A powerful storm that ripped across four Pacific Island nations this week raises an uncomfortable question for humanitarians on coronavirus lockdown: how do you respond to a disaster during a global pandemic? Cyclone Harold—the first Category-5 storm to make landfall in the Pacific since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in March—tore through parts of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. The storm swept 27 people on a ferry overboard in the Solomon Islands; parts of Vanuatu's northern islands saw extensive damage; some 6,000 people were evacuated in parts of Fiji; and Tonga's 'Eua Island was "devastated," the government said.
Mining giant Rio Tinto is responsible for multiple human rights violations caused by pollution from its former mine on the Pacific island of Bougainville, the Human Rights Law Centre concludes in a new investigative report. For 45 years, the Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, was majority-owned by the British-Australian mining company, but in 2016 Rio Tinto divested from the mine, leaving behind more than a billion metric tons of mine waste. The report, After the Mine: Living with Rio Tinto’s Deadly Legacy, documents the devastating consequences of that action for the thousands of people living around the mine site. Based on visits to 38 villages, the report reveals communities living with contaminated water sources, land and crops flooded by toxic mud, and health problems ranging from skin diseases and respiratory ailments to pregnancy complications.
In a referendum held over two weeks, the people of Bougainville, an archipelago in the South Pacific's Solomon Sea, voted overwhelmingly to seek independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG). The referendum was the centerpiece of the 2001 Bougainville Peace Agreement between the PNG government and Bougainville independence leaders to end a devastating decade-long war that claimed nearly 20,000 lives—nearly a tenth the territory's total population. Negotiations between PNG and Bougainville about the road forward will now begin and could continue for years, with the PNG parliament having the final say. Control of the territory's rich mineral resources has been a key issue in the conflict.
Indonesian police have named human rights lawyer and prominent West Papua advocate Veronica Koman as a suspect in the spreading of "fake news," accusing her of "incitement" in the widespread unrest that has swept the country's easternmost region in recent weeks. Koman has been charged under Indonesia's controversial cybercrime law, and faces up to six years in prison and a $70,000 fine if convicted. Police specifically mentioned Koman's online posts of an incident last month in Surabaya, Java, in which army troops and nationalist militiamen were captured on video calling Papuan students "monkeys" and "dogs." Indonesian authorities have contacted Interpol to seek assistance in locating the Surabaya, who they believe is outside the country. Indonesia's National Commission of Human Rights has assailed the move, saying Koman had merely attempted to provide "necessary information from a different point of view." (The Guardian, Asia Pacific Report)
The Indonesian military and National Police are rushing hundreds of additional troops to the provinces of Papua and West Papua in an attempt to restore order amid a popular uprising in the region. The government has also shut internet access in the two provinces. Thousands of Papuans have taken to the streets in Jayapura, Sorong, Manokwari and other major towns of Indonesia's Papuan territories following a wave of mass arrests, police violence and attacks on Papuan students and activists. The repression was unleashed after an incident in Surabaya, Java, on Aug. 16, the eve of Indonesia's Independence Day, when Papuan students were accused of disrespecting the Indonesian flag. The repression has only sparked a general uprising in the Papuan territories, further fueling demands for independence.
Rebel groups seeking independence for Indonesia's West Papua region have announced formation of a new united army under a single command. Three major factions have come together as the West Papua Army, under the political leadership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). The three tendencies agreed to unite in a "Vanimo Border Declaration" issued in May, the ULMWP's UK-exiled leader Benny Wenda announced July 5, appealing for international support. "We welcome any assistance in helping us achieve our liberation," he said in a statement. "The ULMWP is ready to form an independent West Papua. Politically and militarily we are united now. The international community can now see without a doubt that we are ready to take over our country. Indonesia cannot stigmatize us as separatists or criminals any more, we are a legitimate unified military and political state-in-waiting." The new force unites the West Papua Liberation Army, the West Papuan National Army and the West Papua Revolutionary Army. (Al Jazeera, Radio New Zealand)
The mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch have left at least 49 dead and some 20 wounded, many gravely, including children. The attacks took place when the mosques were packed for Friday prayers, and many of the dead were immigrants from Indonesia, Malaysia and the Arab world. An Australian-born man named Brenton Tarrant has been arrested as the gunman, and three suspected accomplices also detained. Marking a new extreme in depravity, the gunman live-streamed the massacre on Facebook as he carried it out, with a camera mounted on his head. The video has been removed from the web. Alas, so has his lengthy manifesto, in which he laid out his motivations for the attack. (Ma'an; BellingCat)
The Solomon Islands' caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou is threatening to "blacklist" the companies involved in a 100-ton oil-spill near a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "My government is prepared to go as far as putting the companies on a black list internationally if they do not take on their responsibilities," he told a press conference March 7, without elaborating on how this would actually sanction the companies involved. He did say the lease for the Bauxite mine could be suspended. Hou, who faces an election next month, has called in Australia's assistance to clean up the spill, which he described as causing "irreversible damage," acknowledging his country's resources were inadequate for the task. "The impact on the marine life and the coral is already massive with much of it irreversible," he said.