West Papuans demand their freedom


"The right of self-determination is important because it's part of the pure principle of democracy", Jacob Rumbiak, foreign affairs co-ordinator of the West Papua National Authority (WPNA), explained to Green Left Weekly during the national conference of the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) on September 13-14.

"West Papuans must choose their future. [Wanting] to be free, separate from Indonesia, that's their right. If they want to choose to support autonomy that's also their right."

The conference also discussed the issues of political prisoners, human rights violations by the Indonesian military, environmental destruction and HIV/AIDS. The conference was followed by a rally outside the Indonesian embassy.


Rumbiak cited poll results published by Indonesian paper Sinar Harapan in 2003 that revealed that more than 75% of Melanesian West Papuans want independence from Indonesia. A 2001 poll put the figure at 95%.

West Papuan activist and former political prisoner Herman Wainggai explained to GLW why West Papuans supported independence rather than the "special autonomy" law introduced by Indonesia in 2001: "Special autonomy is not the best solution for Papuan people. West Papuan people have experienced a lot of human rights abuses living under the Indonesian government, such as killings, rapes and disappearances, and a lot of Papuan political people are in jail.

"For us, special autonomy is like a coffin."

Joe Collins, AWPA secretary, explained to GLW the necessity of Australian support for West Papuan self-determination: "West Papua is one of our nearest neighbours. It's like if you have domestic violence going on next door. It's your moral duty to help."

Collins point to a Newspoll that showed 72% of respondents supported self-determination for West Papua.

"Some West Papuan student activists and political prisoners have been living in jail for ten to fifteen years", Wainggai noted.

"Philip Karma for has been imprisoned for fifteen years. In Manokwari, there are 11 students waiting for their sentences ... How many years [will they get]?"

"People are still being arrested. Like my cousin Jack Wainggai. I ask for Australian people to write letters to politicians in Canberra or [PM] Kevin Rudd to advise the Indonesian government to free these political prisoners.

"The second thing is to write to the Australian government to advise the Indonesian government to withdraw all their military forces. There is a lot of military building up in Papua now."

Papuan unity

Rumbiak spoke to GLW about the significance of the WPNA, first formed (as the West Papua National Front for Independence) in 2002. It was the first West Papuan umbrella organisation to unite guerrilla fighters, political groups and civil society groups.

"[The WPNA] is a provisional government to run the West Papuan nation-state. It has been built to fulfil the criteria to become a new government", Rumbiak said.

"Democracy will come when independence comes. Papuans will run elections. Papuans will choose their own government when we overcome Indonesian occupation. But for now we must try to fulfil the criteria of a nation-state.

"So we must have a provisional government [and] constitution" as well as a national anthem and flag. "We must have symbols. We already have these."

"In the provisional government, we already have a political, intelligence, diplomatic and military wing. Last year [Indonesian armed forces Chief] General Ryacudu said that West Papua is already ready for independence. It only needs a declaration and international recognition.

"We must have a provisional government to tell Jakarta that we are ready [for independence]. Because Jakarta said 'we never saw your provisional government inside'. Now they have seen it.

"So now, choose what you want! Lawyers, bureaucrats, technocrats, all of us are in the WPNA as a transitional government."

A second significant umbrella organisation was established in April. Rex Rumakiek, secretary general of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, explained to GLW: "The WPNCL is a forum of about 29 organisations and sister organisations. They signed a memorandum of understanding that they want to work together.

"Soon we will be laying out our timetable, program, the kind of things that we'd like to do together. That's the agenda that we're going to send out to groups around the world. We want them to support us all."

Recent events

According to a September 14 WPNA statement, the Indonesian military has recently initiated incursions up to six kilometres into Papua New Guinean territory. "A so called free trade zone established between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has been annexed by Indonesian soldiers", Rumbiak stated.

The Indonesian embassy in Camberra attempted to invoke the Lombok security treaty, signed between Australia and Indonesia earlier this year. to prevent the West Papuan community from holding a cultural night in a multicultural centre owned by the ACT government.

The Lombok treaty followed the diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia resulting from the granting of asylum to 43 West Papuan refugees who came to Australia by boat in 2006.

The treaty stipulates that Australian government resources cannot be used to promote West Papuan "separatism".

Yahuda Korwa, one of the 43 refugees and participant in the cultural night, expressed his disappointment. "We came to Australia 2006 two years ago because we know in Australia is a free country so we can do anything in here", he told ABC Radio on August 1.

The event went ahead after organisers argued that it was purely a cultural event.

To find out more about three-monthly demonstrations held outside the Indonesian embassy in Canberra, call Herman on 0450 393 527.