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Nov 15, 2011

Benny Wenda: Indonesia’s silent genocide

The Australian Government has so far refused to condemn the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua. Worse still, they continue to arm and train the deadly Indonesian Detachment 88 forces, who are responsible for some of the most grave acts of torture against my people, says exiled Independence leader Benny Wenda.

Benny Wenda has received support from successive British governments

For a country so close to West Papua, I am always surprised at how many Australian citizens remain unaware of the genocide that is taking place less than 50 miles beyond the country’s northern shores.

Over 400,000 civilians have been killed by the Indonesian security forces in West Papua since the early 1960s, and the last month has seen some of the bloodiest incidents in recent times.

In mid October, Indonesian military opened fire on a peaceful gathering of civilians at the Papuan Peoples Congress, leading to the deaths of 7 people and the arrest and torture of hundreds of others. Graphic footage has just emerged showing the gross acts of barbarity inflicted on those present. The Indonesian authorities have refused to allow any enquiry to take place.

Following this crackdown, a gathering of West Papuan tribal elders near the highland town of Wamena was forcefully broken up by Indonesian soldiers. The elders were lined up naked and forced to endure hours of humiliating torture in front of their wives and children.

Finally, last week the tragic story emerged of a young West Papuan student whose head was set on fire by Indonesian security personnel as he walked to the market one morning. The absence of medical facilities means it likely he will suffer long-term pain and disfigurement. The Indonesian perpetrators of this have unsurprisingly released without charge.

People may be shocked by these mindless acts of violence, but they are nothing new to us Papuans.


We have suffered daily acts of torture, intimidation, rape, racism and injustice ever since Indonesia invaded our land. Part of the reason people know so little about the atrocities Indonesia is committing in West Papua is because the Indonesian authorities ban foreign media and international human rights groups from operating there. Even Indonesian journalists who attempt to report from West Papua can suffer grave consequences.

But increasing amounts of raw footage from mobile phones is leaking out, providing the outside world with an insight into the immense suffering of my people. People are starting to wake up to our plight, just like they did to that of the East Timorese people.

When I was just 5 years old I was forced to witness the rape of my three aunties by Indonesian soldiers when we had gone to the river one day to collect water. At school I was told by teachers that I was primitive because of the colour of my skin. Later, I was elected as the head of a tribal assembly and campaigned peacefully for our rights. For this ‘crime’ I was arrested and put on trial on trumped up charges. The Indonesian Government sought to imprison me for 25 years, but I was lucky to escape from prison and was eventually granted political asylum by the British Government.

West Papuan village burning.

West Papuans are a proud race of people whose dignity has been trampled upon constantly ever since Indonesia first occupied our land. We may be second rate citizens in our own land, but we still retain our hope. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of West Papuans never have and never will consider themselves as Indonesian citizens. The more that Indonesia oppresses us, the stronger our realization becomes that freedom is the only solution.

In recent weeks and months there has been growing support around the world for the Free West Papua Campaign, the International Parliamentarians for West Papua and the International Lawyers for West Papua who are working together to demand a fair referendum for the people of West Papua – one that is held in accordance with international law.

The situation in West Papua is reaching boiling point and the silence of the Indonesian Government is creating a time-bomb that I fear will have devastating consequences. My people have seen for themselves the popular movements that have swept the Middle East. We urgently need support from more individuals and more countries if we are to achieve our basic human rights including the right to decide our own future.

The Australian Government has so far refused to condemn the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua. Worse still, they continue to arm and train the deadly Indonesian Detachment 88 forces, who are responsible for some of the most grave acts of torture against my people.

However, the ongoing support that the Australian Greens have shown has given my people great strength and we will always be grateful for them for their stand.

West Papua is often called the ‘Bird of Paradise.’ I pray that one day we will fly free again. But we need more Australians to become aware of our struggle, and the Australian Government to take a stronger stand if we are to realize our dreams. Without their help, we fear our days as a race of people may be numbered.


Benny is currently a guest blogger on This Blog Harms.  His posts are part of a modest series of blog posts on West Papua.

Benny Wenda and This Blog Harms blogger NAJ Taylor appeared together in this National Community Radio report aired nationally, 15 June 2010.

Benny Wenda is an exiled West Papuan independence leader, Chairman of the Koteka Tribal Assembly, Demmak, and Founder of the Free West Papua Campaign. He has been a special representative of his people in the European and British Parliament, as well as at the United Nations. Follow Benny on Twitter: @BennyWenda

All images and titles supplied by Benny Wenda.

