Thursday, 12 October 2017

Making a nation: West Papua, an interview with Jacob Rumbiak

After I spoke with Australian Peter Woods last month for this blog he put me in touch with Jacob Rumbiak, a Melanesian man who fled Indonesia in 1999 to base himself in Australia, from where he has been coordinating West Papuan independence work. This transcript has been edited somewhat for easier reading.

MdS: Ok, so [the voice recorder is] running. So, Jacob can you tell me a little bit about your story. You came to Australia in 1999. Is that right?

Correct, yes. I arrived in Darwin from East Timor in September 1999. So, I came with the delegation of UN observer members on the 2nd of September 1999 to Darwin. When I arrived, I wanted to go back to Indonesia because I entered Australia without, you know, following the regulations of Australia. You should enter with a visa and also a passport. I came without a passport and also a visa. But when I arrived in Darwin together with a delegation of the United Nations, I explained to immigration that I came without a visa. So, they said, ‘Well, how did you come without visa?’ I said, ‘I was a political prisoner and I am still under house arrest but because it was too dangerous and I had no choice, I took this Hercules.’

And then the way opened to me and one month later, on October 1999, my colleague Xanana Gusmao – because we were together as pollical prisoners in Cipinang Prison in Jakarta – he arrived and on the night of the delegation of East Timor’s dinner with the Australia federal government, Xanana introduce me to Philip Ruddock, at the time he the minister of immigration, and then later because of him someone helped me to appoint a lawyer. I think this lawyer is now in Sydney, his name is Jonathan Hunior, he’s the one who helped me to prepare all the documents to get permission to stay in Australia, and in only two months I got permanent residency. So that’s the story of how and why I arrived here. Of course, I couldn’t be safe in Timor Leste. And also, at the time I wanted to go back to Jakarta because I was still under house arrest (until 2007). So, when I discussed this with Xanana and also one of Indonesia’s very famous human rights defenders – he was poisoned by the Indonesian intelligence agency in 2014 when he flew from Jakarta to the Netherlands; he passed away in the aeroplane – so he’s the one, and also another Indonesian lawyer, and Xanana, they advised me, they said ‘Better you stay’.

Because the lawyer [indecipherable] said ‘Better you stay so that you can help the West Papua movement.’ Because at the time Ramos Horta told Xanana to tell me that there was no West Papuan diplomat outside the country: ‘Better you stay so that you can use your influence to keep the movement going. Both inside and outside must connect. West Papua lost because you haven’t had good contact between inside and outside.’ That’s why I came out. And now we have very good cooperation. But that’s the story about how I came and why I came to Australia.

MdS: So, since 1999 you’ve been living in Melbourne and you’ve been helping the West Papuan struggle. What have you been doing? Have you been giving advice? When I spoke to Peter Woods he said that you were the intellectual architect of the movement. Is that true?

Yeah, that’s right. I was a lecturer at a state university in Indonesia, in Java. Initially, I was a lecturer at (now they call it) UPI, Indonesia University of Education. That’s one of the most famous Indonesian education institutions. At the time they called it Institute of Education of Indonesia. And now they changed the name, and they call it Indonesia University of Education, UPI.

So, when I graduated from university I was a lecturer there and also, because my subject is astronomy maths, in climate and training air traffic control. So, from 1982 to 84 I was at the Indonesian Military Academy, who also needed specialists in dropping parachutes, so they opened an opportunity to someone who want to teach there. They let us enrol and then we had to pass a selection process. And so, I passed. So, I was an academic lecturing at the state university but also at the Indonesian Military Academy.

So, when I was there in 1986 I was sent to West Papua because in Cendrawasih University, the State University of Papua, they didn’t have a specialist in training air traffic control for airports, and also astronomy. And at the time they also appointed me to be director of scientists for east Indonesia. So, when I was there I saw lots of Papuans killed, disciplined, tortured, so I thought, ‘No way.’ Especially I saw how we lost the movement because Indonesia tried to create a fight between our liberation army and the military. And at the time our military and our political movement leadership broke, you know, they had internal problems. And in the jungle they split, they became three groups of military, they killed each other. So, at that time I thought that only education could change things. So, in 1986 we changed, and decided that the movement must actually be in the village, in the city. And also we should educate Indonesian people to support us to have a real movement, what I call ‘people power’, a student movement in Java, Bali, Sulawesi. So, we had to have a movement inside West Papua but also in Indonesia territory.

But we didn’t have anything outside, that’s why when I arrived in Australia every year from 2000 until 2005 I held a workshop on the border, in Jaunimo between Jayapura and Sandaun Province of Papua New Guinea. So, I went and ran a West Papuan student national workshop, twice a year from 2000 to 2005, when I saw that it was enough. At that time, I tried to prepare West Papuan students to organise people power in the city, also in Indonesian territory. And also, I took some of our friends from Australia to train student in the use of mobile phones and cameras to get documentation, because we didn’t have enough documents to tell the world about the current situation in West Papua.

