On this day three decades ago Dr. Thom Wainggai and 70 West Papuan tribal leaders marched to the Mandala Stadium in downtown Jayapura where they declared the Independent state of Western Melanesia. They also raised the Western Melanesian flag and sang West Papuan songs. Indonesian immediately stormed the stadium and brutally arrested these tribal leaders and sent them to prison for treason. That day, Dr. Thom’s journey to the grave began that day. Today, we honor his memory and those fearless tribal leaders.
The history of West Papua goes back tens of thousands of years but the contemporary history began after the end of the Second World War. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our people, our lands, our natural were stripped from us and handed to another colonial master, Indonesia. Our leaders were sidelined in every major agreements over West Papua. In other words, the arguments between the Dutch administration and the Indonesian government ignored the fact the subject matter in all these discussions were a million indigenous West Papuans. None of our people was allowed to even participate in these negotiations. These negotiations culminated in the signing of the New York Agreement in 1962 and the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’. Again, our people were not allowed to participate in these negotiations, which was and is a gross violation of our rights as a people.
The election of 1969, as many of know, was unfairly executed to slant the result in Indonesian favor, it was in our view a conspiracy to transfer our people form one colonial master to another. All these agreements are meaningless since none of our people participated, but let focus on what Dr. Thom did and why he felt it was time for West Papua to breakaway from the Republic of Indonesia. He made the argument that
- West Papuans are not ethnically Indonesian and has connection to Indonesia except a common colonial power, the Netherlands.
- Dr. Thom understood the various agreements that he believed were applicable to West Papua. He argued that the South Pacific Commission (SPC) agreement which was signed by allies including Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, in which colonial powers were encouraged to prepare their colonies for self-determination, was applicable to West Papua. He argued that West Papua fell into that category of “colonized territory and people,” and therefore, deserving to be free from colonial rule.
- He also pointed out that according to the Rome Agreement, Indonesia was to administer West Papua for merely 25 years, at which time the people would vote for their own self-determination. On December 14, 1988, Dr. Thom argued was the day the 25 year administration f West Papua ended.
Mandala Stadium Arrest
Dr. Thom was no stranger to Indonesian police aggression and brutality but he was also fearless. For instance, as a law student studying in Japan, Dr. Thom made various legal argument as to why the occupation of West Papua was a violation of International Law, and he made many legal arguments about this issue abroad and when he returned to Jayapura, West Papua, he was arrested and jailed for writing or speaking up against the Republic of Indonesia. He served 6 months in prison before turning to Japan to complete his education.
On December 13th (Tuesday), 1988, Dr. Thom and tribal leaders from all over West Papua gathered at his place where they finalized their program. They went to a church building at Port Numbay where they prayed for strength and guidance. On the wee hours of December 14 (Wednesday), 1988, they made their way to the Mandala Stadium. Dr. Thom, flunked by 70 tribal leaders, read the ‘Declaration of the Independence of Western Melanesia’ and then hoisted the Western Melanesian independence flag. These tribal leaders began singing West Papuan songs, just as the Indonesian armed police stormed the stadium. They stripped all these leaders and hauled them to police vehicles parked outside of the stadium. They were taken away never to be allowed in the public squares again.
Trial – subversion
Dr. Thom took responsibility for the event and was tried for treason or “subversion”. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He served only a few years in Jayapura before he was transferred to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesian, where he met his fate, serving only 8 years of his 20-year prison-term.
Dr. Thom’s Legacy
Today, more and more West Papuans become aware of the history and the legal challenges to the occupation of their homeland because of the work by Dr. Thom and his supporters. These activists are not afraid to take to the streets to peacefully protest against a government they never invited in the first place. They also know that it is their right protected under international law.
The struggle continues
Here at the West Papuan Human Rights Center, we honor the legacy of Dr. Thom and we will continue to speak out against the occupation of our homeland and the abuse of our people. We are committed to bringing to the attention of the world the injustices that our people are facing every day, and we encourage all our supporters and all the ‘Nonviolent activists’ in West Papua and throughout the world to keep the peaceful fight against the occupier of West Papua – raise your voices so that they can be heard.
Dr. Thom’s taught us that “paper and pen” are our weapons, and we believe that because we’ve seen how effective it is. Mahatma Gandhi once said of ‘nonviolent residence’ – it is the “weapon of the strong.”
We urge all freedom loving West Papuans to protest peacefully and to express their voices in nonviolent ways and stay away from activities that give Indonesian armed police justification to shoot and kill. We have been silenced for far too long, it is time to speak up and express our views in peaceful ways and don’t back down!
One of the objectives of our Human Rights Center is to document all forms of violations against our indigenous community from Jayapura to Merauke. We are available 24/7 so please report any thing you see – provide specific information so we can enter them into our database. We want our people to be free, confident and strong and not backing down easily, even under immense pressure. When good goes up against evil, good always triumphs.
Let me remind our readers: West Papua is part of Melanesia, not Indonesia. It was never been part of Indonesia. For that reason alone, our people deserved their own country!