Stop the Suffering and Environmental Destruction in West Papua
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Stop the Suffering: 1,000 Voices for West Papua
An open letter on the memoria passionisin West Papua
We, the undersigned, urge the government and people of New Zealand to take a more proactive role in supporting the peoples of West Papua in their quest for justice, peace and self-determination.
Since 1969, the peoples of West Papua have suffered in a conflict with the Indonesian state. Between 100,000 and 500,000 Papuans have died as a consequence. For 50 years, Papuans experienced, and continue to experience, extreme poverty, cultural marginalisation, low levels of human development and direct violence at the hands of state security forces. All this is "part of a pattern that Papuans call “memoria passionis,” a collective memory of suffering."
Since late 2018, clashes between the Indonesian military and armed rebel groups have displaced many thousands in the central highland regency of Nduga. A liberation army spokesperson admitted this week that state repression has drawn teenage militants to join the armed groups over the decades, in spite of this being a violation of international humanitarian law.
Currently, the Indonesian government restricts the entry of humanitarian groups such as the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations who can provide basic services, relief aid, and verify humanitarian law and human rights compliance. To the credit of the Indonesian government, for the first time in many years, an international church delegation was given access to West Papua in February 2019. Their statement, attached to this document, provides an updated critical insight into the current socio-economic and political realities in West Papua.
Aggressive expansion of palm oil plantations has fueled land conflict and the inflow of settlers from outside the island. Of particular concern is the Tanah Merah project in Boven Digoel in the southern region of Papua, which will create the world’s largest palm oil plantation, contributing significantly to global warming. Furthermore, indigenous communities that currently live in this region will be displaced as their homes in one of the world’s largest contiguous tropical rain forests are destroyed. An investigative report in 2018 found numerous anomolies in the process of obtaining consent and development of the project.
With only a few years left to reverse permanent effects of global warming, along-side existing threats to global biodiversity, the fallout from the loss of such a massive forest area invariably impacts lives and livelihoods in New Zealand and across the globe, transcending the borders of a single nation.
The nearly 2 decades of "special autonomy" granted to West Papua by the Indonesian government in 2001 appears to have been gravely unsuccessful. Political repression is still rampant, torture is common and killings continue. In sum, five key issues underlie these realities:
1. The contested view of history. Papuans believe the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to the Indonesian government [in 1969] was fundamentally unjust;
2. State sanctioned human rights violations;
3. Economic injustice and disadvantage characterized by socially and environmentally destructive development projects;
4. Migration of Indonesians from other parts of the archipelago into West Papua, resulting in conflict and competition over land and resources between the migrant and indigenous populations;
5. Institutional racism and indigenous disadvantage and marginalization in the economy, education sector, security forces and bureaucracy.
We recall that New Zealand has made significant, though very incomplete progress, in redressing its own history of violence against Māori peoples through the Waitangi tribunal, apologies, compensation, and other settlements and institutional reforms. New Zealand has also played a proactive and exemplary role in international peace movements over the years, most recently in its response to the Christchurch massacre, and, over the decades, in the global anti-nuclear movement.
In our own backyard, New Zealand provided crucial, long-term support for the peace process in Bougainville where preliminary agreements between the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) were signed aboard New Zealand naval ships off the coast of PNG. This was eventually followed by talks at the Burnham Military Camp near Christchurch in 1997, leading to a breakthrough in the process.
Therefore, reaffirming the right to self-determination of West Papua indigenous peoples as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and other international covenants and declarations, we call on the New Zealand government and concerned citizens to exert all efforts to encourage the Indonesian government to:
1. Lift travel restrictions on humanitarian aid groups in West Papua, particularly in the Nduga regency
2. Declare a ceasefire between the Indonesian armed forces and armed rebel groups in order to allow humanitarian aid workers access to armed conflict areas
3. Allow human rights groups and journalists access across West Papua
4. Initiate comprehensive negotiations over the conflicts in West Papua
5. Conduct an urgent review of large-scale resource extraction, development, and infrastructure projects (mining, palm oil, etc.) in West Papua in order to:
a. assess compliance with Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) processes and determine potential social impacts
b. assess the potential environmental impact of projects in terms of both local habitat destruction and the global climate change crisis
6. Work with other countries, especially Pacific nations and multi-lateral groups such as the Melanesia Spearhead Group, to lead or participate in a fact-finding parliamentary visit to West Papua.
Affirmed by the following (Name and Organizational Affiliation):
Jason MacLeod. "The Struggle for Self-Determination in West Papua (1969-present)" International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict, 2011, p. 5.
Jason MacLeod. "The Struggle for Self-Determination in West Papua (1969-present)" International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict, 2011.
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