The people of West Papua have been suffering under Indonesian occupation since 1963. Over 500,000 civilians have been killed, and thousands more have been raped, tortured and imprisoned. Foreign media and human rights groups are banned from operating in West Papua, thus silencing and censoring their stories from the world’s ears.
The global community, including governments, politicians, academics, and human rights organisations, has a right to know, and a responsibility to mitigate the decades of psychological terror and physical trauma experienced by West Papuan individuals and communities at the hands of Indonesian security forces. A crucial step in this direction would be to end any type of training or funding by Australia of Indonesia’s elite special forces, Kopassus in particular. As recently as September 2010, Australia’s elite SAS forces were involved in counterterrorism training with Kopassus in Indonesia, which directly implicates the Australian army and taxpayer in the horrendous suffering of the Papuan people.
Benny Wenda is a West Papuan independence leader, International Spokesman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), and founder of the Free West Papua Campaign. In 2003, he was granted political asylum by the British Government following his escape from custody while on trial in West Papua. He now lives in exile in the United Kingdom.
Raised in the remote highlands of West Papua in the 1970’s, Benny Wenda ‘lived at peace with nature in the mountains’. In 1977, the Indonesian military appeared in his village and changed his life forever. Violence, racism and enforced subservience became part of daily routine.
Between 1977 and 1983 Benny and his family, along with thousands of other highlanders, lived in hiding in the jungle. Life was hard. Food and shelter were scarce, and the weak struggled to survive the harsh conditions. Military violence remained a constant threat. In one particularly harrowing incident, coming across Benny’s family in the jungle, soldiers ripped Benny’s two-year-old cousin from his aunty’s arms and threw her to the ground with so much force that the child’s back was broken. They then raped his aunty, forcing Benny to watch. His small cousin died two weeks after the attack; his aunty sometime later from her own injuries.
As a small boy, Benny could not understand why the Indonesian military was doing this and, still, he had no knowledge of the context in which this violence took place. Years later, he still did not understand. Benny searched widely for information about Papua’s history, culture and identity. It was a difficult task—books were censored, propaganda was rife—but he made it his mission to uncover the truth.
Over the years, as the violence of the Indonesian occupation increased, and the desire to silence West Papuan freedom fighters escalated, Benny faced criminal prosecution for a crime he did not commit—he was not even in the country at the time the alleged attacks took place. It was obvious that Benny would not receive a fair trial. Rumours were rife that military intelligence would kill him in detention before the judge rendered a decision.
In miraculous circumstances, Benny escaped from Abepura prison on 27 October 2002. The Indonesian police allegedly issued a shoot to kill order. But aided by West Papua independence activists, Benny was smuggled across the border to Papua New Guinea and later assisted by a European NGO to travel to the UK where he was granted political asylum. In 2003, Benny and his wife Maria were reunited in England, where they now live with their children.
Benny holds a deep and enduring belief that justice will eventually prevail, and he sees his remarkable escape from persecution in Indonesia as testament to that fact. ‘While my people continue to suffer and continue to die, nothing will stop my campaign’, he says.
For Benny Wenda, there is only one way to stop the killing, and ensure that Papuans enjoy the same freedoms that people elsewhere in the world already enjoy: Papua must be independent. And to that end he continues his campaign.
Please join us on Global Freedom Movement Media, as we welcome the brave and courageous Benny Wenda, a man who has endured more than any human should. Help us Free West Papua.