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How the UN Failed West Papua

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About 5,000 people gathered at Lapago Customary Council in Wamena City to attend the launch of a local office of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) on Monday (15/2/2016) - Jubi

About 5,000 people gathered at Lapago Customary Council in Wamena City to attend the launch of a local office of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) on Monday (15/2/2016) – Jubi

By Prianka Srinivasan

New York, Jubi — A decade ago, Herman Wainggai caused a diplomatic furor between Indonesia and Australia when he boarded a homemade canoe and crossed the Arafura Sea to the northern tip of Australia. Escaping his home in the Indonesian-controlled territory of West Papua, Wainggai feared that his campaign for West Papuan independence would soon cost him his life. In March 2006, Australia recognized Wainggai as a refugee and granted him protection. Indonesia responded by temporarily recalling its Australian ambassador.

With reports of renewed intimidation by Indonesian authorities in West Papua, Wainggai will once again embark on a controversial journey to seek justice for his people. This time, his destination is New York’s UN headquarters to lobby at its 71st General Assembly. “We want to remind the UN they can’t let West Papua be colonized for so long,” said Wainggai in a telephone interview.

But Wainggai’s task will not be easy. The UN has slumbered in its decolonization efforts, with only one state, Timor-Leste, achieving independence in the past 20 years. Added to that, West Papua is currently unrecognized by the world body as a colonized “non-self-governing territory”—it lost this designation over four decades ago, when West Papua was integrated by Indonesia through controversial means.

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This leaves West Papuan independence activists in a uniquely undesirable position: fighting to be recognized by a world body that has lost much of its ability and will to bring about decolonization.

Decolonization once defined the United Nation’s very existence. When the UN was first conceived in 1945, a third of the world’s population still lived under colonial rule and many of those territories were agitating for autonomy. Under the heat of global anti-imperial movements, colonial territories disintegrated to form independent states, and the UN’s membership doubled in size in just 20 years. In 1960, the UN General Assembly adopted United Nations Resolution 1514, which declared the “necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations.” A year later, the Special Committee of Decolonization formed to carry out the UN’s mandate and help colonized nations achieve autonomy.

But this help came at a price. The UN’s decolonization mandate was often brought in and out of play by its two largest powerbrokers—the United States and the Soviet Union—so they could extend their influence in the post-colonial world. As a result, the UN’s decolonization efforts did not always make the autonomy of colonized peoples its first priority.

West Papuans became one of the first causalities of the UN’s perfidious promise of self-determination. In 1968, under the watch of UN observers and the United States diplomats, Indonesia was handed control over West Papua when its military hand-picked a fraction of West Papua’s population, and ordered them to vote in favor Indonesian annexation in the UN-supervised “Act of Free Choice.” A 2004 report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School explains that “Indonesian military leaders began making public threats against Papuan leaders… vowing to shoot them on the spot if they did not vote for Indonesian control.” The United States, acting both independently and through the UN, tacitly allowed West Papua’s annexation to ensure Indonesia would not fall to communism.

In such a way, the UN’s decolonization efforts were always conditional on the whims of international politicians. As U.S. and Soviet tensions receded, so too did the UN’s ambition to guide colonized territories to independence. The U.K., U.S. and France all moved to abolish the Special Committee on Decolonization in the early 1990s, and the U.K. and U.S. formally withdrew from the committee in 1986 and 1992 respectively. Persistent campaigning from the world’s small territories was all that revived the Special Committee from its deathbed, though doing so compromised much of its function and scope.

“That really left a gap, a vacuum which still exists today,” said Dr. Carlyle Corbin, a former minister of the U.S.-controlled Virgin Islands who serves as an international expert to the UN on self-determination. Though there continues to be a need for the UN to follow its decolonization mandate, particularly in relation to its 17 recognized colonial territories, Corbin says that member states blatantly ignore this duty. Representatives from France, one of the few administrative powers that still interacts with the UN’s decolonization committee, make a point of walking out of discussions whenever the topic is French Polynesia.

