Monday, 29 April 2013

Indonesian sovereignty in West Papua only possible with Australia's consent

It appears Indonesia is using cheque-book diplomacy in an effort to generate support among melanesian nations, but there remains substantial support, it seems, inside those countries, for West Papuan independence. There appears to be a tussle for influence in Micronesia involving Indonesia and West Papuan independence leaders, with the Solomon Islands PM recently agreeing that the issue should be discussed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group. In Vanuatu, the PM has said that the Free Papua Movement should be given membership of the MSG. Regional support for independence is growing, and the issue is gaining attention in New Zealand.
[British-based tribal leader] Benny [Wenda's February] visit [to the region] helped to reignite the West Papua debate in Melanesia. It is now probable that the Melanesian Spearhead group of nations, which includes New Caledonia's independence movement (FLNKS), as well as Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu will grant West Papuan representatives official observer status when it meets in June.
Australian government support for Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua looks unlikely to change even given a change of government here in September. There is no official support here for scrutiny of events taking place in West Papua, and apparently no official action to protest the use of force and violence inside the two Indonesian provinces that form the putative country. This contrasts strikingly with Australia's official representations to the Indonesian government following the 1991 Dili Massacre. Australian involvement in Timor-Leste sits comfortably with the Australian people, who overall consider it to have been right to take action to force Indonesia to run a legitimate referendum, and to honour the result afterward. In the case of West Papua, while it is widely accepted that the 1969 "referendum" staged by Indonesian authorities was illegitimate, the Australian government turns its face away from the lie.

Australia should set up and resource an official commission of inquiry into the 1969 poll that forms the basis of Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. The Australian government should also protest against Indonesian efforts to keep journalists out of West Papua, so that the people they represent can be reliably informed of what is happening there. There are too many bits of unsubstantiated but compelling information coming out of West Papua to justifiably ignore. A reliable media presence in West Papua is essential to ensuring that people living in the region can see clearly the type of events that appear to be taking place on a regular basis, including murder, intimidation, unwarranted arrests and jailings, and routine suppression of free speech.

The man shown in the picture that accompanies this post, for example, is breaking the law. How can it be illegal to hold a flag? Indonesia's brittle attitude toward the legitimate aspirations of the indigenous people of West Papua is only possible with the consent of the old democracies in the region - Australia and New Zealand. The Australian government must do more to ensure transparency in the provinces, and to uphold the human rights of people living in West Papua.


SnowMonkey said...

Your suggestion is based on a misunderstanding. Only the Security Council should be talking to Indonesia about West Papua, which became a UN trust territory in 1962 which means the United Nations is required by the UN Charter under article 76 to protect human rights in the colony, under article 87 to hear petitions about West Papua, and to monitor conditions in West Papua under article 88 of the Charter. The events of 1969 and the terms of the 1962 agreement are irrelevant to the legal duty UN members have under the Charter.

Please see information and my suggestion at

Matthew da Silva said...

Thanks for your comment. It's interesting to learn more about the UN's obligations. I feel though that political realities in the region mean that Australia is the most likely entity to do something about the abuses occurring in West Papua. This is partly because there are concerned citizens of Australia who are able to effectively agitate for their govt to act. I suspect there are also sympathisers in New Zealand, however that country is further away from West Papua and does not have the tradition of state activism vis-a-vis Indonesia, that Australia does.

SnowMonkey said...

Basically correct, but the door or mechanism is there if the Australia public ever wants to flex its muscle, and the public would have to apply a lot of pressure on Canberra. America has proven in 2005 to be keen to ask questions about West Papua and the Indonesian claim to it, it took SBY considerable interference in US politics to thwart the US Congress questions that year.

But there are 192 UN member and we just need one of them to ask the General Assembly, is West Papua a trust territory?