JAKARTA, Indonesia >> Seven Pacific island nations have called for a U.N. investigation into allegations of human rights abuses in Indonesia’s West Papua and Papua provinces, where a separatist movement has simmered for decades.
A statement to a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, read on behalf of the seven states by Vanuatu’s Justice Minister Ronald Warsal, accused Indonesia of serious human rights violations of indigenous Papuans including extrajudicial executions of activists and beatings and fatal shootings of peaceful protesters.
The statement Wednesday called on the council to request a comprehensive report from the high commissioner for human rights and Indonesia’s cooperation in providing unfettered access to the two provinces, which independence supporters refer to collectively as West Papua.
In a right of reply, the Indonesian delegation accused Vanuatu of “blatantly using human rights issues to justify its dubious support for the separatist movement in Papua” and said the government’s record of protecting human rights “speaks for itself.” Pacific island leaders angered Indonesia last year when they used their speeches to the U.N. General Assembly to criticize Indonesia’s rule in West Papua. Jakarta accused them of interfering in Indonesia’s sovereignty and supporting groups that carry out armed attacks.
Warsal, who spoke on behalf of Vanuatu, Tonga, Palau, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and the Solomon Islands, said they also wanted to highlight the Indonesian policy of encouraging the migration of Javanese and other ethnic groups, which has led to the dramatic outnumbering of indigenous Papuans in their own land.
The Indonesian government “has not been able to curtail or halt these various and widespread violations,” he said. “Neither has that government been able to deliver justice for the victims.”
Indonesia maintains a tight grip on West Papua and restricts journalists from reporting there. However, the independence movement appears to be increasingly well organized, with different groups now united under an umbrella organization.
The Dutch colonizers of the Indonesian archipelago held onto West Papua when Indonesia became independent after World War II. It became part of Indonesia following a U.N.-supervised referendum in 1969 that involved only a tiny proportion of the population and was criticized as a sham. Independence supporters want a second referendum.
The indigenous people of the two Papua provinces, which make up the western half of the island of New Guinea, are ethnically Melanesian and culturally distinct from the rest of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
West Papua is home to the world’s largest gold mine by reserves, one of the world’s biggest copper mines and vast areas of virgin forest. The government insists it is an indivisible part of the Indonesian state and is unlikely to make any concessions to separatists out of fear that could re-energize other dormant independence movements.
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