Tag Archives: 43 West Papuan Asylum Seekers

Growing international solidarity for West Papua freedom campaigns

by Herman Wainggai*

January 21, 2013


It is likely that most US citizens who consider themselves informed about global events are aware of the genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and East Timor, yet it’s likely that few people in the US are aware of the ongoing genocide in West Papua, New Guinea.

In Rwanda, genocide resulted in an estimated 500,000 deaths in a 3-month period; in Bosnia, genocide resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths in a 3-year period. In East Timor, there were more than 103,000 deaths in a 3-year period; and, in West Papua, New Guinea, there are conservative estimates of 100,000 Melanesian Papuans killed, and 300,000 displaced or missing over a 47-year period. Remarkable is the disparity of time between the Rwanda, Bosnia and East Timor genocides, ranging from 3 months to 3 years, contrasted with the ongoing 50-year genocide of indigenous West Papuans. In the aftermath of the Rwandan 3-month slaughter of 500,000 people, the carnage was blatant, the atrocities flagrant.

In view of the continuing carnage wrought in West Papua by the Indonesian military during the past 50 years, we must wonder why most people in the Western world are oblivious to the indigenous Melanesians’ plight, and what factors are contributing to the protraction of such abuse.

Indonesia’s colonization and military occupation of Dutch-owned West Papua was achieved, and continues, with the blessing of the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, and facilitated by the operation of the world’s largest copper and gold mine owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., a US corporation.

In addition, for more than 50 years, some of the world’s largest transnational mining corporations have been exploiting West Papua’s oil and minerals, including Union Oil, Amoco, Agip, Conoco, Phillips, Esso, Texaco, Mobil, Shell, Petromer Trend Exploration, Atlantic Richfield, Sun Oil and Freeport (USA); Oppenheimer (South Africa); Total SA (France); Ingold (Canada); Marathon Oil, Bird’s Head Peninsula (UK); Dominion Mining, Aneka Tambang, BHP, Cudgen RZ, and most critically, Rio Tinto (formerly RTZ-CRA) (Australia/UK).

The exploitation of natural resources by extractive industries results in catastrophic harms to human and environmental health and indigenous societies. Typically, mainstream global media, most of which are in thrall to corporate interests, look the other way when such military/corporate injustices are perpetrated upon indigenous populations.

New Guinea is the second largest island on earth, and one of 20,000-30,000 archipelagos in the South Pacific. The island is divided vertically, with independent Papua New Guinea occupying the eastern section and West Papua, now an unwilling province of Indonesia, occupying the western side. There are more than 250 tribes, more than 270 distinct languages and thousands of different pidgin dialects.

In addition to copper and gold, abundant natural resources include natural gas, oil, timber and fish. These resources profit corporate interests and the Indonesian government without compensation to the Melanesian population, who live in poverty.

In 1969, the Act of Free Choice consultation was held in West Papua to ascertain whether the indigenous Melanesian population preferred to remain a province within the nascent nation of Indonesia or become their own independent nation. The consultation was fraudulent, and free participation by the indigenous people was nil. Only 1025 West Papuans, representing a population of one million, were picked ( by the government of Indonesia )  to vote and it was not implemented in accordance  with international law of the New York Agreement on August 15, 1962 – One Man One Vote. It was a whitewash. Nobody gave a thought to the fact that a million people had their fundamental rights trampled ( CV Narasimhan, Deputy Secretary – General of the United Nations 1961 – 1978 ). Thus, the voiceless West Papuans became a province of Indonesia and the victims of 50 years of oppression.

The people of this forgotten land have struggled for freedom for 50 years under brutal Indonesian occupation. The people of the different tribes are raped, tortured and slaughtered, and their natural environment continues to be degraded. In their efforts to resist this injustice, their leaders have been arrested, tortured and threatened with death. For this reason, many now live in exile, where they continue to be involved in education and activism with the goal of enlisting the international community to join their efforts to achieve justice and freedom.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the rights of all people to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly and association. Indonesia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and Indonesia’s constitution also declares those rights. However, Indonesia’s continued arrest and incarceration of nonviolent political activists since the 1980s, and the October 19, 2011 arrests of more than 300 civilians during the Third National Congress, including Edison Waromi and Forkorus Yaboisembut, Prime Minister and President, respectively, will not deter Melanesians from their nonviolent struggle to secure self-determination within a democratic framework, and are recognized, respected and supported by the international community.

For this reason, many peaceful demonstrations took place around the world on

The boat that brought 43 West Papuan Asylum seekers to Australia, putting Papua back on the front page and touching off a diplomatic storm . Photo Damien Baker, Mapoon, Queensland, Australia January 17th, 2006
The boat that brought 43 West Papuan Asylum seekers to Australia, putting Papua back on the front page and touching off a diplomatic storm . Photo Damien Baker, Mapoon, Queensland, Australia January 17th, 2006

January 17, 2013. The Demonstrations commemorated the escape to freedom by 43 West Papuan refugees on January 17, 2006, when, after paddling across open ocean for four days and surviving a violent storm, they beached their traditional canoe in Australia and found asylum. Myself – Herman Wainggai  – am one of those 43.

