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Herman Wainggai: “Protecting Human Rights” Starts with respecting cultural differences and adhering to one ’s innate conscience

August 27, 2018

Opening Statement:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this very important discussion about respect and cultural values. My name is Herman Wainggai. I’m an indigenous West Papua representing the West Papua here at the UN. I’m a former political prisoner who was jailed just because I led peaceful protests against Indonesian imperialism and abuse of our rights as indigenous people. In 2006, I escaped West Papua with the hope that if I survive, I will tell my story to the world and help those in a similar situation to understand their own human rights. This topic is very personal to me because this is what we are facing in West Papua today.

Human Rights and Respect

What are these Human Rights and where do come from?
Human rights are clearly outlined in this organization’s (UN) declaration as rights that are “inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.”

These rights are ‘inherent’ or ‘permanent’ and are guaranteed to “all human beings.” In other words, every human being regardless of who or what they are, are “entitled to these rights, without discrimination.” The United States Declaration of Independent explains these rights clearly and where they come from: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These rights are “inalienable” because they are given to us by our creator and not by human beings. Our governments who are members of this organization, the UN, sworn to uphold these rights and principles, but this is not always the case.

Today, I speak to you on behalf of my indigenous people of West Papua and how our rights are being denied every day by the Indonesian government and what we should do about it. In fact, the Indonesian constitution of 1945 upholds the same principles found in this UN declaration: “that all human beings as God’s creations possess fundamental rights which are inherent to their noble dignity and respect and are protected…” Yet, we are not being afforded the protection of that law.

In 1969, the Indonesian government under a sham referendum known as the “Act of Free Choice” election which 1025 West Papuans voted in favor of the integration of West Papua and Indonesia, occupied West Papua and claimed sovereignty over our people. Not all West Papuans were afforded the right to vote for their own freedom and future during that time. For fifty years, our people are being beaten and forced to accept a foreign power that they never invited. We are forced to “respect” the sovereignty of a nation that the majority of West Papuan didn’t invite nor voted to bring them to their shores as their colonial masters.

We have been forced to honor Indonesian laws, their cultures that are foreign to us, their creeds, and their ideologies, and we are told that if we don’t do these things, we are in danger of prolonged prison terms. And if we are not happy with how things are and then go to the streets and protest and demand that our rights be respected, we face a minimum of 20 years in prison or a lifetime in jail. I know this because I was arrested and jailed for speaking out and demanded that our rights be respected and urged the Indonesian government to give our people the right to vote for their own self-determination. I was arrested, tortured, imprisoned and warned not to ever again about these things. I had no choice but to escape to Australia in 2006.

To make matters worse for our people, the Indonesian government passed a regulation that in 2007 that violated everything that the United Nations stands for and its charter and also its founding constitution. In this regulation, all cultural symbols, which are not Indonesian in nature, are banned. This means that all West Papuan cultural symbols including our traditional ‘Morning Star flag’ – a flag flown by our people long before Indonesian occupation; our songs, arts, chants, poems, flag, etc. are also banned. Any symbols on shirts, pamphlets, car, or banners that Indonesia sees as a violation of this law are removed and owners arrested and imprisoned. In certain cases, they kill peaceful protesters who are dared to use their rights to express their anger toward the government of Indonesia.

Today’s theme is “Protecting Human Rights – starts with respecting cultural differences and adhering to one’s innate conscience” is highly appropriate because respecting human rights must begin by respecting the person or ethnic group and the values that make them unique or different from you. This should also start with respecting the desires of those people to live free from external control and govern their own sociopolitical affairs. To beat down another ethnic group or people of different cultures and force them to submit to your own will, or to force them to honor laws that they never voted for, and statues that go against their cultural values are not only evil, they are a violation of the UN Human Rights declaration and International laws.

I’ll close with these: “respect is a two-way street.” To demand respect from others, you must first respect them for who they are and everything that makes them a unique people. If I come to America and live here, I am expected to honor the laws of this land and to respect the cultural values that make America exceptional, and the same can be said of those who chose to live in other countries. In our case, we see Indonesia as a foreign power in our lands and to demand our people to respect of their laws and their culture through the barrel of a gun, only brings hatred and enmity between our people and Indonesian settlers.

The prisons throughout Indonesia is filled with people who were arrested because they wore shirts that had cultural symbols on them or sung songs and carried banners glorifying their own cultures and their own tribal pride. How could they expect indigenous people respect their culture if they don’t respect the cultures of these indigenous people? We hope that one day the Indonesian government will revoke this law or regulation and give us West Papuans our “God-given rights” to demonstrate our cultural values and uniqueness; our pride and our joy, in public and elsewhere without being charged with treason or subversion which can carry about to 20 years in prison.

Every human being within the sound of my voice is unique in color, ethnicity, cultural background, religion, educational background and sexual orientation. And you know very well that I respect you and I pray that we will continue to respect each other, because out of respect, we can create better laws; out of respect, we can coexist and live harmoniously with one another, but without respect, chaos will emerge, disorder will arise, and destruction and death will follow.

Thank you once again for giving me this opportunity to address you today.

New York City, 8/24/2018

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