UN members accept this lack of commitment since colonization is no longer seen as a modern phenomenon. “Decolonization is not on the radar,” Corbin said. “The idea is that it’s over.” Administrative powers that preside over colonial territories are able to hide behind this misconception, claiming that their dependent territories could not possibly be associated with this evil, outdated practice.

The United States, which currently administers three territories listed by the UN’s decolonization committee, argues that its territories have implied self-governance and therefore should be removed from decolonization talks. Indeed, many of the 17 recognized colonial territories have some quasi form of self-governance—Guam, America Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have non-voting representation in the U.S. Congress, and Britain’s overseas territories maintain localized governments, with ultimate constitutional authority remaining with Britain. In some cases, such as in the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, local populations do not want to concede their dependency relationships.

But for Corbin, this is beside the point. “Colonization by consent is not self-governance,” he said, and if the UN is to follow its own resolution on the rights of indigenous people, then it should work to eradicate any remnant of colonialism, however benign.

For West Papua, where instances of state oppression by Indonesian authorities harken back to more overt forms of colonialism, the UN has still failed to support its independence. The world body does not even recognize West Papua as a colonized territory, thus effectively depriving West Papuans of UN resources to fuel their struggle for self-determination.

The result of this omission is calamitous. There is strong evidence of gross human rights violations in Indonesian-held West Papua, yet the UN is has not yet intervened in this territory. The counterterrorism squad, Detachment 88, which was developed in 2003 by funding through the United States government, is accused of being especially violent toward indigenous West Papuans.

“They can operate independently and together, intimidating, harassing, beating up, and indeed killing people,” said Peter Arndt, executive officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Brisbane. He made the remarks last March following a visit to West Papua. A report compiled by Arndt accuses the Indonesian government of making new, violent incursions into the region, systematically expelling Papuans from their homes in what the report calls a “slow-motion genocide.” Some 30 years ago, 96 percent of West Papua was inhabited by its indigenous population. Today, that number is closer to 40 percent.

In such a state of emergency, the solution for West Papua might be to abandon the UN’s decolonization process all together. Wainggai and other West Papuan activists have chosen to bring their plight instead to human rights organizations, like the UN’s Human Rights Council, to urge change on humanitarian grounds.

There are also regional movements to recognize West Papuan independence—the Solomon Islands and Tonga both articulated support for West Papuans at last year’s UN General Assembly, with the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare calling for “the full and swift implementation of the 1960 declaration on the granting of Independence to colonized countries and peoples.”

Nevertheless, Wainggai remains hopeful that one day, as the UN’s member states convene for another General Assembly in New York, a free and autonomous West Papua will be included in discussions. “That’s my American dream,” he said. (*)

This article written by Prianka Srinivasan. She is an Australian freelance journalist based in New York. She has spent a number of years working and researching in the Pacific region.

This article was published by The Diplomat

 

Analysis

Grasberg’s waste management, has “always been controversial” : Freeport’s CEO

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Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system – PUSAKA

Jayapura, Jubi – Every year, Freeport-McMoRan Inc. dumps tens of millions of tons of mining waste into the Ajkwa River system in Indonesia. The company has been doing it for decades, and is demanding the right to keep at it for decades to come.

The discharge of what are called tailings, the leftovers of mineral extraction, is perfectly legal under Freeport’s current contract with the government. But recently, after more than a year of tense negotiations over the terms of a new deal, Indonesia suddenly changed the rules: The Grasberg mine in the highlands of Papua province would have to operate by heightened standards. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, really, considering most every other miner in the world has been forced or has elected to stop discarding tailings in rivers.

Freeport, though, has said that won’t happen at Grasberg. Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson has been blunt about it. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said in April. “You simply can’t say 20 years later ‘we’re going to change the whole structure’.” Grasberg’s waste management, he added, has “always been controversial.”

The tailings tussle is the latest twist in the complicated relationship between the mining giant and the Southeast Asian republic. How it plays out will have far-reaching consequences in Indonesia. Freeport is a major taxpayer and job provider and has built homes, schools and hospitals in one of the poorest provinces. But Grasberg has also long been a target for environmentalists, indigenous and separatist groups and human-rights watchdogs.

