UN denies Papuan petition submitted
Amid a diplomatic spat between Indonesia and some of its Pacific island neighbors over whether Jakarta has been guilty of violating human rights in its easternmost territories, the United Nations itself has been drawn into a dispute over whether a majority of Papuans have really just declared themselves separatists.
A UN official denied on Thursday a claim that a petition signed by almost 2 million Papuans in support of self-determination had been submitted to the UN’s committee on decolonization.
Venezuela’s permanent representative to the UN, Rafael Ramirez, in his capacity as chairman of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24), expressed concern about the claim.
“Some people are trying to use me and trying to manipulate or whatever,” he said. “I’m concerned because some people are trying to use me as propaganda.”
Benny Wenda, a spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) who calls himself a West Papuan independence leader, told the British Guardian newspaper that he had submitted the petition, which according to the ULMWP had been signed by 1,804,421 people, to the UN committee on Aug. 26.
“Today, I delivered the West Papuan People’s Petition, signed by over 70 percent of my people, to the United Nations,” Benny said on his Twitter account.
Nevertheless, Ramirez said he had not had any communication with the Papuan leader, emphasizing that it was not possible for him to officially relate to parties outside the C-24 agenda.
He explained that the mandate of the committee is limited to 17 non-self-governing territories and that Papua was not one of them.
“I have never received anything nor anybody regarding the issue of West Papua,” he said in a doorstep interview at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday morning.
According to the Guardian, the petition, which Benny claimed was “smuggled from one end of Papua to the other” without alerting the authorities, apparently requests that the UN appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses and “put West Papua back on the decolonization committee agenda and ensure their right to self-determination […] is respected by holding an internationally supervised vote.”
Meanwhile, Papuan pastor and human rights activist Dora Balubuan at first confirmed the claim that a petition had been conducted without the knowledge of the authorities, but then later denied any knowledge of it when asked to confirm it a second time on a separate occasion.
In describing the document, the ULMWP has published various photographs of people signing the petition around Papua and of several bound copies of the complete petition on its website. A photo on Benny’s Twitter feed, reportedly taken on Aug. 26, shows him holding one copy together with British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Just days before the petition controversy erupted, the leader of Vanuatu condemned the UN for turning “a deaf ear” to atrocities committed in West Papua.
In response, Indonesia fielded a junior diplomat to exercise its first right of reply during the last session of the UNGA general debate last week. Ainan Nuran, 30, was detailed to reprimand the leaders of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands for peddling “hoaxes and false accusations” concerning Papua.