In brief

West Papuan independence movement sets up government in exile

ULMWP says new body reserves “right to make unilateral declaration of independence,” demands referendum to end Indonesian occupation

Benny Wenda.
Benny Wenda. Author: Benny Wenda / ULMWP
The United Movement for the Liberation of West Papua (ULMWP) has announced the establishment of a provisional government in exile with the aim of achieving a referendum on independence and putting an end to the Indonesian occupation. The ULMWP has reserved “the right to make a unilateral declaration of independence (DUI) at the appropriate time.”

The Papuan organisation said it would “take control of the territory” after the referendum and “organise democratic elections.” The ULMWP has not explained when or how it intends to implement those goals.

The ULMWP is a coalition of several Papuan exile organisations, formed in 2014. It is led by Benny Wenda, a historic Papuan leader who lives in exile in London. Wenda has been proclaimed interim president of the government.

Wenda delivered in 2019 to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 1.8 million signatures of Papuans for a petition for a referendum on self-determination.

Serious violations

The West Papua-Indonesia conflict has been ongoing since 1960. 100,000 to 500,000 people have been killed, mostly Papuans at the hands of Indonesian security forces.

Independence organisations regard the annexation of West Papua by Indonesia —both former Dutch colonies— to be illegitimate, and call for a referendum on self-determination to deliver decolonisation of the territory.

Indonesia rejects the holding of a referendum. Indonesian authorities have implemented a system of semi-autonomy in West Papua that many in the independence movement reject.

The United Nations Human Rights Office issued a statement yesterday in which it denounced “reports” of multiple human rights violations in West Papua by Indonesian forces, including extrajudicial killings and mass arrests.