By Johnny Blades
In a battle of wills in the region, Australia and Indonesia now find the island nations have a measure of leverage.
One of the criticisms of the Pacific Islands Forum over the years relates to the regional grouping’s limited ability to advance its agenda in the face of the interests of Australia and New Zealand. The power imbalance hasn’t always made for a cohesive regionalism.
Yet it’s worth noting a rare victory for the island countries at the recent Forum Foreign Ministers meeting in Suva. It was a regular session, setting the agenda for this month’s summit of leaders of the Forum’s 18 member states in Tuvalu. Among the big items which Pacific countries are pursuing, alongside action on the climate crisis and ocean protection, is the festering issue of human rights abuses against the indigenous Melanesians of Indonesian-ruled Papua region, or West Papua.
There’s a new determination within the Forum that West Papua must stay on the agenda. Recognising the escalation of armed violence in Papua’s Highlands between the West Papua Liberation Army and the Indonesian military, as well as signs that rights abuses in the region are worsening, the Forum urged open dialogue with Indonesia on these issues, and for all parties to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means. The Forum has made these sorts of noises before. But now, notably, the Forum members have laid down a deadline regarding an ostensible invitation by Jakarta for the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to visit Papua region.
This visit has been a fraught subject. Bachelet’s predecessor, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, last year complained that an earlier Indonesian invitation for the office to visit Papua had not been honoured, which in turn upset Jakarta. Concerned that Indonesia is dragging the chain again, Forum foreign ministers have called for the timing of the visit by the commissioner’s office to be finalised, and for a resulting report on the Papua situation to be presented before the next Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in 2020.
How did such unusually strong wording get past strong Indonesian allies within the Forum, particularly Australia? It took a heated discussion in Suva at the senior officials level ahead of the foreign ministers’ meeting. The wording was proposed by Vanuatu, the key regional supporter of West Papuan independence aims. Objecting to it, Australia officials traded back and forth with Vanuatu on the make-up of the resolution, which ultimately won the support of Pacific island countries. When it got to the foreign ministers meeting itself, Vanuatu’s Ralph Regenvanu fought successfully for the deadline provision to be included. It was a battle of wills in which Vanuatu prevailed over Australia.
It was partly a sign that Pacific islands countries have a measure of leverage over Australia that they rarely held in the past, because Canberra is anxious to keep friends in the region amid the looming presence of China. But it’s more than simply that. There’s a shifting dynamic in the Pacific on the West Papua issue related to a change in leadership in key countries.
The big change has been in Papua New Guinea with its reconfiguration of government. One of those who lost his job was the country’s longest-serving foreign minister, Rimbink Pato. In the role for almost seven years, Pato forged close relationships with Indonesian counterparts and proved effective at containing the West Papua issue both within the Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group whenever the regional organisations threatened to apply pressure on Indonesia. Without Pato in the mix, there was no objection from the Pacific foreign ministers to Regenvanu’s representations in Suva.
In addition, two relatively new foreign ministers in Fiji and Solomon Islands have injected fresh blood into the Melanesian bloc. Fiji’s government, hitherto unwilling to question Indonesia over West Papua, is now prepared to support a regional push on the human rights issue, as long as self-determination isn’t discussed.
It’s not as if Pacific governments can easily ignore the rights issue any more. Grassroots solidarity with West Papuans is growing in the Pacific as signs abound that the rights situation in Papua is worsening and demanding international attention. UN human rights rapporteurs are deeply worried about the culture of impunity and lack of investigations into allegations of violations in Papua by police and military. Furthermore, a World Council of Churches team recently visited Papua and was alarmed at the level of abuses.
Forum members are increasingly frustrated that its attempts so far to engage with Indonesia over West Papua have come to little, for instance that requests for fact-finding teams to visit Papua have been met with a dead bat. Instead of acknowledging Papuan problems in international fora, Jakarta focuses instead on the big infrastructure drive that President Joko Widodo is rolling out in Papua. His government is busy forging ties with island countries under its “Pacific Elevation” strategy. Despite what was at times a misleading representation of Papuans at its recent Pacific Expo summit in Auckland, Indonesia used the event as a big pitch about wanting to connect more with the region.
