Don’t forget issue of customary lands and West Papua

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Today, the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting -- and all other related meetings -- come to an end. With the Leaders Retreat and the closing ceremony at Taumeasina Island Resort tonight, we can safely say all is well that ends well.

Come to think of, it’s been wonderful to have everyone in Samoa -- even if its for only a brief period. We certainly hope everyone will have good memories to take home to share with their families and friends.

And if there is anything that might have offended anyone, or perhaps fallen short of expectations, as we do in this part of the Blue Pacific, we apologise and pray that you can forgive and forget. 

Keep in mind that with these big events, nothing is ever perfect. But then nothing in the world is perfect or if it were the case, we wouldn’t be having such gatherings.

It is in the acknowledgement that we’ve got gigantic problems to solve, which will take some time to do, that unites us today. And as we are about to part ways, we take a moment to pause and reflect on what has been discussed during the past few days. 

A lot has been said and written about the issues. All these arguments for and against are constructive in terms of moving forward. We have one goal and that is to find a united voice in the pursuit of a better future for our region. It’s not easy and there are many challenges. 

But there is hope. We always have to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

That said, we want to revisit a couple of interesting issues raised on the pages of this newspaper this week, which we believe warrant serious attention by our leaders. First is the issue of customary lands. In a column titled “Colonial dictates on Customary Lands is too much for Samoa and Pacific governments,” advocate Fiu Mataese Elisara made some pertinent points.

Said Fiu, “The push to take over our customary lands in Samoa and the Pacific are a deliberate ploy of neo-colonialism by developed countries to defend their economic interests, reneging on commitments to assist developing countries. 

“For the Pacific, customary lands are alienated, related human rights principles violated, daily livelihood of indigenous communities and traditional practices undermined, climate crisis worsened, profits dictate. 

“The danger is all the more pernicious because shifting goal posts and insincere partnerships the culprits that engage the Pacific in their colonial dictates do not always confront us or governments directly. It becomes enmeshed in the institutional machinery that infiltrates the State apparatus and in many cases gain the complicity of government officials. 

“As a simple chief from Sili, I again ask the Leaders of the Pacific Countries gathered in Apia this week, Is this the Future We Want? Will this ensure ‘No One in the Pacific is left behind’? 

“I urge our Prime Minister, the Government of Samoa, Indeed the Leaders of the Pacific gathered in Samoa this week -- in your collective, integrated political and economic pursuit for genuine and durable partnership, for sustainable human development, for climate justice, and protection of customary lands.”

The second issue was the subject of peaceful protest on Beach Road, earlier this week -- West Papua.

Led by Jerome Mika and Unasa Iuni Sapolu, the group brought West Papua to the fore -- a country that has been occupied by the Indonesian government since 1963 and whose people have experienced brutal abuse by its military police.

Mika explained that it was important for Samoa, a nation who understands the path of struggle for independence, to add their voice in demanding the de-colonisation of West Papua.

“We enjoy our independence but we should also be standing up for our Pacific brothers and sisters of West Papua,” he said. 

“We are calling on Samoa to add their voice to the decolonisation of West Papua. We think it’s important that there are some issues around the world to deal with, but we should be looking after our Pacific cousins in our background.”

For Unasa, it was about raising the issue with the leaders.

 “They are the ones who are at the height of discussions of these sorts of issues. Don’t just talk about money; don’t just talk about jobs, let’s talk about the freedom of all Pacific islands,” she said. 

“For Melanesians and for the Micronesians who have been battered by the military and obviously, Korea with Guam. Lets just stand up collectively as the people of the Pacific, don’t just sit back and relax and have a holiday in Samoa. There are deeper issues at hand, the issues of Indigenous freedom and we’ve got to fight for those freedoms.”

Well we couldn’t agree more. Indeed, the issue of customary land ownership and a right to be free are critical issues that our leaders must not ignore.

What do you think?

Have a wonderful Friday, God bless! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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