Melanesian Spearhead Group ‘fails West Papua’

August 30, 2023
Jayapura protest
A protest in Jayapura on August 23 called for the United Liberation Movement of West Papua to be admitted as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Photo: Supplied

West Papuans and their supporters say they have been “let down” by Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders over a decision not to admit the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) as a full member at its August 23–25 summit in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila.

Australia West Papua Association spokesperson Joe Collins said: “Over the last few months in West Papua, the grassroots [movements] have taken to the streets calling on the MSG to grant full membership to the ULMWP.

“Many were arrested, beaten, tortured and jailed as they rallied peacefully in calling on the MSG to support them.

“It is tragic that the MSG did not respond to their call. Do the MSG leaders not read the reports of the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua?”

AWPA pointed to two recent reports on Indonesia’s human rights abuses in occupied West Papua. The first was published by the PNG Trust, and features in Paradise Bombed, a video produced by social media commentators, “friendlyjordies”.

The second is a Human Rights Monitor report, Destroy them first … discuss human rights later, which exposes Indonesian military attacks on Indigenous villages in West Papua

West Papua supporters, human rights and anti-corruption campaigners are also concerned that Indonesia may be leveraging influence with Pacific Island leaders over West Papua (including the ULMWP’s membership bid) via funding deals.

“Surely with all the aid flowing to Pacific countries, it’s not simply a case of ‘follow the money’?” asked Collins.

Collins pointed to a report in Vanuatu’s Daily Post, which said that while Vanuatu Free West Papua Association was lobbying the prime ministers of the MSG to approve the ULMWP’s application for full MSG membership, “a top Vanuatu Government official allegedly travelled to Jakarta to negotiate a reported VT300 million to fund the VIP Lounge of Port Vila International Airport and fund humanitarian aid”.

“When the Indonesian delegation walked out of the summit as [ULMWP President] Benny Wenda prepared to speak, it was not only an insult to West Papua but to the MSG leaders as well,” Collins said.

“The leaders should have granted full membership to the ULMWP on that outrageous act alone.”

David Robie, a veteran Asia-Pacific commentator and editor of Asia Pacific Report, wrote that “the failure of the Melanesian leadership to stand by the ULMWP was a travesty”. He said in RNZ on August 28 that the MSG had “thrown away a golden chance for achieving a historical step towards justice and peace in West Papua by lacking the courage to accept the main Papuan self-determination advocacy movement as full members”.

Robie continued: “Many see this as a terrible betrayal of West Papuan aspirations and an undermining of Melanesian credibility and solidarity as well as an ongoing threat to the region's security and human rights.

“It is also seen as a success for Indonesia’s chequebook and cultural diplomacy in the region that has intensified in recent years and months with a perception that Jakarta has bribed its way to prevent the United Liberation Front for West Papua (ULMWP) from upgrading its status from observer to its rightful full membership.

“A former Vanuatu prime minister, Joe Natuman, questioned the direction of the MSG back in 2016 when he claimed the West Papuans had been ‘sold out’ and likened the failure of the organisation to grant ULMWP membership to when Jesus Christ was betrayed and sold for 30 pieces of silver.

“He complained at the time that ‘some people’ were trying to drive the MSG for their own agendas, with implied criticism of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

“Earlier this year, Natuman was even more explicit when he admitted that the MSG had made a mistake by allowing Indonesia to join the Melanesian body in 2015.”

Robie reported that the Summit’s final communiqué was “silent” on West Papua and “claimed that there was no consensus” on the ULMWP’s membership.

The communiqué justified this position, saying the ULMWP “does not meet the existing” criteria for membership under the MSG agreement. It “also imposed a one-year membership moratorium, apparently closing the door on West Papuan future hopes”.

“The tone was set at the MSG when the Indonesian delegation (the largest at the summit) walked out in protest when ULMWP interim president Benny Wenda addressed the plenary,” Robie said.

Despite this, the ULMWP said on August 29 that it welcomed the summit’s call on Indonesia to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua.

“I hope that the MSG chair will honour the commitment to write to Indonesia as a matter of urgency, as every day that international intervention is delayed sees more West Papuans suffer and more Melanesian blood spilt,” Wenda said.

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