Benny Wenda: Genocide is happening in West Papua

Indonesian President Jokowi has again shown that he is an arch-hypocrite when it comes to West Papua. 

Jokowi confronted US President Joe Biden on the American response to the war in Palestine this week, and asked that the US do more to prevent atrocities in Gaza. Since the current conflict in Israel-Palestine began, Indonesian politicians like Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi have lined up one by one to condemn Israel. We have full sympathy for the struggle for justice in Israel-Palestine and call for the restoration of peace. But what about West Papua? Where was Indonesia’s outrage after Bloody Paniai, or the Wamena massacre in February?

Indonesia is claiming to oppose genocide in Gaza while committing their own genocide in West Papua. This is not my opinion, this is the considered position of independent legal and academic experts from Yale University, Sydney University, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and many more. Over 60 years of genocidal colonial rule, over 500,000 West Papuans have been killed by Indonesian forces.

Indonesian genocide in West Papua is implemented through massacres, like those we have suffered in Wamena, Fakfak, and Yahukimo this year. It is implemented through assassinations, like the killings of Theys Eluay, Mako Tabuni, Arnold Ap, and countless other individual activists and civilians. It is implemented through settlement programmes, which have made indigenous Papuans a minority in their cities. It is implemented through bombing campaigns which force my people to flee into the bush, where they often starve and die for lack of food and water. This is what we saw in Kiwirok in 2021, where a massive military operation displaced entire villages into the forest: hundreds died, and anyone attempting to return was shot by snipers.

The genocide we are suffering is not only physical, but also cultural: it is the slow extinction of everything that makes us a distinct people. In the 1970s, Indonesian bombed our highlands, including my own village, and killed thousands of Papuans to stop us wearing our traditional dress. Today they are still trying to destroy our culture. If we raise our flag, the Morning Star, we can be given 25 years in prison. If we express indigenous culture we are criminalised or called ‘monkeys’. We are marginalised in our own land. This is why the UN Special Advisor on Genocide recently stated that we urgently need international intervention. 

In West Papua, genocide and ecocide are deeply connected. Indonesia wants our resources, our gold, nickel, timber, and gas, but they do not want our people. West Papua is a lung of the earth, home to the world’s third largest rainforest. But Indonesia is rapidly destroying our forest in order to build gold mines and plantations. West Papua already contains the world’s largest gold mine; in recent years, Indonesia have built a new gold mine the size of Jakarta, and a Palm Oil planation four times the size of London. You cannot separate Indigenous West Papuans from our environment. Without it, we cannot survive.

The exact death toll of West Papuans is impossible to know because Indonesia doesn’t allow foreign media, NGOs, or humanitarian groups to report in West Papua. They even refuse to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit, despite over 85 countries demanding this visit. The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), Organisation for African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS), and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) have all issued their own resolutions demanding a visit, as have individual nations including Spain, the UK and Netherlands. And yet Indonesia delays and delays, while more of my people die. 

The world now recognises that Indonesia committed genocide in East Timor. The same genocide is still happening in West Papua. The question is – when will the world intervene? How many more West Papuans will be killed before this horror ends? 

Benny Wenda
West Papua independence leader