On Wednesday night I went to Victoria University to hear Dr Jose Ramos Horta, former President of Timor Leste, speak about regional and global politics. Dr Ramos Horta is a Nobel Laureate for peace. I heard him speak once before during the APEC conference in 1999 when we were out on the streets of Auckland demanding that our Government step up and help the Timorese survive the Indonesian genocide and set up an independent state.
So this week, understandably it was disappointing when I heard the answer to a question I put to him about his views on the West Papua struggle for freedom. But I was not surprised he threw the idea of West Papuan independence under a bus because he had made similar comments to ABC Australia last year, in which he stated that West Papua should accept it is part of Indonesia.
So I asked him how it would have been for him if neighbouring countries had responded to East Timor in 1999 the way he is responding to the West Papua issue. His response was that he and East Timor have never acknowledged West Papua as an independent nation, and that the UN and other countries also did not recognise West Papua, so that was that! He said that the current regime in Indonesia allowed for media freedom and the Papuans should use that media. His final comment was that East Timor was a decolonisation struggle but places like Aceh and West Papua are not.
While I was disappointed, I wasn’t entirely surprised. People in positions power often seem to forget what the cry for freedom feels like. Indigenous Melanesians from West Papua cannot look to Dr Ramos Horta to support the peaceful road they wish to take for independence or even help them create the momentum for a genuine autonomy.
It was extraordinary to hear Dr Ramos Horta claim that Papua had always been part of Indonesia, as if the island which includes West Papua and New Guinea has always been an Asian outpost of the Indonesia Empire. It is a tough road for the peace activists of West Papua when neighbours who have been through their own blood soaked-struggle, and achieved freedom, are not allies.
I left the event in search of fresh air and a commitment to keep asking questions about this issue.