Oct 22, 2019 Last Updated 2:59 AM, Oct 16, 2019

By Nic Maclellan in Funafuti, Tuvalu

Members of the Pacific Islands Forum have urged Indonesia to take action on human rights violations in West Papua, and strongly encouraged Jakarta to facilitate a long-mooted visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Regional Prime Ministers and Presidents met this week in Tuvalu for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum. Echoing the language of the Forum Foreign Ministers Meeting in July, the leaders “welcomed the invitation by Indonesia for a mission to West Papua (Papua) by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and strongly encouraged both sides to finalise the timing of the visit and for an evidence-based, informed report on the situation be provided before the next Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in 2020.”

Human rights groups have long reported on violations by Indonesian police and military forces deployed in West Papua. However, concern has escalated since the Indonesian army extended operations around Nduga in West Papua last December, following the shooting of construction workers on road-building operations through the regency. Since then, West Papuan human rights monitoring groups have reported that more than 30,000 people have been displaced, with healthcare facilities and schools damaged during Indonesian military operations. The Jakarta Post has reported that at least 182 displaced people have died from exposure and lack of food after fleeing their homes since December.

Lobbying the leaders

In recent years, West Papua has been a constant topic on the agenda of the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum. This week in Funafuti, members of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), including chair Benny Wenda and spokesperson Jacob Rumbiak, have been lobbying island leaders for support. Indonesia too has a delegation in Funafuti to participate in the Post-Forum Dialogue, including West Papuan lobbyist Nick Messet.

West Papua was a key issue raised in the formal dialogue between Forum leaders and civil society organisations (CSO) on Wednesday. CSO leaders presented a wide-ranging statement which included the request “that Forum Leaders call on Indonesia to immediately allow access of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN special mandate holders to West Papua….None of us can speak of an inclusive and peaceful Pacific and remain silent on the serious human rights issues for West Papuans. We call on Pacific Leaders to observe the importance of human rights in all parts of our region.” 

Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva responded emotionally to their call for action on West Papua.

“We should not let others control us. We should stand together in solidarity in support of the people of West Papua”, said Pohiva.

Speaking after the CSO dialogue, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches Reverend James Bhagwan said: “I’m very encouraged by the discussions and that they have made this a priority in the leaders retreat. We try to look at this not just as a moral issue, but to be pragmatic about the realities, knowing that there are strong partnerships between Indonesia and some Forum island countries – that was mentioned by Fiji and Australia.”

“Coming from a human rights perspective, you cannot talk about a Pacific household if people are excluded from that,” Reverend Bhagwan said. “You can’t talk about Pacific regionalism if there’s no Pacific solidarity. The inaction by Pacific leaders on West Papua speaks very loudly to that, and I think that was recognised. The responses from Tonga, from Samoa, even Kiribati and of course Vanuatu – with their consistent support – was very important today.”

Rev. Bhagwan stressed: “You can’t build a house and then ignore people. That recognition of one family, the Pacific family, is very key to this.”   

Leaders want action by Indonesia

In their final communique, Forum leaders “reaffirmed recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua (Papua). Leaders acknowledged the reported escalation in violence and continued allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua (Papua) and agreed to re-emphasise and reinforce the Forum’s position of raising its concerns over the violence.”

ULMWP Chair Benny Wenda said: “I welcome all the leaders’ decision. This is the first time that Forum leaders have called for a United Nations human rights visit. It’s time for Indonesia to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to come to visit West Papua. I think it’s an important step now.”

While the resolution makes no mention of the right to self-determination, Wenda welcomed the decision as a positive move forward: “This is step by step. This is the starting point and the fact that the resolution is a really, really important step for us to go to another level.”

Vanuatu has long championed the West Papuan cause and lobbied strongly for action. Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said: “It’s the resolution we wanted so we’re very grateful to all the Pacific Island leaders. The resolution from the leaders and the very strong statements made in the CSO session on this issue shows that they all recognise that something more has got to be done, because the human rights situation is worsening.”

Regenvanu said he hoped that the UN Human Rights Commissioner could provide an “honest and frank account” to the next Forum leaders’ meeting

“The resolution is the result of the worsening situation just in the last year for human rights in West Papua,” he said. “In the last few years, the resolution has been about constructive engagement with Indonesia on the issue. But I think the leaders realised that the open and constructive engagement had not necessarily achieved the improvements in human rights that are desired. I think the situation in Nduga over the last year has caused Forum leaders to elevate the tone of the resolution.”

With his country scheduled to host the 51st regional summit next year in Port Vila, the Vanuatu Foreign Minister said: “We also want a report back by the next Forum so the leaders can consider it under this agenda, which is a standing agenda of the Forum.”

