This morning a group of Green, Labour and Alliance MPs welcomed John Ondawame, an international representative of the West Papua independence movement, on the steps of Parliament.
Like Jose Ramos Horta, John has spent many years trying to get international support for the West Papuan people. And as happened with Jose Ramos Horta many people have told John his cause is hopeless. But East Timor is now free, and West Papua can be free too.
Both countries were illegally and unjustly incorporated into Indonesia. Forty years ago West Papua was a Dutch colony and on the UN’s decolonisation list. In 1961 the Dutch were opening up an independence process. Then the United States and some other countries exerted pressure on the Dutch to give up control, effectively to Indonesia. In 1969 West Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia after a farcical “Act of Free Choice” – a vote of just over a 1000 Papuans handpicked by the Indonesian military.
This UN sanctioned solution also removed the final barrier to a massive mining contract between multinational-owned Freeport McMoran and the Indonesian state – last year Freeport was bringing in a profit of just under $2 million US dollars a week from West Papua – while the indigenous people remain the poorest people in Indonesia.
To our shame New Zealand went along with the Indonesian colonial take-over in the 60s – and we are still going wrong. In a written question to the Minister Phil Goff has said “The New Zealand Government does not consider East Timor and West Papua to be comparable”. Well it should.
The West Papuan’s have lived for decades with the same horrific violence and extreme human rights violations. Tens of thousands of indigenous Papuans are believed to have died during Indonesian’s “pacification” campaigns. Their culture has been undermined; not least by a process of transmigration from Indonesia, aimed at swamping the indigenous people. Most so-called “development” that has taken place has been at the people’s expense, causing displacement of tribal peoples and devastating the environment.
The coming to power of President Wahid, after Suharto was toppled, gave the Papuan people new hope, allowing both the name of the territory to be changed from Irian Jaya to Papua and the raising of their Morning Star flag – the same flag with which we greeted Mr Ondawame on parliament steps this morning. Wahid also allowed a Papuan People’s Congress to take place in June this year, which resulted in a declaration of unanimous support for independence from Indonesia.
However Wahid’s authority has been undermined. Those elements in the Indonesian government more opposed to Papuan independence, such as Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, are now calling the shots. They have once again banned the raising of the Morning Star flag, ordering that all flags must disappear from the capital Jayapura as of tomorrow. So there will be a confrontation tomorrow. The co-leader of the Papuan Presidium Council, Theys Eluway, has said he will sit on the flag, prepared to die in its defence.
New Zealand should be at the forefront of defending the West Papuan people’s rights in their hour of need.
Specifically, we should call for the immediate withdrawal of the Indonesian military and police from West Papua, and a dialogue between the Indonesian government and the Papuan Presidium Council for a peaceful process whereby the people determine their own future
We should support the West Papuan people as a Pacific people, as aMelanesian people. They are not Indonesians, anymore than the people of East Timor. John Ondawame has asked us to support Vanuatu and Nauru, who will be asking the Pacific Islands Forum this month to put West Papua on the agenda, and to give their representatives observer status.
We should also be following Vanuatu and Nauru’s lead in raising the question at the UN. It is a UN concern, because the UN went along with the stage-managed Act of Free Choice in 1969, and now must take responsibility to redress that shameful mistake.