At stake for Freeport are reserves that Bloomberg Intelligence estimates to be worth $14 billion at the world’s biggest gold deposit and second-largest copper mine. Grasberg accounted for 47 percent of Freeport’s operating income in 2017, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“What happens at Grasberg has global significance,” said Payal Sampat, the mining program director at the mining watchdog-group Earthworks. “It involves some of the largest global players in the mining industry and one of the leading mining economies.”

Most countries have banned tailings deposits in waterways over concerns they can be toxic, destroying habitats, suffocating vegetation and changing the topography of rivers, causing floods. Most miners have said they’re against the practice regardless of local rules. The industry’s biggest, BHP Billiton Ltd., won’t “dispose of mined waste rock or tailings into a river or marine environment,” as the company put it in a statement.

READ ALSO Story Map : Enam pelanggaran lingkungan yang dilakukan Freeport

‘Environmental Burden’

Only two other industrial-scale mines — and a third, small operation — are known to get rid of tailings as Grasberg does, and they’re in Papua New Guinea, which occupies half of the island of New Guinea; Indonesia owns the rest, which is home to the Freeport-run mine. In recognition of risks that could leave “a massive environmental burden for future generations,” the practice has been phased out everywhere else, according to the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization.

Jubi/Albertus Vembrianto

Freeport sees things differently. “As we have stated before, the tailings are benign,” said Eric E. Kinneberg, a spokesman, referring to the corporate website for a detailed explanation.

The Phoenix-based company maintains that much of the sediment in the Ajkwa River system downstream from Grasberg is caused by natural erosion, and that tailings pose no significant — or at least unexpected — threats. “There have been no human health issues or impact on the environment that wasn’t anticipated,” Adkerson said on a quarterly earnings call in April.

The company’s partner in the Grasberg complex, Rio Tinto Group, recently addressed concerns about waste removal. “Riverine tailings disposal is very, very far from best practice,” Chairman Simon Thompson told a meeting in London in April, perhaps highlighting one of the reasons Rio may be willing to sell its 40 percent interest to a state-owned company for $3.5 billion. A spokesman for the company declined to comment for this story.

Rio declined 1.4 percent in Sydney trading, as an index of the country’s largest energy and mining companies fell 1.2 percent.

‘No Realistic Alternative’

“If you think about it from Rio Tinto’s perspective, one of the biggest problems with this mine is the environmental issues. I think that’s an incentive for Rio to get out,” said Christopher LaFemina, an analyst at Jefferies LLC. “This is a critically important part of Freeport’s overall value. For Rio Tinto, it’s not.”

The problem for Freeport and Indonesia is that there’s no easy solution. “There has been no realistic alternative identified,” Thompson said. Freeport’s local unit studied 14 alternatives for tailings disposal — including dams and pipelines — and concluded all were too risky in a mountainous terrain prone to earthquakes and heavy rainfall.

As it is, the heavy ooze wends its way through glacier-capped valleys, descending almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to tropical lowlands and a 230 square kilometer deposition zone, where roughly half the tailings are parked. The rest flows on to a river estuary and the Arafura Sea.

“The company has sacrificed not just the river, but also the coastal area,” said Pius Ginting, coordinator of Action for Ecology and People’s Emancipation, an Indonesian environmental group.

50 Million Tons

According to Earthworks, Freeport sends more than 76 million metric tons of tailings and waste rock into Indonesian rivers every year. The company puts the 2017 figure at 50 million tons. Without spelling out precisely how the requirement should be met, Indonesia told Freeport that it would boost to 95 percent from half the amount of tailings that must be recovered from the river system, according to Adkerson.

That was a shock that sent Freeport’s stock tumbling after Adkerson revealed it on April 24. Shares have largely recovered as investors bet the government will fail to follow through.