“The onus is now on the Secretariat of the Forum and the member states of PIF, including the members that are part of the Human Rights Council, that they need to make sure the Commissioner gets to go,” he said. “Indonesia should see that there is a very clear concern and we hope this this statement will make them come to the table and work with the Commissioner to make sure this mission does happen.”

By Netani Rika

VILLAGERS on Vanuatu’s outer islands have been warned to expect damaging winds of up to 205kmph as Tropical Cyclone Hola heads south towards New Caledonia.

There are no reports of major damage at this stage.

Philip Meto from the National Disaster Management Office told Radio Australia they had received reports that some buildings had been damaged and trees brought down.

The Category Three system passed through central Vanuatu overnight before taking a more southerly track towards neighbouring New Caledonia.

It is expected to intensify and move closer to New Zealand over the next 48 hours.

TC Hola is moving at 11kmph and has winds of over 100kmph at its centre. Meteorologists say wind speeds will intensify.

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 11 issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology Department, Port Vila at 9:27am VUT Thursday 8 March 2018 for MALAMPA and SHEFA provinces.

At 8am local time today, Severe Tropical Cyclone HOLA [954hPa] Category 3 was located at 17.0 degrees South 165.8 degrees East. This is about 195 KM west southwest of Malekula and 280 KM west northwest of Efate.

In the past 3 hours, Severe Tropical Cyclone HOLA was moving in a west southwest direction at 11 KM/HR (6 knots).

Sustained winds close to the centre are estimated at 150 KM/HR (80 knots).

South 165.3 degrees East within the next 06 hours. 

Damaging gale force winds of 75 KM/HR (40 knots) are expected to continue to affect SANMA, PENAMA and TAFEA provinces today.

Destructive storm force winds of 110KM/HR (60 Knots), gusting to 160 KM/HR (85 Knots) are expected to continue to affect MALAMPA and SHEFA provinces today and in the next 12 to 24 hours.

Very destructive hurricane force winds of 145 KM/HR (85 knots), gusting to 205KM/HR (110 knots) are expected over Malekula, Epi, Shepherds and parts of Efate.

JACKSSON Kalses describes himself as a small-time farmer in east Efate, the island in which Port Vila, the national capital of Vanuatu sits. From the income he gets from his vegetable farm of mainly cabbage, tomato and beans, Kalses provides for his young family including his three children who currently attend elementary school. “I have up to five hectares of land but I only farm about one hectare of that,” Kalses tells me.

“I’ve been farming for the last two to three years now, selling mostly to supermarkets and to the Central Market in Port Vila sometimes. I also do sell some vegetables to Iririki Island Resort, but I’m not a big supplier.” As if reading my mind, Kalses didn’t wait for my next question as he remarked: “My biggest problem is water. During the off-season, I am unable to grow many vegetables due to lack of rain.

“This usually happens during the months of August to December every year....

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Vanuatu beef is premium

SHORTAGE of Vanuatu’s premium beef has prompted the island government to embark on an ambitious re-stocking programme that hopes to see the doubling of heads of cattle in eight years. With total cattle heads currently standing at 230,000, the Livestock Department of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Agriculture aims to grow this to 500,000 heads of cattle by 2025. First phase of the re-stocking programme, which was launched by the previous government of then Prime Minister Moana Carcases in 2012 cost the island’s taxpayers VU$30million (US$274,445).

Cattle farmers were encouraged to increase their cattle numbers w i t h t h e national government offering to subsidise the cost of buying new cattle. National government offered to pay 50 per cent of the cost as well as transportation of the animals. “It was an expensive exercise but the new government continued with the programme as it was committed to addressing beef shortage in Vanuatu,” explains Lee Bong, Livestock Director of the ministry of agriculture.

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Pods of gold

New flavour offer for choco industry as Vanuatu cashes in

ON Malo Island in Vanuatu, Moli Lui observed in silence as the formalities of greetings and introductions took place to welcome a trade delegation of international cocoa buyers. When the theologian was finally invited to address the visitors, there was no mistaking the enthusiasm with which he spoke about his newfound interest in cocoa farming.

In the minutes that followed, Lui had impressed the buyers enough who, after sampling some of his dried cocoa beans, asked to purchase the sack of beans and have its contents divided among them. The trip to the island was part of a trade visit organised by the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (*PHAMA) Program which is funded by the Australian and New Zealand governments.

The visit aimed to establish trade relations between international cocoa buyers and local farmers, producers and exporters as well as government stakeholders in Vanuatu’s cocoa industry. The trade delegation comprised chocolate makers Greg D’Alesandre of Dandelion Chocolate in the United States of America, Karl Hogarth of Hogarth Chocolates in New Zealand, Peter Channells and Li Peng Monroe of Jasper and Myrtle in Australia and cocoa buyer Mathieu Bours from Le Cercle du Cacao in Belgium. 

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