19 Dec Samoa – our brothers and sisters in West Papua need us.

Australia and her Foreign Minister ignored our questions on West Papua. But, we had to try. Because every raised voice counts. And the more people who speak up and speak out about West Papua, the harder it will be to silence and ignore them.

 

On December 1st, 55 years ago, the Morning Star flag was flown officially in West Papua for the first time. The West Papuan people continue to raise their flag as an act of celebration but also in protest against the injustices they suffer under Indonesian rule. They can face up to 15 years jail for doing so.  It’s difficult to know just what is happening in West Papua because of the obstructions to international media from freely reporting there. Even though the Indonesian President declared in May 2015 that those restrictions would be lifted.

We believe it is the duty of all good media in the Pacific to help shine a light on the plight of our brothers and sisters in West Papua. We must amplify their voices as they call to put an end to the human rights violations that are taking place.

As we do so, we recall the struggle of our ancestors, the brave men and women of the MAU who fought for Samoa’s Independence and also the many others who have since worked to improve basic human rights for all of us who are blessed to live in Samoa.

Samoa is no stranger to the independence struggle. As the  first Pacific nation to be independent, our legacy is a fierce belief in the right to be self-governing. We are descended from activists and freedom fighters who refused to bow down to colonial rule. Who used everything from civil disobedience to peaceful protest marches, to guerilla-type evasive action hiding in the mountains to evade arrest. They were shot at, arrested, laughed at, beaten – and some even gave their lives. Since 1962, Samoa has made great strides in many areas. We enjoy many freedoms and privileges. Do we have problems here? Sure we do. But overall, this is a good place to raise a family. To live, laugh, love and learn.

Our Pasefika aiga in West Papua want that too.

Two weeks ago, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, visited Samoa as part of a 3 country Pacific tour. Samoa Planet submitted the following questions to her, via the Australian High Commission in Apia. (We also asked questions about Australia’s stance on fossil fuels, climate change and their funding of the Samoa Police via AFP.) To date,  no answers have been given and so, we are sharing these questions with our readers.

1. How would the Minister describe Australia’s economic and strategic security partnership with Indonesia? Does that partnership include Australia providing military training or logistical support of any kind for the Indonesian army?

2. What is Australia’s official stance on West Papua and the human rights abuses taking place there under Indonesia’s rule?

3. At September’s UN General Assembly session, the leaders of 7 Pacific states spoke out about rights abuses in Papua and on support for Papuan self-determination. The Hon Minister is visiting two of those states on this trip – Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Will she be passing on the message from Indonesia’s Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu who called for Australia to rebuke those Pacific states? (A warning that included – Indonesia is a ‘sleeping tiger that can attack If disturbed’, and that if it were left up to him, he would “twist their ears”?)

4. Does Australia’s acceptance of Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua mean that discussion of human rights concerns should be taken off the table? What is Australia doing to assist Indonesia (its friend and strategic partner) in addressing the current situation and helping them to improve?

It’s unfortunate the Hon Minister (or her staff) did not see fit to answer the questions. But not unexpected. You could say Australia is in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Indonesia. They need them as a strategic partner and if they ‘made a fuss’ about West Papua it would get in the way of their partnership. It’s just easier to downplay the situation and officially ignore the suffering.

But, we had to try.

Because every raised voice counts. And the more people who speak up and speak out about West Papua, the harder it will be to silence and ignore them.

I myself am late to this conversation. I was born here and grew up in Samoa – and yet, I never knew about West Papua. I didn’t learn about it in school. I didn’t read it in any newspapers. I knew about the ‘big bad colonizers’ who stomped around in the Pacific…the British, the Germans, Americans and the New Zealanders. But nobody told me about Indonesia. Or the international conglomerates with a vested interest in keeping West Papua locked down because of the wealth these companies are reaping from mining and more.

Action 9. Circle of Solidarity – Free West Papua
Otamariki Park, Otara, South Auckland.
Tuesday 1st December 2015
© Oceania Interrupted, Sangeeta Singh 2015

I first learned of West Papua from Facebook. Thank you social media. Photos and updates shared by my Uncle Albert Wendt. Then links to the FREE WEST PAPUA page, Oceania Interrupted and more.

If you don’t know about the torture, massacre and murder happening in West Papua, then I invite you to click on some of the links and learn about it. If you want to know about West Papua activism happening in different places around the world, click on the links. Read about Benny Wenda, the independence leader and international lobbyist who lives in exile in the UK. Find out about the International Parliamentarians for West Papua, and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

I am grateful to all those who strive to raise awareness and collectively work for change.

I am reading. I am learning. I am appalled. I am heartsick.

We all should be. West Papua is not some distant place on the other side of the world. It’s right here in our front yard.

I see the photos and videos, I read the reports and I ask myself, What am I doing about it? What can I do?

All I have are words – and a few spots online where a few people might be listening.

But it’s not only Australia we should be holding accountable for their inaction on West Papua. It’s usas well. When the leaders of those Pacific states spoke out for West Papua at the UN meeting, I was deeply moved.

But I wondered, where is Samoa? What are we doing?

What is Samoa’s official stance on West Papua?

At the most recent Pacific Islands Forum, our Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is quoted as saying, “There are two issues involved here, that is human rights and self determination. Human rights is okay, we can address it in a normal situation but when it comes to the issue of self determination, then there are processes that we must follow.

“In saying this, I did mention that what arises in West Papua is very similar to the situation of what my own country went through when we agitated to become independent. Of course later the  United Nations came in and guided us along the path to final independence in 1962. So the processes are there, and those are the formal ones to take.” He went on to say it was an issue that Forum leaders would be discussing.

We all should be asking- WHEN?

When will the Pacific Forum talk about this? Why can’t they stand in unity to help our aiga in West Papua that are being oppressed by the kind of colonizer that many of us have experienced before?

I hope our esteemed leader does add West Papua to his list of #ThingsToBeConcernedAbout. Because if there’s one thing our PM is very good at – it’s moving fast and decisively to make something happen in a no-nonsense way, once that decision has been made. He doesn’t seem to be the kind of leader who cares overly much how something will look to our (aid donor) friends, or how it will make our Very Important Neighbors feel. I admire that about him.

I ask our government to please, be inspired and take courage in the brave actions of those Pacific states leaders, who stood up in front of the world and spoke out for the lives and freedom of our Pasefika family in West Papua.

That could have been us. It should have been us.

It can still be us. At the next Forum meeting. The next UN meeting. At every regional and international meeting we go to.

We, as a people should be relentless in our questioning and badgering and pestering. We must keep sharing and shouting about the human rights abuses. We must ask and then ask again, about West Papua. No matter how musu Indonesia gets about it, no matter how much pressure they exert on their strategic partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

As a Samoa media entity, Samoa Planet commits that we will ask and ask again.

No matter how many times our questions are politely declined or ignored.

 

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