As the world faces the coronavirus crisis, my people face a renewed humanitarian crisis in West Papua. From Puncak Jaya to Intan Jaya, Nduga to Timika, over 45,000 have been displaced by Indonesian military operations since December 2018. As you read this, the Indonesia military is mobilising to protect the world’s largest gold and third-largest copper mine, Grasberg, run by US company Freeport McMoRan. Thousands, including entire villages near the mine, are fleeing.

Indonesia is cynically using the coronavirus to conceal its operations, banning all foreigners from West Papua as it begins depopulating villages. If Indonesia wants to protect us from the virus, why is it forcing women and children into the forest, at risk of dying from lack of food and medicine? Clearly, Indonesia wants to prevent any international observers from witnessing its latest massacres.

Indonesia has deployed 700 new troops in West Papua this year alone, on top of an additional 16,000 last year. This doesn’t include the newly-deployed Brimob police officers or intelligence sections. We have been peacefully demanding our right to self-determination – Indonesia has been sending in heavily armed troops. The purpose is clear: to eliminate West Papuans and crush all signs of resistance. The 57 political prisoners incarcerated since the August 2019 uprising demonstrate Indonesia’s true intentions.

One way Indonesia is doing this is by trying to stigmatise the West Papuan military wing, the West Papua Army. Indonesia tries to smear the West Papua Army and ULMWP as separatists or an Armed Criminal Group (KKB). Does a KKB sit at the table internationally, with 79 heads of state in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group? Does a KKB sit with the Indonesian government at the Melanesian Spearhead Group? In 1961, we were already recognised as the state-in-waiting of West Papua. Indonesia hijacked our independence and destroyed our sovereignty. Today, we are fighting to reclaim our sovereignty. These are not the actions of an ‘Armed Criminal Group’.

There have always been West Papuans who, with the support of the people, defend themselves, their mountains and their forests. They are the West Papuan home guard. Indonesia uses the existence of the West Papua Army to bomb villages, kill civilians and arrest non-violent activists. The world should not be fooled by this.

The people of West Papua have lived on their lands for tens of thousands of years. Until Indonesia came there was no mass killing, deforestation or pollution. Now, our land is a hunting ground for the Indonesian military.

Every country has the right to defend its ancestral lands against an invader. The West Papua Army seeks to reclaim its land from an illegal occupier. If we went to Java and tried to steal Indonesia’s land, we would expect the Indonesian military to resist. Indonesia came to our country, illegally, in 1963, and has killed 500,000 Papuan men, women and children since. We have lost everything. Is it any surprise then, that West Papuans’ united self-defence army seeks to resist this genocide, to ensure the survival of our people?

We do not accept the presence of the Indonesian military or multinational corporations on our soil. All the international solidarity networks must mobilise to defend us now. The people of West Papua are fighting with their lives every day to defend our forests, mountains and rivers. We are ground zero in the fight to protect our global natural environment.

As the West Papua Army defends its people and its environment, the Indonesian military mobilises to defend Freeport McMoRan and its huge environmentally destructive gold and copper mine. Freeport is at the root of the West Papua genocide. The company has been operating in the middle of a genocide, and providing direct and indirect support to the Indonesian police and military to carry out mass killings. Freeport has long been the single largest tax payer to the Indonesian colonial State, taxes which are used to buy the weapons which kill my people. It is the same story as the genocide in East Timor. The depopulation of the villages around the mine right now is a continuation of this bloody history. We demand that Freeport stop operating in West Papua until the bloodshed ceases.

Indonesia must respect the will of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, Pacific Islands Forum and 79 countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights into West Papua. There can be no more delays – the time has come for her to witness the true crisis in West Papua. If the High Commissioner and international community do not pay attention now, I’m concerned that many more lives will be lost, on top of the 250 killed since December 2018. They must act now before it’s too late.

To my people in West Papua and abroad, whether you are in exile or in West Papua, across the Pacific and elsewhere, we have to unite to liberate ourselves. All the solidarity networks across the world must unite behind us in one voice with one spirit. It is time for us to act peacefully for our right to self-determination.

God bless our struggle.

Benny Wenda