The Free West Papua Political Prisoners Team in Washington DC is a group of academics and human-rights activists who are willing to stand up for justice and work toward a free West Papua that is independent from military and corporate colonization.

Photo :  Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team, Washington DC, USA
Photo : Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team, Washington DC, USA

Human Rights Watch reports that Indonesia has incarcerated nearly 100 activists from Maluku and Papua for peacefully voicing their patriotism and political views.  As one of those former political prisoners forced into exile, I am now a visiting scholar at George Mason University, after being imprisoned for more than two years after daring to raise the West Papuan flag. My uncle, Dr. Thom Wainggai, died while imprisoned for the same demonstration of patriotism.

Free West Papua Campaign in Los Angeles, California

“I want to commend Moana Nui for organizing this demonstration on behalf of the people of West Papua to give voice to their fight for freedom and self-determination.  We call on the leaders of all governments to stop supporting human rights abuses, murder, genocide and the military occupation of West Papua. To our brothers and sisters in West Papua: Continue to fight for what you know is right, for your freedom, your culture, for humanity.  Know that, in this fight, you are not alone.” Harold Green.  http://mnaa-ca.org/jan-17-2013-west-papua-action/


Free West Papua Campaign in Melbourne

Foreign Affairs Minister of the Federated Republic of West Papua, Jacob Rumbiak, said international activists are demanding that Indonesia remove its military personnel, and that president Yudhoyono must issue orders to stop the slaughter of West Papua National Committee (KNPB) members.

“Six activists were arrested and tortured in Serui yesterday for handing out pamphlets about today’s rally, including Patris Rosumbre (Vice Governor, Saireri State, Federated Republic of West Papua) and Menase Karubaba,” he said. Rosumbre has since escaped, but the whereabouts of Karubaba are not known, and there is deep concern for his safety.

Photo Free West Papua Campaign Melbourne, Australia January 17th, 2013
Photo Free West Papua Campaign Melbourne, Australia January 17th, 2013

The Federated Republic of West Papua has called for negotiations with the Indonesian government under the auspices of the United Nations since 2011, and, Rumbiak claims, “Indonesia is losing credibility with its international donors in failing to respond to our invitation.”

Free West Papua Campaign in the Solomon Islands

In a statement from Honiara, Chairman of Solomon Islands for West Papua, Rexy Roses, highlighted that more than 50 years of tyranny and

Photo Rexy Roses, Solomon Islands for West Papua, 17th January 2013
Photo Rexy Roses, Solomon Islands for West Papua, 17th January 2013

immeasurable human rights abuses suffered by the indigenous people of West Papua at the hands of the occupying Indonesian military forces is more than too much to bear, and it is now time for dialogue and negotiations to end the violence in West Papua and to allow a peaceful referendum. This year will be a challenging one, and we will ensure that the cries of the indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua be heard in every corner of the Pacific and beyond.

Since the recent peaceful demonstration in Yapen Island and Manokwari, I have been told that the military agents are increasing their violent activity in West Papua and in many other places around West Papua. It is not difficult to imagine the impact that tens of thousands of Indonesian troops have on the daily lives of the West Papuan people. This new action by the Indonesian military raises the question: Why would Indonesia send so many troops to West Papua? Is this to intimidate the West Papuan people, to deny us our freedom of speech and prevent us from peacefully gathering in the land of our ancestors to debate and challenge the domination of our land and freedom? This recent West Papua Media report clearly states that the Indonesian government does not provide for the protection of human rights in West Papua.

For West Papuans, daily life is a nightmare, full of pain, suffering, torture, rape and bloodshed. There is no freedom to speak or act freely. The systematic oppression, terror, intimidation, kidnapping, incarceration, poisoning and murder of indigenous Melanesians in West Papua has not changed since I fled the country in 2006. It’s time to support the West Papuan people in their struggle for human rights and political independence.

Herman Wainggai is a West Papuan civil resistance activist based in Washington DC USA, and former political prisoner.  He lectures in strategic non-violence and civil resistance and is a visiting scholar at George Mason University, Washington.



Longing for Merdeka by Melissa McLeary

‘Longing for Merdeka’ is about the desire of the people of West Papua to gain independence from Indonesia. The film focuses on Herman Wainggai who escaped to Australia with 42 Papuan refugees on a traditional canoe. Since settling in Australia he continues to campaign for the self-determination of his people.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/32299332]


Louise Byrne, Australia West Papua Association (Melbourne)

This article was twice presented, twice ignored to The Australian Weekend Magazine ‘Letters’ section.

