The UN no longer considers West Papua to be “colonized,” leaving activists hard pressed to find solutions.
By Prianka Srinivasan
NEW YORK — A decade ago, Herman Wainggai caused a diplomatic furor between Indonesia and Australia when he boarded a homemade canoe and crossed the Arafura Sea to the northern tip of Australia. Escaping his home in the Indonesian-controlled territory of West Papua, Wainggai feared that his campaign for West Papuan independence would soon cost him his life. In March 2006, Australia recognized Wainggai as a refugee and granted him protection. Indonesia responded by temporarily recalling its Australian ambassador.
With reports of renewed intimidation by Indonesian authorities in West Papua, Wainggai will once again embark on a controversial journey to seek justice for his people. This time, his destination is New York’s UN headquarters to lobby at its 71st General Assembly. “We want to remind the UN they can’t let West Papua be colonized for so long,” said Wainggai in a telephone interview.
But Wainggai’s task will not be easy. The UN has slumbered in its decolonization efforts, with only one state, Timor-Leste, achieving independence in the past 20 years. Added to that, West Papua is currently unrecognized by the world body as a colonized “non-self-governing territory”—it lost this designation over four decades ago, when West Papua was integrated by Indonesia through controversial means.
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