Jayapura, Jubi – The COOK Islands Teachers Institute has initiated strong condemnation by regional educators of atrocities reportedly committed by the Indonesian government in West Papua.
The formal stance was adopted at the recent 21st Council of Pacific Education Conference (COPE) held in Fiji by CITI representatives, president Thomas Taurongo Wynn and executive member Apii Napa.
CITI is understood to be the first national organisation to independently make a formal submission at regional level regarding the West Papua situation and for that submission to be unanimously endorsed by 12 Pacific nations.
Taurongo Wynn says COPE has formally denounced the atrocities committed by the Indonesian government against the indigenous people of West Papua and that “…we stand in solidarity with all educators, education staff and students affected.”
“We are very proud of our efforts as one of the smaller teacher unions to raise the issues surrounding the plight of the people of West Papua and to stand together unanimously as Pasifika people and teacher unions to condemn what are outright atrocities being committed on our very doorstep.”
Taurongo Wynn adds: “As Pasifika Teacher Unions, we would encourage the governments of all our Pasifika nations, union bodies and NGO’s to do the same. We can’t afford in our view to be silent on this matter or ignore the growing political and social outcry of what is happening in West Papua.”
He says CITI was prompted to champion the cause because, “social injustice can never be justified, be it social issues in our own communities, or those communities in countries we are in partnership with, anywhere for that matter, we must speak and make a stand or by our silence condemn those to the treatment they face at the hands of their oppressors.
“Silence is not an option in my view.”
Taurongo Wynn says it is becoming increasingly apparent that West Papua teachers, students and schools are suffering under the Indonesian regime and “…we must stand in solidarity with them.”
“They must know that they are not suffering in silence and that we as a union and hopefully as a country and region will stand with them and call it for what it is. As president of the CITI we were morally bound to say something.
“Silence on this matter was really not an option, and I was confident that our fellow Pacific Union members would be in agreeance.”
For over 50 years, indigenous West Papuans have been struggling for independence from Indonesia and an end to Indonesian military occupation.
An estimated 500,000 Papuans have been reportedly been killed by Indonesian troops, with many of those horrific images posted on social media.
Pacific Islands Forum countries resolved at their most recent summit that “…concerns about alleged human rights abuses by Indonesia in Papua should be discussed with Jakarta,” reported Radio NZ.
THE RADIO NZ report said the summit’s outcome on Papua was “largely a disappointment to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua which was seeking membership in the Forum.”
The movement sought Forum action on pursuing Papua human rights issues and the Papuan self-determination struggle at the United Nations.”
The movement’s ambassador for the Pacific Islands region, Amatus Douw, said Forum leaders could do more to push for Papua’s reinscription on the UN decolonisation list. Douw has expressed doubt whether the Forum would have meaningful dialogue with Indonesia regarding the serious human rights issues facing West Papuans.
Taurongo Wynn says he and Napa did not have to lobby other national teachers’ organisations for support, as all were “unanimous in their condemnation of what could only be described as atrocities to the indigenous people of West Papua.”
“Social media has been awash with information, so it has hardly been out of the view of the worlds media, and the media in the Pacific.”
He admitted failing to understand “how silence on this issue can be an option and we do encourage all and sundry to join with us in this stand. People are suffering in West Papua, teachers and children are suffering and we need to be their voice.”
He added with so little being said regionally or locally about this travesty for the people of West Papua, given the opportunity to raise this issue at a multi-national level with so many Pacific Nations present, was an opportunity that could not be missed by the Cook Islands teachers union.
With over 300 members, CITI was formed in 1978. Taurongo Wynn said over the years under the leadership of women teachers like Tiraa Anguna, Teina Etches and Nga Charlie, a strong women’s network the Association of Women Teachers was formed. Regional and global membership has since been achieved as a teachers union.
Another first that CITI can lay claim to is being the only union to have taken industrial action in the Cook Islands since independence.
This occurred in 1997 due to the economic melt-down here that resulted in teacher’ s salaries undergoing huge cuts. CITI took industrial action and went on strike for five days. The issue this was subsequently settled in court.
Taurongo Wynn confirms they will be assisting the new COPE executive to continue to apply pressure about West Papua and the resolution will be progressing to Education International next August. (*)
This article written by Florence Syme-Buchanan and published first time by Cook Islands News