Monday, February 11, 2013

West Papua's Benny Wenda takes a hit from NZ Speaker, but fights on

West Papuan campaigner Benny Wenda (centre) talks to Café Pacific publisher
David Robie (left) and PNG journalist Henry Yamo at the
Pacific Media Centre yesterday. Photo: Del Abcede/PMC
By Henry Yamo, a Papua New Guinean journalist in New Zealand

WEST PAPUAN independence advocate Benny Wenda is stunned to find New Zealand  “ignoring human rights issues on its doorstep” after Speaker David Carter denied him the opportunity to speak about his cause in Parliament.

“The Australian Parliament gave support last November and I was looking forward to the same [backing] in New Zealand, but my entry to Parliament has been blocked,” he says.

But he says the plight of his people is far too serious for him to give in.

Wenda has witnessed his people being beaten, tortured, imprisoned and killed and has been motivated to fight in this struggle to free his people.

Benny Wenda, a tribal chief of West Papua and founder of International Parliamentarians for West Papua, visited Auckland's Pacific Media Centre yesterday as part of his world tour visiting governments and parliamentarians.

International Parliamentarians for West Papua is a global group of Parliamentarians who are committed to raise West Papuan issues in parliaments and to raise the case for self-determination.

Benny’s visit to governments around the world is to raise the issue of West Papua with various Parliamentarians to seek support for the West Papuans' call for a free referendum, which has been going on for the last 50 years.

Overwhelming support
Although he has received overwhelming support and has been welcomed by parliamentarians in countries he has visited, his planned visit to the New Zealand Parliament hit a snag when Speaker Carter rejected a meeting with parliamentarians in the Beehive.

However, Wenda, who campaigns peacefully for self-determination and human rights for the people of West Papua, said this did not dampen his spirits – but it encouraged him.

He said his trip between countries was to raise awareness about the issues affecting the people and what they were going suffering back at home. He also wanted to get international support to raise the issue of human rights.

His aim is to represent his people in putting forward their desire for self-determination to the governments around the world because he believes the so-called 1969 “Act of Free Choice” was not carried out according to international standards but done according to Indonesian standards.

“The Western world calls it an “Act of free choice”, but we call it the “Act of no choice” and part of my campaign is to seek support from world governments to see that through that process West Papuans’ right to self-determination was betrayed in 1969,” he said.

“The 1969 vote must be reviewed, by the UN Decolonisation Committee as the legitimate body that was involved in accepting the process then which was a mistake,” he said.

“They never acted by free choice, they were forced by Indonesia to take the vote – including my father. They are lying, before the referendum they gave touches and axes as bribe. That referendum is not true,” he said.

‘Cry for freedom’
“We do not have any freedom of speech and assembly, and for the last 50 years the world has ignored this because Indonesia has been able to close this off to the outside world.

“In the 20th century we are still a colony; my message is, 'please hear my people cry for freedom',” he said.

Wenda was a political prisoner, accused of inciting an attack on a police station. The fact that he was not in the country at the time and certainly had nothing to with, does not matter.

However, it was widely speculated at the time that the charges were brought against Wenda because of his political leadership of the Koteka Tribal Assembly, a political council of tribes which advocates self-determination for West Papua from Indonesia.

Speaking at a public meeting in Auckland last night, human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson, also co-founder of International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP), said the road had been a long one for Wenda, but his testament and commitment to his people had gained good momentum.

The ILWP movement is a group of lawyers who want to make the case for West Papuans’ self-determination and to set out to support their international legal case needs.

Robinson said Indonesia had tried to silence Wenda’s international campaign by “abusing” the Interpol system and listing him as a “wanted terrorist”.

Indigenous persecution
“His case is indicative of what goes on in West Papua and the persecution that any indigenous West Papuan leader suffers when they stand up and speak on behalf of their people," she said.

“This points out that Indonesia is so concerned about the strength of his cause and the strength of his voice speaking on behalf of his people, that it had taken such a drastic step to try to silence him,” she said.

But Robinson and her team were able to challenge the warrant posted on the Interpol system and in September 2012 it was removed on the grounds that the arrest was politically motivated.

Since then Wenda, who was granted political asylum in the UK, has been able to travel to many countries raising awareness about the on-going human rights abuse in West Papua.

Wenda will return to Australia and then travel on to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

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