Greens Senator Richard Di Natale questioned foreign minister Bob Carr on June 5 during a senate hearing on human rights abuses in West Papua.
Carr’s response was to deride the international solidarity movement for West Papua. This movement, Carr claimed, “are planting in the minds of people who actually live in the place the notion that this campaign has some kind of international resonance and that is a cruel deceit by self-indulgent people safe in their own beds, safe in a democracy”.
“It is a cruel deceit about the potential of a demand for secessionism.”
Di Natale replied that it is “incredibly patronising and incredibly arrogant that you would suggest that a movement within a nation of people who are able to make decisions for themselves are somehow being controlled by people externally.”
He said: “I personally have never stood up for independence for the West Papuan people. I have stood up for the right of the West Papuan people to make decisions for themselves.”
Melbourne-based West Papuan activist Ronny Kareni told ABC radio on June 11 that his people’s demand is for independence. “The cycle has been driven and initiated by the Papuans themselves, and it has been 50 years that we've been calling for recognition ...
“We're trying to build solidarity, to raise the international awareness of what has been happening in West Papua. And the issue is not a domestic issue in Indonesia, it is an international issue that in the '60s, the Australian government and also with the US pretty much masterminded and engineered West Papua to be handed over to Indonesia in '69, which was officially recognised in that sham referendum.”
Though clearly upset at Carr’s comments, Kareni also recognised that “at the end of the day we know the standing position of the current government”.
Carr told the hearings that the Australian embassy in Indonesia does routinely “express Australian concerns about the behaviour of security forces, including police, in West Papua”. However, he said: “We do it in the context of accepting Indonesian sovereignty over the territories as a matter of international law.”
Indeed, the Australian government is careful to repeat its position on independence whenever the West Papua issue is brought up. Indonesia complained to Australia in May after Benny Wenda, founder of the Free West Papua campaign, gave a speech at a non-profit TED conference in Sydney calling for independence.
The British government also goes out of its way to keep good relations with Indonesia. After Wenda opened a Free West Papua office in Oxford, the Telegraph said that leading candidates in Indonesia's presidential election next year called for a review of British investments in the country, including BP’s 7.5 billion pound natural gas deal in the waters off Papua.
“It is vital that we do not allow the West Papua issue to damage our work with Indonesia,” a British government spokesperson said in response.
A spokesperson from the Indonesian embassy in London said: “We want to make sure that the British government is more wary of the separatists who are willing to twist the position of officials to make it appear that their cause is gaining support.”
Australia has similar concerns. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australia and Indonesia shared a two-way trade worth $14.9 billion in 2011-12, and two-way investment worth about $5.9 billion in 2011. Indonesia is Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner in ASEAN and Australia’s 12th-largest trading partner overall.
Carr and the Indonesian government are keen to downplay the international campaign in support of West Papua, but the movement is steadily growing. One big breakthrough could be the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting starting June 19.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) has been officially invited to attend the conference for the first time. Controversially, Indonesia already has observer status. The WPNCL is seeking the same or, ideally, full membership.
Such a move would aid their strategy of building international support. Andy Ayamiseba, a spokesperson for WPNCL, told Radio New Zealand: “It definitely will elevate the status of the struggle and by having support from our immediate region we could go international because the international community will see that yes it is true the immediate region where West Papua is, has given their support.”
Victor Yeimo, chairperson of the West Papua National Commitee (KNPB), has been imprisoned since May 13 after leading a rally supporting West Papuan self determination. His organisation clearly doesn’t deride international support.
He wrote a letter to the MSG asking for West Papua’s membership, adding: “Melanesian Leaders, this is opportunity for you to take action in MSG. We have to defend and protect our land and the people strongly, more than economic and political benefit of colonial and capitalist.”