Vanuatu's Prime Minister Bob Loughman expressed concern about the human rights situation in West Papua in his address to the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations on September 25.
Papua New Guinea’s PM James Marape devoted only 30 seconds of his 41-and-a-half-minute address to making indirect remarks on human rights in the region. Nonetheless, his remarks were widely interpreted as referring to the situation in West Papua.
Marape’s speech was carefully constructed and avoided naming Indonesia as responsible for human rights abuses. Regardless, those 30 seconds were greatly appreciated by Papuans, especially the families of victims.
Loughman told the UN General Assembly (UNGA): “In my region, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and West Papua are still struggling for self-determination.
“Drawing attention to the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as stipulated in the UN Charter, it is important that the UN and the international community continue to support the relevant territories giving them an equal opportunity to determine their own statehood.
“The indigenous people of West Papua continue to suffer from human rights violations. The Pacific Forum [Pacific Islands Forum, PIF] and ACP [African, Caribbean and Pacific States] leaders, among other leaders, have called on the Indonesian Government to allow the United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua Province and to provide an independent assessment of the human rights situation.
“Today, there has been little progress on this plan. I hope the international community, through appropriate UN-led process, takes a serious look at this issue and addresses it fairly.”
Marape told the UNGA: “While commenting on the United Nations' peace effort in PNG, I would also like to recall the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum in 2019 and the outstanding visit by the United Nations human rights mechanisms to address the alleged human rights concerns in our regional neighbourhood.
“This visit is very important to ensure that the greater people have peace within their respective sovereignties, and their rights and cultural dignities are fully preserved and maintained.”
Marape's speech prompted the Free West Papua Campaign to respond, “those 30 seconds are highly valued, appreciated and respected because every second counts to prevent another Papuan death accompanied by another loss of land”. The group also thanked Loughman “on behalf of the people of West Papua” for “addressing human rights situations at United Nations today”.
Human rights violations
In reality, the violations of human rights result from deeper problems that are often forgotten or ignored. For Papuans, this deeper problem relates to sovereignty: Papuans contend that the means by which Indonesia claimed sovereignty over West Papua — the so-called “act of free choice” — was fraudulent and immoral.
Unless world leaders and international institutions — the United Nations, the ACP and/or the PIF — address these root causes, it is highly unlikely that human rights problems will be solved. In addition, continuing to acknowledge Indonesia's sovereignty in these resolutions legitimises human rights abuses, since these violations are a consequence of Indonesia's breach of sovereignty.
During the 2016 UNGA, leaders of seven Pacific nations (Vanuatu, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands) raised the issue of West Papua. Many of them agreed that the root causes should be addressed. To date, we are no closer to having a conversation about these issues than we were a few years ago. It appears that voices like those just heard from two leaders in Melanesia at the forum occur once in a blue moon and then vanish into a sea of deaf ears.
The West Papua situation has since deteriorated. Shootings continue unabated and prominent leaders, such as Victor Yeimo, continue to be arrested and imprisoned. We continue to receive reports of Papuan bodies being found in the gutter, on the street, in the bush, in hospitals, houses and hotels. The internet is also bombarded by images and videos that depict Papuans who have been tortured, abused, burned or killed.
Another young, prominent Papuan leader, Abock Busup, died suddenly in a Jakarta hotel on October 3. Abock was the former regent of the Yahukimo, the Star Mountains Highlands in Papua, and chair of the Papua National Mandate Party's regional leadership council.
In May, Papuans also lost the vice-governor of the Papuan province of Klemen Tinal, at the Abdi Waluyo Hospital in Jakarta.
Bertus Kogoya, a prominent Papuan leader from the Lanny Jaya highland region of Papua, died in a hotel room in Jakarta in September 2020. Kogoya was chair of the Regional Leadership Council of the Papua Provincial Working Party at the time of his death.
Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital and its most populous city, has been dangerous and unwelcoming for Papuans, who are punished with death upon arrival. The causes of their deaths are rarely determined by authorities.
In response to these never-ending brutalities, the West Papuan National Liberation Army (TNPB), the armed wing of the resistance movement, has retaliated. The deaths of a number of security personnel and migrants have been attributed to it. The TNPB often claim that its victims are not ordinary migrants, but people who have been either directly or indirectly integrated into the state’s security apparatus, which threatens Papuans throughout the land.
A military post in Sorong, in the Mybrat region of West Papua, was attacked in early September, resulting in the death of four Indonesian soldiers. Two years earlier, in December 2018, the TNPB killed at least 19 workers in the Nduga region who were suspected of being members of the security forces.
In recent weeks, a 22-year-old health worker, Gabriella Maelani, was killed in the Kiwirok district of Star Highlands. This, coupled with the burning of public health buildings, are only a few of the heartbreaking atrocities perpetrated in West Papua against the people.
As reported in Asia Pacific Report on September 17, lawyer and human rights activist Veronica Koman has called for an independent investigation into Maelani’s death, due to conflicting accounts of what happened in Kiwirok. But such requests are consistently denied by the authorities. Human rights organisations, non-government organisations and rights activists have pressed Jakarta for years to investigate these atrocities, with no result to date.
These shootings and killings have conflicting narratives, wherein the West Papua liberation army accuses its victims of being either directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of Papuans. In contrast, the government of Indonesia has attributed all forms of violence to the liberation struggle’s armed wing, which conveniently justifies its securitisation of the entire region.
A humanitarian crisis has resulted, displacing residents of entire areas from their homes and forcing them into forests, causing further deaths of villagers, either through starvation, sickness or reprisal attacks by the Indonesian military. Human tragedies never end in the land popularly known as “the little heaven that falls to earth”.
The colonial Indonesians and imperial West have thrust the Papuan people into a fierce struggle for survival in their ancestral homeland. The deaths of Papuans, migrants and security personnel are not isolated incidents. They are the outcomes of big wars for global control fought behind the scenes in Rome, Beijing, Jakarta, London, Moscow, Auckland, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission’s 2013 report, Neglected Genocide, Australia provided Iroquois helicopters to Indonesia in the 1970s, along with Bell UH-1H Huey helicopters from the United States. These helicopters, among other aircraft and resources, were used by Indonesia to bomb Papua’s highland villages of Bolakme, Bokondini, Pyramid, Kelila, Tagime and surrounding areas.
Danny Kogoya, one of the key OPM commanders who died in hospital near the PNG-Indonesia border in 2013, was shot by an anti-terrorist squad trained by Australian elite forces. Kogoya died as a result of an infection caused by the amputation of his right leg after being shot in Entrop Jayapura, Jayapura, Indonesia on September 2, 2012.
New Zealand-based human rights activist Maire Leadbeater wrote in Green Left in May: “Since 2008, New Zealand has exported military aircraft parts to the Indonesian Air Force. In most years, including 2020, these parts are listed as `P3 Orion, C130 Hercules & CASA Military Aircraft: Engines, Propellers & Components including Casa Hubs and Actuators'.”
West Papuans will see the use of this military hardware as Indonesia continues to increase its presence in the region in an attempt to crack down on the highland regions. There has already been massive displacement in the Nduga region.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the immense volume of weaponry, skills and training that Western governments are supplying to Indonesia.
[Yamin Kogoya is an Australian-based West Papuan academic from the Lani tribe in the Papuan Highlands.]