NZ plays mum on West Papua in lead up to Pacific leaders summit

By Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea Tauafiafi

West Papua is one of five priority items confirmed for Pacific leaders to discuss and decide on a course of action when they meet in Papua New Guinea next month. A visit by a West Papuan leader last week to Wellington failed to jiggle New Zealand’s position out in the open.

A view to the government’s position heading to the leaders’ summit would have been invaluable for West Papua’s freedom movement as it calls on Pacific leaders to set up a fact-finding mission to send to Indonesia. If leaders agree, it would be a major step forward in the Melanesian population’s 40-plus year fight for political recognition as the way to restore their independence and fundamental right to self-determination.

Youngsolwarans in Wellington during a recent protest in front of the New Zealand National Parliament.

Mr Octovianus Mote, the head for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was in Wellington last week hoping to get a view to the New Zealand government’s position, whether it would support West Papua’s call for a fact-finding mission.

“West Papua has had 53 years of human rights violations and there is an ongoing genocide. There are so many academic reports and human rights reports about it,” said Mr Mote.

“We are really calling for the Forum to form a fact-finding commission and to conduct a human rights assessment of West Papua.”

But even though Mr Mote spoke at the Beehive last week at a function organised by the Green party, there was a lack of government representation and the overwhelming silence on West Papua failed to shine a light on the government’s possible stance.

Even a list of Pacific Guardians queries on the West Papua issue sent to Pacific Peoples minister Peseta Sam Lotu-I’iga failed to get a response. It indicates the high level of sensitivity around multiple issues likely to be thrashed out by leaders at the PNG summit such as the watered down climate change positions for both New Zealand and Australia; the calls by Fiji for New Zealand and Australia to resign from the Forum ensuring a tinder box environment heightened by the inclusion of West Papua and Indonesia in the mix, especially with host PNG supporting West Papua.

However, Labour’s Pacific spokesperson, Su’a William Sio told Pacific Guardians that a conversation he had with National MP Alfred Ngaro Friday last week indicates that the government has “taken up a position [on West Papua]”.

New Zealand’s Greens Party, Catherine Delahunty with West Papuan Morning Star flag.

“As co-Chair multiparty Parliamentary Friendship Group, I have spoken to Alfred that I would like someone from the region to come and speak to parliamentarians on the issue of West Papua. Alfred said he can get someone from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I said that’s fine but we also need a Pacific person from the region,” Su’a said.

“But Alfred’s answer, confirming that someone from Foreign Affairs can present to the group indicates to me that the government has taken up a position.”

Su’a did not confirm when the West Papua presentation is likely to take place – that he’s asked Green MP and West Papua advocate Ms Catherine Delahunty to find a Pasifika speaker from the region to speak to the group.

Su’a added, “We are also caught up in our own issues that I’m sure most people in New Zealand will not believe that there is still this kind of goings in West Papua in this day and age – that the Indonesian government is allowing this kind of behavior to go on and the Western world does not seem to take notice.”


West Papua has been subjected to a brutal repression by the Indonesians since 1962. Prior to that, the island of New Guinea (the eastern half now known as Papua New Guinea and the western half now known as West Papua) as well as Indonesia had been Dutch colonies until Indonesia’s own war of independence in 1949.

In 1936 while still under Dutch rule an erstberg (ore mountain) was discovered in the southwest region of New Guinea, and in 1959 alluvial gold was found just off the West Papuan coast. Another massive ore mountain was yet to be discovered deep in the West Papuan forest.

In the 1950s, plans were made by the Dutch to prepare for withdrawal including plans for West Papua to revert to indigenous rule by 1972.

Despite a West Papuan congress on independence in 1961 and the raising of the national “Morning Star” flag, Indonesia had claimed New Guinea as part of its territory. A United Nations intervention resulted in the New York Agreement in 1962 which placed the territory in UN trusteeship (without consent of the population) and required that West Papuans hold an independence vote under UN supervision.

But by the time the vote was conducted in 1969 the Indonesian military had handpicked 1,026 representatives to vote on behalf of the entire population. Having been threatened with the death of their families the vote was unanimous for Indonesian rule. The so-called “Act of Free Choice” is known to this day by indigenous West Papuans as the “act of no choice.”

When the West Papuans were making plans for independence in 1961, unbeknownst to either they or the Dutch, then-Indonesian army general Suharto was negotiating a mining deal with the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold. Subsequent discoveries resulted in the notorious Grasberg mine one of the largest reserves of copper and gold in the world—and is today at the center of the conflict between Indonesia and West Papua.

The Free West Papua Movement claims that over 500,000 civilian West Papuans have been killed to date.

Source: Pacific Guardians



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