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Open Letter To Murray McCully

Dear Mr McCully,

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee believes that recent events in West Papua offer an opportunity for New Zealand to become part of a process of positive change.

In the past week the West Papuan people have taken part in peaceful demonstrations on an unprecedented scale. The actions took place in a number of centres including Merauke, Manokwari and in the Highlands. In the capital Jayapura there was a 17 kilometre long march from the assembly building of the Papuan Peoples Assembly (MRP) in Kotaraja to the Papuan provincial parliament (DPRP). The estimated figures for the numbers involved suggest that at least 20,000 people took part in the Jayapura march and that some thousands of them remained at the Parliament buildings overnight on July 8.

The demonstrators have been calling for the Papuan provincial parliament (DPRP) to hand back the territory's Special Autonomy Status and allow the people to determine their own political future. This demand echoes the recommendation of MRP which last month held lengthy consultations with a wide range of indigenous NGOs. The MRP made a number of other specific recommendations to the DPRP including demilitarisation of the territory, the release of all political prisoners and a restriction on the inflow of new migrants

While we understand that the demonstrations have in the main been allowed to continue, there have been violent incidents when security forces have intervened. For example in Manokwari the security personnel forced the marchers to disperse. The actions all took place under the watchful eye of heavily armed police.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee believes that this is a critical time for West Papua. We believe that Indonesia should respond constructively to this new evidence of the levels of Papuan frustration and their determination to mobilise for change. Indonesia has not so far responded to the call for peaceful dialogue advocated by West Papuan civil society groups.

We hope that you may already be aware of recent news from West Papua concerning the release of political prisoner Yusak Pakage on July 7, 2010. He was released with a fellow political prisoner Chosmos Yual.

Mr Pakage was released after serving half of his ten year sentence for his role in a peaceful demonstration in December 2004 at which the Morning Star flag was raised. His case is well known internationally on account of the excellent advocacy undertaken on his behalf by international human rights organisations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

We understand that Mr Pakage and Mr Yual were granted presidential pardons following a visit to the territory made by the Indonesian Justice and Human Rights Minister. While this is most welcome news we remain concerned about the approximately 45 other people who continue to be held in jails in West Papua for no other offence than taking part in peaceful demonstrations. As we have previously raised with you, we are especially concerned about Filep Karma who is still in jail for taking part in the same event as Mr Pakage. Filep Karma is reported to be very unwell with painful prostate problems. Despite both local and international advocacy and fundraising on his behalf we understand that he has still not been able to have his health investigated by the appropriate Jakarta specialists.

Vanuatu recently pledged to raise the West Papua issue, including the vexed issue of the way in which West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia, at the UN General Assembly, the Melanesian Spearhead Group and the Pacific Islands Forum.

The developments of the last week can be seen in a positive light, especially if it proves true that the security forces have acted in a more restrained manner in the face of such large demonstrations. There is a window of opportunity for new initiatives to resolve the long-standing grievances and to address Papuan political and social aspirations.

New Zealand should seize the moment to call on Indonesia to accept the request for a peaceful dialogue with the representatives of the indigenous people. While welcoming the release of Yusak Pakage and Mr Yual and New Zealand should press for the release of all other political prisoners jailed for the peaceful expression of their democratic rights. We also urge that New Zealand support Vanuatu's initiatives to take the West Papua issue to regional forums and to the United Nations.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater

(for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee)

ENDS

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