18 Oct 2016

New momentum towards decolonisation in Pacific

11:03 am on 18 October 2016

Pacific Islands people and governments are taking the lead on pushing for decolonisation of West Papuans and other regional peoples, an expert says.

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One of the peace rallies in support of the Pacific Coalition on West Papua representation at the UN General Assembly. Monday 19 September 2016. Photo: Supplied/ Whens Tebay

West Papua specialist Dr Cammi Webb-Gannon said the unprecedented level of discussion about West Papuan self-determination and human rights at the recent UN General Assembly reflected a new momentum towards decolonisation in the Pacific.

Dr Webb-Gannon, from Western Sydney University's School of Humanities and Communication Arts, said the Melanesian Spearhead Group chairman and Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare had been particularly pivotal.

"So he's brought together a lot of Pacific Island countries who have just taken the West Papua issue to the UN but are also hoping to take it to the UN decolonisation committee. So more than ever before, West Papuans are getting their cause on the international radar and that's really due to the incredible action that's taken by other Pacific countries."

Meanwhile, there are hopes among West Papuans that the new United Nations Secretary-General will help protect the human rights of Papua's indigenous people.

Antonio Guterres, the former Portuguese prime minister, was been unanimously elected to take over the UN top job from Ban Ki-moon at the start of next year.

Antonio Guterres

Antonio Guterres Photo: AFP

As Portugal prime minister, Mr Guterres played a key role in the UN intervention in East Timor shortly before it gained independence from Indonesia.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua's Pacific regional ambassador, Akouboo Amatus Douw, said that unlike Portugal's efforts to do the right thing by Timor, the Dutch have not met their moral obligation to Papuans.

However, he hoped that Mr Guterres can similarly help Papuans facilitate calls by seven countries at the UN general assembly last month for an investigation into alleged rights violations in Papua.

Mr Guterres was also the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 10 years and his work in this role was acknowledged by Mr Douw.

Under Mr Guterres's leadership, the UNHCR provided legal and humanitarian assistance for over 10,000 West Papuan refugees in PNG.

"In my rough estimation we have 30,000 Papuan political refugees all around the globe including myself," said Mr Douw.

He said the main reason that Papuans have to flee Indonesian rule is the denial of their absolute rights of self-determination in their home country.

"As I was of 43 West Papua political asylum seekers who escaped from West Papua and landed in Australia in 2006, I have very positive thoughts on his (Guterres') priorities in seeking to revolve core issues behind why these people became marginalised and suffered in all aspects."