NZ government rejects calls for ‘public, unequivocal’ stand for West Papua

Petition prompted by news of West Papuan arrests at 2016 peaceful demonstrations ... rejected by New Zealand government. Image: ABC

Pacific Media Watch reports

New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee has dismissed a call for the government to make a stand and address the ongoing human rights situation in West Papua.

This comes in response to a 2016 petition spearheaded by West Papua Action Auckland’s Maire Leadbeater which urges the government to take a “public and unequivocal” stand and condemn Indonesia’s arrest and intimidation of peaceful protesters and end the state sanctioned torture and killing of West Papuans.

The committee stated the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process and engagement with Indonesia directly remain the appropriate channels to make New Zealand’s views known on such issues, although it agreed with Leadbeater the “fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and assembly must be upheld”.

Some of the committee also felt the government should support a call for working through the UN alongside Pacific nations to better address the human rights abuses in the Indonesian province.

“We encourage the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to continue monitoring the human rights situation in West Papua, and to raise any concerns it may have,” the committee said.

But such a position has been criticised as a “business as usual” approach.

“I am appalled that ministry officials have told the committee that there is doubt about the practice of torture in West Papua.

Torture practices ‘endemic’
“This flies in the face of extensive documentation from numerous human rights, church and academic reports all of which describe the practices of torture as endemic,” Leadbeater said.

Leadbeater’s comments come after the committee’s report revealed The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade feels the killings of alleged separatists by Indonesia are “random acts of violence rather than systematically planned or organised acts”.

The petition, endorsed by several human rights groups, academics and leaders of the Anglican and Catholic Church, also calls for the government to push for the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression to visit West Papua.

Although the report notes such a visit would be consistent with increased international transparency, it does not appear New Zealand will propel this as the ministry continues to stand by its position which recognises the sovereign integrity of Indonesia and its territorial jurisdiction over West Papua.

Despite ongoing criticism from groups such as West Papua Action Auckland, the ministry states it monitors the human rights situation in West Papua through diplomatic reporting from New Zealand’s embassy in Jakarta and has repeatedly called on Indonesia’s government to grant journalists and NGOs further access to West Papua.

New Zealand has also been criticised for its alleged lacklustre stance regarding calls for West Papua to be included on the UN’s list of nations to be decolonised.

“New Zealand is missing in action while other small Pacific nations such as Vanuatu, Tonga and the Solomon Islands stand up for the West Papuan people and their fundamental rights,” Leadbeater said.

Pacific leads way
The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu and Palau have all called for UN intervention in West Papua while New Zealand has so far remained silent.

West Papua Action Auckland is not taking the report as a defeat, however, and will continue fighting for West Papua’s independence.

The group stated it is now approaching all political parties ahead of New Zealand’s election in September seeking a clear policy statement on whether or not they support West Papua’s quest for self-determination.

“New Zealand’s shameful acquiescence in this horror story in our neighbourhood must end.”

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