The negotiations to secure the right to keep mining Grasberg until 2041 had already been complicated by an edict that foreign miners sell majority stakes in their assets to local interests. Rio’s apparent interest in divesting would ease that problem for Freeport, reducing how much it would need to unload.

Stunning Asset

POTAGER.ORG

Even if its share dropped below 50 percent, Freeport as an operator could still win big — Grasberg is a stunning asset, expected to produce more than 520,000 tons of copper in 2018 and more gold than any other mine. Of course, Indonesia’s tailings mandate may be a negotiating tactic, as some Freeport investors said they suspect. Ilyas Asaad, inspector general at Indonesia’s Environment & Forestry Ministry, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The company is holding its position: The discharge of tailings into the river system is an inescapable consequence of keeping the mine in operation. If the government backs down, it will be “a political decision,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist who runs the U.S. nonprofit Center for Science in Public Participation. “There aren’t many governments that are willing to sacrifice those kinds of environmental resources for the financial resources.”

Few investors have publicly seized on the tailings mess as a reason to shun Freeport. One was Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund, which in 2006 excluded Freeport from its investment universe and in 2008 sold its holding of about $850 million of Rio shares, citing Grasberg’s use of the river system to dispose of tailings.

“The spotlight has shone on these issues a lot more brightly in the last couple of years,” said Andrew Preston, head of corporate governance in Australia for Aberdeen Standard Investments, which owns shares in Rio and BHP. The “wake-up call,” Preston said, was the 2015 failure of a tailings dam at BHP’s Samarco iron-ore joint venture with Vale SA in Brazil. Billions of gallons of sludge escaped to travel hundreds of kilometers down the Doce river, killing at least 19 people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Jefferies’ LaFemina said investors are betting on the status quo in Indonesia. “In negotiations, different sides are trying to get leverage.” In the end, “I am not expecting there to be a significant change to how this asset operates.”

By Danielle Bochove and David Stringer

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Analysis

Indonesia cracks down on peaceful independence movement in Papua

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By Joe Cochrane

Jakarta, Indonesia – Yanto Awerkion knew quite well that he would infuriate the local Indonesian authorities for organizing a meeting to discuss a petition for an independence referendum in the strife-torn Papua region — but he did it anyway.

“I was exercising my right to free speech,” said Mr. Awerkion, a senior official of the West Papua National Committee, a pro-independence organization, who said his ensuing arrest on accusations of treason was the third time he had faced charges for his political beliefs.

Yanto Awerkion when jailed last year – Supplied

The local police, however, did not see the case as a free-speech issue. He was arrested after the gathering in his hometown Timika, where he is vice chairman of the local branch of the independence committee, in May last year on charges of trying to overthrow the state. He was jailed for 10 months.

At his trial this March, Mr. Awerkion, 28, was convicted of treason under an archaic Dutch colonial law, but released on Easter Sunday for time served.

“During the trial, there was no proof I was involved in treason,” he said in a telephone interview after his release. “And I wasn’t. As a member of the young generation, I have to fight against injustices.”

Comparatively speaking, Mr. Awerkion got off lightly. At least three Papuans considered as political prisoners by human rights groups are serving lengthy prison sentences for promoting independence from Indonesia or raising the separatist flag of the armed Free Papua Movement in public. Dozens of others supporting the cause have been incarcerated in recent years.

Indonesia, despite its largely successful transition to democracy in 1999 after decades of authoritarian rule, continues to be criticized for the plight of its easternmost region of Papua — split into the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Despite being some of Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the two provinces remain among the country’s poorest.

Human rights groups have reported a long list of official abuses there, in the name of fighting a small, armed separatist movement. They include arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, official corruption, rigged local elections, and police and military personnel who use abusive tactics.

“They are using colonial laws to arrest people in modern, democratic Indonesia,” said Calum Hyslop, an Australian who is a longtime political observer of the Papua region. “They fail to understand the difference between freedom of speech and real acts of armed separatism.”

