“It is now urgent for New Zealand and other Pacific leaders to undertake a fact-finding mission to West Papua”
Dear Mr Key and Mr McCully,
As the Pacific Island Forum summit is imminent and the issue of West Papua will be under discussion by the Forum Heads of State, we would like to draw your attention to some significant and disturbing developments.
We believe these developments establish that it is now urgent for New Zealand and other Pacific leaders to undertake a fact-finding mission to West Papua.
The past few months have seen a major escalation in the numbers of people arrested for taking part in peaceful activities, many of which were in support of the international initiatives of the ULMWP. A number of the activities at which people have been detained cannot fairly be described as protests but rather as prayer sessions or celebrations. For example on 3 July 2015 40 people were arrested for taking part in a prayer session to give thanks for the decision of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) to grant observer status to the ULMWP.
The month of May was a terrible month for arbitrary arrests, with an estimated 487 people being detained – mostly for short periods. Some of these arrests took place on 1 May, the date that marks the anniversary of the day in 1963 when Indonesia assumed administrative control over West Papua. Others were arrested while taking part in activities to support the bid by the ULMWP for membership of the MSG. There were many reports of beatings and torture.
We understand that pre-emptive arrests deliberately targeted people who planned to take part in peaceful demonstrations, particularly those from the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB).
Since May this year, a further 264 people have been arrested for expressing their support or for being involved with the ULMWP. The Indonesian authorities have adopted a harsh ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards the peaceful expression of support for the ULMWP. No one can doubt the level of popular support for the ULMWP in West Papua – not only are so many willing to risk their personal liberty and safety to join public activities, but also over 100,000 signatures supporting the MSG campaign were obtained in the lead up to the leaders’ Summit. 55,000 were received in time to be formally presented.
Since no international journalists were present there was little news of this signature campaign, but it was undertaken with great thoroughness and signatures were authenticated with addresses and copies of state-issued identify cards. There were letters of support from Churches, Customary Chiefs, women and student groups and prominent individuals. Many Indonesian migrants also signed. Getting to West Papua’s remote communities represented a challenge to the signature gatherers as did getting the forms out of the country.
It is outrageous that this peaceful and democratic exercise was met with so much obstruction by the Indonesian Security Forces, and their harsh reactions should be roundly condemned.
As you are aware the victims of security force harassment and violence in West Papua are predominantly those who have publicly expressed their support for self-determination or independence. Often the harassment extends to the human rights lawyers and human rights defenders who attempt to protect the rights of such activists.
In recent weeks we have received a number of reports of incidents of the harassment of human rights defenders. A recent example concerns the case of Roby Erik Pekei, the victim of a police shooting who was injured in his right ankle and left leg. Those attempting to protect him were subject to police harassment during his attendance at the Wamena Hospital and later in the courtroom at his pre-trial hearing on 28 July 2015.
Ms Anum Siregar, is one of Mr Pekei’ s lawyers and last year was stabbed in the hand when she defended a high-profile treason case. Other human rights lawyers including Gustaf Kawer and Ms Olga Hamadi have also faced extreme threats of violence in the past few years.
The news of decision of the MSG leaders to grant observer status to the ULMWP was greeted with joy in West Papua. This move has raised high hopes that the other members of the ‘Pacific Family’ represented at the Pacific Island Forum meeting will also listen to West Papuan pleas.
For New Zealand, a nation committed to democratic ideals and human rights, there is now an urgent moral imperative for us to do what we can to end this ongoing violence and repression.
One immediate step we can take is to support the formation of a Pacific Fact Finding Mission to go to West Papua to meet with all sectors of society and to learn at firsthand about the situation in this largely closed off territory.
We look forward to learning of the New Zealand Government’s support for this vital initiative.
Maire Leadbeater and Marni Gilbert (For West Papua Action Auckland)