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Home » » Caroline Lucas (MEP - Greens) West Papua speech – October 17th 2008

Caroline Lucas (MEP - Greens) West Papua speech – October 17th 2008

Written By Voice Of Baptist Papua on October 27, 2008 | 8:08 AM

On May 1st it is traditional here in the UK to celebrate both the achievements of the labour movement and the start of summer. On the other side of the world, however, on the western half of the island of New Guinea, just a few hundred miles north of Australia, May 1st is marked in other ways. Here a million and a half indigenous West Papuans remember the day on which Indonesia illegally occupied West Papua. I am proud to be part of a growing movement here in the UK dedicated to ensuring that the voices of West Papuans are not drowned out by either the sound of Western diplomatic appeasement or the boots of the estimated 35,000 Indonesian troops that are currently trampling all over the West Papuan's human rights, environment and culture. That's 1 soldier for every 44 West Papuan citizens. And everyone in this room is part of that same growing movement, joining in solidarity with our friends in West Papua to ensure that everyone knows their story.

West Papua: the Pacific's Forgotten Tragedy".
By WPNews
Oct 27, 2008, 01:29

Much of that story will be familiar to most of you here this evening, so I want to focus on just those aspects of it that have particularly struck me.

In West Papua you take your life into your hands simply by raising the national flag, particularly on Independence Day, December 1st. Yet West Papuans remain loyal to this powerful symbol of the right to self determination. Each of the 13 stripes stands for a West Papuan tribe. The red stripe at the side reminds us of political struggle and bloodshed. The blue and white stripes represent the ocean and the land, whilst the morning star is the star of hope. (bound to be at least one flag up in the room!) It must be difficult to hold onto hope in the face of a sham referendum; when at least 10% of the indigenous Melanesian population have been wiped out by the occupying Indonesian army; when systematic human rights abuses including arbitrary detention, rape, torture, beatings in custody and extra-judicial killing are common place; when your crops are systematically destroyed as part of a concerted effort to starve you and deny your land rights; when people are routinely displaced and hundreds of homes, churches, clinics and schools burned to the ground by Indonesian troops; and when the rest of the world does not clamour for Indonesia to be held to account.

Yet the struggle for self determination in West Papua, as in other parts of the world, is strongly rooted in hope – because once you choose to hope almost anything is possible. This is also true for those of us here in the UK who are trying to play a role, however, small, in bringing about a free West Papua. The Indonesian occupation only continues because our own government, and countless others, does not speak out against it. Why, we ask, when the UN's Special Representative has expressed grave concerns about the observation and perpetration of human rights violations, is there such a solid wall of silence?
Why, despite plentiful evidence that the 'Act of No Choice' was forced upon West Papua, does the international community continue to uphold its terms?
Why when Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of political prisoners in West Papua, does our Prime Minster look the other way?
Perhaps because in global currency the lives of West Papuans have little value compared to the vast profits up for grabs if we are friends with Indonesia. Amongst those countries which have made money supplying arms to the Indonesian military as they tortured and killed West Papuans are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, South Africa, and China. In 2005, I wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw about a deployment of British supplied Tactical armoured personnel carriers fitted with water canons. Reports suggested that these might be used to quell protests on West Papua's national day, thereby breaching the UK's commitment to not supply equipment that might be used in human rights violations. The Minister confirmed the water canons were used against West Papuans. He also asserted that maintaining law and order within its boundaries did not constitute internal repression or a human rights abuse on the part of the Indonesian authorities. Shame on him.
The West also benefits economically when companies like BP & Freeport/Rio Tinto exploit the natural resources of West Papua, including natural gas, copper and gold. BP has claimed that because it is not paying the Indonesian military for 'protection', the development of a natural gas project in West Papua is not ethically suspect. I disagree. The Indonesian government will benefit financially from the project and West Papuans will not receive a penny. Just as they have never received a penny of the massive profits turned over by Freeport, whose Indonesian subsidiary last year paid the Indonesian government over 1.8 billion dollars in tax. The chief of the Kapiraya tribe in West Papua's Kaimana district launched a campaign for compensation against Freeport earlier this year, because their mining operations have been responsible for several rivers being polluted, killing wildlife and poisoning water sources for local people. Mine waste was also fouling parts of the Etna Gulf coastline. The local village communities are now facing water shortages because of the effect of chemical pollutants from the company.

And the assault on West Papua's environment does not end there. The rush to grow agrofuels to feed the West's addiction to cars is already exerting pressure on rainforest and indigenous populations in Indonesia. There is a very real risk that land in West Papua might be cultivated in this way, posing a further ecological threat, as well as denying people the right to grow food for their families.

Here in Britain, the Free West Papua Campaign is leading the way and taking on these corporations and the government. They are also taking on perhaps an even bigger challenge – people's ignorance. What strikes me most about the situation in West Papua is how little is known about what is going on. As a politician I feel that one of the most valuable things I can do is try and raise awareness of the brutal way in which the Indonesian military repeatedly abuse human rights in West Papua. I am calling on each and every one of you to consider how you can play a role, no matter how small, in thwarting Indonesia's efforts to hide what is taking place in West Papua. We have amongst us here tonight Benny Wenda, who has certainly not allowed the Indonesian government to silence him. I was lucky enough to first meet Benny some years ago when he spoke at Green Party conference. His honest and moving account of what he has left behind in West Papua is incredibly inspiring and I want to thank Benny and his wife Maria for sharing their story with so many of us. Just two days ago Benny helped launch International Parliamentarians for West Papua at the Houses of Parliament.

I know I speak on behalf of everyone here when I express hope that this initiative will achieve what at times seems impossible - freedom of expression for West Papuans; self determination and independence through democratic processes; full access to West Papua for international journalists and human rights observers; demilitarization by the Indonesian army; independently mediated dialogue, without pre-conditions, between the Indonesian government and genuinely representative West Papuan leaders; and, above all, a free West Papua – Papua Merdeka!
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