New Zealand cannot call itself a Pacific nation and yet continue to ignore the Pacific’s deadliest conflict, a Papua New Guinean provincial governor says.
Oro province Governor Garry Juffa says there is a double standard between the extensive and sympathetic coverage of last week’s Boston bombings received in the New Zealand media, and the persistent media silence on casualties in West Papua.
“They can go and cry for three people that died in Boston, and say what a terrible tragedy it is, and in their own back door not look at the West Papua situation,” he told Pacific Scoop.
Juffa was at the first ever Pacific Parliamentary and Political Leaders Forum in Wellington last weekend, in which the disputed West Papua territory was not represented and the conflict was not formally addressed.
Leaders of all major parties told delegates from 17 Pacific nations that New Zealand considered itself part of the Pacific, rather than part of Europe or North America.
But Juffa says being a Pacific nation means paying attention to the most pressing issues facing other Pacific nations.
“In West Papua we have a population of 2 million people – and these are Pacific Islanders no matter how you look at it,” he says.
Drawing a line
“The United Nations decided to draw a line and give West Papua illegally to Indonesia, but that does not mean they are not Pacific people.”
An Australian man was arrested on suspicion of planning to join an armed West Papuan group in December, and New Zealand Speaker David Carter denied exiled West Papuan tribal leader Benny Wenda the right to speak at Parliament in February.
Both events reflected how sensitive the Australian and New Zealand governments are about not offending Indonesia, a key trading and strategic partner.
While West Papua was not part of the official agenda at the forum, New Zealand delegate and Green MP Catherine Delahunty used an introduction to a healthcare speech by Jan Logie to mention the conflict.
“There is one country that has not been mentioned, whose health statistics are not recorded, but we know is carrying the worst statistics in the Pacific region and I want to break the wall of silence around West Papua,” she said.
“I want to speak about West Papua in this forum as a Pacific nation, as our natives, as our brother and sisters, who have no access to health services because they have no access to freedom and these things cannot be separated.”
Delahunty said communicable and non-communicable conditions and reproductive health issues affected West Papuans as much as any other Pasifika people, but the ongoing conflict was the greatest threat to their health and wellbeing.
‘Suffer from rape’
“They suffer from rape, military sanctions, violence, torture and being locked up and being challenged everyday for expressing their self-determination and human rights in any form, and we must acknowledge this.”
Delahunty called for Pacific leaders to “support West Papua”, to “allow them into the Melanesian Spearhead Group,” and to “support them as members of the Pacific Islands Forum”.
Juffa is equally angry that Pacific nations have failed to take a stand against “rape, torture, maiming,” and other alleged atrocities by Indonesian authorities.
He is particularly concerned that Australia and New Zealand – who try to take a leadership role in the Pacific – have failed to address the conflict.
“The evidence is available to anyone, yet Australia and New Zealand are not making an effort to say anything about it,” he said.
“In West Papua, almost on a monthly occasion, you are seeing many West Papuans being killed, tortured and so forth by an oppressive Indonesian military.
“What is being done about that situation?”
Michael Sergel and Finian Scott are Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalists at AUT University. They are covering the Pacific politics forum for Pacific Scoop and the Pacific Media Centre as an Asia-Pacific Journalism assignment. Read their live blog: