For West Papuans, the 1st of May 1963 will always be remembered as the first day of Indonesia’s illegal occupation of our land.  

Sixty years on from that date, what has changed? West Papua is still occupied territory, still often ignored by the world, still struggling for our freedom against a big foreign power. Indonesia is still bombing our land with helicopters, just as they did when I was a child living in the Baliem Valley. The latest victims of Indonesian colonialism are church pastors, women, and children 

West Papua is officially under martial law. This is what the new ‘combat alert’ announced by the Indonesian military last month means in practice. All of West Papuan life is governed by military checkpoints, arbitrary arrests, and daily humiliation and fear. We live our lives under the scope of a sniper rifle 

There must be international recognition of the crimes being committed by Indonesia as part of their operations to release captured pilot Phillip Mehrtens. Our commitment to the peaceful release of Mr Mehrtens remains the same, and we are still working through our own private channels to secure this outcome. But this new level of militarisation is making things more difficult. As the West Papua Council of Churches made clear in their recent statement, for Mr Mehrtens to be safely released, Indonesia must withdraw their military from Nduga, Intan Jaya, Puncak, and other affected Regencies. Instead, they are deploying more.  

From 2018 to 2022, between 60,000 and 100,000 Papuans were internally displaced by increased militarisation, as over 25,000 more soldiers poured into the territory. These figures are sure to be higher now, as more soldiers are deployed and more West Papuans are forced to flee their homes. Indonesia is a member of the UN, and yet avoids the scrutiny and condemnation aimed at Russia for their invasion and occupation of Ukraine. The USA and other big powers talk about democracy, but ignore that democracy for West Papua has been violently denied for six decades. The hypocrisy is the same with the environment: big powers talk about combatting climate change, but lend support to Indonesia as they continue to tear down our forest, mountain, our river.  

Countries supporting Indonesian rule in West Papua are indirectly supporting genocide and ecocide, with over 500,000 dead since 1963. Indonesia’s ongoing brutality in West Papua brings up the memory of the genocide in East Timor. The world must remember that only after the Santa Cruz massacre did the international community wake up to this reality and intervene. How many more West Papuans must die before the world wakes up to Indonesia’s occupation of our land? 

Our demands to ensure peace in West Papua are simple:  

  • Indonesia must immediately allow a visit to West Papua by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This is not my demand, but the demand of over 80 countries – including all Pacific, Caribbean, and African States, the EU and numerous European states including the UK and Spain.
  • Indonesia must end martial law by withdrawing all its troops from West Papua, and particularly from Intan Jaya, Puncak, Maybrat, Nduga, and Puncak Jaya.  
  • Allow humanitarian organisations and international media to report and assist in West Papua. 
  • Release all political prisoners, including Victor Yeimo and the three Papuan students detained without charges last year.  

I am also again calling for President Widodo to sit down with me and discuss an internationally-mediated self-determination referendum for West Papua. This is the only peaceful resolution to this conflict.

Benny Wenda