The United Nations is holding another General Assembly in the end of 2018 where country members will have chances to discuss significant global issues that want to raise. Diplomatic battles happen in this period to gain global support. An issue to be battled is the one on whether West Papua should gain independence from Indonesia. Vanuatu will be, again, one of the significant proponents of Free West Papua movement, but unfortunately, their position towards the issue is severely compromised by political interests and irresponsible persons.
Every year, in September, at United Nations Headquarters in New York for two weeks, global leaders gather to discuss the urgent issues of our time and set the global agenda for the year ahead. The General Assembly will address dozens of other critical global issues and bring them to the forefront of the global geopolitical scene
The 73rd session of this year UN General Assembly has opened this week (18/09). Going forward, the body’s annual high-level segment which is known as the ‘general debate’ begins on Tuesday, 25 September 2018, where every country’s leader gets to address the world. The busy agenda covers the full spectrum of international issues, including sustainable development, climate change, peace and security, human rights, public health concerns and gender equality.
The year before, a few Pacific countries raised their concerns about the situation in West Papua. These countries were the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In general, these countries alongside their civilian supporters thought that West Papua is still under some dictatorship where West Papuans are still living under constant oppression. They believe that human massacre happens on a daily basis.
Some say they a slow-motion genocide is happening in West Papua due to the presence of Islam, the military and specifically Javanese people. They believe that the region is deliberately made uncivilised where people have little to no access to education and health services.
During the 2017 UN General Assembly, Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai said the people of West Papua must be allowed the right to self-determination, to free themselves of the “yoke of colonialism”.
“For half a century now the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitation, sexual violence and arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua, perpetrated by Indonesia, but the international community has turned a deaf ear to the appeals for help. We urge the Human Rights Council to investigate these cases.”
He continued, “We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination and to jointly with Indonesia put an end to all kinds of violence and find common ground with the nationals to facilitate putting together a process which will enable them to freely express their choice.”
Lacking updated knowledge
Indonesian diplomats then replied in the debate sessions that all of the accusations on West Papua including PM Salwai’s vividly lacked ground knowledge. It seemed like unbalanced information presented by partisan media had misled these leaders.
They may have been also informed by the so-called Free West Papua figures like Benny Wenda and Rex Rumakiek who have left the region for years. All of these people seemed to voice opinions that had no grass-roots knowledge and understanding of what has been developing in West Papua.
Currently, West Papua enjoys a growing trend in many fields like education, economy and even in politics. A West Papuan high-ranked figure has confirmed that multicultural West Papua is key to developing the region. He affirmed that the different backgrounds of West Papuans, regardless they are Native or not, has allowed the area to enjoy a productive, vibrant economic growth and relatively vast access to education and healthcare.
Indonesia and Vanuatu
The connection between Vanuatu and Free West Papua movement has a long history wherein the early 80s, Vanuatu allowed the movement to open a legal office in their capital. For many times, Vanuatu explicitly acknowledges the independence of West Papua region from Indonesia.
Vanuatu has traditionally been the primary supporter for West Papuan self-determination but has recently stepped up his diplomacy with the appointment of Lora Lini, daughter of the late founding Prime Minister Father Walter Lini, as special envoy for West Papua.
Port Vila wants West Papua to be added to the UN decolonization list. Netherlands New Guinea had previously been on the UN decolonization list but was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in controversial circumstances.
Regardless of the hostility shown by Vanuatu, Indonesia opted to overlook it and oped to help the country when hit by Cyclone Pam last 2015. Indonesia sent US$2 million worth of humanitarian aid to Vanuatu, which was deemed devastated and economically due to the massive tropical cyclone.
The Jakarta Post reports, the assistance was a symbol of Indonesian commitment to strengthening bilateral relations with the Pacific region in general including Vanuatu in terms of disaster mitigation.
When West Papuans need real-world help, where is PM Salwai?
In this year UN General Assembly, Vanuatu will once again try to voice their obsolete accusation about many negative things about West Papua. We call them obsolete because most of them have no ground evidence, and merely base the claims on old data.
