World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 

West Papua: Freedom protesters challenge ‘blind eye’ of West

West Papua: Freedom protesters challenge ‘blind eye’ of the West

By Nick Harvey of the New Internationalist
August 7, 2011

Last week marked the 48th anniversary of the West Papuan struggle for independence from Indonesia. Thousands took to the streets and international lawyers are making a strong case for West Papuan self-rule.

It is a grief-stricken path that has been followed for generations. It stretches from when the Dutch colonised the region in the 19th century and cruelly continued when control was handed to Indonesia by a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority in 1963.

And last week the journey towards independence has led thousands of West Papuans onto the streets to demand the international community acknowledge their right to be free.

“West Papuans will never recognise their homeland as being part of Indonesia and we have a fundamental right to self-determination under international law,” said Benny Wenda, a West Papua independence leader living in exile in Britain.

“West Papuans have marched peacefully this week and have shown again that they can meet violence with peace to achieve this [aim], no matter how much [Indonesia] tries to intimidate us.

“A blind eye has been most cynically turned by the international community towards the situation of the people in West Papua.”

Regularly harassed
Protesters and human rights campaigners are regularly harassed and arrested in West Papua and, according to Amnesty International, reports of torture while in detention and other human rights violations are commonplace.

But with momentum building for the cause, the police have been reluctant to intervene in the recent protests.

“The demonstrations were so big this time they know if they act violently towards the protesters it would be noticed internationally,” says Wenda.

“We have been trying for 48 years now and, just like the Middle East, we need people power to change the world – but we also need people from around the world to notice.”

One of the biggest obstacles that the Free West Papua campaign faces is a lack of interest, let alone support, from the outside world.

Forgotten conflict
“West Papua is a forgotten conflict,” says Charles Foster, spokesperson for International Lawyers for West Papua.

“A blind eye has been most cynically turned by the international community towards the situation of the people there.”

As part of efforts to raise the profile of the region, a conference was held in Oxford this week by the Free West Papua campaign. International lawyers and activists spoke at the event to highlight the case for an independent West Papua under international law.

“In legal terms, the region has a clear right to self-determination,” said Foster.

“If you look at the New York Agreement [a treaty signed in 1962 by the Netherlands and Indonesia regarding the political status of West Papua, then known as West New Guinea] the United Nations was given trustee status over the region which was supposed to lead to self-determination in 1969. Indonesia has never disputed the fact it put its name to this agreement; therefore it implicitly acknowledges that it was bound by it.”

But the New York Agreement was followed in 1969 by the ironically titled Act of Free Choice, a vote by a tiny section of the population of West Papua, hand-picked by the Indonesian military, on whether the region should become independent or remain part of Indonesia.

Although it has since been widely recognised that the process was a sham, calls for a revote have consistently been ignored.

“There is no serious legal scholar anywhere in the world who thinks the Act of Free Choice was a genuine expression of the free will of the West Papuan people,” said Foster.

Embarrassing reality
“When Indonesians talk about this they try to steer clear of what actually happened on the ground in 1969. They’re not stupid, they realise how embarrassing it is.”

As long as the international inertia continues, the situation for West Papuans continues to worsen.

Yet even if the New York Agreement is somehow forgotten and the circumstances surrounding the Act of Free Choice somehow ignored, international law still falls heavily on the side of the West Papuans.

In 1960 the UN General Assembly passed a crucial agreement, the Declaration of Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

This firm legal ground has yet to translate into any meaningful concessions to the West Papuan people. And as long as the international inertia continues, the situation for West Papuans continues to worsen.

Clemens Runawery is an exiled independence activist who has been unable to return to his country for more than 40 years.

“The longer we stay part of Indonesia the more our status will suffer, both physically and demographically,” he said.

“Back in 1961 the vast majority of the people in West Papua were West Papuan, with only a minority from other places. Today this situation has been completely reversed. How much time do we really have left?”

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 



OECD: G20 GDP Returns To Pre-pandemic Level In The First Quarter Of 2021, But With Large Differences Across Countries

Gross domestic product (GDP) of the G20 area returned to pre-pandemic level in the first quarter of 2021, growing by 0.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2020. However, this figure conceals large differences across countries... More>>

Myanmar: ‘Mass Deaths’ Alert As 100,000 Flee Junta’s Heavy Weapons

In Myanmar, international action is needed urgently to prevent “mass deaths” there, after civilians fled attacks by so-called “junta bombs”, a top independent UN rights expert has warned... More>>



UN: WHO Warns Of ‘Two-track Pandemic’ As Cases Decline But Vaccine Inequity Persists

Even though COVID-19 cases and deaths have declined in recent weeks, the world is facing a “two-track pandemic”, the UN’s top health official said on Monday in his ongoing campaign to get more vaccines to developing countries... More>>


Focus On: UN SDGs



G7: No Major G7 Stock Index Aligned With Paris Climate Goals

New research by CDP and the United Nations Global Compact on behalf of the Science Based Targets initiative calls on the largest G7 companies to take ambitious climate action... More>>


Report: Universal Access To Sustainable Energy Will Remain Elusive Without Addressing Inequalities

During the last decade, a greater share of the global population gained access to electricity than ever before, but the number of people without electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa actually increased... More>>

UN: Launches Decade On Ecosystem Restoration To Counter ‘Triple Environmental Emergency’

Heads of Government, religious leaders, activists and artists joined the United Nations on Friday in a rallying cry to heal the planet, launching the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration... More>>