West Papua ignored at Pacific Islands Forum

August 16, 2009

The 40th Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) took place in Cairns on August 5 and 6.

The PIF is the key regional organisation in the Pacific and is made up of 16 independent countries. It meets annually. West Papuan representatives have regularly lobbied PIF leaders asking that they raise the grave human rights situation in Indonesian-occupied West Papua.

They have also asked that West Papua be granted observer status at the forum, as has been granted to a number of other non-self-governing territories of the Pacific.

In past years, the forum has noted its concern about human rights abuses in West Papua in the forum's official communique. However, more recently the communiques have not mentioned West Papua because of pressure from Australia to keep it off the forum's agenda.

This was the policy of the former Howard government. It is also the policy of prime minister Kevin Rudd's ALP government.

It should be remembered that West Papua has always been considered part of the Pacific community. Netherlands New Guinea, as West Papua was then known, was a member of the South Pacific Commission, a forerunner to the PIF.

West Papuan representatives in Cairns, Paula Makabory, John Ondawame and Rex Rumakiek demonstrated outside the Cairns conference centre, the venue that hosted the forum. They received good media coverage from both local and international media. They also spoke to a large number of forum representatives, laying the groundwork for next year's PIF, which will be held in Vanuatu.

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