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May 22, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Free West Papua

The campaign for West Papuan independence has built up momentum in New Zealand following a visit by Benny Wenda, International Spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

Wenda spoke at Parliament on May 10 and was on VUW’s Kelburn campus the following day for a march in support of independence, which headed to the Indonesian Embassy in Kelburn.

In his speech at Parliament, Wenda said “I come on behalf of my people — they can’t speak.”

“54 years we live under Indonesian colonialism, 54 years we cry for justice, 54 years we cry for help, but nobody hear our cry for help.”

“We want a referendum.”

Following his speech, 11 MPs from across the political spectrum signed a declaration from the International Parliamentarians for West Papua calling for an internationally supervised referendum on independence.

Wenda established the International Parliamentarians in 2008 while in exile in the United Kingdom, following an escape from prison in West Papua in 2002.

He had been charged with inciting an attack on a police station and burning two shops in Abepura, however these charges have been widely disputed as politically motivated due to Wenda’s involvement in the independence movement.

The International Parliamentarians are a cross-party group of politicians seeking to highlight the invalidity of the 1969 Act of Free Choice, the human rights abuses suffered by West Papuans at the hands of the Indonesian authorities, and “the inalienable right of the people of West Papua to determine their own future through a free and fair referendum.”

West Papua was formally annexed by Indonesia following the Act of Free Choice 1969, a series of assemblies observed by the United Nations in which 1025 elders selected by the Indonesian authorities “voted” to relinquish their sovereignty.

The Act is referred to as the “Act of No Choice” by those who assert that the voters in this referendum were coerced and under threat from the Indonesian authorities.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty stressed the importance of West Papua’s right to self-determination and told Salient that the referendum needs to be independently supervised by the United Nations, as it’s not something the “government of Indonesia has any credibility to run.”

“West Papua was basically invaded by Indonesia as a result of a fraud referendum.”

Delahunty described the event at Parliament as part of a process of “working toward a recognition by the United Nations that [the people of West Papua] need this referendum,” and suggested that “the number of MPs who support West Papua has definitely grown since 2013” — the last year Wenda visited New Zealand.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Salient that the Head of the Ministry’s regional division dealing with Indonesia “met with Mr Wenda during his current visit to discuss the human rights situation in Papua.”

However they pointed out that “successive New Zealand governments have recognised Papua as a part of Indonesia.”

Following the march on May 11, in which protesters were confronted by Firdauzie Dwiandika, a Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs, at the Indonesian Embassy, Salient approached the Embassy for comment.

In a three page statement Dwiandika said he had “been following Benny Wenda’s activities since his arrival” but suggested “his visit is not something that is sensational and crucial to be monitored.”

Dwiandika denied the illegitimacy of the Act of Free Choice 1969 and stated, “there have been many improvements done” to Indonesia’s human rights record.

He described the 11 MPs who signed the declaration as expressing “their sympathy and support to Benny Wenda” but stated: “I do not see it as something outstanding.”

At his speech at Parliament, Wenda stressed New Zealand’s importance in the campaign: “We are close neighbours. […] You can help us.”

“We have to start here in the Pacific.”

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