Benny Wenda: A referendum, not ‘autonomy’, only West Papua solution

The Papuan Uprising in 2019 ... Image: Jacobin/Green Left/Bagus Indahono/EPA

COMMENT: By Benny Wenda, chair of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua

For over 50 years, Indonesia has been promising West Papua “autonomy”. Each time, underneath autonomy lies only bullets and killings.

As the 2001 Special Autonomy law expires this year, the United Liberation Movement (ULMWP) and all the people of West Papua are united in rejecting Indonesian-controlled “autonomy”. There is only one solution to our problem: an independence referendum.

In 1969, after the fake “vote” to legitimate Indonesia’s colonisation of West Papua, Indonesia promised we would be an autonomous region within Indonesia.

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As an “autonomous” region for the next 30 years, hundreds of thousands of West Papuans, including most of my family, were killed by the Indonesian military and police. From the brutal military operations in the Papuan highlands of 1977-81 (“Operation Koteka” and “Operation Clean Sweep”) to the mass killing, rape and torture of hundreds on Biak Island in 1998, this fake “autonomy” for us meant one thing – genocide.

At the turn of the millennium, the West Papuan people came out peacefully and demanded their right to self-determination after 30 years of bloodshed. In response, the Indonesian State developed the 2001 “Special Autonomy” law (“Otsus”). Indonesia promised to West Papuans and the international community that they would facilitate development and democracy in West Papua, and reassess the outcome in 20 years.

We now know the outcome. Under this so-called Special Autonomy, we have only been further killed, marginalised and ethnically cleansed. Our environment and way of life has been destroyed in an unrelenting ecocide – our mountains have been mined, our rivers polluted, our forests torn down.

We completely reject the “autonomy” and “development” carried out by an illegal colonial occupation.

Under Special Autonomy, we witnessed the 2014 Paniai Massacre of four Papuan schoolboys. We suffered the invasion of Nduga and the murder of over 200 West Papuans in 2019-2020.

We have felt the crushing of the 2019 West Papua Uprising, with six unarmed demonstrators shot dead as they hid in public buildings in Deiyai, 16,000 additional Indonesian troops deployed and our internet cut off. Even Indonesia’s own Special Autonomy institutions like the MRP have rejected Special Autonomy.

The position of the United Liberation Movement is clear. Indonesia cannot build development on top of mass killings. The only autonomy that exists is the autonomy of Indonesian military and police to kill.

There is only one just, democratic and feasible solution for West Papua: our right to self-determination, exercised through a referendum on independence.

In New Caledonia, South Sudan and Bougainville, the French, Sudanese and PNG governments made a timeline with the liberation groups to implement a referendum. Indonesia has never reached any understanding with the representatives of the people of West Papua.

We issued six demands for the Indonesian government in October last year. We have never received a response. Now, Indonesia must immediately arrange a referendum, mediated by third party international states and institutions, on independence for West Papua.

This call is governed by the sovereign democratic will of the people of West Papua, expressed in the 2017 petition signed by 1.8 million of us.

A referendum is a just solution for the people of West Papua, for Indonesian migrants in West Papua, for our regional neighbours in the Pacific, and for the international community. International states and institutions, particularly the European Union, World Bank, United States, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, must stop funding Indonesian occupation forces and “development” projects and help address the root causes of the conflict in accordance with the call of 79 countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.

To my people: your destiny is in your hands. Your decisions today will set West Papua on its path for generations to come. Whether you are Indigenous West Papuan or an Indonesian migrant, it is time for us to come together to reject Jakarta’s lies and stand united for the only solution- a REFERENDUM and INDEPENDENCE.

Benny Wenda

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