GENEVA (Reuters) - The people of West Papua are facing a “slow motion genocide” and demand independence from Indonesia, separatist leaders told Reuters after a march in Geneva, adding they would press their case with a petition to the United Nations in New York.
Benny Wenda, international spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), said the human rights situation had worsened under Indonesian President Joko Widodo, with estimates of up to 8,000 people arrested last year.
“They look at West Papua differently, as subhuman, and as a colony. We are not equal. That’s why if we live with Indonesia, in 30 years time my people will disappear,” he told Reuters.
Indonesian presidential spokesman Johan Budi declined to comment on the separatists’ comments.
West Papua and Papua provinces - often collectively referred to as West Papua - make up the western half of an island north of Australia, with independent Papua New Guinea to the east.
The provinces have been gripped by a long-running and often violent separatist conflict since they were incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969. Dutch colonial rule ended in 1963.
Widodo has made easing the tension in the two provinces on the island a key goal, through stepping up investment, freeing political prisoners, and addressing human rights concerns.
However, Oridek Ap, coordinator for Free West Papua Campaign in the Netherlands, said his father was killed in 1984 for singing freedom songs, and it was still dangerous to speak out.
“Sometimes they find a body and we have confirmation of death. But as long as somebody is disappeared we don’t have confirmation,” he said.
“When we talk about slow motion genocide, how can you prove it. On the other side of the border we are talking about 7-8 million Papuans. Why not on our side? This killing is still going on.”
The separatists say there are 2.5 million West Papuans, roughly the same as 50 years ago.
“What happened in 1969 was a fraud,” Wenda said. “This is why West Papuans believe that our right to self-determination under international law still exists.”
“Geneva is the house of human rights and freedom. That’s why we start here, and then we go to New York,” he said.
Wenda, who has political asylum in Britain, added: “We need to solve this problem in the United Nations.”
Last month Indonesia struck a deal with U.S. mining firm Freeport McMoRan Inc to take a 51 percent stake in Grasberg, the world’s second-biggest copper mine, which is in Papua.
Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Alison Williams