Gillian Davy, Melbourne
A powerful video message from Herman Wainggai, spokesperson for 43 West Papuan asylum seekers incarcerated on Christmas Island, was a highlight of a Free West Papua Collective public forum attended by 120 people on February 15.
Wainggai made a passionate call for Australian and international support for his peoples' struggle for independence from Indonesia. He explained that he and fellow independence activists had fled West Papua because they were being targeted by the Indonesian military (TNI).
Uncle Kevin Buzzacott welcomed the meeting to Indigenous land and Kimberly Smith, a member of the Council of the Anglican Diocese, said a petition calling on the church to investigate claims of TNI human-rights abuses in West Papua, and to explore the call for a United Nations review of the 1969 "Act of Free Choice" has been presented to the Melbourne Anglican Synod.
Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, recalled addressing similar meetings throughout the 1980s and 1990s in support of the East Timorese independence struggle when critics argued that he was supporting a lost cause. "They were wrong."
"The issue of terrorism is new for Canberra. But for 43 years West Papuans have been terrorised", Australian Jacob Rumbiak, West Papua Association spokesperson, explained, adding that West Papuans wanted to solve the independence issue through peaceful means.
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, who recently visited the asylum seekers on Christmas Island, recounted their personal stories of persecution and abuse. One asylum seeker spoke of being poisoned while imprisoned for his pro-independence activities; another spoke of the murder by the TNI of his 14-year-old child. Wainggai explained that he put his three-year-old twin girls onto the handmade boat that took five days to make the crossing to Cape York, because he wanted them to survive the TNI's repression.
Nettle called for a national day of action in support of West Papuan independence on April 2.
[The Free West Papua Collective meets every Wednesday at 6pm at Trades Hall, Carlton.]
From Green Left Weekly, February 22, 2006.
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