This week’s stories of an Indonesian military offensive against villages in Paniai West Papua came from sources inside the country, where international media has no access. The Red Cross was kicked out of West Papua some time ago and few aid groups are permitted to operate there. It is therefore difficult to assess the news except to say that Australian media are reporting credible human rights sources who describe helicopter attacks on villages by military and police.
They cite sources saying that 26 villages have been razed, 20 people killed and 10,000 people have fled to relative safety in an area called Enaratoli. The justification for these attacks relates to the Indonesian military plan to stamp out the OPM, the armed wing of the independence struggle within West Papua by attacking areas where they are known to operate.
The human rights of West Papuan people are at extreme risk and this latest incident highlights their total vulnerability. Last month, they held a congress to discuss self determination issues which was violently disrupted by the Indonesians, with 300 people arrested and 6 key leaders imprisoned without trial. Reports from West Papua trickle out into the New Zealand media which largely ignores them with the honourable exceptions of Radio New Zealand International and the Pacific Media Centre.
Last month I wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs asking him to review the role of the police training project New Zealand has been carrying out in West Papua. The role of the West Papua police force in connection with human rights abuses has deteriorated and our police trainers cannot claim to be enhancing citizens’ rights. I have read the 2010 reports from our police trainers which showed that the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. These policemen appeared to have no context for operating in West Päpua, their focus was on crimes like robbery and alcohol and they made no comment on the lack of democratic freedoms or the need for the West Papuan police to stop colluding with the military in the human rights abuses. Mr McCully has yet to reply beyond the acknowledgement of my letter.
Silence surrounds the tragedies in West Papua. Silence at every level is a shameful matter, so why is New Zealand supporting the Indonesia Government in their ban on foreign journalists, MP delegation visits and human rights scrutiny? The Australian Government is no better but I commend Richard di Natale MP of the Australian Green Party for his principled promotion of justice and human rights for West Papua. We must use our voices on behalf of the silenced people.