Jayapura, Jubi – The COOK Islands Teachers Institute has initiated strong condemnation by regional educators of atrocities reportedly committed by the Indonesian government in West Papua.
The formal stance was adopted at the recent 21st Council of Pacific Education Conference (COPE) held in Fiji by CITI representatives, president Thomas Taurongo Wynn and executive member Apii Napa.
CITI is understood to be the first national organisation to independently make a formal submission at regional level regarding the West Papua situation and for that submission to be unanimously endorsed by 12 Pacific nations.
Taurongo Wynn says COPE has formally denounced the atrocities committed by the Indonesian government against the indigenous people of West Papua and that “…we stand in solidarity with all educators, education staff and students affected.”
“We are very proud of our efforts as one of the smaller teacher unions to raise the issues surrounding the plight of the people of West Papua and to stand together unanimously as Pasifika people and teacher unions to condemn what are outright atrocities being committed on our very doorstep.”
Taurongo Wynn adds: “As Pasifika Teacher Unions, we would encourage the governments of all our Pasifika nations, union bodies and NGO’s to do the same. We can’t afford in our view to be silent on this matter or ignore the growing political and social outcry of what is happening in West Papua.”
He says CITI was prompted to champion the cause because, “social injustice can never be justified, be it social issues in our own communities, or those communities in countries we are in partnership with, anywhere for that matter, we must speak and make a stand or by our silence condemn those to the treatment they face at the hands of their oppressors.
“Silence is not an option in my view.”
Taurongo Wynn says it is becoming increasingly apparent that West Papua teachers, students and schools are suffering under the Indonesian regime and “…we must stand in solidarity with them.”
“They must know that they are not suffering in silence and that we as a union and hopefully as a country and region will stand with them and call it for what it is. As president of the CITI we were morally bound to say something.
“Silence on this matter was really not an option, and I was confident that our fellow Pacific Union members would be in agreeance.”
For over 50 years, indigenous West Papuans have been struggling for independence from Indonesia and an end to Indonesian military occupation.
An estimated 500,000 Papuans have been reportedly been killed by Indonesian troops, with many of those horrific images posted on social media.
Pacific Islands Forum countries resolved at their most recent summit that “…concerns about alleged human rights abuses by Indonesia in Papua should be discussed with Jakarta,” reported Radio NZ.
THE RADIO NZ report said the summit’s outcome on Papua was “largely a disappointment to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua which was seeking membership in the Forum.”
The movement sought Forum action on pursuing Papua human rights issues and the Papuan self-determination struggle at the United Nations.”
The movement’s ambassador for the Pacific Islands region, Amatus Douw, said Forum leaders could do more to push for Papua’s reinscription on the UN decolonisation list. Douw has expressed doubt whether the Forum would have meaningful dialogue with Indonesia regarding the serious human rights issues facing West Papuans.
Taurongo Wynn says he and Napa did not have to lobby other national teachers’ organisations for support, as all were “unanimous in their condemnation of what could only be described as atrocities to the indigenous people of West Papua.”
“Social media has been awash with information, so it has hardly been out of the view of the worlds media, and the media in the Pacific.”
He admitted failing to understand “how silence on this issue can be an option and we do encourage all and sundry to join with us in this stand. People are suffering in West Papua, teachers and children are suffering and we need to be their voice.”
He added with so little being said regionally or locally about this travesty for the people of West Papua, given the opportunity to raise this issue at a multi-national level with so many Pacific Nations present, was an opportunity that could not be missed by the Cook Islands teachers union.
With over 300 members, CITI was formed in 1978. Taurongo Wynn said over the years under the leadership of women teachers like Tiraa Anguna, Teina Etches and Nga Charlie, a strong women’s network the Association of Women Teachers was formed. Regional and global membership has since been achieved as a teachers union.
Another first that CITI can lay claim to is being the only union to have taken industrial action in the Cook Islands since independence.
This occurred in 1997 due to the economic melt-down here that resulted in teacher’ s salaries undergoing huge cuts. CITI took industrial action and went on strike for five days. The issue this was subsequently settled in court.
Taurongo Wynn confirms they will be assisting the new COPE executive to continue to apply pressure about West Papua and the resolution will be progressing to Education International next August. (*)
This article written by Florence Syme-Buchanan and published first time by Cook Islands News
Pacific Forum countries urged to follow up on West Papua
Papua, Jubi – A West Papuan human rights defender has called for more Pacific islands countries to speak up internationally about human rights abuses in her homeland.
Rosa Moiwend, who has been visiting New Zealand this week, said it was important that Pacific Islands Forum countries advanced this issue to reflect widespread, grassroots concern for West Papua in the region.
At the 2015 Pacific Forum summit, leaders agreed to push for a fact-finding mission to Papua.
Indonesia is yet to allow such a mission to visit, but Ms Moiwend said forum members must follow this up.
“Because otherwise it’s just lip service from the forum,” she said.
“Members of the Pacific Islands Forum are also UN members, so we need more and more Pacific Island countries to speak about the human rights situation in West Papua.”
According to Ms Moiwend, while several small Pacific countries have raised Papua at the UN, bigger countries such as Australia and New Zealand should support them.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s infrastructure development drive in Papua is proving traumatic for remote indigenous communities, Ms Moiwend said.
Its centre-piece is the Trans-Papua Road project which is being built through some of Papua’s most remote terrain.
The project is also at the heart of heightened conflict in Papua’s Highlands since the West Papua Liberation Army massacred at least 16 road construction workers last December.
While conceding that opening up access to Papua through the project had its benefits, Ms Moiwend said it also brought outsiders and development that local Papuans were not prepared for.
“It will also open a space for more and more military and police posts along the road, because of the security reason that they will say.
“And it’s actually threatened people’s lives because for West Papuans people are traumatic with the presence of the military.”
Ms Moiwend’s family are customary landowners in Merauke in Papua’s south where rapid oil palm and agri-business development is underway.
“Customary land is actually affected by these big projects – food project and oil palm plantation,” Ms Moiwend explained, adding that indigenous communities had little say in the development
“I think government needs to discuss with the people. You can’t just come and (start) plotting the land and then invite the investor to come and invest their money because people rely on our land.
“The land is the source of our food. So if they want to replace with something else, then how can they provide food for our people?” (*)
Port Moresby evicts West Papuan refugees from city settlement
Papua, Jubi – About 250 West Papuans have been served notices of eviction to leave their settlement in Port Moresby, reports The National.
National Capital District Commission officials, escorted by police officers, handed the settlers demolition orders last Thursday and told them to leave their home in the suburb of Rainbow where they had lived for 11 years.
Communal leader Elly Wangai said that some of them were now PNG citizens after former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill allowed them to gain citizenship without paying the K10,000 application fee.
“But unlike other PNG citizens, we don’t have any land to go to. When we were given citizenship, the government did not give us land to settle. And this is the fifth time we have been evicted since 2007.
“We were first evicted from 8-Mile settlement and we settled outside the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Office at Ela Beach.
“Then we moved to the Boroko Police station. Then to Apex Park at Boroko and now to here.”
Wangai said they were willing to move from the settlement.
“This is a drainage area and we know that and we will move. But we want NCDC to provide land for us.
“If NCDC can evict other PNG settlements from 2-Mile and resettle them at 6-Mile, they should do the same for us.”
Wangai said they had once been given land at Red Hills in the suburb of Gerehu.
“But when we went there, developments were already taking place.
“So we had to return here. Since we were given eviction notices, our children were traumatised and did not attend school.
“Our mothers who are involved in small economical activities like selling doughnuts and ice blocks have stopped.
“They are finding it hard to earn money to look after their family. If we are given land to move, we will be confident to live our daily lives.”
According to ABC, Port Moresby Governor Powes Parkop was unaware of the move to serve the demolition orders or what had prompted it.
A vocal supporter of the West Papua cause, Parkop said he would work to stop – or at least stall – the process to carry out the demolition orders, and fulfill his promise to find the settlers a permanent home.
