When I met Mr. Benny Wenda, a renowned global figure of West Papua in wake of freedom struggle; I was impressed while seeing his love and passion for his country and towards Papuan culture.
He was carrying a flag of West Papua commonly known as ‘Morning Star’ and when I started to talk to him about his country and people; his eyes were watered while talking about his country.
TOT: How do you see the political situation of West Papua today?
Benny Wenda: The political situation in West Papua is such that we are not allowed to hoist our flags not even in demonstrations or protests. If hoisted, just like after General Suharto was ousted from power in West Papua, we did, which resulted in maltreatment, arrests and even killing of our people by Indonesian Military, which again invaded in 2000. Since then the situation has become more intense and day-by-day getting worst.
TOT: What are the consequences you and your people have to face after the ‘Act of No Choice’ of 1969 under the Indonesian military rule?
Benny Wenda: After the sham ‘Act of No Choice’ of 1969 there was widespread resistance against the Indonesian invasion and to counter this, our people face more severe consequences, which any human being can’t expect from a human.
My people were killed mercilessly, raped, tortured and were arrested without giving any valid warrant. Our people were not allowed to appoint lawyers for their cases. With a population of one million we still neither have any access to our resources nor have any freedom of movement in our very own mother land.
TOT: What’s your take on the current resource exploitation situation in West Papua under the US mining company Freeport?
Benny Wenda: To make way for Freeport mining company, (which currently operates world’s largest gold and copper mines in West Papua) thousands of people were killed in order to secure the access to the mines and to get control of the land that belongs to Papuans.
Freeport Company is involved in mining activities in the region and has been facing a long standing struggle against its presence there since its first operation from West Papuans.
TOT: There exist a nexus between police, army and Freeport. Freeport pays money in terms of bribes, which we call as ‘Lunch Money’ to safeguard their complexes, extraction activities and even killing of tribal if they come between their interests.
Benny Wenda: We have no access to our resources. We have been deprived constantly from receiving any economic benefits from our own lands, which others are enjoying for their settlements.
TOT: Has UN played a successful role as peace negotiator between Indonesian Government and the people of West Papua? And how you can define its role in today’s circumstances?
Benny Wenda: No, from the day of referendum till this date UNO have remained unsuccessful in bringing Indonesians on account and to bring them on board for peace talks with West Papuans.
UNO’s progress in recognizing the issue and bringing the international community together for the West Papua’s independence has been sluggish and very unresponsive in many aspects.
At the time of referendum Instead of overseeing a free and fair election, the UN did nothing while Indonesia rigged the vote.
Declaring that the Papuans were too ‘primitive’ to cope with democracy, the Indonesian military hand-picked 1,026 ‘representative’ Papuans – out of a population of one million – threatened to kill them and their families if they voted the wrong way and then were told to choose.
The result was ‘unanimous’; West Papua would remain part of Indonesia. Despite protests from the Papuans, a critical report by a UN official and condemnation of the vote in the international media the UN shamefully sanctioned the result and West Papua has remained under control of the Indonesian state ever since.
TOT: Did the level of atrocities or suppression of the West Papuans by the Indonesian Army has increased or decreased during the recent years?
Benny Wenda: It has remained constant by and large and still atrocities are being committed. Our people are still being suppressed by the Indonesian Army, Police and even the militias of East Timor which the Indonesian Government is supporting them to commit crimes.
Since the first day of Indonesian occupation, the people and land of West Papua have been under relentless attack. In order to maintain control over the Papuans, and to claim the land to make way for resource extraction, the Indonesian army has systematically murdered, raped and tortured people in numbers that could constitute genocide.
One of the worst examples of this is the displacement and killing of thousands of people to make way for the giant American and British-owned Freeport mine. Also, in a further attempt to dominate Papuan culture, around one million people from overcrowded shanty towns across Indonesia have been moved into ‘transmigration’ camps cut into the forests.
TOT: What are the major developments you want to see in West Papua and with its people in near future?
Benny Wenda: I would like to see West Papua an independent state with its own constitution just like other countries have in this world where West Papua can practice their basic fundamental rights and can have access to all the resources which belonged to them while living in freedom in their own land.
TOT: Are Western nations along with the rest of International community getting awareness of the crisis being faced by the people of West Papua? And if yes, then on what grounds they are being made aware of the situation and how?
Benny Wenda: Western countries as well as the International community are now more aware of the situation in West Papua and with the increase in technological advancement the world is getting awareness through human rights organizations that do advocacy for our cause, through the Papuans living in exile across the world and through media who has played vital role in making the masses aware of what had happened and is happening with our people and on our land.
TOT: How will you describe the level of discrimination which exists between West Papuans and Indonesians in today’s society?
Benny Wenda: We are not allowed to work in our own land alongside on equal grounds with the rest of Indonesians. We have no access to even basic amenities and other facilities or schemes being provided by the Government of Indonesia.
Our people have no access to their own natural resources. Our environment and the forest in which we live are being cleared to make way for extraction of oil, gold and other minerals of economic importance. We are not allowed to even practice or exercises our basic rights even which are granted under the constitution of Indonesia.
TOT: Is Indonesia considering for making West Papua an independent state? If yes, then for how long you predict that it will take West Papua to be a free state with its own constitution?
Benny Wenda: As far as the independence from Indonesia is concerned I think with the growing pressure of human rights organization and mounting accusations of International community on Indonesia to grant West Papua its independence, the reality of being independent is if not near then is also not far. I am quite optimistic that the day is not far off when we will become an independent nation.
TOT: What message you would like to give the global platform of The Oslo Times?
Benny Wenda: The Oslo Times is an independent, objective newspaper promoting the peace and democracy throughout in the world. My message through the platform of TOT to the world is this, the people of the West Papua’s are facing worst form of human rights violations and hardships. This is need of the hour when the people of the West Papua’s should have an independent land for their existence and progress as well as prosperity.
I have seen Mr. Benny Wenda glittering eyes with the passion of optimism for the well being and self-determination of the people of the West Papua’s and he cannot be diverge from any sacrifice for his deprived nation.
©The Oslo Times