Indonesia’s Papua region lies on the western side of New Guinea Island, the eastern side being the nation of Papua New Guinea.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) leaders (L to R), Octovianus Mote, Benny Wenda and Rex Rex Rumakiek – Jubi

Indonesia annexed the former Dutch-controlled region in 1963, and took sovereignty after the 1969 Act of Free Choice, a vote on whether to remain part of Indonesia. Opponents say the voting was rigged, as only handpicked representatives were allowed to vote, rather than the entire population. There has been a small-scale armed rebellion ever since, most notably by the Free Papua Movement.

Mr. Awerkion’s organization, the West Papua National Committee, is not armed and is a nongovernmental organization supporting a referendum on Papua’s future.

Over the decades, the Indonesian government’s human rights record in the Papua region, formally known as Irian Jaya, has drawn widespread criticism. Pro-independence activists have been tortured, murdered or have gone missing, with no arrests or prosecutions. The recently released United States State Department report on Indonesia said of Papua: “The lack of transparent investigations continued to hamper accountability in a number of past cases involving security forces.”

Development in the region is further cause for concern. Papua Province is home to one of the world’s largest gold and copper mining operations, run by the Indonesian unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, and a large natural gas plant in West Papua Province, run by a local unit of BP.

But some of the region’s demographics are comparable to sub-Saharan Africa, according to analysts, with an alarming gap between Papuans who live in coastal areas and those who live in the remote highlands, mostly only accessible by airplane.

Most Papuans live in rural areas, and poverty rates there are the highest in Indonesia, at around 41 percent, compared with only 5 percent in urban areas. Papuans have the highest rates of illiteracy in Indonesia, with around 25 percent of children not in school, and the region has the highest infant, child, and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia, while having the lowest basic child vaccination rates.

“When it comes to broader questions of human rights in Papua, the real violation relates to the complete lack of services in the countryside,” said Bobby Anderson, a researcher with the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. “Things like lack of health care, lack of education, with teachers no-showing at schools.”

Fishermen in West Papua in January. Despite being among Southeast Asia’s richest regions in terms of natural resources, the Papuan provinces are among Indonesia’s poorest.CreditBay Ismoyo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Indonesia has a detailed policy for mineral extraction, but they have no real policy for the people of Papua,” he said. “It’s like they’re not even citizens.”

After taking office in 2014, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia promised a new deal for the Papua and West Papua provinces, releasing some so-called political prisoners and promising an ambitious economic program. However, his own government has continued to enforce restrictions on foreign journalists visiting there.

The Papua region continues to be troubled. The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based research organization, while noting that Mr. Joko had given more attention to the region than his predecessors, said in an October report, “Conflict there — among clans, between indigenous Papuans and migrants, between pro-independence groups and the state — remains high.”

Amnesty International has labeled three Papuans serving prison sentences as “prisoners of conscience,” but notes that hundreds of other human rights and pro-independence activists are routinely arrested and briefly detained, including more than 40 members of Mr. Awerkion’s organization just last month.

Papuans Behind Bars, a separate nongovernmental organization, has documented more than 40 people sentenced to various terms in prison under the treason law.

Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said that the Indonesian government’s “focus on development and putting aside human rights in Papua is a wrong approach to deal with the complexity of problems.”

Earlier this month, just after Mr. Awerkion was released, the website of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, the main international partner of Mr. Awerkion’s group, was hacked, as were the websites of other pro-referendum Papuan organizations. They say a state-sponsored actor was likely behind the hacking attacks.

For his part, Mr. Awerkion is not letting his jail time affect his independence cause, saying a fourth arrest would mean nothing to him.

“Please tell all the people out there to keep a watch on the Papua issue,” he said. (*)

This article appears in nytimes.com on June 3, 2018, with the headline: Indonesia Clamps Down on Simmering Independence Effort in Papua

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Analysis

PMC director condemns ‘targeting’ of journalists and silence on West Papua

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Activists, acdemics and journalists at the Pacific Media Centre WPFD seminar last night. Image: PMC

By Jean Bell

An alarming number of “targeted” journalists being killed and West Papua media for independence were just some of the topics covered in a wide-ranging seminar by the director of the Pacific Media Centre last night.

