Radio New Zealand journalist, Johnny Blades, created a memorable image last week when he posted a montage of six heads of government from some of the smallest states of the world, each standing at the podium at the United Nations General Assembly.
The leaders of these six countries—Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu—all raised the issue of continuing human rights abuses in West Papua, and advocated for its right to self-determination.
These representations should by rights have emerged from the Pacific Islands Forum in Palau, but if rumour is to be trusted, the organisation’s larger economies are responsible for the Forum’s resounding silence on the issue.
In a tacit demonstration of the unwillingness to live within the Forum’s constraints, a half dozen Pacific leaders engaged in an orchestrated manoeuvre, a chorus of complaint against the clear pattern of systemic disregard for the human rights of indigenous West Papuans.
Talk may be all we can do about it, but at least we can do that.
Slowly, inexorably, human rights have clawed their way into international relations. In spite of tragic setbacks when strategic and financial concerns come to the fore, quality of life has come to be accepted as kind of important to development. (A shocking revelation, I know.)
Slowly, governments and their leaders have come to the realisation that where for systemic injustice is concerned, payback can be a bit—er, a bit more than they’re able to withstand. All the Indonesian government has succeeded in doing in its decades-long campaign to tip the demographic balance in West Papua in their favour is create a smaller, poorer version of Northern Ireland. With a gold mine in the middle. Continue reading