Swim for West Papua. Here’s why your name matters to the people of West Papua.

July 18, 2017

Sign & Share the Global Petition for West Papua here

West Papuan people at an undisclosed beach showing their support for Swim for West Papua and the Global Petition, calling on others to Sign and Share it. Photo: KNPB.

On a tropical island in the South Pacific, tens of thousands of people are gathering to write down their names and details on the global petition asking the UN to send an investigator to West Papua urgently. They want their personal name to reach the UN, and they are willing to risk their lives for it. Why?

After 55 years, 500,000 deaths, and countless cases of mass arrests, torture, including their children, which is still happening today, the people of West Papua feel this is their opportunity to get their message asking for help, directly to the UN.

In secret locations, they are meeting on beaches and in the jungle to hold banners showing their support for a group of swimmers in Geneva who will be delivering this petition, after swimming it 69 kms across Lake Geneva, to hand deliver it directly to the Human Rights Council. 

They are asking the world to join them.

West Papuan people in the Mamta Region showing their support for Swim for West Papua and encouraging others to Sign & Share the petition. Photo: KNPB.

The West Papuan people are appealing to their friends around the world to add their names to this petition and join them in showing their support for the Swim for West Papua team.. Just for actions like this, the island people risk imprisonment, torture and even death. Yanto Awerkion remains in prison for signing his name. For showing the UN that YOUR NAME MATTERS, you can do it in one easy click. 

Many people ignore appeals to sign them, as there are so many crucial campaigns out there. But then there are cases, such as this, where it really is a matter of life and death, and where the right petition at the right time could help a whole nation of people gain the international attention they need to help put an end to the 55 year struggle for survival, and for freedom.

Please read below for more information about West Papua’s history, and the inspiring story of the Swim for West Papua petition, & why this is the most important campaign to support right now! 

West Papua is a country where just displaying your national flag can get you 15 years in jail; for signing this petition, can get you 15 years in prison. Where only last month 135 people were arrested, and tortured, many of which were children.

How could this possibly be happening today? and why isn’t the UN helping? In a place that seems like a tropical paradise, the worlds longest military occupation is happening, and the world know nothing!

The situation in West Papua. A history of betrayal.

A map of West Papua showing Indonesia to the West, Australia to the South and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to the right. Photo: New Internationalist.

Never heard of West Papua? You’re not alone. Despite being Australia’s closest geographic neighbour at less than 250km away, it barley makes headlines anywhere. This is because foreign journalists have been literally banned from freely reporting there for 50 years.

West Papuan people in the capital city Port Numbay/Jayapura 2016, arrested and stripped by the Indonesian police. Photo: KNPB, supplied.

Here are some facts about West Papua:

  • For over 50 years, the people of West Papua have been suffering under a systematic genocide imposed by the Indonesian government.
  • It is estimated that over 500,000 people (nearly 1 in 3 people) have been killed.
  • Once a Dutch colony with the promise of independence, West Papua was invaded by Indonesia in 1963.
  • Indonesia craved access to West Papua’s vast natural resources including Grasberg, a mountain which has since become the world’s largest goldmine.

    Starting to realise why Indonesia doesn’t want the world to know about West Papua?

West Papuan people in Utikini village, arrested and stripped by the Indonesian police. Photo: KNPB, supplied.

By 1969, the United Nations promised the people of West Papua a free and fair referendum on independence to be held “in accordance with international practice”. Indonesia’s reaction? To handpick 1,026 people, (less than 0.2% the population) and force them at gunpoint to vote for Indonesian rule.

Imagine an independence referendum for the people of Scotland where the British government handpicked less than 0.2% the population and forced them to vote for British rule?

Indonesian militarised police on patrol in West Papua. Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP.

Ever since this Day of Betrayal, on August 2nd 1969, the people of West Papua have campaigned ever day and night for their fundamental right to self-determination.  They are calling on the Untied Nations to fulfill its promise of a REAL independence referendum (an internationally supervised vote), so that West Papua can finally vote in peace to break free from colonialism at last.

The West Papua National Committee (KNPB) demonstrating for a referendum in Timika in the La Pago Region of the country. Photo: KNPB.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), which represents the people of West Papua, is leading the call to #LetWestPapuaVote and for several years has been planning to organise a national and international petition to show the world that the people of West Papua demand to be free and that there is real support and solidarity for their struggle from around the world.

Swim for West Papua and the Global Petition for an Internationally Supervised Vote

Some of the founders of Swim for West Papua, training for the big day. Photo: Swim for West Papua.

Last year, something incredible happened. A group of young swimmers, horrified at learning about the neglected genocide of West Papua and inspired by the freedom struggle of the West Papuan people, decided to raise awareness for this forgotten occupation through swimming. Such an initiative perfectly fitted the description as a force to highlight the mass petition. 