And therein lies the rub for Pacific island countries. If Jakarta is serious about elevating relationships with them, they feel it must come to the party more on West Papua. Indonesia has its own significant leverage in the region, but Forum countries are running out of patience. Previously Pacific island countries were divided on Papua. Yet when they speak together, as they appear to be doing now, they represent a force to be reckoned with. (*)
Individuals might take advantage of current situation in Papua for own interests to meet President Widodo
Jayapura, Jubi – Emus Gwijangge, Papua parliament member from the Democratic fraction, appeals to any individuals or groups to not exploit the current situation in Papua for their personal or group interests.
He said this to pointing some recent group meetings with President Joko Widodo in Jakarta. The first group, he mentioned, met the president and then proposed some requests, while another group claimed Papuan youth representatives met some state officials. And the most recently some officials of the Indonesian community group in Papua met President Widodo and asked the president to divide the region of Papua into seven indigenous territories in both Papua and Papua Barat provinces.
“Everyone has a right to meet the president. But please do not act on behalf of indigenous Papuans while requesting something to the president,” Gwijangge told Jubi on Wednesday (16/10/2019).
According to him, indigenous Papuans never ask for a title, new regional split or anything else. What they want is the central government sit together with them in a forum facilitated by the third parties addressing some issues that occurred in Papua.
“What indigenous peoples want is a historical correction as well as the settlement of many cases of human rights violations in Papua. Therefore, the Melanesian race no needs to continue our contention against the central government. We shouldn’t go to Jakarta for asking so many random requests,” he said.
Moreover, he hopes President Widodo and other state officials should carefully accept the proposed meeting by any groups from Papua who claimed to represent indigenous peoples.
He said if the president and state officials want to meet indigenous Papuans, they must invite the indigenous representatives. Also, the provincial government officials, local parliament and Papua’s People Assembly members and religious leaders are there to consider.
“The sort of this representation would guarantee that the aspirations delivered to the president are coming from the indigenous Papuans. It would contribute to the future of our grandchildren for they would not be engaged in the same problems and continuously become victims,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Taufan Damanik, the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, said Komnas HAM has repeatedly advised President Jokowi to come to Papua for a dialogue. The president is suggested meeting people and any relevant stakeholders to solve problems in Papua.
However, he said, the president has contrary invited other groups, who claimed themselves as Papuan leaders, to Jakarta.
“Inviting a group of people from Papua to Jakarta is not what we meant, but the president himself needs to come to Papua,” said Ahmad Taufan. (*)
Reporter: Arjuna Pademme
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Discrimination handling refugees hurts Papuans
Jayapura, Jubi – The way government handling the humanitarian conflict in Papua has become a spotlight. Many people think the government are being discriminative in handling Nduga refugees compared to refugees from Wamena.
A native Ndugama Resina Lokbere said that she is discouraged seeing how the government differently treated refugees from both areas. “I see a huge difference approach here. Although the government always declare our national motto ‘unity in diversity’, but I have not seen this applied in Papua. A conflict in Nduga has occurred since 1 December 2018. Since then, Nduga residents must leave their villages and flee to other regions and the jungle to avoid a military operation,” she said.
Moreover, she said if the government are a concern in settling the humanitarian conflict in Papua, they should treat people fairly. The government should treat people equally, regardless of indigenous Papuans or non-Papuans.
“Thousands of youth and children drop out of school, and now they are living under poor health condition. There is economic loses as well. Who knows whether they will be survived or dead after a few months of suffering without enough food and water? I don’t know. Only God is the witness of their suffering,” said Resina whose relatives refuge from Nduga.
In her view, the way the government handling the issue of refugees can create a barrier in society. She thinks the government has indirectly built a wall between one community to others.