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17 thoughts on “Benny Wenda: Indonesia’s silent genocide

  1. lalandef

    The SMH article was an opinion piece by a protagonist. So it cannot be “sourced” to the SMH. However it, and the comments above, prompted me to read the 78 page Yale Study. Whilst it does not paint a pretty picture of the Indonesian government activities in West Papua (to put it mildly) (a) the vast bulk of the activities adversely reported upon took place during the Suharto era and (b) there is no suggestion of 400,000 deaths. The only time the figure of 400,000 is mentioned in the report is in relation to plans for transmigration of Javanese (although it is also clear that these plans did not materialise anywhere near to this degree). I haven’t done a detailed mathematical calculation, but back of the envelope, the MAXIMUM (taking all allegations at their worst, and without taking into account any mitigating or other issues) that could be suggested is somewhere in the 30,000 range over the 50 year period. At the same time, the Yale Study suggests that the indigenous population of West Papua (which is their preferred name – Irian Jaya was a Suharto-imposed name) has increased from 700,000 to 2.1 million

  2. Scott

    @Alex Brooke

    “If one considers that the estimated population of the territory was about 700,000 in the early 1960, and about one million in the 1980′s, when Dr. Lagerberg made the claim. Thus 30% of the population has simply vanished from the face of this earth”

    Hmmm…isn’t that an increase of 300,000 people in 20 years? Which works out at a growth rate of around 1.8% a year.

    That 300,000 increase over 20 year theory also concurs with Jim Elmslie 2010 paper which tracks Census data in West Papua from 1971 to 2010 and concludes the Papua population of West Papua was growing at 1.84% a year. (The paper has been linked to in a previous post on this blog)

    And @Edward James, facts are important. A political compromise between Indonesia and the West Papuan people will be the only long term solution to this dispute and the situation is not helped by emotive (and potentially inaccurate) figures being bandied about.

  3. Edward James

    How sad it is that most comments on this string want to discuss the numbers of dead and debate the numbers. Peoples are having their country stolen and they are beingdestroyed while we discuss the incidental details is there no one out there who with me seen those photos of peoples being impalied on bamboo stakes and disembowled There must be some of the journalist out there who submitted the photos to editors who told them itis too drastic for us to publish. I seen the photos displayed over twenty years ago at the Pavillion at Bondi. Where are the people at grass roots who do not want to permit our government accomadating this? Edward James

  4. Alex Brooke

    “If one considers that the estimated population of the territory was about 700,000 in the early 1960, and about one million in the 1980’s, when Dr. Lagerberg made the claim. Thus 30% of the population has simply vanished from the face of this earth. A small portion of this could be explained, the aerial bombardment claimed 80,000 lives, exile and refugees at its highest [ 1984-1985] totaled 13,000, known massacres 13,000, that totals roughly 106,000. So, where did the remainder go? If one looks at the abysmal level of health care system for the rural population, the disease statistics meager though they are, one could not help but conclude that this population is rapidly declining directly or indirectly, as the result of Government policies, therefore man made policies aka GENOCIDE

  5. Alex Brooke

    here is a chrononlogy of just a few mass killings over there. makes very grim reading

    This just makes me sick:

    Naftaly Tabuni, 26-4.1977. [village clan chief] of Piramid, in Kembin district of Jayawijaya region, accused of collaboration with OPM by the military. He was burned alive, the remains was later butchered and fed to the police dogs. The incident was witnessed by the people of Piramid, including Mathias Wenda, Lukas Tabuni, Tadius Tabuni and Paulus Tabuni. The act was carried out by members of military unit 753,752 in conjunction with the police, Koramil

  6. Jane Salmon

    Australia’s sycophantism to Indonesia really doesn’t make sense. The concept of regional stability predicated on monopoly is unhealthy. We’re sitting here like Swiss bankers during WW2.

  7. Scott

    Yeah, I haven’t seen any reference to 400,000 deaths caused by Indonesian Security Force in West Papua. University of Sydney research (provided in a previous post on this blog) has mentioned a 100,000 death figure since the 1960’s, but I read that paper and the 100,000 deaths appears without any reference or source specified so impossible to verify.
    So jury is still out on this one.

