Cry for Freedom from the Heart of West Papua

by Kim Peart


Thousands of West Papuans march through Jayapura, defying the Indonesian police and military, risking death to call for the freedom, as the Asia-Pacific leaders meet in Bali. (Still image from KNPB video)

When young Australians drape themselves in the Southern Cross flag, they do not risk being shot by the Police or military for doing so, or being sent to jail for up to 20 years.

Once men did die under the stars of the first Southern Cross flag, at Eureka on the 3rd of December 1854, when they dared stand up against oppression and fight for what they believed in. They also gave us the legend of the diggers, which has become adopted by Australian soldiers since those dark days on the Gallipoli killing fields.

Since the Morning Star flag first flew in West Papua on the 1st of December 1961, when 1970 was set as the year for independence, it has been a poignant symbol of West Papuan freedom.

When Indonesia became the new colonial power in western New Guinea in 1963, they destroyed all symbols of West Papuan independence, including all Morning Star flags and began a brutal campaign of suppression aimed at absorbing half of Melanesian New Guinea into Asian Indonesia.

Many times over the years West Papuans have been shot on sight or sent to jail for up to 20 years, for daring to raise the West Papuan flag and call for freedom.

A West Papuan congress, marking the 50th anniversary since the first held under Dutch rule in October 1961, was brutally broken up by police and military with guns, water cannon, whips and boots, when the West Papuans dared to claim that they had a right to self-determination and freedom from Indonesia’s long oppressive rule of their ancient island home. Seven West Papuans were killed, hundreds arrested and many were tortured.

On the 17th of November thousands of West Papuans marched through the streets of Jayapura, calling for freedom, as the leader of the free world, President Barrack Obama met with Asia-Pacific leaders in Bali. Many had the Morning Star flag painted on their bodies, clearly challenging the Indonesian police and military to shoot them, risking their lives to stand in their flag of freedom. [1]

As the 50th anniversary of the raising of the West Papuan flag fast approaches on the 1st of December, we can only hope that further atrocities will be avoided, as West Papuan courage in the face of Indonesian tyranny is strong and their desire for freedom is very great.

The whole West Papuan question could have been settled in 1969, when the United Nations was supposed to help Indonesia run a vote on self-determination. If a true plebiscite had been held, it is quite clear that the West Papuan people would have voted for freedom, just as happened in East Timor when they had the chance to vote in 1999.

Instead of a free and fair vote on self-determination, Indonesia was allowed to run the whole show, selecting 1025 men to be lectured under the shadow of guns, before stepping over a line drawn in the dirt. Is that a vote?

In his recent speech to the Australian parliament, President Obama was very strong on human rights and freedom, declaring, “History is on the side of the free.” and “Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty.”

President Obama pointed out how Australia was the first nation to give women the vote and so it should be quite confrontational to all Australian women, all East Timorese women, all women of the World, that not one woman was allow to vote in West Papua in 1969 in “The Act of Free Choice”, more often referred to as the Act of “No” Choice, or the Act “Free” of Choice.

The United Staes member of Congress, Eni Faleomavaera, writing with Donald Payne in an article published in The Jakarta Post on 18 November, called for the 1969 referendum on independence to be re-examined.

“In his statement before the UN against apartheid, Nelson Mandela said, “It will forever remain an accusation and challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took so long as it has before all of us stood up to say enough is enough.” The same can be said of West Papua. In 1990, Nelson Mandela also reminded the UN that when “it first discussed the South African question in 1946, it was discussing the issue of racism.” On the issue of West Papua, we believe we are discussing the same.” [2]

Why did Australia so willingly go along with the colonial hand-over of half of Papuan New Guinea to Indonesia in 1962? Was it because we were still living under the White Australia policy and hadn’t yet given all Australian Aborigines citizenship and the right to vote?

Are we grown-up and mature enough now to look at the West Papuan issue and see that an injustice has been allowed of the most monstrous proportions? Will we wake up and do what is right, follow the lead of United States congress members and call on the United Nations to explain why the West Papuan people should not be permitted the vote that they were cheated of in 1969?

Our silence on this issue may only mean the continuing echo of bullets in West Papua, as Indonesia continues to beat all thoughts of freedom from the West Papuan heart and kill many more while doing so.

It was another United States president, Woodrow Wilson, who said in 1918, “No right anywhere exist to hand people about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property in a game.”

The West Papuan people were handed from Dutch to Indonesian colonial rule as if they were property, as if they were slaves. Will the World continue to tolerate this absolute betrayal of human rights, or finally decide that the West Papuan people are deserving of liberty?

In 1962 the Indonesian Government signed an agreement in New York, which stated:

“The eligibility of all adults, male and female, not foreign nationals to participate in the act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice,”

This did not happen. The West Papuan people were cheated of their right to self-determination in what was no more than a fraudulently manipulated sham vote to steal half of New Guinea from the rightful owner.

It is an odd coincidence that the first Southern Cross flag was also raised for the first time on the 1st of December 1854. It was perhaps this unusual convergence of dates that drew a West Papuan, John Rumbiak, to Eureka in December last year to participate in the dawn vigil beneath the Southern Cross.

Has the moment now arrived when Australian’s will find the heart and courage to stand up and call on all our politicians to act on West Papua and join an international movement to bring justice and a free choose to the people of West Papua?

Many Australians once worked along-side the Dutch preparing West Papuans for independence and many still live who remember those days. We helped to built the expectations of the West Papuan people sky high for freedom and then walked away like it never mattered.

If we now decide that it is high time to do what is right and allow a fair go for the people of West Papua, then we may begin to see the way toward our own full independence as a nation, with a new Southern Cross flag to fly in our skies and even consider the anniversary of the raising of that first Southern Cross flag as a more appropriate national day for Australia.



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