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West Papuans sign banned freedom petition

West Papua
 a West Papuan signing the petition (credit to Free West Papua campaign)
Freedom for West Papua: a West Papuan signing the petition. Photo: Free West Papua campaign

Some 1.8 million people have defied the Indonesian government by signing a banned petition demanding a new vote for the independence of West Papua – and delivering it to the UN.

Leaders from West Papua’s independence movement handed over the West Papuan People’s Petition to the UN Decolonization Committee yesterday, Tuesday 26 September.

The petition calls on the UN to put West Papua back on the Decolonization Committee’s agenda, organize an internationally supervised independence vote, and appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses against the West Papuan people.

Seventy-one per cent of the indigenous population of West Papua – plus around 100,000 Indonesian settlers – signed the petition, despite the risk of arrest, beatings, torture and even death at the hands of Indonesian security forces.

West Papua has been under Indonesian military occupation since 1963. In 1969, this occupation was ‘legitimized’ by the ironically-titled ‘Act Of Free Choice’, where 1,026 indigenous West Papuans were hand-picked by the Indonesian military, marched to polling stations at gunpoint and ordered to vote to be part of Indonesia. Indonesia’s claim on West Papua rests heavily on this fraudulent event involving just 0.2 per cent of the population.

Location of West Papua in Indonesia
The location of West Papua in Indonesia

This stands in stark contrast to the 71 per cent who have just risked their life and liberty to call for a new, fair and independently-monitored freedom vote.

The Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, described the new petition as very important and said that the people of West Papua had effectively already voted to demand their self-determination. In a speech to the UN General Assembly last week, he said, ‘They have come in numbers to express their hope for a better future.’

Speaking in New York, Spokesperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Benny Wenda said, ‘Today, we hand over the bones of the people of West Papua to the UN and the world. After decades of suffering, decades of genocide, decades of occupation, today we open up the voice of the West Papuan people which lives inside this petition. We reject the Indonesian government’s fraudulent Act of No Choice that was a gross violation of international law.

West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda presenting the petition to long-time supporter of West Papuan self-determination Jeremy Corbyn
West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda presenting the petition to long-time supporter of West Papuan self-determination Jeremy Corbyn.

‘We, the people of West Papua, supported by the international community, have overwhelmingly put our faith and confidence in the demands of this petition. As a non-self-governing territory with the right to full freedom and independence, we demand to be re-enlisted on the list of non-self-governing territories after being illegitimately removed in 1963. We demand that our fundamental right to self-determination be peacefully exercized in an internationally supervised vote.’

According to the Free West Papua Campaign, 57 West Papuans were arrested for supporting the petition, and 54 were tortured at the hands of Indonesian security forces during the campaign.

One West Papuan, Yanto Awerkion, faces a 15-year jail sentence for ‘treason/rebellion’ for supporting the petition.

 Yanto Awerkion after his arrest in May 2017 (credit to West Papua National Committee KNPB)
Yanto Awerkion after his arrest in May 2017. Photo by West Papua National Committee KNPB

The Global Petition for West Papua, run in tandem with the West Papuan People’s Petition, was also targeted by the government; the website that initially hosted it, Avaaz.com, was blocked across Indonesia.

Dr Jason Macleod from the University of Sydney’s Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, who independently verified the petition, said, ‘The petition is an impressive example of community organization and mobilization across West Papua, one that reflects the sincere demands of the West Papuan people for self-determination.

Related: What’s going on in West Papua? Read our May 2017 issue on the world’s forgotten occupation

‘The petition needs to be understood as a fundamental rejection of the Indonesian government’s claim of sovereignty over West Papua. In a very clear and direct manner, the petition represents Papuans demand for decolonisation and self-determination, their desire to freely and fairly determine their own future. This right has been, and continues to be, denied.’

The Indonesian government is already showing signs that it intends to question the validity of the petition. Speaking to The Guardian in response to the hand-in, Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson, Arrmanatha Nasir, called the petition a ‘publicity stunt with no credibility’.

At the time of writing, it’s unclear how governments of the rest of the world will react to the petition.

Accepting its legitimacy would put the Indonesian state’s hold on power in West Papua at serious risk.

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