West Papua: Stop the Slow-Motion Genocide*
We first met Benny Wenda in April 2011 when he attended the Lush communications meeting in Bournemouth. Benny is to West Papua what Nelson Mandela is to South Africa - a freedom fighter, a tireless advocate for justice and an inspirational ambassador for his people.
We sat and chatted with Benny for hours, and what came across was that he is fiercely passionate in his views, but also that he is unbelievably humble and has a great sense of humour and incredibly infectious giggle. Benny also walks with a limp, the result of violence by the Indonesian military that he was subjected to as a child. Benny’s story is indicative of what is happening in West Papua, far from the gaze of the international community, cut off from the rest of the world with, amongst other things, a total ban on all foreign journalists and most international aid and human rights organisations.
West Papuans have been struggling for independence and self-determination (the principle enshrined in international law which says nations have the right to freely choose how their country will be run without interference) ever since Indonesia seized control of the region in 1962,just as the West Papuans were preparing for indepedence from the Netherlands. By 1969 there was widespread resistance to Indonesian rule. It was agreed with the UN that a referendum would take place to give all West Papuans the choice of either remaining part of Indonesia or becoming an independent nation. However, just 1,026 West Papuans, of a population of over a million, were hand picked by Indonesia to vote in the referendum, known ironically as the Act of Free Choice. Reports show that people were coerced into voting to be ruled by Indonesia through violence and intimidation. This is now dubbed by Papuan's "the Act of NO Choice".
For the last 40 years many of the people of West Papua have been beaten, tortured, raped and imprisoned at the hands of the Indonesian forces and the industrial interests they represent. Through the veil of secrecy enforced by the military exact figures are hard to gauge, but it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have been killed in what many believe is genocide. We are standing up in solidarity with those struggling for an end to the oppression and violence and supporting calls for freedom for West Papua.
Lush store windows will all be proudly displaying the Morning Star flag that was to be the national flag of a free and independent West Papua. It is now illegal for West Papuans to display the flag; doing so can result in lengthy prison sentences. We are calling for the immediate release of Filep Karma (who was jailed for 15 years for raising the Morning Star flag at a rally in 2004) and all other prisoners of conscience. We are supporting calls for a review of the flawed 1969 Act of Free Choice, and to have a true referendum with a free and inclusive vote for all West Papuans so they can determine their own future.
Please support this campaign by sending the following email to the Indonesian Ambassador in London (email address: email@example.com):
I was shocked to discover that Indonesia JAILED West Papuan, FILEP KARMA for 15 YEARS for peacefully raising the West Papuan flag in December 2004, and for years was denied access to urgently needed medical treatment during his time in prison. Amnesty International has recognised Filep as a PRISONER of CONSCIENCE.
I am calling on the Government of Indonesia to RELEASE him IMMEDIATELY, and also for the immediate release of all other political prisoners who are being held for peaceful flag-raisings, and for calling for the respect of their human rights, justice and freedom in West Papua. I stand united behind these brave individuals.
I am also calling for all West Papuans to be given a free and fair vote in an act of self-determination, so that they can decide the future of their country. It is a right that they have always been denied.
Please also support the Free West Papua campaign and sign up for their email alerts, follow them on Twitterand friend them on Facebook.
We believe in what Martin Luther King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Let’s stand together against injustice and demand Freedom for West Papua!
A brief history
West Papua is the western half of the second largest island in the world (the eastern part is Papua New Guinea) and lies just 100 miles to the North of Australia. For centuries the whole region was subject to Dutch colonial rule. But as the old empires gave their conquered territories back and control reverted to the indigenous people who lived there, Indonesia laid claim to neighbouring West Papua. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that West Papuans are not culturally or racially related to the people of Indonesia, they are Melanesians, a group of peoples from Pacific islands ranging from Papua to Fiji. As such the people of West Papua already had strong claim to their own independent nation, and had formed an interim government, judiciary, constitution, national anthem and flag, the iconic Morning Star. This was something that was supported by the Dutch, but which was ultimately to fail, with Indonesia backed by the US running the sham “Act of free choice” referendum in 1969, which was the decisive act that would be a watershed moment to mark the beginning of decades of oppression.
Benny told us about growing up in West Papua and how he came to speak out against what is happening there, how he ended up in prison and how he escaped and came to Britain. His accounts are enormously harrowing, but they are important in understanding why we must all support his calls for a free West Papua.
Growing up in a remote highland village, Benny lived with his family and Lani people, tending to their gardens and living in peace with each other and their natural surroundings. In 1977 their tranquil life came to an end, when the Indonesian military came to the region and forcefully asserted their authority over the people living there. Soldiers regularly stopped Benny and his family on their way to tend their gardens. The women were raped, often in front of the children. Many young women, including three of Benny’s aunts died as a result of these brutal attacks. In response to this violence 15,000 Lani people rebelled, and the Indonesian air force launched counter-strikes, bombing Lani villages, including Benny’s. It was a bombing raid that left Benny, still a child, with a serious leg injury and suffering with pain that still afflicts him today.
The people fled into the forests to escape and lived in hiding. Life was extremely difficult, and many people died as a result of the lack of food and adequate shelter and at the hands of the Indonesian military, who continued to pursue, rape and kill those people hiding in the forests. The only way out of this dire situation was for people to give themselves over to the Indonesians, to make themselves subject to their rule and renounce their traditional ways of life and customs. After 5 years in the jungle, Benny’s family could take no more, and gave themselves up to the Indonesian authorities.
Benny then went to a high school where he was only one of two Papuans. He was taught only about Indonesian history and culture, and the other students and teachers called him stupid and dirty. Benny was subject to daily racist abuse because he was Papuan, yet he didn’t understand why he and his family were being treated this way. Determined to find out, Benny sought out information through school and university libraries, but found nothing written about Papuan history and culture, even the name Papua had been expunged from the history books and replaced with Irian Jaya. So instead he sought out other West Papuans, and pieced together their history through sharing with them.
Benny then became active in the independence movement in West Papua, and in 1999 became the representative of the group of elders of a prominent pro-independence group. He was an outspoken critic of Indonesia, something which carried with it enormous risk. Other leaders of the independence movement had been imprisoned and even killed by the Indonesian military. In 2002 Benny was arrested and thrown into jail. His first 2 months were in solitary confinement and prison guards tortured and beat him during this time. He was then falsely accused of organising violent protests and put on trial. This trial was a sham from the beginning, with the judge and prosecution asking for bribes, clearly fraudulent evidence being accepted and indications that there were plans to make sure that Benny was locked up for good or executed. Thankfully, through inside help, Benny was able to escape from prison and was smuggled across the boarder to Papua New Guinea and from there made his way to Britain, where he was granted asylum.
Ever since Benny has been travelling around the world trying to get the plight of his people heard, in parliament, law courts, seminars, lectures and protests. He has managed to get members of Parliament and prominent lawyersto support him. Internationally there is growing recognition that what is happening in West Papua is both illegal and immoral and that we cannot continue to allow this to continue. Benny Wenda deserves all of our attention, help and support in his struggle for justice and freedom.
*The term “slow-motion genocide” was coined by academics at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. It is estimated that up to 400,000 West Papuans may have been killed since Indonesian occupation. Read more>>http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/news