UN receives petition calling for West Papua independence referendum

Benny Wenda with the petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans calling for a true act of self-determination. Photo courtesy of Free West Papua Campaign.

On January 25, Benny Wenda, chairperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), handed a petition signed by 1.8 million West Papuans to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet. The petition called for the United Nations to “put West Papua back on the Decolonisation Committee agenda and ensure our right to self‐determination denied to us in 1969 is respected by holding an Internationally Supervised Vote”.

The petition handover was facilitated by the government of the South Pacific island state of Vanuatu.

In a statement made in Geneva after the handover, Wenda said:

“The people of West Papua have been crying out for support for over 50 years. The time for the UN to hear this call is more urgent than ever as the world witnesses another humanitarian crisis happening in the highlands of West Papua.

“Today, thousands of civilians in the region of Nduga are fleeing from the Indonesian military, escaping airstrikes and chemical weapons. Whilst children die from starvation, the Indonesian military block all aid or investigation.”

The signatures to the West Papuan People's Petition, by around 70% of the West Papuan population, were collected over several months in 2017 and resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of key Papuan activists. Yanto Awerkion, a local leader of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), was held in jail for eight months without trial for supporting the petition. More recently, the offices of the KNPB and ULMWP in West Papua were raided and key activists arrested.

Five activists were arrested during a raid on January 15, reportedly because the authorities discovered their involvement in the People’s Petition. Three remain in prison on charges of treason.

Wenda said, “To our many friends working in solidarity with the West Papuan struggle all over the world, we thank you for standing with us. Your assistance is vital in our long road to freedom.”

He added, “And to the people of West Papua, thank you. Today is a proud moment to represent your voices – thank you for never giving up and for courageously coming to the streets and flying the Morning Star flag, despite the brutality you face.

“Thank you for your patience, your strength and your spirit. Thank you to so many of you for having the courage to sign the historic People’s Petition – your voice is now in the hands of the UN. We are making progress, together, in unity.”

Wenda, who lives in political exile Britain, says that it is his life mission to do all he can to ensure West Papuans are given an internationally supervised referendum.

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