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NZ must get on the right side of history over West Papua

Vanuatu foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu (Vanuatu Daily Post)
Vanuatu foreign minister Ralph Regenvanu - "We achieved our [independence] and we will not forget our brothers-and-sisters-in-arms who have not got theirs” (Vanuatu Daily Post)

JAMES HALPIN | Pacific Media Centre | Extract

AUCKLAND - Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu has called on New Zealand to get on the right side of history when it comes to West Papua.

Reaffirming prime minister Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas’ remarks at the UN general assembly late last month, Regenvanu told Asia Pacific Report that the “people of West Papua have never had the opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination, which is an unalienable right under international law, and they must be given that opportunity”.

Vanuatu was one of three countries – four less than in 2016 – whose leaders gave UN strong messages in support of West Papuan self-determination.

Independence for Vanuatu was achieved from the co-colonisers France and the United Kingdom in 1980.

West Papua had been a colony of the Dutch New Guinea but was annexed by Indonesia after a paratrooper “invasion” in 1962 followed by a UN-supervised vote in 1969 described by critics as fraudulent.

Asked why Vanuatu has taken the lead in advocating for West Papua, Regenvanu says:

“We take this position because of our historical solidarity with the people of West Papua – we were once together and the struggles as colonies trying to become independent; we achieved ours and we will not forget our brothers-and-sisters-in-arms who have not got theirs.”

For prime minister Salwai and Regenvanu, the recent Pacific Islands Forum was a failure at gaining Pacific support for West Papuan self-determination.

“We are disappointed at the position of Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Australia to vocally oppose self-determination for West Papua. We are pleased that most other countries support self-determination, however.”

Regenvanu also criticises New Zealand for not following the advice that it gives to Pacific Island countries.

New Zealand should, “actively support with actions on this issue the ‘international rules-based order’ it is always promoting to Pacific Island countries”.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, which shares ethnicity with the people of West Papua, has also failed at achieving solidarity over the issue.

“PNG and Fiji have strong ties to Indonesia and work actively to ensure the Melanesian Spearhead Group does not address the issue.

“For half a century now, the international community has been witnessing a gamut of torture, murder, exploitation, sexual violence, arbitrary detention inflicted on the nationals of West Papua perpetrated by Indonesia.

“We also call on our counterparts throughout the world to support the legal right of West Papua to self-determination.”

For Salwai, it is an issue of justice and equality for the people of West Papua,

“I would like to get back to the principles in the charter of the United Nations to reaffirm that we believe in the fundamental rights of human beings in dignity and worth of the human person and in equality of rights between men and women and nations large and small.”

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