Pacific nations call on UN to investigate human rights situation in West Papua

Seven Pacific Island nations have called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to undertake a comprehensive investigation of the human rights situation in Indonesian-ruled West Papua.

Geneva, Switzerland– The Pacific Island nations of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands issued a joint statement today, February 28 calling on the UN Human Rights Council to request the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produce a comprehensive report on the current human rights situation in West Papua, which has been under Indonesian rule since the 1960s.

Their joint statement follows the separate statements of urgent concern about the situation in West Papua by these countries at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2016.

The last two years have witnessed a resurgence of interest in the plight of West Papua throughout the Pacific Islands.  Both the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the two most important intergovernmental bodies of the region, have put West Papua at the center of their deliberations. Led by Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, the governments of the region have formed the Pacific Island Coalition for West Papua.

West Papua has seen more than a half-century of conflict between native Papuans and the Indonesian government in Jakarta and its military, which has long been accused of grave human rights violations, most notably in East Timor.

For decades, West Papuans have sought international scrutiny of human rights and other violations. The province has been virtually closed off to foreign media and outside human rights organizations.  Last year, Indonesia rebuffed ministerial-level fact-finding missions from the MSG and PIF.

The statement notes that the Government of Indonesia has neither provided justice for the victims of these violations, nor issued the periodic human rights reviews and reports required of U.N. member states, nor taken any action to address the current human rights situation in West Papua.

Estimates of the numbers of Papuans killed by the Indonesian military and police range from some hundred thousand to the hundreds of thousands (of a native population of a million-plus Papuans). Fifty years of state-sponsored Indonesian migration to their land has made Papuans a poor, marginalized minority in large parts of the province.

A former Dutch colony administered separately from the rest of the Dutch East Indies, West Papua only became an official part of Indonesia twenty years after that country’s independence. Papuans and foreign observers, including political leaders of the Pacific region, view Indonesian rule as a ‘second colonialism.’ Papuans have consistently insisted on their right to a proper act of self-determination and demanded a referendum on independence. The 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice,’ in which Indonesia allowed only 1026 Papuans to ‘vote’ out of the hundreds of thousands eligible, is now widely seen as a sham.

The decade-old Human Rights Council, the successor body to the UN Commission on Human Rights, is the principal arm of the United Nations responsible for addressing human rights violations. The Council has an elected three-year membership drawn from five geographic regions. None of those countries issuing the joint statement is currently a member of the Council; Indonesia is in the last year of its second (and final) consecutive term.