Back in June 2018, several Papuan independence sympathists went through the trouble of setting up an initiative called “The West Papua Desk”. It did make a news for a while until people knew that The West Papua desk in Auckland is a literal desk, with four legs, a white table top with some stationery, a keyboard and a morning star flag on it. Basically a faux embassy with no staff, a ‘West Papua solidarity’ desk that sits in a small corner of the First Union office in Onehunga, a suburb in Auckland, New Zealand.
The desk was initiated by West Papua separation supporters, and the initiative was accepted by a former New Zealand MP from the Green Party, Catherine Delahunty, who also contributed in organizing the desk, though there was not much to be organized, to say the least. The nearly empty desk is meant to be a symbol of support from New Zealand for West Papua in its pursuit of independence. Delahunty said that the desk might be used by anyone, or probably utilized for accepting guests in distant future.
The Brave Claim of “Slow Genocide”
Catherine Delahunty, Marama Davidson MP, Golriz Ghahraman MP and Maire Leadbeater are Kiwi politicians who support West Papuan independence in the name of human rights, claiming that academics have proven an ongoing “slow genocide”. Leadbeater even wrote a book on West Papua and how the slow genocide is currently happening. She believes West Papua was robbed of its chance to be independent and said it is well past time for the NZ government to step up and speak out against human rights abuses there. However, many other politicians and experts firmly disagree with the claim. It is hard to see any attempt of systematic annihilation towards certain ethnic groups in West Papua.
“There is no evidence of genocide in West Papua.”
(Many former Australian Prime Ministers & Politicians)
It is true that there is no hard evidence that a genocide is happening. The Free West Papua regularly spreads hoaxes about genocide, using violent graphics with emotional captions, along with highly edited short ‘documentaries’. From the perspective of average viewers, activists will always be given the benefit of the doubt. That means, demanding a credible evidence from activists will usually be considered insensitive and uncaring (and mostly ended up attracting tons of bullies). Buzzers always use strong words in rhetorical sentences, only to avoid engaging in debates that involve data and logical analysis, and use personal attacks instead. When they always repeat the lies and deny the truth, it is fair to say that New Zealand’s politicians (and public) are not fully to blame in taking one side of the story, almost completely blinded.
“It is urgent because West Papuans are facing genocide. And it is just not a flowery term. It’s well documented and many academics say now we can call it genocide under the strict terms of the genocide convention and they call it slow genocide.”
There are evidences that the population of native Papuans is not on a decline. However, about 78% of the population in Papua consists of Orang Asli Papua, or native Papuans. The total population consisted of 2,122,436 Papuans and 658,708 non-Papuans (Papua Government, 2010). That being said, one can say that what Leadbeater called by “slow genocide” is probably an exaggerated side effects of a combination between transmigration and occasional civil clashes. Leadbeater, just like every other West Papuan independence supporter, has never given any argument that proves that there is a clear intention and motive for a genocide. She is still clinging on the cases which happened during Suharto era, while back then, every country including Australia and New Zealand also had problems with human rights protections.
In 2013, New Zealand’s government signed an agreement with the Ngati Hua tribe’s elders, recognising it acted “unjustly” and offering a combination of financial and cultural redress. The signing took place on a site south of the city of Hamilton, where in 1863 Tamihana reached out to the invading British forces in a gesture of peace.
Under the agreement, the tribe is to receive $13mn New Zealand dollars ($10.5mn) in financial compensation and a number of Crown properties will be returned to its ownership. The signing makes Ngati Haua the latest tribe to sign such an agreement in a nationwide process aimed at addressing all historic Maori grievances.
“Settling claims helps restore the relationship between those New Zealanders and the Crown,” said a spokesperson for the office of Christopher Finlayson, the minister for Treaty Negotiations. While the New Zealand government is doing some exemplary methods of reparations towards indigenous communities, the politicians from the Green Party still choose to talk their usual way.
Why Do New Zealand’s Politicians Don’t Speak Directly to Indonesia?
Unfortunately, whenever the Indonesian government gives an answer, the activists, including those in New Zealand, never gave any adequate response. RNZ Pacific’s Johnny Blades, who has covered Papua for some time, interviewed Jakarta’s man in Wellington, Tantowi Yahya, when he first got his posting to New Zealand. When Tantowi confronted him with the fact that a lot of policemen in Papua are dying everyday due to ambushes by OPM (a military wing from the separatist groups), Blades remained silent. Going a bit further, never did Delahunty, Leadbeater, or any big name in New Zealand take a chance to discuss the matter on West Papua directly with any Indonesian representative.
Indonesian government surely does not want to downplay the concerns of New Zealand’s politicians. As a neighboring ally, Indonesia respects the likes of Australia and New Zealand’s opinions and hold them in high regards. On the other hand, West Papua is always a hot issue in Pacific Asia, and politicizing the issue will benefit those with political interests. Delahunty seized a seat in the parliament with the support from the Green Party, a rather small non-partisan party which focus on advocating environmental issues.
The Green Party and its politicians will subsequently benefit some media exposure for going against the incumbent government. In August 2018, Foreign Minister of New Zealand, Winston Peters, stated that his country recognizes West Papua as a part of Indonesia. He also stated that the social and economic condition in West Papua was better than Papua New Guinea. He mentioned that even the people in Papua New Guinea will agree that the GDP and social conditions of West Papua are higher.
Peters are just one of many politicians who changed his view regarding Indonesian governance of West Papua. Earlier this year, Solomon Islands also made similar statement. In May 2018, The Solomons’ Special Secretary on Foreign Relations, Rence Sore, made a testimony that a visit to West Papua was all it took for him to have a more balanced perspective on how the Indonesian government has been dealing with the separatists while still developing West Papua at the same time.
With the current lack of proof for genocide accusations, especially when the humans and infrastructures are developing in Papua, it is best for New Zealand government to steer clear from feeding the armed separatist groups with more propaganda material. In the meantime, New Zealand is working on a reparation for the Maori tribes. The Maoris, who had kingdoms(s) way before New Zealand’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1856. New Zealand can actually show the world how reparation, and not separation, is a better way to go in this era of information and technological advancement.