After meeting with the leaders of the ULMWP, it was decided that they would be chosen to carry the names of the Global Petition for West Papua. They agreed that in August 2017, they would literally swim the petition 69 kilometers across Lake Geneva and into the hands of the United Nations. 

Swim for West Papua was born.

In January 2017, the swim team backed by ULMWP Spokesperson Benny Wenda met at the British parliament in Westminster to officially launch the Global Petition for West Papua.

The launching of the Global Petition for West Papua. (L to R) Tim, Tom and Joel from Swim for West Papua, Maria Wenda, Benny Wenda, Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, Peter Tatchell, Reverend Lord Harries. Photo: Free West Papua Campaign.

As well as being backed by prominent UK parliamentarians, the cause was given the blessing of longstanding Free West Papua supporter Archbishop Desmond Tutu who stated:

“The violence and human rights abuses perpetrated against the people of West Papua over the past 50 years has received little media attention in the west, I commend the team of swimmers preparing to swim along Lake Geneva to raise awareness of the West Papua’s plight. We may live in different regions of the world, but we are one family. Back The Swim – Free West Papua”. 

The words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Photo: Swim for West Papua.

A video was also shown in parliament of people across West Papua, even in prison, showing their support for the petition and urging the international community to sign and share it.

Prominent political prisoner Steven Itlay (center) was interrogated all day by the Indonesian police immediately after they found out he had been seen on a TV screen at the British parliament.

West Papuan political prisoners in jail showing their support for the British parliament launch of the Global Petition. Photo: KNPB.

The petition was then endorsed by veteran Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell who quoted Martin Luther King’s words, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. 

After Benny Wenda and others present signed the petition, it was formally launched.

This being 2017, the petition was simultaneously launched online as well and Signed, Shared and Re-tweeted within seconds. 

Peter Tatchell showing his support for the petition and the Swim for West Papua. Photo: Peter Tatchell Foundation.

#BackTheSwim and the worldwide signing of the petition

In just one day, the online petition received over 3000 signatures as it was spread around the world, it has since gone up to nearly 40,000.

Over 3000 signatures collected for the petition in just one day. Photo: Swim for West Papua.

From Australia to the USA, Namibia to Japan, Sweden to Ghana, people everywhere are signing and sharing this petition and showing their support to the globe with the hashtags #BackTheSwim and #LetWestPapuaVote.

The Mozaik Choir in Östersund, Sweden singing traditional West Papuan songs and raising awareness for Swim for West Papua and the Global Petition. Photo: Mozaik Choir.

Since February, the petition has been signed by tens of thousands of people internationally, including internationally renowned figures such as poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Professor Noam Chomsky, the artist Akala, and the captain of the Tongan Rugby team ‘Otennili Latu Langilangi.

Internationally renowned poet Benjamin Zephaniah taking a bold stand for the Swim for West Papua petition! Photo: Benjamin Zephaniah.

It only took a week for Indonesia’s Orwellian ‘Minister of Communications’ backed by the military to ban the petition and in fact the entire petition hosting website of Avaaz throughout the whole of Indonesia.

But the signatures kept coming in from around the world and the people of West Papua began to sign the petition manually, at great personal risk. From the mountains to the sea, they gathered to write their names, to give their voices to the world and to publicly show that they put their hopes and aspirations behind this petition and the swim team.

West Papuan children at a gathering in support of the petition and Swim for West Papua. Photo: KNPB.

Representatives of the 3 main independence organisations also came together under the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to sign the petition and declare the united aspirations of the West Papuan people towards this historic petition for self-determination.

Representatives of the 3 main independence organisations within West Papua signing the petition. Photo: KNPB.

Then on 5th May, two men, Saverius Mokai Gebse and Reimundus Ndiken were both arrested by the Indonesian police for signing the petition in their own village. It is not yet know what happened to them. The Indonesian military and police stated that anyone who participates in the signing of the petition for West Papua “will be arrested”.

Saverius Mokai Gebse signing the petition in his village in the Ha Anim/Merauke region of West Papua. Photo: KNPB.

Then on 30th May, a gathering in support of the petition in Timika town was held and stormed by armed Indonesian military, police and Special Forces personnel. They raided the local West Papua National Committee (KNPB) office and arrested the local deputy Chairperson Yanto Awerkion as soon as he addressed the crowd in support of the petition.

Nearly 2 months later, Yanto remains behind Indonesian police bars and is being charged with a possible life sentence for “treason” just for advocating for this petition. Beginning to realise how important this petition is? 

West Papuan political prisoner Yanto Awerkion, arrested and threatened with “treason” by the Indonesian military and police just for supporting the petition.

Yanto continues to appeal for as many people as possible to continue Signing and Sharing the petition to give a voice to his people, silenced under Indonesian military occupation.

Why this matters and how it works 

But signing my name on a petition? How is that going to help people to be free from colonialsm?

