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Petition for West Papuan independence vote to go to UN
RNZI Dateline Pacific - September 6, 2017
The delivery of the petition started in Geneva last week when a British team swam with a symbolic version across the lake to the UN's Geneva headquarters. Dominic Godfrey has more.
The 72 kilometre Geneva swim drew attention to the petition and to the next stage of its delivery to UN headquarters.
The exiled West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda says he'll present the document to the Secretary General and the C24, the special committee on decolonization.
He says there's a rigorous process underway to verify the thousands of signatures received so far from within Indonesia's Papua region.
"Indonesia's always saying it's just a handful of people that are talking about independence, it's just a dream and fantasy, but now we show that all the minorities are wanting independence and that means Indonesia's presence in West Papua is illegal."
Swimming across Lake Geneva has not been the only obstacle in getting the petition to New York.
Free West Papua campaigners say 42 people have been tortured and two people have been arrested in the Indonesian province as a direct consequence of the petition, including a member of the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua or KNPB.
They say Yanto Awerkion was arrested on June 23 at a rally promoting the petition and he is still in custody after being charged with treason. Treason can carry a life sentence in Indonesia.
The harsh treatment drives many West Papuans into exile. A representative from the Free West Papua Campaign in the Netherlands, Oridek Ap, says he fled 34 years ago.
"I've never been back to Papua since Indonesia killed my father in 1984. His death is my motivation to stand up for my people."
His father, the musician and anthropologist Arnold Ap, died in prison where he was being held without charges. He was killed by a gunshot to the back.
Human rights groups and academics estimate that more than 150,000 Papuans have died since the Indonesian occupation began in the 1960's.
Oridek Ap was in Geneva for the swim across the lake. "We want to represent our people, the West Papuan people by singing and dancing to welcome the swimmers. That's why we're here, to support them."
Mr Ap says his support represents those at home in West Papua and the 1500 living in exile in the Netherlands.
Another supporter is 21 year old Harry Jenkinson from the UK. The veteran campaigner has been involved since he was 14 and was in Geneva to organise the itinerary around the petition's swim team.
"The people of West Papua have been totally inspired by the swim, and last night we got information in photos that people were watching us on big screens in West Papua, live."
The spokesperson for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda, says he's confident the petition will open the eyes of the world to the need for an internationally supervised vote on independence for West Papua.
"Our voice has been hidden under the carpet nearly 50 years so this is an historical moment and we need to make sure that the petition will be handed over right."
The plebiscite by which Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 was sanctioned by the UN.
But, with just 1025 people, around 0.2 percent of the population at the time, participating under duress, the so-called Act of Free Choice is regarded by Papuans as illegitimate.
According to Mr Wenda, there is an onus on the UN to correct this historical injustice by facilitating a legitimate self-determination process.
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