In 1961 the indigenous people of West Papua were preparing for independence and chose their national flag: the red, white and blue 'Morning Star'. They were still under Dutch colonial control, but their flag like Maori self-determination flags, represented their aspirations for the future and their national pride.
Only a year later the Netherlands succumbed to Indonesian and United States pressure and agreed to hand over their colony to a UN administration that was quickly replaced by Indonesian rule. Had the Dutch decolonisation plans stayed on track West Papua would have achieved independence in 1970 - earlier than their neighbour Papua New Guinea.
Under Indonesian rule the flag is banned, but the West Papuans have never stopped displaying it.
Non-violent resistance to Indonesian control has in recent years displaced military methods, and West Papuans also seek to remind the international community of their inalienable right to self-determination. There is strong historical backing for their claim that Indonesia's 1969 so-called 'Act of Free Choice' was conducted under extreme duress while western nations including New Zealand looked away.
Now a trial has just concluded in Jayapura, West Papua's capital, with an outrageous verdict that may come to mark a turning point, as it is being widely condemned.
Forkorus Yaboisembut, who proudly wore a Morning Star tie to court each day, and four colleagues were tried on the charge of treason, and have now been sentenced to three years in jail. Forkorus, Edison Waromi, Selfius Bobii, Agus Kraar, and Dominikus Sorabut, were arrested last October 19, for their role in organising an entirely open 3 day gathering of some 5000 Papuan people representing all districts.
On this occasion the participants decided to declare independence, and to elect Forkorus Yaboisembut, who heads the Papuan Tribal Assembly, as their new President, alongside Edison Waromi as Prime Minister. They called on Indonesia and the international community to respect their call.
There was an extremely menacing police and military presence throughout the Congress so the finale should be seen as a powerful expression of Papuan belief in the future and as a testament to their optimism. Declaring a commitment to freedom is not 'treason' in my language.
There should instead be a trial for those responsible for the terrible events that followed the Congress. As participants were preparing to leave the open air venue the police opened live fire from their armoured personnel carriers. At least 3 people were killed in cold blood. Participants were rounded up, beaten kicked and forced to crawl into the middle of the field. Some 90 sustained injuries and 300 people were arbitrarily arrested. The event was filmed in shocking detail at close quarters by brave young people who risked their own safety to make sure that the evidence could be posted on Youtube.
Some 17 Indonesian police personnel have since received 'administrative sanctions' in internal disciplinary hearings but that is hardly accountability for the gross abuses of October 19, 2011.
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say that Indonesia is defying its signed commitment to the International Conventions that protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly. Instead Indonesia drags out an old colonial era treason law which seems to be used only for cases of peaceful dissent and mainly in West Papua.
Unusually, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out last November about violence and the abuse of human rights in West Papua. She advocated dialogue and peaceful reform for West Papua. Foreign Minister McCully told my organisation that New Zealand is also concerned about allegations of human rights abuses and that the New Zealand Government would follow the progress of the trial of 'Jayapura Five.'
But, as in the bad old days when Indonesia occupied East Timor, words of concern will not cut the mustard. What did make a difference for the East Timorese was the cutting off of military ties to Indonesia. New Zealand resumed its defence relationship with Indonesia in 2007, ignoring the fact that the military had not reformed or been held accountable for past human rights crimes.
Compared with Australian and American defence links it is small scale stuff such as bilateral officer exchanges, but it is an unmerited seal of approval We have also offered training in Community Policing to the Police in West Papua.
Analysis of the reports of the training and an independent evaluation document of the programme show that we did not teach punitive skills. I believe the trainers had good intentions. However, in the deeply repressive context of West Papua, New Zealand's input seems to have been put to questionable ends. One Indonesian police officer said he had employed the skills and approach taught by New Zealand Police to resolve political unrest in his area, where Papuan 'nationalists' were planning to raise the Morning Star flag.
We should end our police and military training and instead urge Indonesia to take outdated 'treason' laws off its books. West Papuan leaders repeatedly call for dialogue with Jakarta and they need support from their Pacific neighbours to help find a peaceful resolution to this long and tragic conflict.
* Maire Leadbeater is spokesperson for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee