The September Pacific Island Forum gathering of regional leaders agreed to send a fact-finding mission to West Papua. The decision reflects growing regional concern about the plight of Papuans who have suffered grievously since the annexation by Indonesia five decades ago.
The call for a fact-finding mission went forward notwithstanding doubts about its utility. New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully did not support the mission commenting that he had not seen a role for such a mission. However, he did support discussion of the issue at the forum.
Hopes for a successful mission rest largely with Jakarta with whom the Forum, under the aegis of the Forum Chair Papua New Guinea, must negotiate its terms. Indonesia rendered a similar mission proposed by the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in July 2013 useless. That mission failed to undertake a comprehensive survey of conditions in West Papua and was boycotted by Vanuatu, which protested the conditions imposed by Jakarta on the mission. Credible reports indicated that the Indonesian government had bribed some regional officials in order to suborn the mission.
But there was a wary optimism that a Pacific Forum mission might conduct a successful investigation. The Solomon Islands Special Envoy on West Papua, Mathew Wale, called the decision “historical,” adding that “we see an opening that gives us some comfort and hope that all Pacific leaders want all parties to protect and uphold our human rights and put an end to this atrocity.”
Wale added that “There are only two possible outcomes to expect from here on and that is either Indonesia refuses outright the request of all Forum leaders and face[s] the consequences or they agree to begin a difficult process that includes terms and condition for the fact-finding mission.”
He indicated the complex regional politics involved: “The role of PNG entrusted as chair of the Forum to begin these negotiations (with Jakarta) places significant burden on PNG to ensure that it does not confuse its bilateral economic and trade interest with Indonesia and its moral responsibility to seeking a just resolution on behalf of the Forum member countries and the people of the Pacific.
For its part the United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua, which strenuously lobbied for the Forum to consider the plight of Papuans during its September meeting, cautiously welcomed the prospect of a “fact finding” mission. UMLWP spokesperson Benny Wenda called for the mission to include “independent candidates from all sectors of society.” In this context, Wenda underscored the role of civil society in the region in advancing the cause of rights for West Papuans:
“Solidarity support from the Pacific and globally have heard the cries from West Papua, and we thank our people who continue to support us. We appeal to our people to continue to hold their respective governments to account and lobby our leaders to support our quest for an independent fact finding mission, and also at the United Nations to be listed on the Decolonisation List and for the UN to appoint a Special Envoy for West Papua.”
Octovianus Mote, Secretary-General of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and a member of the Solomon Islands delegation to the Forum, said “What this means for us is that we have a right to be part of this process.”