Papuan students during a protest rally in Yogyakarta in July. Pacific countries expressed their concern during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York recently over continuing human rights violations in Papua. (Antara Photo/Hendra Nurdiyansyah)
In addition to discussing matters related to the early implementation of sustainable development goals and key global challenges, such as climate change and disarmament, during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York recently, it is important to highlight that the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua was raised by Pacific nations.
Statements by Pacific leaders regarding the issue were strongly rejected by the Indonesian government.
"We categorically reject the continuing insinuation in their statement," the Indonesian representative said during the session.
Pacific countries, notably the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, Marshal Islands, Tuvalu and Tonga, expressed their deep concern during the meeting over continuing human rights violations in the Indonesian part of Papua Island and called on UN to take concrete measures to address the matter and urge the Indonesian government to solve the problems. They reiterated their positions that the humanitarian crisis in the West Papua region is serious and needs an immediate international response.
In his address to the General Assembly, Tongan Prime Minister Samiuela 'Akilisi Pōhiva, for example, highlighted several important issues regarding the human rights situation in Papua.
Tonga, along with other Pacific countries, also raised the issue during previous sessions of the General Assembly and they did it once more to show their solidarity with Papuans and to update the current progress of the human rights situation in West Papua.
First, the Tongan prime minister pointed out that there had been no change in the Indonesia government's handling of human rights abuses in West Papua. Second, that there is still a lack of knowledge about the actual human rights situation in West Papua due restricted access to information. Third, that the principle of being a Good Samaritan invokes a sense of humanity to help West Papuans to be free from abuse.
Therefore, Tonga and its neighbors that are part of the Pacific Islands Forum, have consistently called for open and constructive dialog with Indonesia to discuss the status and welfare of Papuans.
In response, Indonesia not only condemned the Pacific leaders' statements, but also said that it was disappointed over their countries' violation of the UN Charter and the principles of international law. Indonesia also explained that it has a fully functioning democracy in an effort to try and demonstrate its commitment to human rights.
The Indonesian representative expressed shock over the fact that the Pacific countries deliberately chose not to fully address the important issue of climate change, which she said affects them the most. Instead, they decided to interfere in the internal affairs of another country by raising the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua in the General Assembly.
According to Indonesia, the Pacific leaders' statements are based on false and fabricated information and constitutes a lack of understanding and knowledge about the history, current situation, and the developmental progress in West Papua. Indonesia called the move by the Pacific countries "unfriendly and rhetoric political maneuvers."
Indonesia also raised its concern over Pacific leaders' lack of respect and understanding of international law and the fundamental norms set out by the UN Charter.
According to Indonesia, the Pacific countries not only violated the purpose and objectives of the UN Charter, but also violated the principle of international law regarding relations between states, specifically regarding their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Indonesian representative said it constituted a violation of international legal instruments, because the Pacific nations interfered in her country's internal affairs and by doing that, they have misused the session of the General Assembly to promote their political interests and to demonstrate their support for separatism in West Papua. Indonesia went on to call the Pacific leaders' move "highly regrettable and dangerous."
In addition, Indonesia tried to make a comparison between its commitment to promote human rights and that of the Pacific countries. The Indonesian representative stated that of the nine core human rights instruments, the country has ratified eight and incorporated them into its national legal system. In contrast, Vanuatu has only ratified five.
The Indonesian representative also stated that her country was a founding member of the UN Human Rights Council and that it has a national human rights commission. This demonstrates Indonesia's efforts to protect human rights.
Further, Indonesia argued that it has a fully functioning democracy, which would make it impossible for human rights violations to go unreported.
Although on the one hand, while Indonesia's claims and its continuing defense that it is making progress on protecting human rights and supporting a fully function democracy can be justified, the human rights condition remains significantly unchanged.
Numerous reports published by international nongovernmental organizations and faith-based networks for example, have shown that human rights abuses in West Papua continue and that the authorities still fail to bring the perpetrators to justice.
A recently published report by the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane for example, highlights ongoing human rights violations in West Papua and states that the abuses have not declined and that there is no significant improvement in Papuans' welfare.
Similarly, a report on human rights conditions in West Papua between April 2013 and December 2014, published by the International Coalition for Papua in 2015, shows that there had been a deterioration in human rights conditions in West Papua compared to previous periods and that there was a sharp contrast between the living conditions of indigenous Papuans and that of migrants from other parts of Indonesia.
Therefore, it is important that Indonesia proves its commitment to the protection of human rights by enforcing the law to prosecute and punish those who are guilty of human rights violations.
The unresolved human rights violations that took place in Paniai district, Papua province, in December 2014, where several innocent students were shot by security officers, have to be taken seriously and this can be a step forward by the government to convince the international community of its commitment.
Otherwise, Indonesia's repeated defense in international forums and meetings, such as at the recent meeting of the General Assembly, that it fully promotes and protects human rights in West Papua, will continue to be questioned.
Petrus Farneubun is a lecturer at the Department of International Relations at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, Papua, and currently pursuing a Ph.D. in international relations at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.