Pacific News Minute: Procedural Defeat but Political Win for West Papuan Independence at UN

Oct 11, 2017

Credit AK Rockefeller / Flickr

Last month, confusion erupted at the meeting of the United Nations Decolonization Committee in New York over a secret petition supporting independence for West Papua. Advocates said they presented the signatures of 1.8 million people, but the head of the Decolonization Committee declared that the petition didn’t exist. Neal Conan puzzles out the story in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Over the past few months, the petition became something of a legend banned by the Indonesian Government, the document was reportedly smuggled from village to village. Last month, at the Pacific Islands Forum, leaders of the Independence movement predicted that it would be hailed as a clear rejection of Indonesian annexation of the western half of New Guinea and force the U.N. to put West Papua back on the decolonization list.

Well, yes and no.  Exiled independence advocate Benny Wenda did present the document, which he said was signed by 1.8 million people. About 70 percent of the population, and he issued a heartfelt statement: “After decades of suffering, decades of genocide, decades of occupation, we open up the voice of the West Papuan people, which lives inside this petition,” it read.

“My people want to be free.”

But the chair of the Decolonization Committee, Rafael Ramirez, the delegate from Venezuela, declared that since West Papua was not on the agenda, no petition could be accepted, and certainly not one that challenged the territorial integrity of a member - Indonesia’s U.N. representative sits as vice-chair of the committee. “We are not going to do anything against Indonesia,” Ramirez said, complaining that his office was being manipulated for political purposes.

Which, of course, it was, and to good effect. The West Papuan cause enjoyed a rare moment in the sun. The petition will likely never be examined, but its legend will only grow.