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West Papuan campaigners pay tribute to John Ondawame and his legacy

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The group of supporters paying tribute to West Papuan leader Dr John Ondawame at Auckland’s Peace Place. Image: APHRC

Pacific Scoop:
Obituary – By the PMC news desk

West Papuan campaigners, supporters and students gathered in Auckland for a memorial ceremony for the Vanuatu-based exile John Ondawame who died recently in Port Vila.

The supporters paid tribute to the late Dr Ondawame who visited New Zealand several times and was known to many personally.

They praised his years as a persecuted “freedom fighter” and for his tireless efforts to bring peace and self-determination for the future of his Papuan people.

In a statement from the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Coalition (APHRC) to Pacific Scoop, the group said:

Dr John Otto Ondawame, from the Amungme tribe in Mimika regency in Indonesia’s Papua province, was the vice-chairman of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL).

John was persecuted by the Indonesian military and forced to spend about half his life in exile in Sweden where he was granted asylum in 1979; Australia where he finished his doctorate; and finally in Vanuatu, where he died. Until his death, he campaigned for a free West Papua and believed that one day his country would be free to raise the Morning Star flag without being jailed for 15 years.

John has been well known to many of us in Aotearoa/New Zealand over many years. Joan Macdonald, co-chair of Asia Pacific Human Rights Coalition (APHRC),  first met him when he was living in Sweden, accompanied by a group of Swedish women who visited Aotearoa when doing a World March for Peace in 1986.

Subsequently he visited Aotearoa a number of times on speaking tours and also to attend Solidarity meetings for West Papua in 2003 and to attend two Auckland-based Pacific Island Forum meetings, the most recent in 2011, where he was a key lobbyist for a free West Papua.

He had been forced to live in exile from his country since his arrest and detention in Papua New Guinea in 1978, as a freedom fighter. Joan visited John Ondawame and Dolly, his first wife. When they were living there they struggled with very few resources.

Dolly has had a long association with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and has been a speaker at several of WILPF’s international meetings. Judith Crimmins managed to contact Dolly in Papua New Guinea to convey our condolences. She is doing fine.

For the last few years John, had worked from a base in Vanuatu with some support from the Vanuatu government. For over 50 years, West Papua had been trying to be recognised as part of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) and finally this year John helped make it happen – a great legacy to the Free West Papua campaign.

John had worked unsparingly and for many years for his people and his country, West Papua. APHRC mourns the loss of a strong West Papuan freedom fighter and a friend.

He was in his 60s and is survived by his wife Leisani and son Jacob.

APHRC extends sympathy to his family and to his people.

AHRPC website