How a West Papuan activist snuck into a UN meeting to deliver a direct message to Michelle Bachelet

The Indonesian government has condemned Vanuatu for enabling exiled West Papuan independence leader to meet the United Nations human rights chief.

Indonesia’s Ambassador to the UN, Hasan Kleib, has strongly condemned Vanuatu for helping exiled West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda to meet with UN officials during one of its periodic review meetings.

“(They) deliberately deceived the High Commission by taking manipulative steps through the infiltration of Benny Wenda into the Vanuatu delegation,” he says.

Mr Wenda, on behalf of an independence movement in Indonesia's West Papua province delivered a petition with 1.8 million signatures demanding an independence referendum to UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Friday.

In September 2017, Mr Wenda, chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), sought to deliver the petition to the UN’s decolonisation committee but was blocked, with the committee saying West Papua was outside its mandate.

The committee’s chair, Rafael Ramírez, said at the time the mandate extended only to the 17 states identified by the UN as “non self-governing territories”.

'Historic day'

Indonesia has agreed in principle to allow the office of the United Nations human rights commissioner into Papua region, or West Papua.

Mr Wenda described the day as historic for himself and his people.

"I handed over what I call the bones of the people of West Papua, because so many people have been killed."


Supporters of West Papuan independence holding reams of the petition.
Source: Twitter: Free West Papua

He said West Papuans had no freedom of speech or assembly and the only way to be heard was through the petition, signed by almost three-quarters of the 2.5 million population.

“I think this was the first time in history of UN, (Michelle Bachelet) was really surprised seeing that petition very big, contain 40 kilograms.

"She will continue to look at this and we request that from the people of West Papua, we're asking for a new referendum,” he told SBS News

Since Indonesia’s annexation of the former Dutch colony and a widely discredited UN referendum in the 1960s, thousands of lives have been lost and Indonesia has been regularly criticised for human rights abuses.

Tensions have escalated after rebels recently killed at least 17 people working on a 4,000 kilometre highway through the Papua provinces, a signature infrastructure project of Indonesian president, Joko Widodo.

In response, Indonesia launched a military crackdown in the region, leading to several deaths and thousands of people allegedly being displaced after they fled into the jungle.

Today, at an international press conference organised by the Free Papua Movement, the political wing of the Movement for the first time took a united stance with its military wing, acknowledging an ongoing war with Indonesia.

However, it stated its desire to seek a lasting peaceful solution through negotiations with Jakarta.

With Reuters

Published 31 January 2019 at 9:17pm
By Lin Evlin