I attended a conference last week for West Papua Freedom Movement in Oxford. For those who don’t know and don’t worry that is the many, Indonesia annexed West Papua in the 1960s, staged a rigged vote to gain sovereignty and the Western community backed the vote in public (if not in private) for reasons of Cold War expediency and now economic gluttony.
While the West Papuan speeches at the conference were moving, I was kind of surprised by the endless referrals to the legal situation by the legal scholars from Oxford. Using their metaphor that a house had been burgled and so legally it was theft, I wondered therefore why are the burglars still eating at the top table.
The issues I have focused are threefold. Firstly the lack of media reporting due to a lack of knowledge and a lack of international spokesman like Ramos-Horta. Secondly the lack political support from the Dutch and any other large power. And thirdly because ultimately West Papua provides 15% of Indonesian GDP and its the golden egg. East Timor had the opposite situation in each case.
So I would focus the next conference on what political strings can be pushed, what media outlets to focus on, which economic companies to expose and how to get the international community to take notice. The legal angle sounded like endless semantics and knowing lawyers, that’s all they talk about.
Back to the conference, two other points of note. Firstly one legal speaker was a disaster and clearly knew little about West Papua. She constantly referred to Israel and Palestine for similarities but ultimately seemed to be defending Israel fairly openly. Hardly the right note at a freedom conference.
And secondly a small thing but take a look at the leaflet showing the order of day and the speakers. Look at the colour of the faces. White on the first page. Black or Melanesian on the second page. Its a small point but a conference about West Papua needs to highlight exactly that.
However this is a movement I intend to stay involved with. I just hope they can strike the right tone. Linked here is an article about what is happening in West Papua. Have a read!