Urgent UN Appeal Filed after serious escalation in threats by Indonesian government against the West Papua movement

(London, Sydney, 16 December 2020 Benny Wenda and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) have made an urgent appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs, after a serious escalation in the threats made by the Indonesian government against the ULMWP, its members and supporters following a declaration of a provisional government in exile on 1 December 2020.

In a significant development in the decades-long battle for self-determination and independence, on 1 December 2020 the ULMWP announced the formation of a provisional Government of West Papua. This followed a statement from the UN Human Rights Office on November 30 in Bangkok calling on Indonesia to address the historic demands of the West Papuan people after escalating violence in the region.

In its announcement, the ULMWP elected Mr Benny Wenda as its interim president. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and recipient of the Freedom of the City of Oxford, Mr Wenda is currently in exile in the United Kingdom having sought political asylum following persecution by the Indonesian authorities for his leadership of the movement for West Papua’s right to self-determination.

The response by the Indonesian government to this announcement has been swift and severe. Indonesian officials at the highest levels have labelled the ULMWP’s actions as “treasonous” and threatened “firm action” against Mr Wenda and ULMWP members and supporters. In view of the Indonesian security services’ track record of political assassinations and covert activities against dissidents, these are serious threats to the safety and lives of people fighting for the independence of West Papua.

The urgent appeal, filed by Jennifer Robinson and the Cambridge Pro Bono Project on behalf of Mr Wenda and the ULMWP, calls for the Indonesian Government to uphold the West Papuan people’s rights to life, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in line with its international obligations. It also calls on the British Government to adhere to its international obligations to protect Mr Wenda from the escalating threats by Indonesian authorities, which may well function to incite vigilante action against Mr Wenda and his young family.

There is also concern that unjustified treason charges will be used by Indonesian authorities to arbitrarily detain ULMWP leaders, members and supporters, as well as peaceful protesters in West Papua - a practice that has long been criticized by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Papuans Behind Bars, amongst others. This urgent appeal also follows an earlier appeal in April 2020, which was filed with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of 63 political prisoners, 56 of whom were arrested in the wake of mass protests across West Papua against Indonesian rule in late 2019.

Jennifer Robinson said:

“Indonesian officials at the highest levels have made serious threats against Benny Wenda, the ULMWP and their members and supporters in West Papua. We urge the UN to raise its concern with Indonesia, given the escalating violence, the unprecedented numbers of political arrests in the past year, and the imminent risk of further violence and arrests of West Papuans in violation of Indonesia’s international obligations.”

Benny Wenda said:

“Under the eyes of the UN, Indonesia invaded my land in 1963. Today, we call on the United Nations to uphold its historic responsibility to my people in West Papua. We suffer daily killings as a result of the UN’s historic failure, and ask only that it protect us from the consequences of its own actions. The UN High Commissioner must be allowed to conduct a visit to West Papua, in accordance with the call of 82 international states.”

Indonesian’s occupation of West Papua has been characterized by decades of repression, widespread killings and mass human rights violations, making the appeal especially important in the continued fight for West Papuans’ right to self-determination. Since the beginning of Indonesian rule, it is estimated that more than 500,000 West Papuans have been killed or disappeared and tens of thousands have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned for expressing their political opinions and calling for their right to self-determination under international law.