by Benny Wenda
In one month’s time, the eyes of the Pacific will turn to Melanesia as our leaders gather in Honiara (national capital of the Solomon Islands, located on the island of Guadalcanal) to decide on West Papua’s membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
For more than 50 years, my people have suffered a creeping genocide under a repressive Indonesian military occupation that is estimated to have claimed 500,000 West Papuan lives.
Next month’s meeting is a critical opportunity to give my people a voice and to allow us to take our rightful place in the Melanesian family.
West Papua’s request for MSG membership is grounded firmly in the group’s founding principles: respect for and promotion of Melanesian cultures, traditions and values, the inalienable human rights of the indigenous peoples of Melanesia and, most of all, the spirit of Melanesian solidarity.
These principles are enshrined in the MSG’s 2007 constitution, which all MSG members are bound to respect.
This year’s MSG Summit won’t be the first time the region’s leaders have had West Papua on their agenda. In recent years, they have expressed serious concerns about human rights and the atrocities committed against my people. And perhaps most importantly, the Melanesian leaders said in 2013 that they “fully support” West Papua’s right to self-determination.
Throughout the Pacific, there is a real sense that the time is right to stand with West Papua and to bring us into the Melanesian family.
At the same time, Indonesian diplomacy has escalated, beginning with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s checkbook tour of the region in late February and a visit by Indonesian President Widodo to Port Moresby last week.
With West Papua’s natural resources continuing to be a significant driver of the Indonesian economy, they will say and do anything to suppress support for our homecoming.
Ultimately, Indonesia has no right to stand in the way of a decision by Melanesian leaders for Melanesia – and only Melanesia.
Any suggestion that Indonesia must approve or consent to West Papua’s MSG membership runs counter to the spirit of Melanesian solidarity that lies at the heart of the MSG and is an insult to Melanesians everywhere.
Remember, Indonesia has already broken its promise to Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill that it would withdraw its military forces from West Papua and has done nothing to hold out a genuine hand of friendship to West Papua and the people who have long suffered under the regime’s brutality and campaign of terror.
The fact that President Widodo required an additional 6,000 armed personnel to accompany him to West Papua en route to Port Moresby demonstrates his lack of confidence and trust he feels from among the people in what Jakarta calls its “provinces,” and his government’s attempts to stymie our MSG membership will do nothing to improve the situation.
With all of this in mind, we were very concerned to hear recent suggestions that Prime Minister O’Neill would prefer to avoid consideration of West Papua’s full MSG membership and instead look at upgrading Indonesia’s own status to become an “associate member.”
Allowing Indonesian provincial leaders a seat at the MSG table risks isolating Papua New Guinea on the question of West Papua and casts significant doubt on whether he truly has Melanesia’s best interests at heart. Clearly, the only legitimate representatives for West Papua are the West Papuans themselves.
We of course understand Prime Minister O’Neill’s concern about the need for West Papuans to have a united front at the MSG table, which is why we came together in December last year to form the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
We have been making our case for MSG membership with a united voice and wrote directly this week to MSG leaders to reiterate our strong claims for membership. We look forward to reinforcing the point in person when foreign ministers and then leaders gather in Honiara next month.
For too long, the world has turned a blind eye to the plight of my people.
Our brothers and sisters in Melanesia now have an opportunity to take a stand, and allow us to take our rightful place in Melanesia’s pre-eminent political grouping.
This is not only a question of Melanesian solidarity, but a test of Melanesian leadership.
Benny Wenda is a West Papuan independence leader and the spokesperson of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. He can be reached at email@example.com. This commentary appeared as a feature in the PNG Post- Courier newspaper on May 22, 2015. To learn more and get involved, visit freewestpapua.org/, facebook.com/freewestpapua and bennywenda.org.
Benny Wenda had been scheduled to screen this “undercover” documentary on a California tour, including a stop at the Eric Quezada Center in San Francisco on May 22, but was blocked at the airport when he tried to leave London, where he lives in exile. So far the U.S. has refused to say why they revoked his visa. The two-week tour went on without him, making Free West Papua campaigners in California even more determined to raise the voice that Indonesia seeks to silence.