Maire Leadbeater – In December, Indonesia came in for unusually direct criticism from the UN over its treatment of human rights defenders, especially its treatment of exiled Veronica Koman, outspoken advocate for West Papua.
Indonesia reacted angrily to being put under the spotlight, but the evidence is compelling.
The Indonesian Government and its proxies have subjected Veronica and her Jakarta-based family to menacing threats because she has been effective in bringing attention to the escalating crisis within the Melanesian territory.
In recent months, the conflict between the Indonesian military and police and the West Papua National Liberation Army has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in six regions, from one end of the country to the other.
According to local documentation supplied to church leaders, at least 60,000 Papuan people have been displaced. Some have fled to Papua New Guinea while others live in temporary camps without adequate healthcare or food.
In Nduga, where conflict has been intense since the end of 2018, there are reports that some 600 people have died of preventable causes over the three-year period. Yet the territory – unlike the neighbouring Solomon Islands – remains locked off from journalists and international aid agencies.
In May, the Indonesian Government designated the armed resistance a terrorist group and accelerated the situation by a troop surge in the shape of the Nemangkawi Task Force. Calls for a ceasefire, such as that by 194 Catholic priests in November, go unheeded.
By anyone's standards, it is a hugely uneven conflict and as always in these situations it is civilians who bear the brunt. Recently a shocking video has been circulating on social media showing military helicopters firing indiscriminately at civilian villages in the Yahukimo Regency.
December 1, 2021, marked a sad anniversary: 60 years since the indigenous Papuans first raised their national Morning Star flag and sang the national anthem of their nation-in-waiting.
At the time the Dutch were in control and there was a clear plan in place for independence.
From that point on the West Papuans were excluded from any genuine participation in decisions about their future, as Indonesia stepped up its military incursions.
New Zealand stood aside, despite having previously supported the Dutch self-determination programme. In 1969, when Indonesia cemented its rule in a phoney referendum, a New Zealand diplomat was on the spot to record his impressions of an "oppressive" atmosphere, and a coercive and stage-managed process.
Despite that first-hand experience, New Zealand's UN vote still went Indonesia's way.
The heavy military and police presence everywhere has meant that commemorations of the December 1 anniversary were limited. Eight brave young people in the capital Jayapura did attempt to raise the banned Morning Star flag only to be arrested and charged with treason.
Remarkably, the new year has seen a new peaceful initiative, a drive to collect up to 2 million signatures on a petition to Jakarta calling for self-determination, and for the release of Victor Yeimo, jailed for his role in anti-racism demonstrations.
New Zealand is still ignoring West Papuan rights in favour of the mantra that Indonesia has the right to preserve its "territorial integrity".
However, the cost in Papuan lives is now absolutely inescapable.
Our Foreign Minister is on record as wanting to ensure that indigenous rights and values including kaitiaki are to the fore in our international relations. We stand to be accused of callous hypocrisy if our Government remains mute.
So far, West Papua Action Aotearoa's representations to Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta have achieved little more than an assurance that our officials raise concerns with their Indonesian counterparts.
The Government should take a stand in support of self-determination as Vanuatu consistently does.
However, right now the crisis is so serious that at the very least we should heed the moral call of the West Papua Council of Churches for Indonesia to stop the deadly military operation and initiate dialogue.
Crucially, the churches insist that Indonesia follow through on its undertaking to allow the UN Human Rights Commissioner to visit – a call made in 2019 by the Pacific Islands Forum. Humanitarian agencies must also be given immediate access.
We need to back this call publicly and loudly, preferably by calling in the Indonesian Ambassador.
Private chats among officials won't cut it, whereas a serious New Zealand initiative stands a good chance of bringing others in our region on board.
[Maire Leadbeater is a member of West Papua Action Auckland.]