Vanuatu’s PM aims at UN over ‘sensitive’ West Papua issue

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Prime Minister Charlot Salwai ... "Vanuatu continues to commit to spearheading the West Papua cause". Image: Vanuatu Daily Post

By Jonas Cullwick in Port Vila

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, says some South Pacific leaders at this month’s Forum in Samoa backed off making a decision about West Papua because it was a “sensitive issue”.

This was in spite of it being a Forum agenda item.

However, Tabimasmas labelled the efforts of Vanuatu “developing” as several countries in the region had recently joined Vanuatu in supporting West Papuan self-determination.

Nauru, Marshall Islands, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu were determined to continue the work towards taking the issue to the UN Human Rights Committee and were taking the issue up in the corridors of the UN General Assembly in New York, Tabimasmas added.

“So far, Vanuatu continues to commit itself to spearheading the West Papua cause, through the government, the civil society, and the churches. And this year we took the matter up to the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries,” Tabimasmas said.

The council of ministers has appointed the former Ambassador to Brussels, Roy Micky Joy, as the special envoy for the issue of West Papua.

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“These are some of the things the Vanuatu government has undertaken to show its commitment to the West Papua cause.

“I think the lobby effort has developed because before only Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were taking up the struggle for West Papua, but now there are six other countries from Polynesia and Micronesia supporting them, advocating for West Papuan self-determination and against violation of human rights.”

Progress beyond region
The Parliamentary Secretary for the Prime Minister’s Office, Johnny Koanapo, echoed Tabimasmas’ comments in a meeting with media, the Vanuatu Daily Post reports.

Koanapo said the issue of West Papua’s self-determination and violations of human rights by Indonesia had progressed beyond the South Pacific islands region.

“The issue has now moved beyond the jurisdiction of the Melanesian Spearhead Group,” he said.

“It has moved to the level of the Forum and has become a regional issue. And if you see how the issue was listed in the South Pacific Islands Forum meeting to deal with out of 14 issues, one of them was West Papua.”

“The issue now has progressed to the international stage and I say this with a lot of confidence — the issue has never taken so much international attention as it is today, simply because the government is serious about it, there is no second opinion on it as to whether the government will take up the issue or not.

“The government has taken on this role because it is a global country and we are global citizens with obligations to defend such things as human rights, which are parts of the rights of a human being,” Koanapo said.

Pacific Island solidarity
The Vanuatu Daily Post also reports the prime ministers of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are organising a side event at the UN General Assembly in New York this week to continue to lobby for West Papua, so that when leaders make their political statements at the General Assembly these would reflect the Pacific’s efforts.

West Papua’s plight and struggle for independence from Indonesia was raised at the UN General Assembly in September last year, which the Free West Papua Campaign called an “incredible show of Pacific Island solidarity” and a “landmark moment”.

The 72nd session of the UN General Assembly is currently underway in New York and will conclude next Monday, September 25.

Jonas Cullwick is a reporter with the Vanuatu Daily Post. VDP news items are republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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