  8. Alex Brooke

    thanks for shedding light on this very important issue
    Indonesia has alot to answer for, and it sickens me that our Government continues ties with them after everything that happened in Timor

    @lalandef take a dose of reality mate. Have you forgotten East Timor?? The Indonesians are doing it all over again. 400,000 dead is a figure that is supported by Yale University and also Amnesty International. A quick google search for this shows its also the figure used by the Sydney Morning Herald and you’d expect they would use reliable sources

    My worry as I am sure the same for other Australians, is we have this neighbour that seems willing to commit gross acts against humanity. Where will the Indonesians go next? Who is to say that in 20 years time they won’t be a rogue Islamic state like Iran, and looking to get nuclear weapons. Do we really want that on our doorstep?
    It’s better that we take a firm line now and help the Papuans, rather than sweep it under the carpet and pay the consequences later

  9. lalandef

    Where is the credible evidence that 400,000 West Papuan people (or anything remotely like that figure) have been killed by the Indonesian security services? I have never seen anything even 5% of that figure before. By the way, Mr Wenda cannot be the representative of his people “in” either the British or the European parliaments. “To” those parliaments, maybe; although I have read material that suggests that a very small number of UK parliamentarians are members of an unoffical group along the lines of “Parliamentary Friends of West Papua” and support its independence; but this has no recognition from either the current or former British parliaments, (or Governments) and is just a meeting group like any other.

  10. wilma western

    Indonesian leadership must be more effectively pressured to implement the promised autonomy for Irian Jaya. Independence for West Papua seems like a pipe dream but this does not mean that Australia and other regional governments should gloss over abuses by Indonesian authorities . What NGO presence is in Irian jaya and what are their experiences?

  11. Edward James

    Australians need to remember the way fuzzy wuzzy angles carried Australians out of harms way during WW2. Australians need to consider the way our government helped Indonesia split up the wealth of Timorese off shore gas. We the peoples are not well represented and we have a history of letting our governments look the other way when peoples sovereignty is being stolen along with their natural resources and they are being destroyed. Limited News and Fairfax are in possesion of photos going back to the sevenities of peoples being spiked on bamboo and disembowled which they would not publish. Even though people risked their lives to get those stories out Our elected reps are doing our bidding gould it be so many Australians are comfortable with all our politicians doing nothing overt about the on going genocide ? Edward James

  12. mikeb

    The Australian Govt will do very little – at least publicly – because it cannot afford to make enemies out of our closest and biggest neighbour. “We” tread on eggshells in all dealings with Indonesia who don’t hesitate using the Western colonial/racist tags whenever there is a dispute. Nevermind that the Indons are overwhelmingly racist and violent in their dealings with neighbouring states, and minority groups within their own country.

  13. shepherdmarilyn

    I don’t think Indonesia has any more right to West Papua than they did to East Timor.

  14. AdamNeira

    I believe that Irian Jaya is the correct term for the region. I am not pro West Papua independence. I spent eleven months travelling all throughout the archipelago of Indonesia and spent five years in PNG as a child so am aware of both cultures. Obviously any unnecessary violence must be mitigated. The resource wealth of Irian Jaya should be allocated fairly. Sometimes various regions or states, like WA in Australia with the mining industry, contribute more than other regions to the national income. The problems only arise when people perceive inequality. The central government in Jakarta must try and get the balance right.

    1. NAJ Taylor

      Good point: Irian Jaya is the Indonesian name – many who do not recognise the legitimacy of Indonesian rule favour West Papua.

  15. Jason Bryce

    The diggers currently being killed by their allies in Afghanistan might be better deployed closer to home. Why Australia has let this happen is almost beyond belief. Menzies, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard have all failed our brothers and sisters in West Papua (and in PNG as well quite frankly). Australia doesn’t have many close neighbours, but we have no better friends and allies than the people’s of those potentially rich, powerful and peaceful islands just to our north. I write this in English, not Japanese, thanks to the black and white heroes of the WW2 PNG jungles.

  16. gapot

    The unfortunate thing about the Australian government is that all foreign policy is cleared by our masters in Washington. When our current PM was a nobody in the Labor oposition she talked about an independent foreign policy, now she is in the top job all that talk has gone out the window. Even Kevin Rudd tried to vote against the Israel problem in the UN untill he was instructed by the US government to get back on message. The Australian government can do nothing about WEST PAPUA without the backing of Washington, who will not change their policy untill all the natural wealth has been stolen by the west, Australia included.