Dusk is falling across Melbourne and West Papua, but not over the dreams of the Papuan people. Today, remembering 51 years of oppression having been denied the right to self-determination, the West Papuan people gathered in Melbourne to celebrate their national day and raise awareness of the human rights abuses the people of West Papua still endure since the departure of the Dutch colonial governors. And on this day of remembrance, in Jayapura, the Indonesian government has once again denied the Indigenous people of West Papua the right to express their pride in their heritage and to gather peacefully.
Whilst the West Papuans living in exile rallied in Melbourne, their countrymen were being held back from their places of prayer. Jacob Rumbiak, the West Papuan Foreign Affairs Minister, declared at the Third People’s Congress held on 11 October 2011 and whom I had the great pleasure to meet today, informed me that the Indonesian military had deployed 6,000 troops to Jayapura in preparation for today’s flag raising ceremony; he expected problems. Sure enough, the arrests came, with a number of activists arrested, including Victor Yeimo, Chairman of the KNPB (West Papua National Committee). Mr. Rumbiak is not hopeful for the manner in which his fellow countrymen will be treated. Held himself as a political prisoner with Xanana Gusmao, Mr. Rumbiak expected that his colleagues would be tortured. This is the reality of expressing pride in West Papuan heritage, the reality if raising the Morning Star flag in the Indonesian ruled province.
Mr. Rumbiak spoke to the crowd who had met outside the State Library of Victoria and described the abuses that his people have suffered and continue to suffer to this day. With other speakers, he explained how international media are banned and how the world is blinkered to the oppression in his once thriving homeland. Whilst Australians are concerned about the latest clash between Palestine and Israel, they remain almost deaf, dumb and blind to the traumas inflicted upon the people just north of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Speakers drew attention to the Australian Federal Police funded Detachment 88, the contingent responsible for so much of the abuse meted out to the local population. I wonder how our government can permit the AFP to assist in the training of troops in another country knowing that those troops are responsible for the brutal deaths of literally thousands of men, women and children whose only crime is pride in their West Papuan heritage and the desire to self determination.
The people of West Papua were cheated out of Independence by a corrupted voting process, which failed to protect the local people from persecution. Having been governed by the Dutch, the Papuans had been schooled in preparation for their independence by not only the Dutch, but Australians as well. The Dutch who ceded the former Dutch East Indies to the Indonesian Revolutionaries and allowed the provinces their own independence, argued that the West Papuans were a different race and tried to retain administration of the Western half of the island of New Guinea with a view to building the colony into an independent state. Eventually however, the Dutch were forced to allow the United Nations to take over control of the region, driven by political interests during the Cold War. The result was the Papuan so-called Act of Free Choice, really an act of no choice as the 1,025 tribal men selected to vote on behalf of the entire West Papuan population were all threatened with physical harm if they did not vote to become a part of Indonesia.
Half a century later, the people of West Papua continue to fight for the promise that the Western world held out to it, a promise that was built upon a right that they were supposedly given to choose their own fate. And the world sleeps on, oblivious to the fact that today several men were jailed, became political prisoners, because they claimed their right to free expression and self-determination.
Jacob Rumbiak and I discussed the increasing profile of the West Papuan conflict via groups such as the International Lawyers for West Papua and the International Parliamentarians for West Papua. We also mentioned the role of Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), the militants who fight for Papua’s freedom within its borders. Mr. Rumbiak believes that there is room for dialogue and that progress will come via this avenue. In this, he is in agreeance with one of Bakchos’ long held beliefs that the Mont Blanc is mightier than the Kalashnikov.
The rally today drew a lot of attention, the gathered crowd proceeding down Swanston Street from the State Library to Federation Square, disrupting traffic with good humour and lots of music. Protestors, walked, the more co-ordinated danced to the beat of Papuan music that was being pumped out of the mobile boom-box. And among the mass of Morning Star Flags and several belonging to Malukus was a solitary flag belonging to the Australian Aborigines, a show of solidarity with the indigenous people of two cultures. Spirits were high and all protesters were invited to attend a barbeque on the banks of the Yarra at the conclusion of the rally.
Ironically, the rally concluded under the gaze of the SBS logo, a symbol of international news coverage in Australia. SBS were in attendance at the rally in the early stages, but no other media were to be seen. The West Papuan people are screaming to be heard and will continue to do so until either the Indonesian army succeed in their genocide or the West Papuans see their freedom become a reality. Jacob Rumbiak believes that freedom will come, sooner rather than later. Let’s help him and his people to realize the dream that we all take so very much for granted. We can start by pressuring our elected leaders to use their seat in the United Nations General Assembly and the newly won seat on the United Nations Security Council to call for independent monitoring of human rights in West Papua. Australia has the ability to change the fate of our near neighbours just as it did for the East Timorese. This country should honour the promises it made to the West Papuans before the Act of No Choice when it worked to assist in preparing the Papuan people to lead an independent nation. We did it for East Timor. Now we need to support the West Papuans as well.