West Papua, climate to top agenda at Pacific Islands Forum

The shift in regional dynamics could be due to new foreign ministers in both Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Image: Free West Papua Campaign

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Human rights violations in West Papua are to be given priority at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu next week.

According to RNZ Pacific, the forum’s Foreign Ministers have pushed for the alleged human rights abuses in West Papua to be included on the forum agenda, citing the reported escalation of violence in recent months.

The decision came through a heated debate at a senior officials meeting in Suva last week, where Vanuatu, a key regional supporter of West Papua pushed for the issue to be included in the forum.

LISTEN: Pacific Forum eyes deadline on West Papua matter – Dateline Pacific

No Pacific Island country opposed the inclusion other than Australia, a strong Indonesian ally.

RNZ Pacific’s Johnny Blades said the shift in regional dynamics could be due to new Foreign Ministers in both Papua New Guinea and Fiji but also as a result of third party testimony to the worsening situation in West Papua from the likes of the UN Humans Rights Commission and the World Council of Churches.

“The Pacific governments see that the human rights situation in Papua is actually getting worse,” he said.

“In recent times it’s been backed by statements from third party representation.”

Ongoing conflict
The ongoing conflict between Indonesian military and pro-independence forces in parts of the region has resulted in hundreds of casualties and the displacement of several thousand civilians.

Due to restrictions on foreign aid, there have been reports of significant shortages in food and healthcare resulting in death from famine and disease.

The PIF agenda will also push for the Indonesian government to make good on its invitation to the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit West Papua, with a deadline for a report set before the next PIF Leaders Meeting in 2020.

Pacific Island leaders are also keen to focus heavily on climate change rather than China when they meet next week, reports AFP.

Despite China’s growing influence in the region which has seen strong political response from both Australia and the US, Pacific Island leaders have insisted that such geopolitical concerns should not eclipse the more pressing issue of climate change.

PIF secretary-general Dame Meg Taylor said the forum, which is referred to as the Blue Pacific collective, was at a pivotal moment in its history.

“While we are the subject of the geopolitical manoeuvring and strategies of others, the Blue Pacific collective remains focused on charting our own destiny,” she said.

Meaningful action
In a message to Australia’s government, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has warned Canberra’s step-up strategy will fail unless it finally takes meaningful action to address the issue.

“They know very well that we will not be happy as a partner, to move forward, unless they are serious,” he said.

This follows the Pacific leaders declaration of a climate crisis last week with Fiji’s Prime Minster Voreqe Bainimarama saying that the region needed greater commitments from its bigger neighbours, hinting at Australia and New Zealand.

At last year’s forum, Australia was exposed as having attempted to water-down a resolution that declared climate change the region’s greatest security threat.

“We shouldn’t accept anything less than concrete commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions in line with the most ambitious aspirations of the Paris Agreement,” Bainimarama said.

“We cannot allow climate commitments to be watered down at a meeting hosted in a nation whose very existence is threatened by the rising waters lapping at its shores.”

The PIF will will be held on August 13-16.

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