On 15 May 2015, on the eve of the Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit in Honiara (Solomon Islands), the Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, joined Revd Canon Heather Patacca and the FRWP Women’s Office in a sunset Prayer Vigil got West Papua.
Supplicants were praying for the success of West Papua’s application to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group. The application had been prepared by a special committee (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) elected during the ‘Reconciliation and Unity Summit for West Papuans Leaders’ in Vanuatu in December 2014; and lodged with the MSG Secretariat by Vanuatu Prime Minister Joe Natuman on 5 February 2015.
A month before the MSG Summit in Honiara in June 2015, Papua New Guinea, the largest of the Melanesian states, announced it was rejecting West Papua’s application, and instead supporting the Indonesian government’s pursuit of MSG Associate status. A week later, Fiji, the second largest state, followed suite.
The Indonesian endeavour, designed to displace West Papua’s application, was for five Indonesian governors (of Papua, West Papua, North Maluku, South Maluku, Flores) to be an MSG Associate. These governors are not elected, but are pre-selected as candidates for election by LEMHANAS, a powerful institution directly answerable to the President and tasked to maintain the republic’s ‘territorial integrity’.
The Indonesian endeavour should have been undermined by the fact that Indonesia never has, and continues to refuse to recognize its indigenous peoples, including the Melanesians of West Papua and Maluku. (Indonesia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, but refuses to ratify it, despite the numerous recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council. (Indonesia does not recognise the application of the indigenous people concept as defined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa to UN Human Rights Council, 5 September 2012). Unsurprisingly, the two West Papuan governors refused to attend the MSG Summit in Honiara.
The Indonesian campaign to displace West Papua’s application also included high-level diplomacy visits to Port Moresby, Suva, and Honiara; an offer of $us20,000,000 for MSG capacity-building projects; and a huge delegation in Honiara.
Many Melanesians believed the rejection of West Papua’s application betrayed the MSG Founding Principles to ‘defend and promote independence as the inalienable right of the indigenous peoples of Melanesia’ and ‘contribute to a peaceful, secure, stable, democratic environment throughout Melanesia’.
With PNG and Fiji supporting Indonesia’s quest for MSG associate status, and Vanuatu and the Kanaky (FLNKS) supporting West Papua’s application for full membership, the Solomon Islands government announced that it would shepherd a compromise, of West Papua as an ‘Observer’. People throughout the Melanesian world were horrified by the fragility of their political leadership and turned to prayer.
In Honiara, during Mass at St Barnabas Anglican Cathedral (Church of Melanesia), which was radio-broadcast throughout the Solomon Islands, Bishop Alfred Karibongi announced Pray-and-Fasting (Tues 23-25 June 2015) for West Papua’s application to join the MSG as a full member. There were special prayer vigils and information sessions at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Honiara for the three days, and a Candleight Vigil in Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Suva on 22 June 2015.