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 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.