When Vanuatu’s prime minister, Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas, stood before the UN General Assembly last week, he would have known how Indonesia was likely to react to his words. Echoing the decision of the recent Pacific Islands Forum, he called on the United Nations to find solutions to ongoing violations of human rights in West Papua. Indonesian diplomat Rayyanul Sangadji was quick to respond. “Papua is, has and will always be, part of Indonesia,” he said. “Vanuatu wants to give an impression to the world of backing the resolution of the human rights issue, when its real and only motive is to support the separatism agenda.”
The diplomatic jousting in New York symbolises the crisis facing the government of Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. In the 1990s, Jokowi’s predecessors lost the support of the generation of young Timorese who had grown up under Indonesian occupation and joined the campaign for independence. Today, a new generation of West Papuans is protesting in the streets of Jayapura, Wamena and other towns in the region Jakarta views as the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.