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Almost two million people calling for a vote on independence from Indonesia

United: More than 1.8 million West Papuan people signed the West Papuan People’s Petition to the United Nations calling for a vote on independence. Photos: Free West Papua campaign

A WEST Papuan independence leader has described handing an historic petition to the United Nations as representing “the blood and bones of his people”.

More than 1.8 million West Papuans defied the Indonesian Government by signing a banned petition demanding a new vote for independence.

An estimated 70 per cent of West Papuans signed the petition as it was smuggled from village to village during the past year, resulting in arrests.

“The people have risked their lives, some have been beaten up, some are in prison,” exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda, who delivered the petition to the United Nations, said.

“In 50 years, we have never done this before, and we had to organise this in secret.

“People were willing to carry it between villages, to smuggle it from one end of Papua to the other, because this petition is very significant for us in our struggle for freedom.”

On September 27, Mr Wenda presented the petition to the UN’s decolonisation committee, the body that monitors the progress of former colonies – known as non-self-governing territories – towards independence.

Catholic peace and justice advocates have welcomed the petition which asks the UN to appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses and “put West Papua back on the decolonisation committee agenda and ensure their right to self-determination … is respected by holding an internationally supervised vote”.

The Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has been calling on the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in West Papua, after CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt and human rights advocate Josephite Sister Susan Connelly released a report last year documenting recent military and police intimidation, beatings and torture, kidnapping and murder in West Papua.

“The petition is consistent with the sentiments of so many Papuans with whom I spoke while inside Papua,” Mr Arndt said.

“It’s very clear to me that most Papuans from all walks of life want self-determination on the table.”

Free West Papua campaigners have drawn attention to the 42 people they claim have been tortured and the two people who had been arrested in the Indonesian province as a direct consequence of the petition.

Harsh treatment has driven many West Papuans into exile, including Mr Wenda, who left West Papua 13 years ago.

“Even though I am away from my people, my heart is with my people,” he said.

Mr Wenda said the petition had been signed by not just ethnic Papuans, but also migrants from other Indonesian provinces, born in West Papua.

The plebiscite by which Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 was sanctioned by the UN.

But, with just 1025 people, about 0.2 percent of the population at the time, participating under duress, the so-called Act of Free Choice was regarded by Papuans as illegitimate.

Mr Wenda said there was an onus on the UN to correct this historical injustice and facilitate a legitimate self-determination process.

Mr Arndt said Australian Catholics who supported justice and peace in West Papua should support Papuan demands for self-determination.

“We have to play a role in ensuring that our Government listens to the cries of the Papuan people instead of steadfastly supporting the Indonesian Government, and to encourage the Indonesian Government to respond in a constructive way to the demands of the Papuan people,” he said.

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