Pacific Support for West Papua Grows – But Where is PNG?

In what can only be described as an extraordinary move, a Motion on foreign policy regarding West Papua was passed in the Vanuatu Parliament on June 19th.

During the sitting of Parliament, Vanuatu Prime Minister Hon. Edward Natapei, and the leader of the Opposition Hon. Maxime Carlot Korman jointly sponsored a Motion in Parliament to declare Vanuatu’s foreign policy regarding West Papua. This unprecedented move was initiated by a tabled petition on behalf of the people of Vanuatu calling for a transparent foreign policy on West Papua.

The following proposals from the petition could become significant clauses of the Bill – if accepted:

1. Sponsor and pass a motion in national Parliament officially declaring that Vanuatu’s foreign policy is to support the achievement of the independence of West Papua;

2. Sponsor a resolution at the 2010 Melanesian Spearhead Group’s (MSG) Leaders’ Summit that the independence movement in West Papua be given Observer Status at the MSG;

3. Sponsor a resolution at the 2010 Pacific Island Forum Leaders Summit that the independence movement in West Papua be given Observer Status at the Forum;

4. Sponsor resolutions to the Melanesian Spearhead Group’s Leaders Summit, the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit and the United Nations calling for fact-finding missions be sent by each of these bodies to West Papua to investigate alleged violations of the human rights of it’s Melanesian populations;

5. Become the official state sponsor of the case of West Papua in the International Court of Justice seeking a judgment on the legality of the 1969 “Act of Free Choice”;

6. Sponsor a resolution in the United Nations to put West Papua back on the United Nations’ list of Non-Self-Governing Territories;

7. Create a West Papua Desk in the Department of Foreign Affairs with a budget sufficient to facilitate the Government’s international advocacy efforts in support of West Papua’s independence;

8. Ratify the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to provide Vanuatu with an avenue for additional support to the people of West Papua.

Let us not depreciate the real significance of this milestone. For the first time in the Pacific, and for that matter the world, a sovereign nation has voted unanimously in its legislative assembly to support West Papua. This is the first crack in the dam of international passivity – and just like Taiwan has managed to build nation-state support for recognition under the shadow of mainland China, so too now officially begins West Papua’s campaign.

In responding to the bipartisan support for the Motion, Prime Minister Natapei promised that he will sponsor the issue of West Papua to both MSG and PIF-meetings. Natapei will also proceed to apply for West Papua to be relisted with the UN Decolonisation Committee in order for the Territory to be given the due process of decolonisation. Vanuatu – please take a bow!

Now – one question I want to poise is this: where is PNG on the issue of West Papua? Somare has made it clear that he wants PNG to play a greater role in the Pacific, in particular regards to development aid and assistance packages. Adopting such a soft strategy is acceptable in terms of gradual regional influence, but do we really want to become the Melanesian “Big Brother” in the same mold of foreign policy that both Australia and New Zealand patronise?

I would argue that it is on such an issue as West Papua where the  real opportunity exists for PNG to achieve robust recognition as a major player in the region. And in the Pacific, opportunities such as these are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Of course, becoming influential should not and never will be the reason as to why PNG would support the freedom of West Papua. This decision should be based on the irrefutable foundation of natural justice and the rule of law – and the committment of our own government and people to proactively address this issue.

Somare’s lack of movement on West Papua since Independence and the follow-on through of that same benign policy over the years by consecutive governments is a reflection of the immaturity of PNG. Indeed, it could quite possibly be that we lack the capacity to deal with what would be a sensitive affair on our very own doorstep. This is an argument that I do understand.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that PNG is the rubicon of this offensive – in other words, if PNG commits – there is no going back and the rest will follow. I believe the day we actually make a stand on the issue as a country and not keep practicing the art of tolerant excuses will be the day we have achieved a mature nation-state prepared to take our place in the  context of a global community.

No doubt some of our Melanesian neighbours and international observers are contemplating rehearsing Kevin Conrad’s prevailing words to PNG:

There’s an old saying, if you’re not willing to lead then get out of the way. And I would ask…(PNG)…, we ask for your leadership; we seek your leadership; but if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please, get out of the way.”

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~ by Tavurvur on June 22, 2010.

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