The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (U.L.M.W.P.) forms a provisional government to achieve a referendum and an independent nation. President is Benny Wenda, chairman of the U.L.M.W.P.
The Provisional Government has the support of movements both inside West Papua and abroad, and the announcement marks the last nail in the coffin for Indonesia’s wishes of a continuation of the “Special autonomy” policy in one of the nation’s most important economic cornerstones—and the global response to the dramatic development is crucial for the Provisional Government’s success.
By Klas Lundström
WEST PAPUA A provisional government is announced to force through a much-anticipated referendum in West Papua—and a future republic with a clear intention of becoming “the world’s first green state.” The announcement marks an intensification of the struggle against the Indonesian annexation of West Papua, which begun in 1963.
“This is about showing the world that that U.L.M.W.P. is ready to take over the country, and represents a viable alternative to Indonesian rule,” Benny Wenda, president of the provisional government, tells Global Magazine. “We don’t know how the international community will react, but we have to show them that the Papuans are ready and that they deserve serious support.”
It is no coincidence that the Provisional Government is announced on December 1. The date marks the anniversary of the 1961 ceremonial opening of the West Papuan parliament in Jayapura, when the western half of New Guinea was underway to broker independence from the Netherlands.
“The announcement of provisional government is the latest sign of West Papuans’ rejection of and resistance forwards Indonesia’s unlawful occupation and is an assertion of their right to self-determination. The timing is a clear reaction to the widespread protests against the proposed continuation of special autonomy and continued Indonesian rule,” Jennifer Robinson, spokesperson for International Lawyers for West Papua and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers in London, tells Global Magazine.
A provisional and unified West Papuan government, which has already laid out its future plans for a representative democracy, undermines Indonesia’s vanishing hopes of a legal continuation of the current “Special autonomy” policy, which was implemented in 2001 in the wake of Indonesian democratization after the fall of general Suharto in 1998.
“Special autonomy” pledged greater revenues of West Papua’s gold and copper resources, as well as its oil reserves and fishing waters; the Papuan “provinces” in eastern Indonesia have, however, remained the poorest as nearly 20 years of autonomy enters its final month.
Jennifer Robinson, on the other hand, points to the recent decision of the International Court of Justice, which makes it clear that Indonesia’s claim of West Papua as a part of its territory “has no application in respect of situations like West Papua.”
“Territorial integrity belongs to the people of West Papua who were denied the right to self-determination when Indonesia failed to conduct a referendum, allowing universal adult difference and a free and fair vote,” she says.
Crucial global response
To date, some 80 countries—among them the United Kingdom—support U.L.M.W.P.’s demand for Indonesia to grant the United Nations access to West Papua; all at a moment when the armed conflict between guerilla forces and Indonesian military, since December 2018, has created uninhabitable war zones in large parts of west New Guinea.
A conflict that has claimed civilian lives, turned some 45,000 into internally displaced persons and has, most recently, seen the dawn of brutal attacks against religious leaders and children on their way home to celebrate Christmas with their families. Extrajudicial killings with the signatures of the Indonesia military, according to human rights workers in West Papua.
“We have never seen violence like this before. It’s clear that Indonesia targets our future leaders,” Jacob Rumbiak, spokesperson for the provisional government, tells Global Magazine.
Right time for a referendum
The escalating repression and crackdown of peaceful demonstrations in recent months has accelerated the historic announcement, according to Benny Wenda.
“It has been a slow process of building unity and consensus between the three main factions inside West Papua. There are steps to be taken, first to unite under an umbrella, then to develop a distinct U.L.M.W.P. organizational structure, then to form a government. It’s taken this long to get to this point,” he tells Global Magazine.
How the global community reacts remains to be seen. However, it matters a lot what the reaction will be. The Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, is expected to respond to the announcement and “see it as a further threat to be stamped out.”
“The Indonesian government will probably increase its efforts against the U.L.M.W.P. and associated organizations,” says Benny Wenda. “The people of West Papua will begin to recognize this as the legitimate government, and they will reject Jakarta’s laws and policies.”
1999, East Timor—2020, West Papua?
Indonesia has dealt with separatist movements in the past. In Aceh, a long and bloody war resulted in widespread autonomy, and in East Timor, an overwhelming majority voted for independence in a U.N.-led referendum in 1999.
“As the International Court of Justice has made clear, all states must respect the right to self-determination and support West Papuans in putting an end to colonization. States should recognize the West Papuans rights and their government,” Jennifer Robinson tells Global Magazine.
But when it comes to a referendum, Jakarta underlines that West Papuan have already “chosen” its destiny—which is to belong to the Indonesian republic. In 1962, Indonesia threatened to invade the then-Dutch colony. The threat resulted in the so called “New York Agreement,” in which the Netherlands handed over the western half of New Guinea, awaiting an imminent U.N. referendum.
In 1969, the “Act of Free Choice” took place. However, only a little over a thousand selected West Papuans were allowed to “participate” in the fate of west New Guinea—and the fate of West Papua was already decided.
“Many who were chosen to cast their votes in the “Act of Free Choice” have explained to me that they were forced to “vote” for West Papua to become a part of Indonesia, literally at gunpoint. All this occurred with the silent complicity of the U.N.,” Jason MacLeod, an Australian academic who has taught civil resistance at the University of Sydney and with 20 years of experience of social work in West Papua, tells Global Magazine.
West Papua, the cancer at the heart of the U.N.
A silent complicity that, in the eyes of the U.L.M.W.P., slammed the door to the outside world in the face of the West Papuan people. The U.N. thus owes West Papua “a legitimate chance to achieve freedom,” Benny Wenda believes.
“The root to the problem of the latest crisis in West Papua is what happened in 1969,” the newly announced president tells Global Magazine. “The U.N. knows what is really happening in West Papua, the U.N. knows that the West Papuan people don’t want to be part of Indonesia. West Papua is the cancer at the heart of the United Nations, and this issue is not going away until our right to self-determination is granted through a referendum on independence.”
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