“I hope I can sort it out soon and get proper allocation of the land so they’ve got security and can build a future.” (*)
Memo NZ: ‘Get on the right side of history’ over West Papua
Vanuatu says New Zealand should get on the right side of history and support West Papuan self-determination. However, reports James Halpin of Asia Pacific Journalism, Indonesian diplomacy with its Pacific allies Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea are defiantly undermining Pacific “solidarity” on the issue.
Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu has called on New Zealand to get on the right side of history when it comes to West Papua.
Reaffirming President Salwai’s remarks at the UN General Assembly late last month, Regenvanu told Asia Pacific Report that the “people of Vanuatu have never had the opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination, which is an unalienable right under international law, and they must be given that opportunity”.
Independence for Vanuatu was achieved from the co-colonisers France and the United Kingdom in 1980.
West Papua had been a colony of the Dutch New Guinea but was annexed by Indonesia after a paratrooper “invasion” in 1962 followed by a UN-supervised vote in 1969 described by critics as fraudulent.
Asked why Vanuatu has taken the lead in advocating for West Papua, Regenvanu says:
“We take this position because of our historical solidarity with the people of West Papua – we were once together and the struggles as colonies trying to become independent; we achieved ours and we will not forget our brothers-and-sisters-in-arms who have not got theirs.”
For President Salwai and Regenvanu, the recent Pacific Islands Forum was a failure at gaining Pacific support for West Papuan self-determination.
“We are disappointed at the position of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia to vocally oppose self-determination for West Papua. We are pleased that most other countries support self-determination, however.”
Regenvanu also criticises New Zealand for not following the advice that it gives to Pacific Island countries.
New Zealand should, “actively support with actions on this issue the ‘international rules-based order’ it is always promoting to PICs”.
The Melanesian Spearhead Group, which shares an ethnicity with the people of West Papua, has also failed at achieving solidarity over the issue.
“PNG and Fiji have strong ties to Indonesia and work actively to ensure the MSG does not address the issue.”
End colonialism call
President Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas introduced the issue of West Papua to the UN General Assembly this year.
“For half a century now, the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitation, sexual violence, arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua perpetrated by Indonesia.”
“We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination.”
For President Salwai, it is an issue of justice and equality for the people of West Papua,
“I would like to get back to the principles in the charter of the United Nations to reaffirm that we believe in the fundamental rights of human beings in dignity and worth of the human person and in equality of rights between men and women and nations large and small.”
President Salwai has been the flag bearer of West Papuan self-determination. His aim is for West Papua to be placed back onto the decolonisation list under the UN charter.
However, President Salwai was supported by two other Pacific leaders, Marshall Islands’ President Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, and Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu.
Sopoaga said: “The United Nations must also engage with the people of West Papua to find lasting solutions to their struggles.”
President Heine staid that Pacific Island countries supported constructive engagement on the issue.
At the 2016 UN General Assembly, seven countries stated their supported for West Papuan self-determination. These were: Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Palau.
Decolonisation has become an important part of foreign relations in the Pacific with the New Caledonian independence vote on November 4.
After hundreds of years of European colonisation, the UN has provided a platform for and facilitated the self-determination of indigenous peoples across the world.
The Indonesian delegation denounced Vanuatu at the UN General Assembly just days ago. The Indonesia delegation used the entirety of their second right of reply in the general debate to deplore Vanuatu’s support for West Papuan self-determination.
“Although being disguised with flowery human rights concern, Vanuatu’s sole intention and action are directly challenging the internationally agreed principles of friendly relations between state, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” UN General Assembly Vice-President Muhammad Kalla said on behalf of his country.
He said: “Like any other country, Indonesia will firmly defend its territorial integrity.”
The Indonesian representative, Aloysius Taborat, said: “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity is the cardinal rule in the relation among nations and in the United Nations”.
However, critics say Indonesia’s handling of West Papua’s vote in the 1969Act of Free Choice “was rigged” so that West Papua would vote to join Indonesia. Therefore, many see hypocrisy in Indonesia’s words, including in their reputation over press freedom.
Human rights abuses are a common occurrence in West Papua, according to human rights organisations. Simply raising the West Papuan flag can result in 15-years imprisonment.(*)
James Halpin is a student journalist on the Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies course at AUT. He is filing articles in the Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies paper.
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