Let’s take an example of the clam on genocide. The claim says that security forces’ atrocities have murdered native West Papuans and thus it is claimed as the primary cause of the so-called genocide. Recent data shows a different picture, however.
A credible research institute based in Australia, Lowy Institute revealed that apparently the armed civilians that support the Free West Papua movement have killed more and better than security actors. The report clearly states that the violence committed by these armed group has killed more than security actor violence.
Between 2010 and 2014, separatist attacks led to 122 deaths where security actor attacks claimed 43, reports Lowy Institute in “A new take on violence in Indonesian Papua”.
The example is a tiny part of the evidence that shows how mislead Vanuatu is in this West Papua issue. Now, when hundreds of Indonesians have volunteered to help with giving free education and health care access, where are people from Vanuatu? When West Papuans need real-world help, where is PM Salwai? Those Indonesians include civilians and military members, and they are coming from many different ethnic groups including native and non-native West Papuans.
Vanuatu’s motive on complicating the issue of West Papua has been questionable. Inside Vanuatu, PM Salwai is not free from corruption scandals. Last year, an MP named Ngwele quit in protest of blatant misuse of almost USD 2 million of aid money for the residents of Ambae affected by the volcano.
Radio New Zealand reported that “Mr Ngwele said of the USD 1.85 million dollars approved by the Council of Ministers to help the Ambae people, about half went on travel costs, accommodation and allowances for politicians, including the prime minister, and government officials.”
Going forward, the criticism laid on the PM has its merit. Aside of the corruption scandal involving aid money for the people of Ambae, analysts believe that rather that tackle the heart of the problems at home like the quality of education and healthcare, PM Salwai has been doing the opposite. He, instead, avoids the problem and deflects attention to international issues, such as West Papua, for obviously political gain.
Compromised Vanuatu and exploitation of Mandela’s legacy
And here comes the worst part of it. About Vanuatu’s delegation at the UN General Assembly, a credible source has told us that a few prominent Free West Papua Movement leaders like Benny Wenda, Rex Rumakiek and Thom Wainggai have been allowed to be included in Vanuatu’s delegation for this year UN General Assembly.
The last person mentioned recently presented a paper in a closed meeting with Vanuatu delegation stating that West Papua is now experiencing such an apartheid regime under Indonesia control. He argues that West Papuans whom he called ‘his people’ are deliberately overlooked by Indonesian government when it comes to political and economic rights. He calls it ‘illegal occupation’.
But for a moment, let’s see what has been really developing in West Papua. Almost all civil and military leaders in West Papua today are native West Papuans. In fact, in the central government, some West Papuans become important national officials such as ministers, military and police high-ranked officials, and even respected human rights activists. In other fields like education, many native West Papuans are now leading academics both home and abroad, and both in West Papua itself and all other regions across Indonesia.
It is unfortunate to admit that Wainggai carelessly uses Nelson Mandela’s struggle to eradicate apartheid regime to exploit the issue on West Papua. Mandela’s struggle ended with a great collaboration from people from different races and ethnic groups. Meanwhile what Wainggai’s view stresses is superiority of one group over the others as an end.
Also, there is very little ground evidence in regard to his claim about ‘his people’. Wainggai, just like Wenda and Rumakiek, have been detached from West Papuans, let alone from the development that has been progressing in the region. On what premises these people could speak on behalf of West Papuans? Wainggai’s arguments are nothing but a severe exploitation of Mandela’s noble legacy.
Those people are among those allegedly regularly supply misleading details on development in West Papua to Vanuatu and the world. And now, it has been said that they will be part of the delegation of Vanuatu in this year UN General Assembly, especially during the General Debate.
If this news is real, Vanuatu should be ashamed of how and what they present in this respected assembly. Vanuatu would be a compromised delegation that comes no firm ground of understanding of who they are and what global issue they are concerned with.
Where other worlds have focused on helping with solving problems through real actions, they fail to comprehend themselves and succumb to misled, outdated information. Furthermore, they could reiterate their unproductive, unimpressive diplomatic speech that comes with baseless claims and accusations. (*)