Apr 25, 2017 Last Updated 9:25 AM, Apr 12, 2017

LAST month, New Zealand-based analyst Jose Sousa-Santos commented on Twitter that “Indonesia’s attempt at buying support from the Pacific region seems to have little to no impact on Melanesia’s stance on (West) Papua”. That’s one of those pesky observations that’s neither entirely right nor entirely wrong.

The truth is: Indonesia is winning almost every battle… and still losing the fight. Conventional wisdom used to be that Indonesia had built an impregnable firewall against Melanesian action in support of West Papuan independence. Its commercial and strategic relationship with Papua New Guinea is such that PNG’s foreign affairs establishment will frankly admit that their support for Indonesia’s territorial claims is axiomatic. Call it realpolitik or call it timidity, but they feel that the West Papuan independence doesn’t even bear contemplating.

Widespread grassroots support and its popularity among progressive up-andcomers such as Gary Juffa don’t seem to matter. As long as Jakarta holds the key to economic and military tranquillity, Port Moresby’s elites are content to toe the Indonesian line.

The situation in Suva is similar. Fiji First is naturally inclined is toward a more authoritarian approach to governance. And it seems that the military’s dominance of Fiji’s political landscape dovetails nicely with Indonesia’s power dynamic.

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The clock ticks

Indonesia fails media test in West Papua

JUST five months before Indonesia is set to host UNESCO’s 2017 celebration of World Press Freedom Day, its government still has not met a regional human rights watchdog’s demands to address press freedom violations in the country’s restive West Papua province.

Upon the announcement in July that UNESCO would mark May 3, 2017 with a conference in Jakarta, the Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) set that date as a deadline for Indonesia’s government to “ensure that there is open access to West Papua for foreign media, and an end to abuses against local media”.

However, the government has rejected that demand. In July, the Minister Counsellor at Indonesia’s embassy in New Zealand, Wanton Saragih, argued that great strides forward in terms of press freedom in West Papua have been made under the current administration, including a lift on the ban against foreign journalists. Last year, all foreign journalists’ visa applications to West Papua were reportedly approved, including a request by Radio New Zealand International reporter Johnny Blades.

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THE issue of West Papua remains a headache for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). Member countries like Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are reluctant to grant full membership to the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), which is lobbying for regional support. But the issue will not go away, as civil society networks call on their leaders to support the right to self-determination.

First adopted in 2014, the Framework for Pacific Regionalism (FPR) is the new policy mechanism for business and community organisations to put forward submissions for regional action by the Forum. In both 2015 and this year, the largest number of submissions through the FPR called for action on West Papua. In Pohnpei, civil society representatives also met over breakfast with a troika of island leaders, lobbying for the Forum to take the West Papuan issue to the international community.

Despite this, the final Forum communique simply states that “leaders recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua should remain on their agenda. Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue.”

After the meeting, Emele Duituturaga, executive director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO) said: “We know that the draft text reflected their intention to take West Papua to the United Nations, but when the final communiqué was released, it had been watered down.”

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Storm warning

Fury over West Papua flag

ON July 13, Indonesian delegates — angry because the Morning Star Flag, emblem of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP), was flown alongside other members’ flags — walked out of the first day of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders’ summit. The ULMWP is a coalition of Papuan freedom fighters demanding independence from Indonesian control.

It and Indonesia have both applied for full membership status in the MSG, but for very different reasons. ULMWP hopes the MSG can bring international attention to their struggle for self-determination, while Indonesia wants to shore up its economic position in the region. The Indonesian diplomats demanded the flag be taken down, but the organizers ignored them, and the opening ceremony proceeded without the Indonesian delegation.

The summit resulted in a split decision over the ULMWP’s membership status. Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) of New Caledonia strongly support ULMWP, while Fiji and Papua New Guinea (PNG) — nations Indonesia has courted with sweetheart economic deals and financial support — oppose it.

The Indonesian delegations’ dramatic exit and the ensuing vote over ULMWP’s membership can help us understand long-standing political fault lines in the region that date back to the 1970s anticolonization wave.

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ONE year from now the People of Papua will mark the 50th anniversary of their independence from the Dutch and the raising for the first time of the Morning Star flag. Today, the raising of that flag is considered a crime in the Indonesian-annexed territory of Papua. In the Pacific, the Morning Star flag has become a symbol for the enduring struggle of a people for recognition, an end to arbitrary arrest and torture and the wish for self-determination.

A gradual groundswell has started in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Hawaii in support of the Papuan struggle. At universities and colleges, in churches and villages the people of the Pacific have awoken to the fact that within their region there are those who do not have freedom.

Even the media has started to pay attention to the deaths of Papuans at the hands of security forces. Twenty years ago journalists would not have touched the issue. Groups have started to call loudly and consistently for self-determination in Papua and an end to human rights abuses by the security forces and the government of Indonesia.

This action combined with regular protests, advocacy and awareness campaigns has forced Indonesia to send high-level delegations to the region. It has gone as far as to fund the Pacific Islands Development Forum in an effort to show a friendly face of to the people of Small island Development States.

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