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Letter to Helen Clark

21 October, 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark,
Prime Minister,
Parliament Buildings,

Dear Helen Clark,

We would like to appeal to you in the strongest possible terms to ensure that the issue of West Papua is seriously considered at the Pacific Islands Forum.

As we stated in our July appeal to all Forum leaders, we maintain that West Papua should be granted observer status at the Forum as are the non-sovereign territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia. We urge you to champion this cause as observer status would be entirely consistent with the Forum’s intention to be more inclusive and to improve regional governance and security.

Moreover, West Papuans were deprived of their former participation in Pacific regional bodies in the 1960s due to series of historical injustices which culminated in a 1969 sham referendum called the 'Act of Free Choice'. This process ensured that 1.022 unrepresentative Papuans voted under duress for West Papua to become part of Indonesia. Subsequently the people have known only the suffering of ongoing conflict, tragic loss of life, brutal military campaigns, deprivation of civil liberties, desperate underdevelopment and ongoing human rights abuses.

In the 2004 'Pacific Vision' statement the leaders expressed a commitment to a region "respected for the full observance of democratic values, and for its defence and promotion of human rights." To be consistent with this vision the Forum leaders must take account of the deteriorating situation in West Papua.

There are severe restrictions on access to the territory which means that international aid and human rights organisations and journalists cannot carry out their work. Local human rights defenders are routinely intimidated and threatened with violence. For more than a year the people or the central highlands have endured a military operation which has seen thousands displaced and an unknown number of lives lost due to starvation and extra-judicial killings.

Indonesia continues to defy international opinion by perpetuating impunity for the security forces personnel. A human rights court recently acquitted the two senior police officers who were in charge in December 2000 when the military attacked a Papuan student dormitory. In the ensuing violence 3 students died and dozens more were terribly tortured.

In August 2005, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney issued a Report 'Genocide in West Papua' which detailed potential threats to the survival of the Papuan people. Over and above military abuses, these included environmental devastation due to forestry depletion and the mining activities of Freeport McMoran, as well as uncontrolled migration and an explosion of HIV/Aids.

This year’s Forum takes place in Papua New Guinea – the other half of the island shared with West Papua. This emphasises that the West Papuan people belong to the Pacific ethnically, geographically and culturally. Like it or not West Papua’s neighbours cannot avoid sharing the negative consequences of political stability, as well as the impacts of a sharp deterioration in West Papuan environmental and human health.

For four years until 2003 the Forum included a statement of concern about West Papua in its Communiqué. However, no action ensued. This year the leaders should show that they are serious about their regional responsibilities.

They should take advantage of the participation of Indonesia in the post-dialogue meetings to lobby for:

  • A Pacific Forum fact-finding mission to visit West Papua to investigate the human rights abuses;
  • An end to military and police impunity for human rights abuses;
  • Free and unfettered access to West Papua by journalists, international agencies, parliamentarians, UN representatives and diplomats; and
  • For Indonesia to accept the united call of West Papuan church and community leaders for West Papua to be a 'Land of Peace' and for a process of dialogue aimed at resolving the ongoing conflict.

    It is the 'Pacific way' to care about a neighbour in desperate need of international support. The Pacific Island Forum will be seen to be just a talkfest if it fails to face up to the situation this year.

    Yours sincerely,
    Maire Leadbeater
    for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee

    CC Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat CC Mr Greg Urwin, Secretary General Fax: 679 3301 102

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