Global interest in West Papua
11 May, 2016, 12:00 am
MORE mass demonstrations are expected in Indonesia’s Papua region amid growing international interest in West Papuan self-determination aspirations.
Last week’s demonstrations in cities across Papua region and other Indonesian cities came three weeks after similar public mobilisations, and resulted in mass arrests.
It’s traditional for West Papuans to demonstrate around May 1. This date is the anniversary of transfer of administration in the former Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia in 1963, a process in which Papuans were not consulted.
But this year they were also demonstrating their support for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s bid to be a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, as well as the International Parliamentarians for West Papua.
The IPWP, a network of politicians from around the world who support self-determination for West Papuans and are concerned about ongoing human rights abuses against Papuans, held a summit in London last week.
One of the IPWP’s founders is the British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said at the summit that he wanted support for West Papuan self-determination, and recognition of the human rights issues, to become central to policy in his Labour Party.
Attended by MPs from the wider Pacific, Europe and Britain, as well as Liberation Movement leaders such as Benny Wenda, the summit resulted in a declaration calling for an internationally-supervised vote on independence in West Papua.
The West Papua-based journalist Victor Mambor said people demonstrating last week in Papua’s main centres supported this call.
“They want a referendum, they want the right to self-determination. As far as I know the authorities never talk about that, they didn’t want to talk about that,” he said.
However, Jakarta insists that there is no going back on what it calls the “final” incorporation of West Papua into the republic, and has been swift to condemn the London meeting.
In a series of posts on Twitter, the Indonesian embassy in Australia called the meeting a publicity stunt organised by a “small group of Papuan separatists and sympathisers”.
Jakarta said the United Nations and international community already recognised Papua as part of Indonesia, saying the region already has self-determination through special autonomy, elections and education.
However, the 1969 referendum by which West Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia, named the Act of Free Choice, is widely regarded as having been stage-managed.
A leading Vanuatu government minister who attended the London summit, Ralph Regenvanu, said there was growing international support to address what remained an unresolved decolonisation issue.
“According to international law, that self-determination issue has never been addressed by a proper vote in West Papua, and that’s been recognised at a number of forums,” said Mr Regenvanu.
“Decolonisation never happened and in fact this colony was simply passed from one colonial power, being the Dutch, to another colonial power which is Indonesia which continues to colonise the territory to this day.”
The demonstrations came just a day after Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo visited Papua region to open a major port facility and preside over a new market construction designed to assist Papuans.
Less than two years since taking office, Mr Widodo, or “Jokowi” as he is known, has already visited Papua several times — more than any previous Indonesian president.
Mr Jokowi has embarked on a major development drive in Papua, including plans for an 800-kilometre Papuan highway and an ambitious 1390km railway project.
“Within the first one-and-a-half years of Mr Jokowi’s administration, eastern Indonesia’s economic growth has surpassed that of the western part of the country,” according to a statement from Indonesia’s House of Representatives following last week’s London summit.
The president’s focus on economic development in Papua has been welcomed, but for many West Papuans has not addressed the self-determination issue or the continuing human rights abuses.
The Jokowi administration appears limited in its ability to rein in the military and police forces who run Papua; gains in living conditions for Papuans have yet to eventuate.