Pacific discussion turns to West Papua

  • 11/09/2015
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully (Simon Wong)
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully (Simon Wong)

By Sarah Robson

Talks amongst Pacific leaders have failed to result in concrete action over human rights in West Papua.

For the first time since 2007, the plight of the Indonesian province - which shares a land border with Papua New Guinea - has been up for discussion at the Pacific Islands Forum in Port Moresby.

There have been growing calls in the past week from NGOs in the region for the forum to support sending a team into West Papua to look into alleged human rights abuses.

But forum members have agreed only to consult with Indonesia on the possibility of such a fact-finding mission.

"We need to work together and the Indonesian government needs to be commended for the efforts that it has made so far in making sure there is more autonomy being given to the West Papuan province," Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister and forum chairman Peter O'Neill said.

He denied the forum had missed an opportunity to take meaningful action.

"We are encouraged by what we are hearing from Jakarta," he said.

New Zealand regularly raises concerns about alleged human rights abuses in West Papua with Indonesia and Prime Minister John Key thinks progress is being made.

"But I accept some people would want that to happen more quickly," he said.

New Zealand wasn't actively backing calls for a fact-finding mission, preferring to go along with a consensus decision.

Mr Key says Indonesian support for such a move is essential.

"If you don't have buy in from the Indonesians, it'll always be challenged around the credibility of it and I'm not sure how far that takes you," he said.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully spoke with Indonesia's vice-foreign minister about a potential fact-finding mission, but didn't get a very reassuring response.

However, Mr McCully said a clear message is being sent to Indonesia: "The message they're getting at the moment is the Pacific neighbourhood is watching this space carefully and wants them to do better".

New Zealand has previously offered support to Indonesia in West Papua, but concerns about the conditions a proposed policing project would be operating under meant it was pulled.

"We haven't put it in the too-hard basket, we've put it in the things that were not doable in the circumstances that were offered and we'd like to see those circumstances changed," Mr McCully said.