On 28th August at 08:30 in the morning, at the far shores of Lake Geneva, 6 swimmers departed across a 69km journey that lasted over 28 hours. With them, they symbolically carried both the West Papuan People’s Petition and the Global Petition in solidarity with the people of West Papua.
These are petitions calling on the United Nations to do what is right. To right the wrongs of past injustices. They call for the restoration of West Papua’s fundamental rights, including the fundamental right to self-determination.
They are petitions people around the world have given their mind, body and soul to. Petitions which speak to us all in our common humanity. They read:
“We call on you to urgently address the human rights situation in West Papua and to review the UN’s involvement in the administration of West Papua that led to its unlawful annexation by Indonesia ‐- and the human rights abuse that continues today. We call upon you to: – appoint a Special Representative to investigate the human rights situation in West Papua; – put West Papua back on the Decolonisation Committee agenda and ensure their right to self‐determination ‐- denied to them in 1969 -‐ is respected by holding an Internationally Supervised Vote (in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolutions 1514 and 1541 (XV)).”
In January 2017, the people of West Papua, in collaboration with 6 swimmers launched the Global Petition for West Papua at the British Parliament in Westminster. This was then followed by the West Papuan People’s Petition, hand signed by thousands upon thousands of people inside West Papua. It was envisaged that the swim team would carry both petitions across Lake Geneva as a means of raising awareness and support for West Papua.
Since then, the petition has made a monumental journey around the world and across Lake Geneva.
Swim for West Papua
As the Swim for West Papua team landed in Geneva on Sunday 27th August, they were given a traditional West Papuan welcome by members of Free West Papua Campaign – Netherlands who came to Geneva to show their support.
After this moving welcome, the swimmers were driven to the far shore of Lake Geneva at Montreaux and were then given a traditional West Papuan send off with a tabura/conch shell played by Free West Papua Campaign – Netherlands Coordinator Oridek Ap, the son of legendary West Papuan musician Arnold Ap who was assassinated by the Indonesian Special Forces in 1984.
The swimmers then departed in a boat flying the West Papuan flag, followed by a dinghy as the first swimmer Abby dived into the water. They got off to a great start amid hot weather and fair winds and kept up a livestream of the journey throughout day and night.
Back in West Papua, thousands of people gathered in the capital city of Port Numbay/Jayapura to watch the swim on a makeshift big screen and cheered on the swimmers!
The swim continued through the night and continued to make good progress. At 23:47 in the night, Swim for West Papua uploaded this photo to show the incredible effort of the team.
Arrival of the swimmers
At approximately 12:30, the swimmers, led by team captain Joel Evans arrived at the shores of Lake Geneva, greeted by West Papuan people signing and dancing with flags and drums.
It was a truly emotional moment for everyone as the swimmers were presented with garlands and embraced by the welcoming party.
The West Papuan People’s Petition, in tandem with the Global Petition for West Papua was then displayed at the beach and shared between the swim team and West Papuan Independence Leader Benny Wenda.
Benny Wenda gave a moving speech in which he described the truly historic significance of the petition arriving on the shores of Lake Geneva, representing the bones of the West Papuan people and as direct expressions of their voices, hopes and aspirations.
March to UN
The next day on 31st August 2017, the Free West Papua Campaign, joined by the swim team marched the petition to the United Nations in Geneva. It was a powerful march full of signing and chanting as the rain beat heavily down. Oridek Ap proudly described how it was raining because the ancestors of the West Papuan people were crying.
Banners were unveiled in front of the United Nations Headquarters, reading “Swim for West Papua petition to the UN for an Internationally Supervised Vote” and “Save the People of West Papua”.
As the rain beat harder, Benny Wenda gave an emotive speech with a suitcase sheltering the petition in his hands. He stated: “Today, we carry the bones. There is 500,000 bones of West Papuans that have been killed by Indonesia over the last 50 years. Now we are carrying this burden. We stand here. We will carry these bones to the United Nations.”
That night, the swim team was honoured to a West Papuan feast with more music and dancing. Benny Wenda each presented them with an award and a traditional bilum bag, symbolising their care for the people of West Papua and the people of West Papua’s care for them.
Submission of the petition
The West Papuan People’s Petition was then privately submitted to the United Nations by Benny Wenda along with a physical copy of the Global Petition as it stood on 26th August with 156,933 signatures from 185 countries.
The petition will continue to be run online until mid-September when it will be submitted along with another physical copy of the West Papuan People’s Petition to the United Nations in New York.
Messages of thanks and respect
The Free West Papua Camagn would like to convey it’s deepest and most heartfelt thanks and respct to all those who heped this historic petition and swim to happen. The amount of work that went into the collection of signatures inside West Papua and outside of West Papua was absolutely phenomenal and has officially been non-stop since January and effectively non stop since June 2016 when the idea began.
To everyone who singed the petition, you did so much more than simply add your name to a petition. You gave a voice to the voiceless and helped to shine a light on a people long forgotten suffering a genocide long neglected.
Rest assured, YOUR efforts have made this petition one of the most powerful tools the people of West Papua have to push forwards down the long rod to freedom.
And finally to all the Swim for West Papua team, no amount of words can ever describe the incredible thanks and gratitude from the Free West Papua Campaign and the people of West Papua. It takes true courage and determination to dedicate so much time and effort in such a worthy cause that pushes people’s minds and bodies to the limit. We will never be able to express how much of an honour it was and is to send you off and welcome you all back to the shores of Lake Geneva and back into the Free West Papua Campaign family. From all of us, wa wa wa.