5 Oct 2012

PNG PM's note to Indonesia on abuses in Papua reflects a govt policy departure

6:52 am on 5 October 2012

The announcement by the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea that he will raise concerns about human rights abuses in neighbouring Papua with Indonesia's Government represents a departure in PNG government policy.

Peter O'Neill told local tv this week that foreign affairs officials are to deliver a letter spelling out their concerns to Jakarta, and that he will also raise the matter during an upcoming democracy conference in Bali.

Mr O'Neill says the plight of the Melanesian people across the border in Indonesia needs to be brought to light.

He says while his government continues to recognise the territorial integrity of Indonesia it also wants to bring to Jakarta's attention concerns raised by PNG citizens about human rights abuses in Papua.

"We will deliver a note, through a diplomatic note, raising that our citizens are concerned about some of the reports that we are getting from Irian Jaya, West Papua, on the human rights abuses that are taking place. So it is appropriate for us to sent that note."

Professor Ron May of the Australian National University's State, Society and Governance in Melanesia programme says the statement does represent a change from the position of previous governments.

For quite some time now, PNG has maintained its commitment to recognising Indonesian integrity and has not made a great deal of comment on human rights abuses. There was an incident in the 1980s when a lot of people crossed the border and relations between Indonesia and PNG really deteriorated quite badly. But since then nothing much has happened. However this is a bit of a departure and an interesting one.

Professor May says there are many implications for PNG from the troubles in the heavily militarised Indonesian territory including the flow-on effect of Papuans continuing to seek refuge in PNG.

There are a couple of people in parliament now however who have shown some inclination to take this on. But it also reflects the deteriorating situation in West Papua: we're getting increasing reports of human rights abuses and reports of increasing activity amongst West Papuan separatists.

Vincent Manukayasie of the PNG Trust NGO which works with West Papuan refugees in Port Moresby says pressure has been building on PNG's government from two fronts to do something about its neighbour.

The public in PNG since last year have continuously raised the issue of West Papua. This is like the people on the streets, writing in to newspapers, talking on radio, basically saying PNG has to do something about this issue. Then on the other hand, with recent elections, there's a number of new MPs coming in who have been following the West Papua issue in their own private lives, they're raising this issue in parliament.

He says Peter O'Neill's announcement is positive because the government cannot claim to be a regional leader by re-opening an offshore asylum seeker processing centre for Australia and at the same time continue ignoring the Papua question.