West Papua tribal leader tells world about injustice in homeland
By Latoya Giles
Tribal Leader Benny Wenda is on a mission around the Caribbean to sensitize the region about the modern day colonialism in the country of West Papua, a province of Indonesia covering the western peninsula of the island of New Guinea.
Wenda who escaped from prison in the country and was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, recently visited Guyana along with Human Rights lawyer Melinda Jankie to highlight the many issues faced by the persons living there. On Friday last Wenda sat down with Kaieteur News and explained the situation.
Wenda explained that West Papua used to be part of the Dutch East Indies. He said that after World War 2, the Dutch Empire became the new nation of Indonesia. However, Wenda said that the Dutch argued that West Papua was never part of Indonesia and had an entirely different culture and history.
He said that on December 1, 1961 West Papua declared its independence. Wenda said that real trouble came three months after; the Indonesian army invaded his country. He said that although the international community intervened, western governments chose to appease Indonesia and accept its occupation rather than risk political crisis.
In 1969 Wenda said that United Nations presided over a referendum on independence, which he said was “clearly a sham”. He said that the Indonesian occupiers announced that the “Papuans were too backwards to cope with democracy”. Wenda alleges that the Indonesian forces rounded up and forced 1,026 representative Papuans at gunpoint to vote to join Indonesia.
He said ironically this was called the “Act of Free Choice”. Wenda said from since 1961 to now it has been an annexation of the people of West Papua who have suffered constant misery. He estimated that almost 400,000 people have died as a direct result of the Indonesian occupation. He said that much of the land which was owned by his people was taken by the state and given to national and multinational companies for the purposes of mining, logging or oil extraction.
Wenda said that even non- violent dissent has been criminalized and anyone who calls for independence or even raises the Papuan Flag is imprisoned. Wenda was sentenced to serve 25 years imprisonment after he raised the flag back in 2003. He was granted asylum in Britain in 2003, after escaping from a Papuan prison while on trial. His name was placed on Interpol’s list of wanted people back in August of this year.
Moreover Wenda said that many people have not heard about this since West Papua is a closed society. He said all foreign journalists are banned.
A number of Human Rights groups, lawyers, foreign politicians and even tourists are either banned from entering the country or restricted to small areas where they are closely monitored by the police.
Since being granted asylum in the UK, Wenda has started the “Free West Papua” campaign. The campaign claims that abuses are regularly committed by the Indonesian authorities against the indigenous Papuan people, many of whom are involved in the separatist movement. He said that Papuans need outside help and international support if they are to succeed in their struggle for freedom. The campaign is based in Oxford, UK.
Human Rights Lawyer Melinda Jankie said she was giving a presentation several years ago in London when she came into contact with Wenda. Jankie said that she was shocked after she heard Wenda’s presentation.
“A majority of the human rights lawyers who were present were not aware of the situation, and that was an indication of how secret it was’ Jankie told Kaieteur News. Thereafter she became Wenda’s legal advisor and also for the people of West Papua.
Jankie explained that there is a parliament in West Papua which has been banned and this is the decision making body for the people of West Papua.
The attorney said that when she started looking into the interest of Wenda and the people of West Papua no other lawyer wanted to take up on it. She said that the referendum which Indonesia claims happened was a sham.
“There was no referendum they threatened to kill the people if they didn’t declare for Indonesia” Jankie told Kaieteur News. She said that under those circumstances that are truly illegal, if one was look at the law it is clear as day, it’s a colony.
Jankie said that as a lawyer one’s duty is to uphold the rule of law nationally and internationally, prompting her to launch the “International Lawyers for” West Papua in Guyana in 2009. She said that since its launch there are over 50 lawyers worldwide trying to get the message out. Jankie said that issue is not really for the United Nations to sign on to a petition but for more countries to understand their international rule of law.
Both Jankie and Wenda will travel the Caribbean to get their message out and gain support. The next expected stop is Barbados.