On 15 May 2015, on the eve of the Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit in the Solomon Islands, the Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, joined Revd Heather Patacca and the FRWP Women’s Office in a sunset Prayer Vigil for West Papua.
The supplicants were praying for West Papua’s application to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). The application had been prepared by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a coordinating body elected during the ‘Reconciliation and Unity Summit for West Papuans Leaders’ in Vanuatu in December 2014. It was 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 four Melanesian states, announced it was rejecting the application, and instead supporting Indonesia’s request for MSG Associate status. A week later, Fiji, the second largest state, followed suite.
Indonesia’s request, designed to displace West Papua’s application, was for five Indonesian governors (of Papua, West Papua, North Maluku, South Maluku, Flores) to be given status as 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’.
Indonesia has never recognized any of its indigenous peoples. The republic adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, but refuses to ratify it. On 5 September 2012, RI Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa told the UN Human Rights Council that Indonesia does not recognise ‘indigenous people’ as defined in the UN Declaration! Unsurprisingly, the two West Papuan governors refused to attend the MSG Summit in Honiara.
Indonesia’s campaign to displace West Papua’s application included high-level diplomacy visits to Port Moresby, Suva, and Honiara; $us20,000,000 for MSG projects; and a huge delegation at the MSG Summit in Honiara.
Many Melanesians believe PNG and Fiji’s 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 shepherded a compromise, for West Papua to become an ‘Observer’.
People throughout the Melanesian world were horrified by the fragility of their political leaders in the face of Indonesian threats and bribes. In Honiara, during Mass at St Barnabas Anglican Cathedral (radio-broadcast throughout the Solomon Islands), Bishop Alfred Karibongi announced three days of Pray-and-Fasting (23-25 June 2015) for West Papua to be adopted as a full member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. There were also special prayer vigils at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Honiara, and a Candleight Vigil in Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral in Suva (Fiji) on 22 June 2015.