Herman Wainggai: Personal reflections of a Journey to Freedom

Apologies for the delay in posting

By Herman Wainggai

Op-Ed

May 1, 2013

A Personal reflection on the West Papuan struggle from a leading West Papuan independence activist.

“ Dear Mum You raised your children with sincere of love, you guide your children with education of wisdom When your children create an offense, you give advise to your children with wisdom from your Melanesian culture. When your children were arrested and imprisoned, you went to visit your children even when the authorities of Indonesia tried to stop you from it.  Today I remember mama, when I sat next to mum in the guard room, you start greet me, Herman, how is your health condition these days? I am fine mum but I really apologize for making you come to prison to see me as always you do. Thank you for your love, mama! Washington DC, Herman Wainggai”

What are the changes that happened in the past 50 years that West Papua has been ruled by Indonesia?  Why do I reflect on my personal journey and write this ? Because this has been the reality of the lives of the Papuan people under the Indonesian military system  since the 1st of May, 1963 and since the so called Act of Free Choice in 1969 when West Papua through military and political pressure was unjustly integrated into Indonesia. We [West Papuans] have maintained our dignity in the face of oppression, insult and prejudice. So many of our people have suffered and died, and they will continue to suffer and die under the military regime of Indonesia. This is why we cannot stop our struggle for justice and freedom.

Life is a struggle for West Papuan people.  Indonesia has imposed a brutal military occupation, and the West Papuan people have become victims of rape, murder, abuse, torture and intimidation.  When I was in West Papua in the 1990s, I studied at a university, I was also actively involved in the West Papuan people’s struggle and I organized many nonviolent demonstrations against the brutality government of Indonesia.  I knew there were many risks to face when I was in my country at that time because I was unsure of how I could deal with the authority of Indonesia. One of the biggest challenges in my life occurred when me and my friends organized a peaceful demonstration in my country. As a result of the nonviolent protest I was convicted of subversion and incarcerated twice for almost three years in my country of West Papua. While I was in the prison of Indonesia, I thought that I would be killed by the oppressor government of Indonesia if I was still in prison for a long period of time. Begining that moment, I started to think more about my safety and personal life and staying alive was my biggest concern.  I decided that best plan was to leave West Papua after I released out from the prison. It would be better for me to escape from my country to exile.  I would be safe, able to increase international attention on the issue and also to continue the struggle in a nonviolent manner from afar.

Most daily life in my country is a nightmare, which is why many West Papuan leaders and friends have been killed, either inside prison or after released. For me, to leave was big decision to make because it meant I would be leaving all my family and friends behind.  This was an extremely hard decision to leave my country of West Papua but I think it was great decision for myself and I was also happy to help my other friends who came with me on the outrigger when  I left the country and  crossed the open ocean  for four days to seeking safety in Australia.

New York City is historically significant place to the West Papuan people because of the New York agreement, which ultimately handed control of West Papua to Indonesia in the 1960s. The United Nations building is also located in New York. Fifty years later, I found myself living in the United States of America and every time I have visited to the United Nations building I have developed a deep love for differences in culture, cities, experiences, works and ideas.  These are everlasting impressions that will be vivid in my mind and heart for the rest of my life and have been significant in creating my experience today. I am always impressed by the architecture and inspired by the purpose of the United Nations and the work that they do, as well as the flags outside the building. I learned a lot of things about myself and the world that I never would have had the opportunity to learn if I had not left my home country of West Papua. My time abroad has sometimes been lonely and crazy but it is also the best experience of my life to be able to continue to fight for my people from the USA and hopefully make a difference. I have had moments when I have been extremely uncomfortable, or when I simply have to smile, laugh and embrace the awkward, but that’s what truly makes the journey abroad experience so valuable. I have been forced out of my country, my comfort zone and away from the community but am able to experience another culture that is completely different than my own, a valuable learning experience to say the least. For these significant experiences, I will never regret my decision to step out of my comfort zone and risk this journey abroad because it has been the best of my life, filled with adventure, challenges, and of course,  the beautiful awkward.

This feeling of abandonment compelled me to meet people from all over the world from every ethnic group, country, age and religious background and I gained a broader more accepting world view and obtained vast amounts of knowledge all while continuing my advocacy works to help the people of West Papua. The United Nations was established after World War II and its most important service is being a place for the countries of the world to come together every year to discuss, communicate and debate issues happening around the world. It regulates the activity of the world’s government. The issue of human rights violations in West Papua and brutal militaristic control of Indonesia is something I believe UN needs to act on in order to stand by their upheld values on judgment, human rights, and freedom. This has been an ongoing conflict for 50 years, it is unresolved and the military operation continues to destroy West Papua. Intimidation, terror, murder, rape, and what could be called‘slow motion genocide,’ these are the realities of life for the trampled people of West Papua. It has been far too long that the West Papuans have being oppressed and it is for this reason that the cause of West Papua should be relisted on the UN Security council agenda sometime.

I have often seen the flags being flown outside of the UN building.  It is a beautiful and prideful sight and is a constant reminder to me that the West Papuan flag should be flying outside the building, and someday it will. This is what the West Papuan people have been and will continue to fight for. In the land of West Papua, a man can serve fifteen years in jail simply for raising the Morning Star flag, which has significant historical, political, and cultural meaning to the people of West Papua.

Telling my story has become a new aspect of my dream and big part of my journey.  This is a story that I want the world to know, so that my country and my people can live a life of freedom and independence like the other 193 countries who are UN members.

Therefore, in the name of justice, truth and freedom, human rights and political rights for the people of Papua, a free nation of Melanesia, we ask the Australian Government, the government of The United States of America and all other International communities, for a dialog between the Jakarta Government and the Federated republic of West Papua that is mediated by a third party nation or representatives of the United Nations.

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