West Papua petition delivered to the United Nations

The 'Free West Papua Campaign' has delivered a historic petition to the United Nations, which calls on the UN to act upon human rights abuses in West Papua and to re-list West Papua in the UN's decolonisation agenda. The global petition was launched at the British Parliament in January 2017 under the coordination of Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda. On 28 August 2017, the 'Free West Papua Campaign' had organized a swimming campaign in which the historic document was carried by six swimmers across lake Geneva over a distance of 69 km (see images top and bottom). Three days later, the swimming team together with Benny Wenda and pro-independence supporters jointly marched the petition in a symbolic walk to the United Nations in Geneva.

According to a public statement by Benny Wenda, Benny and ULMWP executive member Rex Rumakiek delivered the petition to a senior representative at the UN in New York. Benny Wenda further explained “I have also communicated it to the Secretariat of the Decolonisation Committee (C-24) and the Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) of the General Assembly, with a request that the UN review the situation of West Papua.” The Guardian had published an article about the petition and its submission to the United Nations Decolonialization Committee on the 27 September 2017. However, C-24 chairman and Venezuela's permanent representative to the UN, Rafael Ramirez emphasised in a public interview with the Jakarta Post on 29 September 2017, that he had personally not "… received anything or anybody regarding the issue of West Papua".

The petition addressed to the UN Secretary General calls on the UN to "appoint a Special Representative to investigate the human rights situation in West Papua" and to "put West Papua back on the Decolonisation Committee agenda and ensure their right to self‐determination — denied to them in 1969 — is respected by holding an Internationally Supervised Vote (in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolutions 1514 and 1541 (XV))"

swim-welcomeBenny Wenda explained that the petition was supported by 1,804,421 people. Interestingly, it was not only signed by 1,708,167 indigenous West Papuans, but also 96,254 Indonesian settlers. If these figures are correct, the number of indigenous signatories represents an estimated 70.88% of the indigenous population of West Papua according to the latest independent research by demographic researcher Jim Elmslie. The Indonesian Government had quickly reacted by blocking the online petition across Indonesia, hence the hard copy sheets were secretly “smuggled from one end of Papua to the other”, Wenda said.

The Indonesian foreign ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir downplayed the West Papua petition as a “publicity stunt with no credibility”, stressing that  “Papua is an integral part of Indonesia as provided for in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2504 (XXIV) 1969.”

Historic Background
Since the 18th century, the South Pacific island of West Papua has been an object of imperial ambition, with the British, German, Dutch and Japanese laying claim to parts of the island at different times. In the 1950s the Dutch government began preparing the territory for independence through a process of decolonisation. However, the path to independence was intercepted when the government of the new Republic of Indonesia launched a military operation in December 1961 for the 'return' of Papua (then known by Indonesia as West Irian).

Coming at a time of intense Cold War politics, Indonesia's military expansionism attracted international attention. Historical records also show that US investors had recently secured a stake in Papua's natural wealth. The United States stepped in to broker a deal. It pressured the Dutch to agree to allow Indonesia to administer Papua while the United Nations oversaw negotiations on its future.

Indonesia was mandated to administer a UN-supervised referendum on the future of the territory in 1969, the so-called 'Act of Free Choice'. Instead of organising a one-man, one-vote referendum, Indonesia handpicked a council of 1,026 tribal leaders from a population of more than 800,000, who would decide on behalf of the Papuan people whether the territory would integrate with Indonesia or opt for independence.

Faced with coercion and intimidation, the council returned a unanimous decision in favour of Papua's integration into Indonesia. Papuans, cheated of a real chance for self-determination, describe the 1969 consultation as an 'Act of No Choice'. The legitimacy of the process has also been questioned by the few international observers present at that time, human rights activists and legal experts in Indonesia and internationally. Yet at the time, the UN merely 'took note' of the undemocratic process of the Act. This amounted to recognition of Indonesian sovereignty.

Read more about the history of West Papua here