7 Dec 2017

NZ parliamentary committee gets West Papua briefing

5:42 pm on 7 December 2017

A New Zealand parliament select committee has heard there is currently no pathway for West Papua to be put on the UN decolonisation list.

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials at a parliamentary select committee briefing on West Papua, 7 December 2017

New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials at a parliamentary select committee briefing on West Papua, 7 December 2017 : Michael Appleton, Unit Manager, Pacific Regional Division; Stephen Harris, Divisional Manager, South East Asia Division; Ben King, Acting Chief Executive/Deputy Secretary Americas and Asia Group; Phillip Taula, Divisional Manager, United Nations, Human Rights and Commonwealth Division. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee was today briefed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about West Papua, following an earlier hearing in June.

A committee member, government MP Louisa Wall, asked about a recent petition to the UN from the indigenous people of Indonesian-ruled Papua region seeking re-inscription with the Decolonisation Committee, or C24. West Papua had been on the list in the early 1960s before being removed when Indonesia took control of the territory.

Ministry officials said that for West Papua to be added to the list again there first needed to be a resolution in the UN general assembly.

"The problem at the moment is there's actually no pathway back for it to go to the C24 if it's blocked by the C24 - Indonesia (which is a member of the C24) would need to agree," said Stephen Harris, the Divisional Director of South and South East Asia Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

But Ms Wall said West Papua was a "growing and emerging issue in the Pacific", suggesting it would increasingly demand a concerted response by New Zealand.

Louisa Wall

Louisa Wall Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

"How interested are we in the Pacific Island interest in the emancipation of Papua? Because it's not going to go away. I can see resolutions in the Pacific islands Forum soon that want us as a block of sixteen countries to be doing something possibly putting an application so they can be added to this non-self governing territory list."

However, Mr Harris said sentiment on this issue amongst Pacific Island countries was "quite varied".

"There is not a block of sixteen Pacific Island countries who think the same on this."

He said that reports about Indonesia's official reaction to some of the expressions of political voice in Papua were "disturbing".

According to Mr Harris, New Zealand tended to register its concern about human rights abuses at the ministerial level.

"Since June there has been an upwelling of public unrest that I mentioned with the armed insurrection in a couple of villages in Papua. At the same time there's been redoubling, I think, by the Inodnesian president Joko Widodo to try and invest more of his personal political capital in to progress there."

Mr Harris said that human and social indicators showed that Papuans generally lagged behind people in other parts of Indonesia by a long way.

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