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West Papua: Raising the colours of a country that doesn't exist

Protesters in Vanuatu support West Papua’s fight for independence
Vanuatu protesters raise the flag of West Papua in a demonstration on Friday

CHANTAL DA SILVA | The Independent

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LONDON - In West Papua, simply raising the Morning Star flag – a symbol of the island’s fight for independence from Indonesia – can result in 15 years of imprisonment.

But more than 12,000 kilometres away in the UK, the forbidden flag was raised this morning outside Oxford’s town hall for the tenth year in a row.

Oxford is one of more than 250 locations across 50 countries worldwide expected to raise the Morning Star flag today in a show of solidarity with tens of thousands of West Papuans calling for international intervention in the fight for independence from Indonesia.

“In West Papua, the whole essence of our humanity is being reduced to nothing. We are treated like animals and endure what some have described as an ‘apartheid-like’ military occupation,” exiled Free West Papua campaign leader Benny Wenda, who was granted political asylum in the UK in the early 2000s, and lives in Oxford, told The Independent.

“Tens of thousands of us have been forced to flee as refugees and those that stay live under constant terror. Almost every day, people are arrested without reason, tortured and killed at the hands of the Indonesian government.”

An undated document published on the UNHCR website states that Papua New Guinea alone has taken in as many as 10,000 refugees from West Papua since 1985.

The West Papua Morning Star flag has been raised outside Oxford town hall on Friday morning in support of the Free West Papua campaign

The flag-raising protests come two months after a petition that gained over 1.8 million signatures – more than 70% of West Papua’s population – was presented to the United Nations, calling on the organisation to investigate human rights abuses on the island.

It also demanded that the UN’s Decolonisation Committee (C-24) put West Papua back on its agenda to “ensure their right to self-determination ... is respected by holding an internationally supervised vote”.

“Carrying out [the petition] took months of dedicated hard work and commitment after years of planning,” Mr Wenda said.

“It was also incredibly dangerous because the Indonesian government immediately banned the petition and stated that anyone who signed it would be arrested.”

The Free West Papua campaign claims that 57 people were arrested by the Indonesian military for supporting the appeal.

The petition was rejected by the C-24 however, with its chair, Rafael Ramírez, telling The Guardian no petition regarding West Papua could be accepted due to the committee’s mandate being extended exclusively to the 17 states identified by the UN as “non-self-governing territories”.

“West Papua is not a matter for the C-24,” Mr Ramírez said. “We are just working on the countries that are part of the list of non-self-governing territories. That list is issued by the general assembly.”

“One of the principles of our movement is to defend the sovereignty and the full integrity of the territory of our members. We are not going to do anything against Indonesia as a C-24.”

The C-24 did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said it could not comment on decisions made by other UN bodies.

West Papuans have been calling on the United Nations to intervene in what has been called a “slow-moving genocide” for decades, as the Indonesian military continues to occupy the Asian island.


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Barbara Short

My friend, Franzalbert Joku, a leading journalist who now lives in Indonesian Papua says ...Confrontation approach based on decades long claims are simply not leading anywhere. In time they will lose credibility. The government here (in Indonesian Papua) monitors but is unmoved. Prefers to persist with political and constitutional reforms, as well as development programs underway in earnest. Benny Wenda and company must help their foreign NGO supporters sell stories to be able to help them earn their meals. Papuans are increasingly assuming the role of running their two autonomous provinces themselves as provided for under the autonomy laws.
He also comments ... Balanced exhaustive incisive analysis and insights are needed urgently or Papua remains invariably squandered facing a bleak future.

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