13 Sep 2016

Forum called out for hollow talk on Papua

8:08 pm on 13 September 2016
In Jayapura region on June 15, 2016, West Papuans demonstrated their support for an independence referendum.

West Papua has long been a sensitive issue for the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum countries. Photo: Whens Tebay

Pacific Islands Forum leaders have been accused of hollow talk about listening to the people of the region on important issues like West Papua.

Following last week's Forum leaders summit in Pohnpei, regional civil society groups have voiced disappointment at what they see as a lack of any outcome or substance on the issue of West Papua.

Papua had been one of the big regional issues identified by the Forum secretary-general Dame Meg Taylor as being on the leaders' agenda, ahead of the summit.

However in the end, leaders merely concluded that the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua should remain on their agenda.

Furthermore, after the resolution of last year's Forum summit to urge Jakarta to allow a fact-finding mission to West Papua, the matter appears to have dropped off the table.

Dame Meg confirmed in Pohnpei that Indonesian sensitivity over the term "fact-finding" in relation to Papua meant that it would not accept such a mission.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor says West Papua is a sensitive issue.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Dame Meg Taylor says West Papua is a sensitive issue. Photo: AFP

But she said concerns about human rights abuses and the self-determination struggle in West Papua ran deeply in the Pacific and demanded focus from the leaders.

Before the summit, Pacific civil society groups voiced satisfaction with what they called the improved engagement they were being accorded by the Pacific Island Forum.

They identified West Papua as among the key issues needing the Forum's attention and development of meaningful policy discussions.

Taking stock of the Pohnpei summit, Joe Collins of the Australia West Papua Association said that while it was encouraging that Papua was mentioned in the communiqué, there was no specific action taken.

"There's no doubt there's a huge groundswell of support from the people, civil society organisations and church groups in support of West Papua," he said.

"And for all the talk about (the Forum) being inclusive and listening to the people, the fact that it's not really on the agenda that much would indicate that the leaders are not really listening to the people."