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Prominent Papuan human rights advocate visiting NZ

Prominent West Papuan human rights advocate visiting NZ

By James Murray

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A prominent West Papuan human rights advocate will be talking in Ponsonby next month to highlight the devastation that deforestation is causing to the country’s rainforests.

Septer Manufandu is the executive secretary of Foker, a forum that co-ordinates 64 NGOs in West Papua and campaigns for cultural and human rights and development strategies that involve the indigenous population.

The talk is being hosted by Pax Christi, a non-government Catholic peace movement, and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission.

Kevin McBride, of Pax Christi, says that Manufandu will be in New Zealand between the May 27 and June 6.

“As Manufandu represents many NGOs in West Papua we are taking him to Wellington to forge links with NGOs linked to the Council for International Development,” says McBride.

Manufandu’s visit is also part of an ongoing campaign led by the two organisations to ban the sale of tropical kwila wood in New Zealand.

The Indonesian Human Rights Commission and Pax Christi have demonstrated outside a number of New Zealand furniture stores over the past couple of months. They dressed up as trees and birds of paradise to highlight the destruction to the West Papuan environment.

They claim that stores such as Harvey Norman and Four Seasons Home and Leisure are irresponsibly selling kwila that comes from illegal and unsustainable sources.

“Our major hope is that he (Manufandu) will contribute to that campaign,” says McBride.

Rapid deforestation in West Papua is driven by a high demand for more palm oil plantations and much of the timber ends up in New Zealand as garden furniture.

Greenpeace estimates that between 2000 and 2005 up to 300 soccer pitches of forest were destroyed every hour in Indonesia; the fastest deforestation rate in the world.

Spokesperson for the Indonesian Human Rights Commission Maire Leadbeater says that this logging has impacted on the indigenous West Papuans as the “forest is literally their food basket”.

Co-leader of the Green party Russell Norman says that illegal logging in Indonesia also contributes to global warming.

“Twenty per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from the destruction of the rainforest,” says Norman.

The managing director of Four Seasons Home and Leisure, Ross Irving, hit back angrily at suggestions that his store is selling furniture made from illegal timber.

Describing demonstrators outside his store as “a straggly bunch” he said:

“If customers want to satisfy themselves that the wood is legal and want to see all of our licenses – I’ve got them all to prove it.”

Irving says that although there are many rogue timber companies operating in Indonesia his store buys furniture from one of three Indonesian operators who are licensed to mill timber and export furniture.

However, Leadbeater doubts the validity of these licenses.

“I have spoken with my friends in Greenpeace and the International Energy Agency and they both say Indonesian government documents are not credible,” she says.

The Indonesian documentation system is not transparent and based on timber transport permits that are readily available on the black market, says Leadbeater.

The protest group has also lobbied Jim Anderton in his capacity as Minister of Forestry. Leadbeater says the time is now right to take this a step further.

“We’ve raised awareness and lobbied Jim Anderton but now we have to sit down and talk with him.”

Jim Anderton’s press secretary was able to confirm that the issue has been recently discussed in Parliament but was unable to give details at present.

The June 3 talk at the Saint Columba Centre, 40 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, will start at 7.30pm.


James Murray is a journalism student at AUT

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