By Hilda Wayne
In a village in West Papua, a young Benny Wenda watched as Indonesian military forced his Melanesian aunties to wash themselves by the river ‘ to clean themselves up’ before they were raped. One of Benny’s aunts had her baby ripped from her arms and thrown to the ground before she, the mother, was also raped. Both baby and mother sustained fatal injuries. They died.
Severe internal injuries were what eventually killed the West Papuan father of Wiwince Pigome, sustained many years before at the hands of the Indonesian military.
Wiwince’s family were from Wamena and her father, a school headmaster, had become a statistic of the documented violence against West Papuans in the aftermath of a general election. The year was 1977.
When he died, Wiwince’s was just 11 years old.
Stories of how women’s breasts were cut off from their chests leaving them to bleed to death, or of West Papuans being forced to have sex with their husbands in public or raped by the Indonesian military while their husbands were forced to watch, were told, in hushed tones in the Pigome home. These, Wiwince said, were ‘just stories’ that were not permitted to be mentioned in public on threat of severe repercussions by the Indonesian authorities.
And the violence continues – so far, close to half a million people of West Papua have died at the hands of Indonesia’s repressive regime.
This is why, living in Perth Australia since 2003, (and becoming an Australia citizen this year), Wiwince says her people’s fight for freedom is far from over. From the security that Australia provides she is able to speak up without fear of intimidation – and this she intends to do.
Petite and frail-looking, nevertheless Wiwince’s fierce determination is evident having been shaped by her unimaginable experiences growing up as a West Papuan woman.
Every West Papuan has a story they will tell of the suffering we have gone through because we are not allowed our freedom to be independent,
As for Benny Wenda, a 2013 Nobel Peace prize nominee: he lives in exile in the United Kingdom, and travels the world with one strong message of hope shared by many West Papuans:
Free West Papua.
Papua New Guinea solidarity
When Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, declared recently that the genocide in West Papua should stop, it drew jubilation among West Papuan freedom fighters, not least of all Wiwince.
I cannot recall any other PNG Prime Minister who actually stood up and defended the West Papuan people but this (O’Neill’s stance) is showing us West Papuans that our Melanesian leaders are taking notice and saying enough is enough,
That Prime Minister O’Neill chose to use the Australian press for his announcement Wiwince feels to be a huge step towards hope for a free West Papua.
Wiwince is quick to recognise other PNGeans such as Oro Governor, Gary Juffa who continue to champion the cause for West Papuan people. It gives her hope for the future. She said:
Melanesian men are not cowards. It’s like what our forefathers do. When they go out hunting, they must come back with something from the forest or sea. They don’t let their family down with their actions and their words. Peter O’Neil has spoken and stood up for us. Just like what leaders like Gary Juffa are doing, it is a sign that our Melanesian brothers and sisters suffer with us and we are not alone
The Act of ‘No’ Choice – a historical perspective
In October 1961, during the First Papuan People’s Congress, it was declared that the Papuan people wanted total independence from Indonesia. Under the Dutch administration the Papuan Morning Star flag was raised on 1 December 1961. It was not recognised by Indonesia and political resistance by the people of West Papua was to follow.
As a counter measure to the resistance, in 1969 the Government of Indonesia selected 1,026 Papuan representatives who, through intimidation and threats, voted on behalf of the West Papuan people to remain part of Indonesia.
In a UN report it is stated that:
The limitatons imposed by the geographical characteristics of the territory and the general political situation in the area, an act of free choice has taken place in West Irian in accordance with Indonesian practice, in which the representatives of the population have expressed their wish to remain with Indonesia.
Instead of conducting a referendum, the Indonesian authorities harangued, bribed and threatened the representatives into voting for integration with Indonesia.
West Papua would, from then on, be subject to a power with which they had never identified nor entered into and would suffer a fate they would certainly never have chosen.
Political resistance persisted and in 1977 a general election was held in the highlands of Papua. It was during this period that the Indonesian government carried out an operation which resulted in mass killings and violence against the West Papuan people – according to documented history.
