Twenty-nineteen has been the worst year on record for the people of West Papua. They cannot enjoy their Christmas this year. They are facing military operations in every corner of every village in West Papua, from Nduga to Puncak Jaya to Intan Jaya.

Rather than celebrate Christmas with our neighboring tribe or church like other countries in the region, West Papuans cannot move because of the military surrounding their villages and towns. During the West Papua Uprising this year Indonesia deployed 16,000 troops to crush our peaceful uprising, and more troops continue to be deployed. West Papua is becoming a 21st century war zone in the Asia-Pacific.

This Christmas, seven West Papuan political prisoners remain in prison in Kalimantan, where they were flown by Indonesia after being kidnapped for peacefully exercising their right to free expression, and are now on hunger strike. Buchtar Tabuni and Bazoka Logo, two of the political prisoners, are members of the ULMWP Bureaus. Indonesia is persecuting us and our organization whilst the ULMWP and Indonesia are both members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group. How can Indonesia claim to represent and protect Melanesians whilst they arrest and imprison us for demanding our rights? In Jakarta, Surya Anta and his friends are facing life sentence for peacefully supporting the West Papuan people’s rights to self-determination.

The West Papuan students who led an exodus from their universities in Indonesia due to the daily racism and discrimination they face are now being chased and harassed by the Indonesian military, police and intelligence. West Papuan people are not safe under the hand of Indonesia. When we try to hold prayer meetings during our independence anniversaries like December 1, or to celebrate Christmas with our communities, we are stopped by the violence and discrimination of Indonesian police and military operations.

I request that the Indonesian government immediately stop the military operations in Nduga, Puncak Jaya and Intan Jaya. The Indonesian government should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights into these regions to observe and verify the situation on the ground, in accordance with a motion passed unanimously this month by the 79 sovereign states of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

The issue of West Papua is not a secret anymore. From the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) to the 79 countries in the ACP, dozens of states are now starting to support West Papua. Both the ACP and the PIF have called for the High Commissioner to be allowed into West Papua, so Indonesia must agree to their request immediately.

To my people back home, you are not alone. Your voice has been heard by 79 countries now. I am confident that your day will come.

I would like to thank the people and government of Vanuatu and the 18 countries in the Pacific who passed a resolution of support for West Papua this year. To all the solidarity networks around the world, thank you for supporting us in 2019 – from sports players to musicians, lawyers to politicians – particularly those in the Pacific who have tirelessly supported our struggle. Please continue to support us next year, as we need you to be a voice for voiceless people more than ever. This year we have had great successes internationally whilst Indonesia has got more violent and repressive back home. These are difficult times, but you all continue to stand by and assist us: thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Benny Wenda