Indonesian rights violations in the region

Let the world see what's going on in Papua

Papuan activists attend a protest in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Dec. 1, 2020, to mark the Free Papua Organization's anniversary. (Photo: AFP)

Vanuatu, a tiny Pacific Island nation, has often attacked Indonesia over alleged human rights abuses in Papua.

The latest attack came at the recent UN General Assembly from its Prime Minister Bob Loughman Weibur.

In his address, Weibur asked world leaders to help protect the rights of Melanesians who he said remained under colonial rule in Papua.

He accused Indonesia of committing grave abuses against Papuan people and called on the United Nations to investigate them.

He also called on the Indonesian government to allow an independent mission to go to Papua to investigate alleged human rights violations. 

Though he did not specify what the abuses were, accusing Indonesia of crimes at a global forum was a hard punch for Jakarta to take. 

Decades of discrimination under the Indonesian government encouraged the Papuan liberation movement to turn to the MSG for support in its fight for self-determination

Sindy Nur Fitry, an Indonesian diplomat at the UN, said Vanuatu’s accusations were baseless, politically motivated and not in the interests of the Papuan people. 

She also accused Vanuatu of showing more interest in supporting armed groups like the West Papua National Liberation Army, which Jakarta has branded a terrorist group, rather than concern for civilians that the armed separatists have killed.

The country of 314,000 people has been accusing Indonesia of committing gross human rights violations in Papua at the UN since 2016 when the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) promised to elevate the status of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) from an observer to full membership of the body.

Founded in 1986 with its headquarters in Port Vila, Vanuatu, the MSG is an intergovernmental organization comprising Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. As of today, it represents a combined population of 11.3 million people.

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Indonesia was accepted as an associate member in 2015 after four years of observer status. The Papuan liberation movement was granted observer status at the same time. 

Initially, the grouping aimed to foster economic cooperation among members, but as time passed it metamorphosed into a Melanesian political engine, banging the heads of the Indonesian government and the Papuan liberation movement.

In recent years, it has become more concerned about the struggle of Papuans fighting against the controversial New York Agreement in 1962 that allowed Indonesia to annex Papua and a contentious referendum in 1969. 

Decades of discrimination under the Indonesian government encouraged the Papuan liberation movement to turn to the MSG for support in its fight for self-determination. 

In October 2016, it was reported that the MSG chairman — Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands — had announced at a meeting with prominent Papuan leaders that by December of that year Papua would be granted full membership of the organization. However, five years on, this symbolic gesture of recognition has yet to happen.

The Vanuatu government, to avoid being accused of offering false promises, is deflecting attention by highlighting Indonesia’s “sins” against Papuans and calling on world leaders to apply pressure on Jakarta. 

Weibur was confident his attack on the Indonesian government would hit home because two weeks earlier the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had criticized Jakarta’s ill-treatment of Papuan activists. 

In a report released on Sept. 17, the UN rights body included Indonesia among 45 countries persecuting human rights defenders.

It specifically pointed to Indonesia’s intimidation and mistreatment of Papuan rights activists, including Wensislaus Fatubun of the Papuan People’s Assembly, journalist Victor Mambor, human rights lawyer Veronica Koman and Victor Yeimo, the spokesman of the West Papua National Committee who was arrested in May and accused of treason and inciting riots.

Indonesia’s response practically remains the same — defensive and dishonest by calling Vanuatu’s accusation baseless and turning a blind eye to the real situation that various reports have highlighted.

It said the Indonesian government still uses treason charges against political activists exercising free speech

International groups — including church groups — and media have pointed to human rights abuses in Papua since the 1960s. 

In 2017, the International Coalition for Papua, which includes Franciscans International, the World Council of Churches and Pax Romana, issued a report on the worsening human rights situation in Papua.

It said the Indonesian government still uses treason charges against political activists exercising free speech and the use of torture and ill-treatment to silence political protests.

The coalition said arrests quadrupled from 1,083 in 2015 to 5,361 in 2016, mostly during peaceful protests in support of the ULMWP.

Vanuatu likely referred to this report when it started to criticize Indonesia.

The Indonesian government always defends itself against such reports and denies rights abuse accusations from MSG members, saying they are deceived by people with separatist agendas. However, Jakarta has yet to prove Vanuatu’s claims and the OHCHR report are wrong.

The only way Jakarta can prove the alleged abuses are false claims is to allow UN special rapporteurs to visit Papua and investigate what is really going on there. 

If this is not done, more countries will likely follow Vanuatu in trying to hold Indonesia to account over human rights issues in Papua.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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