The report stated:
Responding to the uprisings which surrounded the 1977 general elections in Papua, several military operations were launched in the Papuan highlands around Wamena.
The response caused a further breakdown in the Papuan–Indonesian relations which had fallen apart at that time.
The operations resulted in mass killings of, as well as violence against civilians. Stories of survivors recall unspeakable atrocities including rape, torture and mass executions. Estimations of the number of persons killed range from 5,000 up to tens of thousands.
The research done for this report is consistent with these numbers, although restricted access to the area and ongoing intimidation of witnesses makes it difficult to confirm an upper limit of the number of victims.
Amnesty International also reported of atrocities where people were being buried alive or put in bags and thrown overboard at sea. It told of babies decapitated and a young girl shot dead instantly as she begged for her life to be spared.
In March 2013, Amnesty International reported 17 West Papuans were arrested by Indonesian police, stripped, handcuffed and beaten in detention for 12 days where they suffered stab wounds and broken bones.
“Some were reportedly forced by police to drink their own urine. They were released without charge at the end of June due to lack of evidence,
said the report.
Reports place the total deaths since the uprising in 1977 at up to half a million.
America’s quest for West Papua’s riches
Well before West Papuans began the process of self-determination they had no knowledge of the huge wealth in natural resources on the land. In 1962, American geologists confirmed mineral deposits in West Papua after initial findings by a Dutch geologist in the 1930s.
The Indonesian government and a ‘premier’ US-based natural resource company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold knew what was at stake and in 1967 signed mining deals in earnest that would see the start of an onslaught of not only the West Papuan people’s natural resources but their lives as well.
While the people of West Papua who had little or no education longed for only their chance to become a free independent people, America’s premier natural resources mining giant Freeport- McMoRan and the Indonesian government had entered into a partnership over the West Papuan people’s land.
A ‘jewel in the crown’ of Freeport-McMoRan and Indonesia’s greatest asset or ‘economic beachhead’ was found in the Western Highlands of West Papua: the Mt Ertsberg Mine. This is the second largest copper mine in the world and contains the largest proven gold deposit in existence valued in excess of $US40 billion.
Through its mining operations in West Papua, Freeport Indonesia continues to be Indonesia’s largest taxpayer and had former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger on its board of directors in its parent company Freeport-McMoRan based in New Orleans.
After mining operations commenced at Mt Ertsberg Mine, another discovery was made in 1988 at Mt Grasberg, just three kilometres away. That would become Freeport’s largest gold mine and the most profitable copper mine in the world.
The latest estimate for the Mt Grasberg lode is one billion tonnes of ore and it is expected to have a thirty year life. The region around the mine is closed off to outsiders, as well as to the traditional land owners who have been dispossessed.
In 1995, Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto also secured deals to enter into mining activities with Freeport in Mt Grasberg.
While their land continues to be taken from them, for seemingly insurmountable capitalist interests benefiting multinational companies, the traditional landowners are being displaced through land-grabbing for the purposes of milking its resources. The West Papuan people’s fight for freedom has spanned almost five decades with tremendous loss of lives and long lasting damage to livelihood and environment.
In 2005, an investigative report by New York Times of the mine found the mining activity carried out by Freeport McMoRan in West Papua produced almost a billion tonnes of waste that the company had dumped into the river.
Written accounts suggest Freeport and the Australian government , through the supply of military equipment, have been complicit in the atrocities that some human rights organisations have labelled ‘slow-motion genocide’, ‘censored genocide’, and ‘neglected genocide’.
Time to pay attention
In September 2008, the Norwegian government fund severed business ties with Rio Tinto pulling shares totalling $1 billion citing ‘severe environmental damage’ as being unethical to the fund’s principles.
The Council’s assessments deal with issues under the Ethical Guidelines which have not been dealt with by previous recommendations, such as violations of human rights, labour rights and complicity in serious damage to the environment. The exclusions reflect our refusal to contribute to serious, systematic or gross violations of ethical norms in these areas through our investments in the Government Pension Fund – Global,
wrote then Norwegian Minister of Finance Kristin Halvorsen.