Professor David Robie called for the media, universities and journalism schools to take their Pacific “backyard” more seriously and not just wait for crises to happen.

The seminar was in marking May 3 – World Press Freedom Day. This year’s conference is in Accra, Ghana.

Dr Robie cited the number of journalists killed while working in 2017 and called journalism an increasingly “dangerous occupation”.

“Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) [Reporters Without Borders] statistics showed 65 journalists were killed worldwide in 2017,” Dr Robie said. Of the 65 journalists killed, 7 of these people were so-called citizen journalists.

This number of casualties varied between media freedom monitoring agencies depending on the definitions of journalists and media workers counted in the statistics, he said.

Although this statistic showed a drop from the previous year, the growth of “hatred” for media and targeting of journalists was a worsening problem.

“This is a dire situation that is getting worse.”

On top of the killings, the Paris-based statistics showed that 326 journalists were detained in prison and a further 54 were being held hostage.

Dr Robie said use of the term “citizen journalist” was problematic, as it gave an impression of untrained journalists working without an ethical basis. In fact, many professional journalists were becoming “citizen” journalists tactically and using social media to defeat mainstream media “gags” such as relating to the Melanesian region West Papua inside Indonesia.

“There are more and more independent journalists that are disillusioned” and publishing untold stories on their own blogs.

One such journalist is Papua New Guinea’s Scott Waide, with whom Pacific Media Centre is collaborating with, published many articles by independent journalists and civil society people on his blog My Land, My Country.

Dr Robie also talked about the latest RSF Press Freedom Index and its findings on the Asia-Pacific region.

A Filipino radio journalist, Edmond Sestoso, was shot last Monday – three days before Press Freedom Day – and died the next day. He was murdered in a drive-by scenario by a gunman on a motorcycle. According to Dr Robie, it is a “very common way of doing it” in the Philippines.

World Press Freedom Day 2017

In 2017, Dr Robie was invited to go to the week-long UNESCO World Press Freedom Day media conference in Jakarta, Indonesia.

He was one of just two New Zealanders at the conference out of the 1500 people attending the WPFD conference. He spoke at a journalist safety academic conference at WPFD but was also a guest keynote speaker at an alternative “Free Press in West Papua” conference organised by Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI).

Dr Robie said it was “astonishing” that there were not more people from New Zealand present at WPFD and said it showed how “appalling” New Zealand’s interest in international affairs was with an information gap in coverage of Asia-Pacific issues. The other New Zealander present was Mary Major, executive director of the New Zealand Media Council.

Dr Robie described the week as “challenging” and “inspiring”.

“I was representing AUT university and also entering a fraught situation.”

Independent Indonesian journalists were planning to protest against the treatment of West Papua and make a showcase stand before the world’s press, said Dr Robie.

At the WPFD, there was a tight military and police security cordon which kept out West Papua protesters and prevented conference participants from joining the protests in solidarity.

While en route to Jakarta, Dr Robie was also invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, the last investigative journalism unit at an Australian university. This was closing under protest after 25 years on the “frontline”.

He was able to address West Papua issues there too.

“I’m an educator and a journalist … I have a responsibility to share my knowledge with as many people as I can about issues,” said Dr Robie, who is author of Don’t Spoil My Beautiful Face: Media, mayhem and human rights in the Pacific.

West Papua plight ‘censored’

Dr Robie discussed Facebook recently wrongly “censoring” a 1995 photo of an armed West Papuan OPM guerilla and fellow tribespeople in traditional nambas (penis sheaths), pointing to the Pacific Media Centre coverage that sparked an RNZ Mediawatch story on the issue.

Photojournalist Ben Bohane, who has extensively covered conflict issues in the Asia-Pacific region, wrote a two-page article in the Vanuatu Daily Post in response to a piece about China and Vanuatu by The Sydney Morning Herald that had speculated about a “naval base” plan for a wharf aid project at Luganville, Espiritu Santo. Dr Robie said the Australian article was “scaremongering.”

