Herman Wainggai: May 2016 – My Restless Month
Herman Wainggai is a West Papuan leader living in Exile in the United States of America and banned for life from his beloved home, Jayapura, the capital city of West Papua.
Attending the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 2016
UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues – NYC
The month of May (2016) a really month for me. I traveled from Washington, D.C to New York City where I attended the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) then to Los Angeles. These meetings gave me hope that the freedom of West Papua is just around the corner.
I was invited to attend the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at the UN Head Quarter, New York City, on the first week of May to the second and third week of May. This year’s UNPFII focused on three things – 1. Conflict 2. Peace 3. Resolution. Indigenous organizations around the world came to this event to express their concerns on issues affecting them. My group – the West Papuan National Authority (WPNA) – was one of the few organizations representing our indigenous people of West Papua. Together we spoke out against Indonesian military build up, human rights violations, atrocity against innocent civilians and the ongoing illegal occupation of West Papua. Other indigenous organizations spoke out about issues that are quite similar to ours.
The most powerful statement, in my opinion, came from the Justice Minister of Canada who spoke passionately about the need to protect the rights of indigenous people. She made it clear that indigenous people’s rights must be respected and protected. I had the opportunity after her speech to talk to her and she told me that her government is very aware of what’s going on in West Papua – the human rights violation there. I was able to express my point of view about the issues we are facing in West Papua.
Like those who spoke before me, I expressed my frustration and profound concern for the military build up in my home West Papua. This incredible deployment of soldiers throughout West Papua only brings problems to our people. West Papua is perhaps the world’s highly militarized zone, and to make things worse for our people, West Papua is being isolated from the world because of Indonesia. I also touched on the ongoing ban on our cultural symbols.
In 2007, the UN passed and adopted a Resolution calling for the recognition and protection of Indigenous cultures and heritage and their rights to express them. However, shortly after that declaration, Indonesia passed Regulation No. 77, which essentially outlawed all cultural symbols, including our most important symbol – our national flag: the Morning Star flag. To have a member of the UN passed a law that targeted indigenous people within its control violated this UN resolution and the UN’s most important document – the UN Charter. Among the UNPFII attendants was the representative of Indonesia who saw and heard the opinions of various groups pushing for the rights of West Papuans.
After this meeting, I felt that the soon West Papua will be free from the clutches of foreign colonialism and evil dictatorship.
George Mason University
Upon my return to Washington, D.C, from my second trip to NYC, I was invited to give a lecture on West Papua at the George Mason University, Fairfax Campus alongside Professor Lester Kurtz. He is one of the professors I’d been working with for a few years. He gave me an hour of his three hours lecture, to talk about the issue of West Papua as part of his presentation on indigenous government and politics. It was a good opportunity to speak with very young students. These very young American students paid close attention to what I was saying and some of them asked me very important, profound questions. One of the questions was “what can we do here in Washington, D.C. to support the West Papuan course?” In response, I urged them to contact their congress leaders and talk to them about West Papua. Congress leads do influence US foreign policy and it would be great to actually reaching out to them.
Columbia University – School of Law
One of the Keynote speakers at the UNPFII happened to be a lecturer at the Columbia University – School of Law. He recognized my presence at the UNPFII and had asked me to speak to his class for about half an hour about the issues raised at the UNPFII. Apparently, the class was discussing the suggestions, resolutions, and ideas we’d discussed during the three-week event at the UN. I spoke about the UN meetings and my presentation; expressing my views about West Papua and Indonesian continued occupation of West Papua.
These are very smart young men and women who knew little or nothing about West Papua. So I took this opportunity to share with them what I think about our situations and the rights of West Papuans to live in a free society. For some attendees, they found out through their own research the things that are happening in West Papua today. Things such as ‘torture, intimidation, killing, military build-up etc. It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with people who will be the leaders of this country tomorrow.
Los Angeles – Garifuna Indigenous International Film Festival (GIIFF)
Shortly after I gave my short talk at the Columbia University, I flew to Los Angeles – the climax of my busy May. I flew there to attend the GIIFF. Earlier, we’d submitted my two Films – “West Papua – A Journey To Freedom” and “Hidden Genocide” to the GIIFF and were accepted by the organizers to be shown at the Festival. The maker of ‘Hidden Genocide’ – Sam Gollob – joined me in LA for the viewing of the film. In Los Angeles, I see the enthusiasm of our supporters there and those who made the long trip to LA to attend the festival. During the showing of my documentaries, the organizers asked the director to speak and to explain why he made the films. He explained to the audience that he’d heard the story of West Papua and my journey to America and decided to make a short film about it in a hope that the story would reach young people like him. This is his way of reaching out to the young American people who never heard of West Papua.
After he spoke, they asked me to give a little speech about my trip. I stood up and talked about my experience. I began with – “From Prison to Holly Wood”. I explained the fact that I never in my life imagined coming to Holly Wood and attend such a great event or have a documentary about me shown there. It was a moving event for me as a political activist. This is a very important step because Holly Wood has a greater audience and reaching far more important people than anywhere else in the world. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to show my story and to speak to the audience.
Attending this GIIFF was the Pacific Conference of Churches also attended the Festival where they showed their video entitled – “Wan Solwara” (One Ocean). This video also highlighted the West Papuan struggle for independence.
I also attended the Conference of Churches and met many leaders, including the famous African American civil rights activist Rev. James Lawson. This is the first time I meet this great man. I first met him in Boston on my first ever trip to America and after many years, I was happy he still remembers me and the issues we face every day in our own homeland.
I was also honored to attend the celebration of “African Liberation Day” at the African American Cultural Center. Here, I was asked to speak about West Papuan issues. I was asked to speak for about 30 minutes, but then they urged me to continue. After my remarks, Prof Maulana Karenga stood up and read the statement I made at the UNPFII and really stirred up the audience who appalled my statement. He then urged those who attended the celebration to stand and support West Papuan issue. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity and recognition.
I spend the final days with the Pacific Islands Community. There, I had the opportunity to meet with the delegation from Fiji, which represented the ‘Council of Churches’. This is a group of dedicated leaders of the Pacific whose goal for 2015 and 2018 is to bring awareness to the world about the violations of human rights in West Papua and to push the West Papuan agenda before the UN Decolonization Committee at the United Nations. I find this effort quite remarkable because I’d met the leader of the World Council of Churches and he also informed me of the goal of the organization which is the same – to push West Papuan issues before the decolonization committee.
We gathered at the park by the beach and I took the opportunity to walk on the sand and eventually jumped into the sea and spent about an hour and a half just enjoying the beautiful clear waters of the Pacific Ocean. It was nice.