Here’s the deal: 

This is the first time in the history of West Papua that West Papuan people will have their demands taken directly to the United Nations, the first time that their names will be shown as proof of their desires to be free.

West Papuan villagers in the Baliem valley, showing their full support for the petition. Photo: KNPB.

It is not the petition itself that will force the United Nations to fulfill its promises for West Papua, it is what this petition represents. It represents the will and voices of the West Papuan people who for over 50 years have had their voices systematically silenced by the Indonesian government.

It represents the bloodshed, the tears, the heartache and the ongoing struggle for liberation from a people long forgotten by the international community.

West Papuan people at a beach at another event to show the world that they want freedom and to show support for Swim for West Papua and the petition. Photo; KNPB.

And perhaps most importantly, it represents the truth – the people of West Papua want to be free and they have friends around the world who have not forgotten them but are prepared to stand in solidarity.

It smashes the Indonesian government’s claims of a 1969 “Act of Free Choice” right out of the water. In 1969, less than 0.2% of West Papuan people were forced to vote for Indonesian rule and this is the basis by which Indonesia still claims that the people of West Papua “want to be part of Indonesia.”

West Papuan refugees in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea supporting the petition and Swim for West Papua. Photo: Free West Papua Campaign.

In 2017, the masses of the West Papuan people are being forced NOT to express their desires for freedom yet in their thousands upon thousands they are doing so. THIS is the moment the people of West Papua have been waiting for, to pivot the eyes of the world towards their fundamental right to self-determination.

West Papuan children among those at an event in an undisclosed location calling on people around the world to Sign the Global Petition for West Papua. Photo: KNPB.

Last year, the “Westminster Declaration” of the British parliament brought together West Papuan leaders, top international lawyers and Pacific Islander politicians (including the Prime Minister of Tonga). Even UK Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn was there and gave his full endorsement.

UK Opposition Leader Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Westminster meeting for an Internationally Supervised Vote in the British Parliament. May 2016. Photo: Free West Papua Campaign.

They declared their full solidarity for the people of West Papua and called for an Internationally Supervised Vote to be held in West Papua. They gave their blessing, now it’s up to us the people to build the momentum and show the world that we will not look the other way while the people of West Papua continue to suffer under genocide and colonialism.

Hundreds of people from the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) in Timika supporting the petition. Photo: KNPB.

From 1969 to 2014, West Papua had only one country, the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, supporting it. In just 3 years, that number has gone from 1 to 7. Times are changing fast for West Papua. The United Nations by itself cannot Free West Papua but with the support of an ever growing list of countries backed by evidence of public support, it is obligated to provide space to finally put West Papua back on its agenda.

Support to #BackTheSwim from West Papua’s most famous political prisoner, Filep Karma who was sentenced to jail for 15 years just for raising the West Papuan flag. Photo: Free West Papua Campaign.

It is at this point that the growing list of international friends of West Papua can push for a United Nations resolution and force a REAL Act of Free Choice for West Papua, an Internationally Supervised Vote.

West Papuan youths giving their backing to Swim for West Papua and the Global Petition. Photo: KNPB.

So this is why signing YOUR name matters, why YOUR signatures can and WILL make a difference for the people of West Papua. The people of West Papua need to show the United Nations that the world has not forgotten them, that they have real friends who are prepared to speak up for them. Far too often, we hear about situation of injustice, feel sorry and change the channel. Not this time.

Now is the time to stand up for what you know is right. Be part of a truly global, active movement and help to amplify the voices of those denied their voice.

West Papua desperately needs your help. Don’t let them suffer alone. Sign & Share the petition today. 

West Papuan youths giving their backing to Swim for West Papua and the Global Petition. Photo: KNPB.

Here’s what YOU can do to help

  1. Sign & Share the petition! Sign it and share it with as many people as possible. Send it to friends, famly members colleagues, neighbours and anyone else, urging them to sign, sign and Take Action too
  2. How many signatures can you get for West Papua? Not everyone signs online petitions and we are getting almost as many offline signatures as online ones. You can print unlimited sheets of our manual petition here and more information to show people here. Send us the photos of any completed petition sheets and we’ll input and add them to the core number.
  3. Share your support with the world! Raise awareness by printing the #BackTheSwim sign and taking a photo with it. Send us your #BackTheSwim pictures via E-mail, on Facebook or Twitter and we’ll share your support with the world!

If there’s one more thing you should know after reading this, it’s the words of West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda who was jailed in West Papua for peacefully campaigning for his people’s freedom.

“For over 50 years my people’s cries of injustice have gone largely unnoticed, but the world is finally waking up. I urge everyone to support the swim team and sign the petition. Do it for my people, for West Papuans who have had their voices taken and who suffer daily. Only then can we take another step along the road to Freedom! Back The Swim -Let West Papua Vote”. 

West Papuan Independence Leader and ULMWP Spokesperson Benny Wenda showing his support to #BackTheSwim. Photo: Swim for West Papua.