CANBERRA – Two Melanesian leaders recently addressed the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York: Papua New Guinea's prime minister James Marape and Vanuatu's prime minister Bob Loughman.
Both expressed concern about human rights issues in West Papua. In Marape’s case this took only 30 seconds of a 42-minute address while Loughman spent several minutes taking a more assertive approach.
Regardless, Marape’s 30 seconds was greatly appreciated by West Papuans.
"In my region, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and West Papua are still struggling for self-determination,” Loughman told the General Assembly.
“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 and other leaders have called on the Indonesian government to allow the UN 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 General Assembly that he wanted to reflect on the Pacific Island leaders’ forum of 2019 and the expressed desire for the UN to address “alleged human rights concern in our regional neighbourhood. This visit is very important to ensure that the greater people have peace within their respective sovereignty and their rights and cultural dignity are fully preserved and maintained".
One of the most important features of resolutions by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP) group has been the call for the root causes of the West Papua problem to be addressed.
These resolutions remain primarily concerned with human rights issues but, in reality these violations of human rights result from a deeper problem.
For Papuans, this relates to sovereignty: the Papuans contend that the means by which Indonesia claimed sovereignty over West Papua was fraudulent and immoral.
Unless the world's leaders, and international institutions like the United Nations, ACP and PIF, address this cause, it is highly unlikely that human rights problems will be solved.
Voices like those just heard from the two Melanesian leaders occur once in a blue moon and vanish into a sea of deaf ears.
In recent years, the West Papua situation has deteriorated. Shootings continue unabated and prominent leaders continue to be arrested and imprisoned.
We receive reports of Papuan bodies being found in gutters, on the street, in the bush and in hospitals, houses, and hotels. The world is bombarded by images and videos that depict Papuans who have been tortured, abused, burned or killed.
A prominent young Papuan leader, Abock Busup, died suddenly in a Jakarta hotel on Sunday. Abock was the former regent of Yahukimo, the Star Mountains Highlands in Papua, and chairman of the Papua National Mandate Party's regional leadership council.
In May this year, Papuans also lost the vice governor of Papua Province, Klemen Tinal, at the Abdi Waluyo Hospital in Jakarta.
In September 2020, another prominent Papuan leader from the Lanny Jaya highland region of Papua, Bertus Kogoya, died in a hotel room in Jakarta. Mr Kogoya was chairman of the Regional Leadership Council of the Papua Provincial Working Party at the time of his death.
Jakarta, the capital and most populous city of Indonesia, has been dangerous and unwelcoming for Papuans, who seem to be punished with death upon arrival. The causes are rarely determined by authorities.
In response to never-ending brutalities, there was retaliation by the West Papuan National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the resistance movement. A number of deaths of security personnel and immigrants have been attributed to this group.
The armed wing often claims targeted victims are people directly or indirectly implicated in the state’s security apparatus, which threaten 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 Liberation Army killed at least 19 workers in the Nduga region, suspected to be 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 humanity.
These shootings and killings have conflicting narratives where the Liberation Army accuses its victims of being either directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of Papuans. The Indonesian government attributes all violence to the Liberation Army to justify their securitisation of the entire region.
A massive humanitarian crisis has resulted from these killings, displacing the residents of entire areas and forcing them into the forests, causing further death and hardship 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."
As reported on 17 September in Asia Pacific Report, lawyer and human rights activist Veronica Koman called for an independent investigation into the death of the Kiwirok's health workers.
But such requests are consistently denied by the authorities. Human rights organisations, NGOs, and activists have pressed Jakarta to investigate these atrocities for years with no result.
In West Papua, people live in conditions of what French sociologist Émile Durkheim termed anomie, meaning the breakdown of the existential structure that holds human life, morality, ethics, norms, and values together.
In this world, what is justice for one is a crime against another. It is a complete breakdown of the system; it is a war of freedom and survival in a tangled world – entanglements which make it virtually impossible to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes when the very system necessary to deliver justice is inherently incongruent.
West Papua may seem like an exotic dream world full of wealth and lush greenery to Indonesians and western companies who thrive on its natural resources.
These people have no concern for protecting this paradise world; instead, they go there to dig, cut, extract, and steal for their multimillion-dollar mansion in Jakarta, London, Washington, or Canberra.
This is the only place that Papuans call home on this planet. Tragically, this home has been turned into a theatre of killing.
The real perpetrators live in these imperial capital cities. The mourning relatives in West Papua or elsewhere in Indonesia will never meet these perpetrators nor see them brought to justice as they control the very system in which these crimes are perpetrated.
It is important to ask why Western governments aid Indonesia in eliminating indigenous Papuans. These questions can be answered by looking at what the Maori of New Zealand, the Aboriginals of Australia, and the Native Americans endured.
Colonisation through settlement has proven to be the most pernicious in human history. Tragically, this project is being undertaken by Indonesians in West Papua with the assistance of Western governments, based on the logic of exterminating one population in order to replace it with another.
Europeans did this in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States with great success. They continue to supply arms to Indonesia, despite knowing the arms will be used against the Papuans.
International organisations such as the UN, PIF, and ACP fail to challenge Western-backed Indonesia's pernicious logic of annihilating the Papuan people through the system of ‘settler colonialism’.
Both West Papua and Papua are not simply provinces of Indonesia but an Indonesian settler colony. Viewing West Papua through the lens of a settler colony helps to better understand the activities conducted in region, as Indonesia attempt to assimilate, reduce, remove, and eliminate the original inhabitants so that new settlers can occupy vacated lands.
Without real action, the written resolutions and human rights rhetoric at UN forums are nothing more than funeral letters or platitudes intended to comfort the dying and entertain the perpetrators.
Despite this continuing tragedy, the will to live continues to ignite the flames of hope and freedom despite the clutches of despair.
That will to live is strengthened each time West Papua is mentioned at the United Nations as Papuans are motivated to wait for the next train which never arrives.
Marape's UN speech assigned only 30 seconds to West Papua. Nevertheless, those 30 seconds were appreciated and prompted the Free West Papua Campaign to say "those 30 seconds are highly valued, appreciated and respected because every second counts to prevent another Papuan death accompanied by another loss of land.”
In the end "only God knows the 30 seconds" declared the Free West Papua Campaign groups. Both God and 30 seconds symbolised impossibilities of great magnitude and triviality.
Perhaps a courageous human agent like James Marape can turn these impossibilities into possibilities to determine the fate of dying humanity and biodiversity in the land of Papua.