“The government should not perceive conflicts in Nduga and Wamena merely from a political view but also a humanitarian aspect. They are all your people. They need you. They need your action, not your promises on the public stage,” she said.
Meanwhile, a local parliament member Laurenzus Kadepa also think the government has shown different response in handling refugees due to conflicts occurred in Nduga and Wamena.
According to him, he observed that the victims of conflict in Wamena were promptly evacuated or accommodated with adequate facilities. They had enough food and other basic needs during the evacuation. It was opposite to what had happened to Nduga residents. They had to walk for days from their villages to Wamena and other regions.
“While there was a lack of access to food aid distribution for Nduga residents, it didn’t happen for Wamena refugees. They had planes to transport them, shelter and enough food,” he said.
Seeing what has been happening lately in Papua, the relevant stakeholders in Papua and the central government should immediately think a solution to end this current complicated situation. (*)
Reporter: Agus Pabika
Editor: Pipit Maizier
Five bodies discovered in Mbua, allegedly shot by military culprits
Jayapura, Jubi – Residents and activists from Pegunungan Tengah Human Rights Defender Networks (JapHAM) discovered five bodies on Thursday (10/20/2019) in Iniye Village, Mbua Sub-district, Nduga Regency. The bodies are suspected of the shooting victims of military culprits and covered by grass and leaves before being buried in one hole.
Nduga youth leader Samuel Tabuni, who is also a relative of the victims, said the victims left Wamena on 20 September for picking food supplies by car. They went together with a group of young men. Some group members then separated for taking food to their villages. Meanwhile, the victims took their supplies to Gua Batu, Gunung Kanbobo because they lived far away and decided to stay in Iniye Village.
“The next day on 21 September, the five victims went to take the food they stored at Gua Batu. Another group followed them later, but while they were walking, they heard gunfire. They were scared and decided not to continue to their walk to Gua Batu. They walked back to Ineye and called me,” Samuel Tabuni told on Thursday (10/10/2019).
However, after the call, he wasn’t sure about what had happened in Ineye. So he asked the police for further investigation. But the police said there was no report of the shooting incident in Mbua.
“The victims are my relatives, so I must continue to find the truth. After twenty days, it finally reveals that allegedly military culprits have shotted these five people,” said Samuel Tabuni.
He said a resident who called him witnessed military personnel at around Gua Batu.
The five bodies later identified as Mrs Yuliana Dorggi (35), Mrs Jelince Bugi (25), Mrs Macen Kusumbrue (26), Tolop Bugi (13) and Hardius Bugi (15).
“Local people and JapHAM Pegunung Tengah led by Theo Hesegem discovered their bodies,” said Samuel Tabuni.
Meanwhile, Kodam (regional military command) XVII/Cenderawasih admitted to Jubi that they have not yet received any information regarding the shooting incident in Iniye Village.
“We have not received an official report from the local unit,” said Colonel Eko Daryanto, Kodam spokesperson, to Jubi via WhatsApp.
Since a military conflict occurred in Nduga in the early of December last year, 189 residents are reportedly dead because of starvation in a refugee camp or shot by the military and police. Following the incident, thousands of Nduga residents have fled, and 39 churches have vacated.
Currently, according to Samuel Tabuni, Nduga residents demand the government to withdraw the joint military and police troops from Nduga. Furthermore, Nduga urgently needs humanitarian aid to supply food, medicine and support from the international humanitarian organisation to conduct an independent investigation on human rights violations in Nduga.
Meanwhile, Papua Governor Lukas Enembe hope Nduga refugees are not treated differently with refugees from another conflict in Wamena.
“Nduga residents are also the Indonesian citizens who should be treated equally as other residents,” said Governor Enembe.
Further, he said the case of Nduga refugee is an extraordinary case related to a humanitarian issue.
Therefore, he said he already communicated with the regents of Jayawijaya and Lanny Jaya because most of Nduga refugees are currently staying in these two regencies. He asked the regents from both regencies to treat Nduga refugees well because they are also Papuan citizens who need the attention of the government. (*)
Reporter: Victor Mambor
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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