“Ben Bohane’s article argued China was not the real concern,” he said. “The real threat in terms of stability and security is Indonesia, for which New Zealand media have a blindspot.”

When the PMC republished the Bohane article on its current affairs website Asia Pacific Report, Facebook links were removed. “I got a message saying the picture breached Facebook’s community standards.” While the Facebook “block” did not affect the actual article itself, Dr Robie said it limited the reach of an important article.

Dr Robie said he believed the photo censorship had more to do with “politics” rather than “nudity” and was undoubtedly an attempt by Indonesian sources to curb the debate regarding West Papua.

“It is not the picture that is the real issue,” said Dr Robie. He quoted from Ben Bohane’s latest message saying the censorship was ongoing in spite of Facebook saying it had lifted the block.

It is not the first time Facebook has censored an iconic photo that illustrates dire situations in the Asia-Pacific region. Dr Robie pointed to how Mediawatch raised the issue of how the social media platform in 2016 censored images of the “napalm girl” taken during the Vietnam War in 1973. This caused an international storm of protest.

WPFD in Indonesia – an irony

Dr Robie pointed out the irony over Jakarta hosting the WPFD 2017 conference in light of censorship and repressive activities by security forces in West Papua.

According to Dr Robie, Indonesia has a vibrant “plurality” of voices but forces were seeking to radicalise people, along with targeting journalists.

While President Joko Widodo had changed policy in 2015 to “allow foreign journalists into” West Papua after he was elected in 2014, not much had really changed. Arrests and deportations were continuing.

“It’s very tightly controlled by the bureaucracy and security authorities,” said Dr Robie.

He highlighted the message from critics and researchers of a “secret genocide” in West Papua.

“The state of mainstream international media is a big part of how West Papua is ignored. There is a big difference when you watch some news media that take a more independent stance, such as Al Jazeera.”

He praised Al Jazeera’s Dutch journalist in Jakarta, Step Vaessen, for her coverage.

The penalties for showing support for West Papuan independence is severe – a 15-year prison sentence if you raise the banned Morning Star independence flag – even wearing a t-shirt like I am wearing tonight with the flag on can get you into trouble,” Dr Robie said.

“It is a very serious situation for West Papuans.”

“They believe their independence was declared in 1962 and despite that, Indonesian forces invaded.

“Western countries have become persuaded that West Papua has become part of Indonesia, making the situation a wrong that has never been righted.”

NZ media coverage

While the situation is still dire, there has been some sporadic New Zealand coverage of the West Papua situation, said Dr Robie.

New Zealander Karen Abplanalp, who researched journalist access into West Papua for her masters degree, assisted Māori Television in a reporting mission with Adrian Stevanon to West Papua in 2015. The crew had to “dress” up the assignment bid with the authorities by saying it was a cultural showcase and had a nice side report about a kumara aid project in the Highlands.

Johnny Blades and Koroi Hawkins from RNZ also visited West Papua that year and did a rare interview with Lukas Enembe, the governor of Papua.

Dr Robie said New Zealand media covered disasters, coups and cyclones, while ignoring many of the social justice and development stories that were “crying out to be covered” in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Universities have responsibilities to shed light through research,” concluded Dr Robie.

He called for Indonesia to genuinely “open the door” to journalists and non-government agencies to visit West Papua, and for a “real” UN referendum on self-determination for the Papuans.

Social justice activist Maire Leadbeater (right), author of a forthcoming book on West Papua, with “wantok” Melanesians at the Pacific Media Centre seminar last night. Image” Del Abcede/PMC
Peace and human rights activist Maire Leadbeater said the presentation was enlightening and covered many topics.

“It was great, I really enjoyed it. Dr Robie covered a lot of bases,” Leadbeater said.

Leadbeater is due to have a book published next month about the issue, See No Evil: New Zealand’s betrayal of the people of West Papua.

“The book will be a probe into New Zealand’s diplomacy that hasn’t been done before.” (*)

 

Source: asiapacificreport.nz

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