WPAA letter to MSG leaders “West Papua needs support to rejoin Melanesian family”

1 May 2015

Dear Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders,

We are writing to you at a crucial moment for the people of West Papua and their hopes to be accepted back into the Melanesian family of nations.

At a historic meeting of West Papuan leaders in Port Vila in December 2014 a new organisation called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was formed. This new umbrella organisation has submitted an application for membership to the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). The ULMWP is now the only unified and recognised coordinating body with a mandate to seek West Papuan membership to the MSG. It has the support throughout Tanah Papua.

We are puzzled at the recent suggestion from Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill that Indonesia could be admitted to Associate Membership of the MSG. Indonesia’s claim to Melanesian status appears to be a self-serving tactic designed to undermine the West Papuan bid for MSG inclusion.

It is only in the last two or three years that Indonesia has begun to acknowledge its Melanesian citizens. It is no coincidence that this development has come at the same time as support for self-determination for West Papua has escalated among the Melanesian populations of Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. As people throughout the Pacific region and all around the world become more aware of the situation solidarity with the people of West Papua and support for its application to join the MSG is growing.

From the time Indonesia took control of the region in 1963 until 2001, it was considered an act of defiance or disloyalty for West Papuans to claim their Melanesian identity. As theologian Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network, stressed in a Jakarta Post article (13 May 2015):

For the government, the term “Melanesia” was mistakenly interpreted as an expression of separatism. A Papuan who recognized him or herself as Melanesian was immediately accused of being separatist and therefore treated as Indonesia’s enemy who had to be eliminated before destroying the nation’s territorial integrity. Many Papuans have been sacrificed for bravely recognizing their Melanesian identity in public.’

We cannot forget the life and legacy of Arnold Ap, the former curator of the Jayapura Anthropology Museum, who played such a vital role in reviving and promoting traditional Papuan music and culture. The Indonesian authorities considered his dedication to his Melanesian culture as ‘subversive’. He was arrested, detained without charge for several months, and assassinated by Indonesian troops in April 1984.

During his recent visit to West Papua Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the release of five political prisoners and stated that international journalists would now be free to visit West Papua without needing to be screened by a special Clearing House Committee. While we welcome these steps they must be placed in a fuller context and should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the Papuan people are still being denied their right to self-determination.

The five prisoners were released under ‘clemency provisions’ which require them to admit guilt for their past actions. As you know, many political prisoners including Filep Karma, a high profile Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, are held for no other reason than for raising the banned Morning Star flag or participating in a peaceful demonstration. These prisoners must be released unconditionally as they are not guilty of having committed any crime.

If the release of the five prisoners is to be seen as genuine progress, it must be followed by an increase in the rights and democratic freedoms of the Papuan people.  Unfortunately there are signs that the opposite is happening. On 1st May 2015 over 260 West Papuans were arrested by security forces for simply taking part in peaceful rallies in contravention of their right to freedom of expression and assembly. They were commemorating the 52nd anniversary of the administrative transfer of West Papua to Indonesia.

Throughout all of last year there were harsh crackdowns on numerous peaceful rallies, especially those of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB). All sectors of society in West Papua including lawyers, human rights defenders, activists, clergy and journalists faced regular intimidation or the threat of arrest. The year ended with a shocking massacre of four school boys when on 8th December 2014 security forces fired into a crowd of approximately 800 peaceful demonstrators (including women and children) in Enarotali in the Panai regency. Despite international media coverage the perpetrators of this outrage have not been brought to justice.

While we hope that foreign journalists will now be able to visit and report on West Papua free from stringent visa procedures or the risk of deportation it is disconcerting that the President’s assurance has already been cast into doubt by contradictory statements made by members of his administration. Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno was quoted as saying that foreign journalists will still be screened before being issued permits for Papua. The national police spokesman Sr Comr Agus Rianto made a similar statement.

We acknowledge the strong support already declared by Vanuatu and FLNKS for West Papua’s full membership to the MSG and hope that this support will encourage other MSG leader’s to do the same.

In the light of the ongoing unsettled situation and the clearly expressed will of the Papuan people we encourage you to support their application to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group by granting membership to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. We believe this step has enormous support among the people of the Melanesian countries as well as among those in the wider Pacific region. West Papua needs support in order to progress towards a peaceful resolution of a tragic longstanding conflict.

Yours sincerely,

West Papua Action Auckland

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