West Papuan activist: 'Take a stand for justice'

January 15, 2015
Jacob Rumbiak. Photo: freedomflotillawestpapua.org.

Green Left Weekly’s Chris Peterson spoke with Jacob Rumbiak, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of West Papua -- a government-in-exile of the Papuan terrritory occupied by Indonesia since the 1960s. Its new foreign affairs office is in Melbourne.

Rumbiak is one of five officials of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a new consultation body set up at a conference in Vanuatu in December.

On January 9, FreeWestPapua.org reported: "Several days ago, the Indonesian military and police arrested scores of West Papuans in Utikini village near Timika, which is very close to the world’s largest goldmine. According to reports, up to 116 West Papuan men, women and children were arrested and tortured.

“Recently there has been a surge of Indonesian military activity in the Timika area of West Papua with over 1000 military and police personnel having assembled to look for members of the banned Free Papua movement.

“They raided Utikini village and found banners in the basement of one house calling for an independence referendum for West Papua and a rejection of the so called ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969. Many of the villagers in Utikini were also carrying cards supporting self-determination for West Papua. For the Indonesian police, this was enough to warrant the arrests of the villagers and burning of their houses."

This follows the shooting of five teenagers by the Indonesian military in December last year. The five were killed when military and police opened fire at a crowd of people who were demonstrating against the torture of a 12-year-old boy by Indonesian soldiers.

Could you explain some of the context to this violence?

These soldiers are part of security. Security are seeking to create a problem to increase military in Papua. When we look at link in official with new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, [a] problem is created to prepare a big military operation in the name of safety.

This is very sad. Before the election of Widodo, he got most of Papuan support, believing that Widodo would hear their voice and help them. But the reality is the opposite.

Some of the recent violence is being targeted at people for raising the Morning Star flag. Could you explain what the flag represents to Papuans and what are the penalties from Indonesia for displaying this?

This flag is the identity of West Papua. The flag was created by Papuans themselves by their own parliament elected by the democratic system in April, 1961. The parliament prepared for independence and created our flag and national anthem.

But on December 1961, West Papua was occupied by Indonesia. Until now, Indonesia is very scared when people keep this flag.

When someone raises this flag, they can be jailed for 15 years. When I was a political prisoner, they said death sentence, or 20 years in jail, or torture because of the flag.

In the preamble of the Indonesian constitution, it says independence is the right of all people in the world. Because we are Melanesian, our right of independence is renounced.

East Timor has become independent. Why won't Indonesia allow Papua to be independent?

Indonesia claims [it is because their] history is different. Timor was a Portuguese colony; but both Indonesia and West Papua were Dutch colonies. Indonesia were controlled by Dutch for 350 years. West Papua only for 64 years. Difference is when Indonesia under Dutch were real slaves. In Papua, we had prepared for independence. We have the same right to independence.

It was wrong for Indonesia to occupy Timor. The morality of annexation is part of Indonesian culture. West Papua is granted the right to independence under the Indonesian constitution of 1945. What is the difference between Papua and East Timor?

Some of the recent violence happened near the world's largest gold mine. Freeport-McMoRan, which reported a profit of $562 million last year. Is there a connection with mining and the occupation? Do ordinary people in Papua see benefit of mining?

Two mobile brigades have been killed by West Papuan liberation movement. Also, one security guard for Freeport Gold Mine.

It is part of three things. One is this are used by Indonesian government and military to protect their friends' interests. Twenty five countries invest in Freeport mine.

In the name of Freeport, Indonesian security protect foreign interests. Second the security use military operations to stop the owners of the land and resources to not participate in exploiting of the resources.

Third, it is part of political violence. It is very complicated, but the occupation of Papua is connected with the economy. The effect of the economy is great human rights disaster.

Its impact is on the children. Indonesian children are dead because of wrong policy from Jakarta. Also, children of Papuans are killed for global interests.

There are 84 countries involved in Papua. This should not be seen as just violence between Indonesia and Papuans. [The] international community should be involved in this situation.

Indonesia is trying to use violence in Indonesia between different religious communities as a cover for increased military. In reality, this military is to crush the Papuan independence movement.

The Indonesian military and police are trained and funded by the Australian government, this money comes from tax. I don't think Australians would want their money spent on guns and bullets for the Indonesian military. I hope people in Australia see that West Papuans need help.

Could you talk about the recent Free Papua conference in Vanuatu?

West Papuans met last December in Vanuatu. It was the first ever gathering of West Papuan leaders from all of the separate independence movement factions.

The aim of this historic gathering was to try to unite the struggle and factions inside West Papua and form a united front moving forward

The new Papuan independence movement body is called The United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Representatives came from around the Pacific and from Europe. This was part of setting up a West Papuan embassy for Melanesia.

It was an opportunity to come together, consult an unite. We put out a declaration signed by three key groups. The summit elected five officials of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

We have lots of civil rights groups supporting that have affiliated to these three groups. We have made sure to include people of all religions, from students, from youth, from women. We also work closely with people working for democracy in Indonesia.

I feel independence for West Papua can help Indonesia win freedom and justice.

[Visit the Republic of West Papua’s new Department of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Trade office, Level 2, 838 Collins St. Docklands.]

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