So, I tried to prepare a human quality movement and of course that’s come from the student movement and I collected people from 312 different tribes. They went back to their tribes and set up our motto and taught our different tribes that we are - although we are different tribes - but we are one people, one soul and one goal. And that was a very important doctrine. I told West Papuans that although we have 312 different tribes we must see West Papua with only one set of eyes, because the majority of Papuans are Christians but we also have a national Muslim movement who work very closely with us Christians and Catholics. So, in West Papua all religions work very closely together. So, I said, ‘Look, West Papuans have got eyes, don’t look through Christian eyes, or Muslim eyes, or the eyes of other tribes, but we believe God is one. Look, West Papua is in one in God’s eyes. And different tribes are souls God must look after. You from the highland, look after the highland. You from the valley, from the coast, from the islands. So, when people in the highland need fish, ok, you from island of course send fish up there. When you from island want to enjoy snow, go up there because we have family up there.’

So, to uphold our moral understanding and how to keep unity we had a movement until the Second Papuan People’s Congress (in 2000), and the Third Papuan People’s Congress (in 2011). But still the Indonesians were very smart, they tried to create intelligence to come with what they call divide and rule. But we tried to work together to uphold unity between tribe and tribe. We also have one group we call West Papuan National Youth Awareness Team, which run awareness to our liberation army which has already splintered inside the jungle and has become three groups. And now they must work to raise awareness among Papuans in Papua New Guinea because they also split, became lots of groups. We have people in Holland who also split and became 22 groups. So, this is very heavy but I’m now happy because although it took a long time, since 1986, in 2014 it was all done.

But, yes, it was very, very difficult but today I am very happy because I see that education is very successful in bringing all of them to stand … I always say ‘We must stand on two feet.’ So I had a paper, I said before that we are like the cassowary – in West Papua we have cassowaries also – I said, ‘We fail because the cassowary only stands on one foot.’ It’s means we existed only as a political body. But now we stand on two feet. One foot is people power, the civilian movement and one foot is the political movement. And the political movement has a political wing, a diplomatic wing, an intelligence wing, and the military. So now we have two feet.

That means strength but it’s still not enough. Because we need three actors to be involved. The first actor is the people of West Papua, the locals, they must have initiative, they must be active to move, they must organise so that the people can unite. If the people unite the leadership on two feet must unite. The civil rights movement must unite. Politics unite. And both of them unite.

But it’s still not enough. We also must have support from the Indonesian side. Today we have FRI West Papua, that means ‘free’ in Bahasa Indonesia. In Indonesian language F is ‘Front’, R is ‘Rakyat’, I is ‘Indonesia’ for West Papua, that is ‘Front Rakyat Indonesia untuk West Papua’. We have 11 provinces with them, they are Indonesians who support us on Indonesian territory. I hope when you have time you can talk with one of their coordinators, now based in Indonesian territory.
Now, we also have international support. One is you. We have eight Pacific countries who sponsor us, also now the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Nations, and European countries they are also involved, and Latin America.

So, we need three actors. The first actor is very active inside: we have this. The second actor is support from Indonesian people. The third actor is international support. So, when three actors work very closely I believe that the West Papuan issue, the West Papuan struggle, can be resolved. That’s our way going forward to get independence. I always say that ‘We should solve this problem by the noble way.’ I think that’s my opinion and what I want. I am still doing it.

MdS: How much support do you find inside Australia? I understand that the Australian government has the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia which means that Australia respects Indonesia’s geographical sovereignty over West Papua, but there must be other people who have different ideas in Australia.

Yeah, I met a few politicians in Canberra also at the state level. I work very closely with two or three from Labor, and from the Liberal Party also. The Australian Greens, yes, because I am very close with Di Natale, Adams and Scott (who is finished because he’s a New Zealander, I think). But I’m very close with them. Also in 2015 I signed an agreement, an MOU, with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I met with some politicians. And federally yes, they support us. We also have parliamentarians in Canberra but with the institutions I think it’s difficult. So far only the Greens. I talked to them. I said, ‘Ok, I understood that based on its institutions Australia as a federal country always follows the United Nations, as long as United Nation does not recognise West Papua, the Australian government can’t give us our voice.’

But just two months ago I met with a Liberal politician, one of the backbenchers, and I told him that – me and Peter Woods met this MP – and I asked him, I said: ‘Could you talk to your government because you now control this country. Please support Pacific countries because Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia now are behind West Papua. So, I hope that when something happens in New York at the headquarters of the United Nation and they call for West Papua to be solved by the principle of the UN. Why? Because West Papua are the victims of a world policy or a global decision made to protect ANZUS – Australia, New Zealand, United States – because in the era of 1960s – 50s, 60s, 70s – there was the very important issue of Communism. And second is because of WWII. Australia said it would support East Timor because East Timor have supported Australia and the Australia alliance to win WWII. But how about West Papua? We have lots of documents concerning around 300 warships that landed at Hollandia – now they call it Jayapura – and my island Noemfoor in 1942 was used because all the runways on the mainland had already been attacked by Japan and so you landed on my small island, Noemfoor. When I was in secondary school I looked around my island in and the coral was [indecipherable]. And also, we have resources, gold. So, we contribute three good things for the America-Australia alliance. The America-Australia alliance stood on Melanesian land, including West Papua, to win the Second World War. Second is when in the Cold War America-Australia sacrificed West Papuan life, when almost one million were killed. And third is the goldmine, the resources. Rio Tinto have around 27 percent of goldmine Freeport. So, we contributed great value for you, and we don’t need money, we don’t need anything, but we only need our rights, our dignity, our sovereignty, and our liberty. That’s all.’ 

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