The 79 Member States of the Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP) group have passed a resolution at this week’s 9th ACP Summit of Heads of State and Government calling for urgent attention to be paid to the ongoing human rights crisis in West Papua.  

The ACP resolution supports and adds substantial additional diplomatic weight to the resolution passed by the Pacific Islands Forum in August this year which called on all parties to protect and uphold human rights and work to address the root causes of the conflict by peaceful means, and which strongly encouraged Indonesia and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide an evidence-based, informed report on the human rights situation before the next Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in 2020.

The resolution which was endorsed unanimously by all ACP Heads of State Summit held on 9th and 10th December 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya, calls on all concerned parties to:

a)    Conduct a mission to West Papua and provide an evidence-based, informed report on the human rights situation before the next meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in July 2020;

b)    Allow international media access to West Papua to provide independent coverage on the human rights situation ahead of the next meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in July 2020;

c)     Work together to address the root causes of the conflict in West Papua by peaceful means, and protect and uphold the human rights of all residents in West Papua; and

d)    Seek to include the human rights situation in West Papua as a standing item on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Vanuatu was represented at the Summit by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ralph Regenvanu, Ambassador of Vanuatu to the ACP, John. H Licht, and Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Mr. Benny Wenda.

Vanuatu initially sought the support of the ACP group on the issue of the Vanuatu Ambassador in Brussels introduced a draft resolution on West Papua for the first time at the level of the Committee of Ambassadors in July 2018.  

This resolution was then tabled at the 108th Session of the ACP Council of Ministers in Brussels on the 13th and 14th of December 2018, which was attended by Minister Regenvanu. Regenvanu recalls, “We almost had the resolution endorsed at the Council meeting, where we witnessed first-hand that while almost all the ACP Member States supported the resolution, it was one of our own Pacific Member States that had issues with and could not support the resolution, resulting in it not being approved at that time”.  The Council meeting then mandated the Committee of Ambassadors to reconsider the resolution and try and get a consensus on an agreed text, particularly from the Pacific region.

Following on from the December Council meeting, Vanuatu began a two-pronged diplomatic effort, both to build awareness within the non-Pacific ACP states in Brussels, and to build a consensus among the Pacific states both in Brussels and in the Pacific.  At the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Foreign Ministers meeting in Suva at the end of July 2019, Minister Regenvanu managed to get a resolution on West Papua agreed to by the Foreign Ministers and inserted into the final outcomes statement of that meeting.  That statement was then taken up to the PIF Leaders Summit in Tuvalu in August and adopted as part of the final communique of the Leaders meeting on the 16th August.

The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat summarised this when she wrote to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Her Excellency Michelle Bachelet, on 5th September 2019, stating, “Leaders also welcomed the invitation by Indonesia for a mission to West Papua by your office and strongly encouraged both sides to finalise the timing of the visit and for an evidence- based, informed report on the situation be provided before their next meeting in Vanuatu next year. Given the Pacific Islands Forum’s human rights focus on West Papua, I formally request that your office consider including in your mission a minister from the Pacific Islands Forum, a Pacific civil society representative supported by one of my staff. I believe having a Pacific contingent would add value to your mission”.

By October, based on the clear direction provided by the Pacific Leaders in Tuvalu, the resolution on West Papua was able to be supported by all Pacific ACP (PACP) Member States, achieved through the consistent efforts of Vanuatu’s Ambassador John Licht as the PACP Coordinator in Brussels.  With unified Pacific support, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea as the Pacific representatives on the Subcommittee on Political, Human Rights and Cultural Affairs chaired by the Ambassador of Zimbabwe, were success in achieving the endorsement of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors for the resolution in November, one month ahead of the Council meeting in Nairobi in December.  At the Joint Meeting of the ACP Council of Ministers and the ACP Ministers of Foreign Affairs on the 8th December, which was chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Papua New Guinea, the resolution was approved for submission to and final approval by the ACP Heads of Government at their Summit on the 9th and 10th December.  The historic resolution, the first time the issue of human rights in West Papua has received support by so many member states of the United Nations, was finally adopted by ACP Heads of State and Government on 9th December at the Kenyatta Convention Center in Nairobi, Kenya.

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