I, as Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, express my deep concern over the situation of Papuan students in Indonesia, especially in Semarang, Malang, Surabaya, Ambon, Ternate, Sulu-Maluku, as well as in West Papua in the City and Regency of Jayapura.

The people of West Papua are united in opposition to the extreme racism we suffer at the hands of the Indonesian occupation. The events of the past five days show that Pacific leaders, speaking out collectively this month, are right: the UN must urgently visit West Papua.

Dozens of Papuan students in Surabaya were barricaded in their dormitories by Indonesian nationalist gangs and police on August 16, called ‘monkeys’, ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’, attacked with tear gas, and arrested. Thousands of my people, from Manokwari, Sorong and Jayapura to Kaimana, Bintuni and Serui to Biak, Merauke, Wamena and Nabire, as well as solidarity demos in North Sumatra, Bandung West Java and Jogjakarta are defending the dignity of Papuans as human beings created by God.

The events in Surabaya are the match that has lit the bonfire of nearly 60 years of racism, discrimination and torture of the people of West Papua by Indonesia. Every Papuan knows that he or she is seen as a second-class citizen by Indonesia. I myself was spat at by an Indonesian school girl at high school, just because of the colour of my skin. Every Papuan has a similar story to tell.

Events like these show why we have been struggling for a referendum on independence for so many decades. Racism goes hand-in-hand with colonisation and repression. Like the Black people of South Africa, fighting against apartheid, our struggle against racism is also a struggle for self-determination. President Widodo’s words are not enough: Papuans will not stop fighting until we achieve equality, self-determination and a referendum on independence.

In February this year, the UN condemned the ‘deeply entrenched discrimination and racism’ Papuans suffer at the hands of Indonesia. The UN must now follow this up. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, must be allowed to visit West Papua. I reiterate the call of the Pacific Islands for Indonesia to stop blocking the High Commissioner from seeing the reality in our country.

In the 21st century, Black West Papuans are still being called ‘monkeys’ and ‘dogs’. Not so long ago, such racism was directed against Indonesians by the Dutch colonisers. Indonesians fought against European colonisation and discrimination, winning their independence – but today, Indonesia has become the very thing it once struggled against.

The Preamble to the 1945 Indonesian constitution states, ‘independence is the inalienable right of all nations, therefore, all colonialism must be abolished in this world as it is not in conformity with humanity and justice’. We are only calling for this constitutional right to be upheld. It is time, to mark the 74th anniversary of Indonesian Independence, for the people of West Papua to be given the choice to determine their own destiny.

Benny Wenda
United Liberation Movement for West Papua