West Papua speech – October 17th 2008 Afdrukken




On May 1

st it is traditional here in the UK to celebrate both the achievements of

the labour movement and the start of summer. On the other side of the world,


on the western half of the island of New Guinea, just a few hundred

miles north of Australia,

May 1st is marked in other ways. Here

a million and a half indigenous West Papuans remember the day on which Indonesia illegally

occupied West Papua.

I am proud to be part of a growing movement here in the
UK dedicated to ensuring that the voices of West Papuans are not drowned out
by either the sound of Western diplomatic appeasement or the boots of the
estimated 35,000 Indonesian troops that are currently trampling all over the
West Papuan’s human rights, environment and culture. That’s 1 solider for
every 44 West Papuan citizens. And everyone in this room is part of that same
growing movement, joining in solidarity with our friends in West Papua to
ensure that everyone knows their story.
Much of that story will be familiar to most of you here this evening, so I want
to focus on just those aspects of it that have particularly struck me.
In West Papua you take your life into your hands simply by raising the national
flag, particularly on Independence Day, December 1st. Yet West Papuans
remain loyal to this powerful symbol of the right to self determination. Each of
the 13 stripes stands for a West Papuan tribe. The red stripe at the side reminds us of political struggle and bloodshed. The blue and white stripes
represent the ocean and the land, whilst the morning star is the star of hope.
(bound to be at least one flag up in the room!) It must be difficult to hold onto
hope in the face of a sham referendum; when at least 10% of the indigenous
Melanesian population have been wiped out by the occupying Indonesian army;
when systematic human rights abuses including arbitrary detention, rape,
torture, beatings in custody and extra-judicial killing are common place; when
your crops are systematically destroyed as part of a concerted effort to starve
you and deny your land rights; when people are routinely displaced and
hundreds of homes, churches, clinics and schools burned to the ground by
Indonesian troops; and when the rest of the world does not clamour for
Indonesia to be held to account.
Yet the struggle for self determination in West Papua, as in other parts of the
world, is strongly rooted in hope – because once you choose to hope almost
anything is possible.
This is also true for those of us here in the UK who are trying to play a role,
however, small, in bringing about a free West Papua. The Indonesian
occupation only continues because our own government, and countless others,
does not speak out against it. Why, we ask, when the UN’s Special
Representative has expressed grave concerns about the observation and
perpetration of human rights violations, is there such a solid wall of silence?
Why, despite plentiful evidence that the ‘Act of No Choice’ was forced upon
West Papua, does the international community continue to uphold its terms?
Why when Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of political
prisoners in West Papua, does our Prime Minster look the other way?
Perhaps because in global currency the lives of West Papuans have little value
compared to the vast profits up for grabs if we are friends with Indonesia.
Amongst those countries which have made money supplying arms to the
Indonesian military as they tortured and killed West Papuans are the United
States, the United Kingdom, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand,
Russia, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Thailand, South Korea, Japan,
South Africa, and China. In 2005, I wrote to the then Foreign Secretary, Jack
Straw about a deployment of British supplied Tactica armoured personnel
carriers fitted with water canons. Reports suggested that these might be used
to quell protests on West Papua’s national day, thereby breaching the UK’s
commitment to not supply equipment that might be used in human rights
violations. The Minister confirmed the water canons were used against West
Papuans. He also asserted that maintaining law and order within its boundaries
did not constitute internal repression or a human rights abuse on the part of
the Indonesian authorities. Shame on him.
The West also benefits economically when companies like BP & Freeport/Rio
Tinto exploit the natural resources of West Papua, including natural gas, copper and gold. BP has claimed that because it is not paying the Indonesian
military for ‘protection’, the development of a natural gas project in West
Papua is not ethically suspect. I disagree. The Indonesian government will
benefit financially from the project and West Papuans will not receive a penny.
Just as they have never received a penny of the massive profits turned over by
Freeport, whose Indonesian subsidiary last year paid the Indonesian
government over 1.8 billion dollars in tax. The chief of the Kapiraya tribe in
West Papua’s Kaimana district launched a campaign for compensation against
Freeport earlier this year, because their mining operations have been
responsible for several rivers being polluted, killing wildlife and poisoning
water sources for local people. Mine waste was also fouling parts of the Etna
Gulf coastline. The local village communities are now facing water shortages
because of the effect of chemical pollutants from the company.
And the assault on West Papua’s environment does not end there. The rush to
grow agrofuels to feed the West’s addiction to cars is already exerting pressure
on rainforest and indigenous populations in Indonesia. There is a very real risk
that land in West Papua might be cultivated in this way, posing a further
ecological threat, as well as denying people the right to grow food for their
Here in Britain, the Free West Papua Campaign is leading the way and taking on
these corporations and the government. They are also taking on perhaps an even bigger challenge – people’s ignorance. What strikes me most about the
situation in West Papua is how little is known about what is going on. As a
politician I feel that one of the most valuable things I can do is try and raise
awareness of the brutal way in which the Indonesian military repeatedly abuse
human rights in West Papua. I am calling on each and every one of you to
consider how you can play a role, no matter how small, in thwarting
Indonesia’s efforts to hide what is taking place in West Papua.
We have amongst us here tonight Benny Wenda, who has certainly not allowed
the Indonesian government to silence him. I was lucky enough to first meet
Benny some years ago when he spoke at Green Party conference. His honest
and moving account of what he has left behind in West Papua is incredibly
inspiring and I want to thank Benny and his wife Maria for sharing their story
with so many of us. Just two days ago Benny helped launch International
Parliamentarians for West Papua at the Houses of Parliament. I know I speak
on behalf of everyone here when I express hope that this initiative will achieve
what at times seems impossible - freedom of expression for West Papuans; self
determination and independence through democratic processes; full access to
West Papua for international journalists and human rights observers;
demilitarization by the Indonesian army; independently mediated dialogue,
without pre-conditions, between the Indonesian government and genuinely
representative West Papuan leaders; and, above all, a free West Papua – Papua