In June 2012, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund followed Norway’s lead and announced that it had excluded four companies from its $NZ 19 billion investment portfolio, following a review of engagement priorities. One of these companies was Freeport-McMoRan.
According to the company website:
Freeport-McMoRan has been excluded based on breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces by the company in at least two countries in which it operates.
Despite improvements in Freeport McMoRan’s own human rights policies, breaches of standards by government security forces are beyond the company’s control. This limits the effectiveness of further engagement with the company.
In April 2013, British Member of Parliament Andrew Smith officially opened a West Papua Campaign office in his constituency of Oxford.
In an interview with this writer, Mr Smith said West Papuan refugees live in his constituency and East Oxford had been the location of the Free West Papua campaign for a number of years. It was these constituents, he stated, that got him involved in the struggle.
…once you know the history of this (West Papua), and how the West Papuan people were denied self-determination, and learn more about what is going on in West Papua, you understand how it is an issue which, in all justice, must be pressed.
He went on further to explain:
It is not for me to decide the future status of West Papua – I believe it should be decided democratically by the people themselves.
Mr Smith’s stated belief is that the more people, representatives and governments start to pay attention to the plight of the West Papuan people the better it will be for them.
The West Papuan people continue to hold the UN responsible for not helping them gain their freedom in 1969 and Mr Smith feels the process towards independence for West Papua was a flawed decolonisation process which he says “… is a stain on the history of the United Nations.”
Australia continues to be voiceless for West Papua
In a recent interview in Perth, Western Australia, Benny Wenda questioned why, when West Papua, was in Australia’s ‘backyard’, had the Australian government failed in its international humanitarian duties to speak up and act to put a stop to atrocities and the attempted genocide of West Papuan people?
The people of West Papua are still crying out for help but Australia is not listening. It is their time now to talk about the people who are suffering from torture and persecution closer to home than worry about boat people and far away refugees.
In 2013, Labor and Coalition senators voted down a Senate condolence motion to acknowledge the death of West Papuan activist and Australian Vikky Riley only because the words West Papua were in that motion.
Labor Senator Trish Crossin said: “
The government will not be supporting this motion because of her involvement with West Papua, in that it is in conflict with our foreign policy.
Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, in response, expressed his incredulity – calling the withdrawal of the motion “appalling.” He asked:
On the basis of her advocacy for the people of West Papua, who are currently being slaughtered, the Senate is going to vote down a condolence motion. Where is the courage to stand up and say: ‘Well done. You deserve our respect’?
Fight for Freedom will go on
On 20 August 2013, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations, His Excellency Gary Quinlan, addressed the UN Security Council president Maria Perceval and council members on protection of civilians in armed conflicts.
In his concluding remarks he stated:
“Protecting civilians is primarily a national responsibility. But where national authorities fail and mass atrocity crimes occur, the international community – including this Council – must be prepared to act to meet our responsibility to protect.
Australia will continue to be a voice for the Council action in such circumstances. This is the legitimate expectation of those many millions of civilians who desperately need protection. And it is a defining benchmark which the United Nations itself should and will be judged.
Ironically, the West Papuan people who have suffered from all the forms of atrocity of which His Excellency Quinlan speaks, are only 45 minutes flight off Australia’s Northern Territory yet close to half a million of them have died as a result.
In spite of the close proximity, US and Australian forces in Darwin have stubbornly refused to recognise the plight or to intervene on behalf of the West Papuan people.
The ‘voice’ demonstrated thus far by Australian leaders has been generally hostile. Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr unleashed an angry attack against West Papua freedom campaigners. Current Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that West Papuans are better off with Indonesia.
It is easy for Tony Abbott to just say that West Papuan people are better off. He should put away his expensive suits and neck tie and go into West Papua and see for himself before people like him and Bob Carr can talk about West Papua.
said West Papuan, Wiwince, who begs to differ.
The United Nations, America and Australia have the blood of half a million people on their hands. If their leaders do not want to stand up for the West Papuan people, the West Papuan people will not stop. The only thing that will stop me is when I get a bullet through my head, until then, I will continue to fight for my people’s freedom,”