The 43 West Papuan asylum seekers canoe after landingnear Weipa, Cape York, Jan 2006 (Photo: Damien Baker, theangle.org)

Rocking the boat (The Weekend Australian Magazine 9/7/2011) attempts to bolster the legal case for diluting the post-asylum rights of unaccompanied minors to family reunion. The Murdoch journalist and her angry informants prosecute the offensive by nit-picking the effort of one West Papuan parent—whose sons arrived in a traditional outrigger canoe in 2006—to remove his twelve-year-old daughter from the war zone as well. This 3,500-word construct will be no doubt bower-birded by lawyers involved in the Supreme Court case in September. The reading public however needs to be aware that it is full of unfounded generalizations and misleading information, and succeeds, with Machiavellian ease, in lampooning the West Papuans long and costly struggle for human rights and democracy … and yes, indeed, their very survival.

The Papuan parent cited is heavily misrepresented as a ‘savvy, middle-class immigrant aided by lawyers’ who sent his sons to Australia as an ‘advance party to enhance the prospect of family reunion’. In fact, the documented intent of this parent in putting his children on the boat was to ensure their survival. He is a leading Protestant priest and independence leader who after years of incarceration as a political prisoner will never—short of independence—be free of the republic’s notorious intelligence agents. He and his wife, also a pastor, run a Christian college in the highlands, providing indigenous adolescents with a curriculum and standard of education otherwise unattainable. Their sons, on their own initiative, called upon family reunion principles to deliver their teenage sister from a militarized hellhole where the rape of Indigenous girls is almost a rite of passage. None of the other West Papuan refugees from 2006—whether unaccompanied minor or adult—have made application for family reunion.

The article imputes that the West Papuan who organized the canoe of asylum seekers in 2006 is a people smuggler (‘parents of children as young as 11 had paid for them to make the crossing’), and furthermore ‘coached’ them on how to report to Australian immigration officers. This Papuan is, in fact, another committed activist and independence leader, also with years of experience as a political prisoner. The article conveniently ignores the Howard Government’s People Smuggling Taskforce, which met on thirteen occasions between 16 January and 13 April 2006 before closing its investigation, satisfied that no money was paid to any organizers of the trip. (Hansard, 22 May 2006, which also mentions the taskforce included the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Australian Federal Police, Attorney-General’s Dept, Customs, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Office of National Assessments). To the allegation of ‘coaching’, the fact of 564,126 West Papuans ‘missing’ since 1962 (Jim Elmslie, University of Sydney, 2007) would mean that few of the living need advice about persecution and human rights violations. (Any foreigners who do should consult the independent media portal www.westpapuamedia.info, or New York based blog West Papua: exposing a massacre (www.theactivistwriter.com), or the recent Australian documentary Strange Birds in Paradise).

Even if The Australian isn’t interested in the plight of the West Papuan people (who in 2010 have an annual growth rate of 1.84% compared to the non-Papuan of 10.82%), it should address issues that intersect with Australia’s national interest. The militarized Islamisation of the territory as a tool of intensifying colonization, for example, correlating with unprecedented levels of Wahabbist cash and Islamic investment that criss-crosses a nexus of radical Islam, the military-intelligence ‘security’ network, and clandestine cells of fundamentalism in the Indonesian civil service. Should we also not be concerned by the refusal of the Australian Federal Police to release its report into the assassination in July 2009 of Drew Grant, a young Australian employed at the Freeport mine? What about the AFP community-training squadron getting kicked out of Indonesia in 2009 (despite Australia’s contribution of $36.8m to the development of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Co-operation)? Then there’s the Indonesian government’s supply and training of PNG police and military since 2006, and its own commandos training in the jungles of Fiji since 2010.



Rebuttal, Pam Curr, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne

 The article that appeared in this weekend’s The Australian is yet another negative asylum seeker story in typical Murdoch media fashion. I would like to straighten the record on a few factual errors. Murdoch media do not worry about such things but since they quote me, I do.

 I did not ring Frances Walton immediately after The Age published her letter on 8 June. I read the letter and thought—what a pity to write about a small group and one individual experience as if it was emblematic of all child asylum seekers experience. I knew how the letter would be received by those who wish to believe it or those who do not know otherwise, but it is a free country and we all have the write to speak our minds. End of episode.

Kate Legge rang me on the 20th June. At the same time I was alerted that the Australian was looking at running a story about boat children following a letter to The Age. I knew then that The Australian, never likely to overlook a potential negative line on refugees, had run Frances Walton to earth to run the boat children exposé and it was unlikely to be favourable.

It was only at this point that I rang Frances and asked her if she was aware that The Australian had a particular negative line on refugees and that her experience with a few children and families from one background would be likely to be written in such a way that it would generalise the experience of all unaccompanied minors.   I knew that Frances had experience only with the West Papuan children and none with Afghan Hazara teenagers or others. I made a point of saying that it was her right to say what she liked but to be aware that her words could be used against a broader group.

I told Kate Legge that I knew many teenagers who had come here as unaccompanied minors, particularly from Afghanistan, and that most of the boys I knew had no fathers and some no parents at all after Taliban and Pashtun attacks. I explained that they had come here after Mothers, Uncles or Family friends had helped them to escape because they were at risk. Clearly, since they were not reported, the experiences of this group of kids were not as interesting.