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  • Papua
  • Budi Hernawan (bio)

Toward the end of 2017, during their annual meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, Papuan leaders elected new leaders for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ulmwp), who will serve the term of 2018–2021. There was also a significant change in the way they organize themselves. If the previous leadership was organized around the ulmwp secretary-general, suggesting the principle of first among equals, the new structure took on a more hierarchical shape. Benny Wenda is at the top of the pyramid as chair, with Octo Mote, the former secretary-general, as deputy; the position of secretary-general is now held by Rex Rumakiek. Jacob Rumbiak is tasked with the spokesperson role. The composition of personnel, however, remains largely the same. New faces are Paula Makabory as treasurer and Oridek Ap as an executive member; both are [End Page 511] Papuan exiles who reside in Australia and the Netherlands, respectively.

This restructuring is reminiscent of similar dynamics that occurred back in 2000, when Papuans were about to establish the Presidium Dewan Papua (Papua Presidium Council, or pdp) during the historic Second Papuan Congress in Jayapura, which the author attended. During their deliberations, the late Theys Eluay proclaimed himself chair and appointed Tom Beanal as his pdp deputy. This action was different from the original design of pdp, which the Musyawarah Besar (Great Deliberation; mubes) Papua had adopted. The original structure put emphasis on collegiality and equal participation of all leaders in order to accommodate representatives of all sides of Papuan politics. Over the next three years, the new ulmwp leadership has to prove to their constituents how effective it can be in implementing the mandate, which is first and foremost to advocate for the right to self-determination of Papuans.

If we look back over the last twelve months, ulmwp was effective in penetrating international politics by securing more international recognition beyond the Pacific. During the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2017, the case of Papua was raised again by the coalition of the willing: Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the Caribbean nation of St Vincent and the Grenadines (rnz 2017a). Despite having a smaller number of advocates than in the 71st Session, they managed to attract another fiery response from the Indonesian delegation. Instead of presenting new facts, the Indonesians were dismissive and described the Papua statement as a "hoax" (rnz 2017a, 2017b).

Another diplomatic effort occurred in October 2017, when Benny Wenda, who was then the ulmwp spokesperson, submitted a petition to the UN Special Committee on Decolonization (also known as the UN Committee of 24) stating that 1.8, million Papuans had signed the document (Doherty and Lamb 2017). The UN Committee rejected the petition, arguing that its mandate is confined to dealing only with the seventeen states identified by the United Nations as "non-self-governing territories" (rnz 2017b). Although it did not attract significant attention in the Indonesian national media, the petition drew controversy within the Papuan community. One of the core questions concerns the purported 1.8, million signatures. The total population of both provinces in the Island of Papua is around 3.2, million, including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Papuans. If the 1.8, million figure is accurate, it would mean that 56, percent of inhabitants of the whole of Papua signed the petition, which might not necessarily reflect the reality of Papuan demography. More importantly, one might question whether the UN Committee of 24, is the most feasible venue to promote the right to self-determination for Papuans, given the fact that Indonesia is a member of the committee. Moreover, the chair of the UN Committee explicitly states that its narrow mandate limits its ability to deal with any other issues beyond the official UN list of non-self-governing territories.

Apart from engaging the UN venues, we should not forget that Papua's pending membership application for [End Page 512] the Melanesian Spearhead Group (msg) remains unresolved. The msg member states seem unable to come to a decision that might satisfy both ulmwp and Indonesia. This will be discussed in the next msg Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in...


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