As part of Refugee Week 2022, we wanted to raise the voices of those who have been displaced due to climate impacts. In this guest blog, Benny Wenda talks of the link between climate change, migration, and colonialism. He shares the Green State Vision for West Papua and the need to make ecocide an internationally recognised criminal offence.
By Benny Wenda, Interim President, ULMWP Provisional Government
West Papua, my country, has been under illegal occupation for 60 years. Indonesia cheated us of our right to self-determination in the 1960s, through a sham referendum that the UN sanctioned. Since then, they have subjected my people to genocidal colonial rule, largely ignored by the rest of the world.
West Papua is a green land. We have thousands of miles of pristine rainforest and hundreds of species that cannot be found anywhere else on earth. But under Indonesian colonialism, hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have been killed and our environment degraded by mines and palm oil plantations. Indonesia says they are doing this for our own good, that West Papuans need development. But this is a racist logic, which says that indigenous Papuans are undeserving of freedom and unable to manage our lands – the lands we have been guardians of for thousands of years.
There is a hidden crisis of forced migration in West Papua. Indonesia destroys our forests and mountains for profit, through devastating economic ventures like the Grasberg mine, the biggest gold and third biggest copper mine on earth. In order to protect their investments, Indonesia brings huge numbers of troops to mostly rural areas. This intense militarisation has displaced between 60,000 and 100,000 West Papuans in the last four years. Almost half the residents of Nduga, a mountainous region in West Papua’s highlands, have had to abandon their homes, churches, and schools. Thousands more have become refugees, crossing the border into Papua New Guinea.
In West Papua, climate change, migration, and colonialism are all intimately linked. Clearing West Papuans from their land does not just enable Indonesia to build new developments, like the Trans Papua highway and Wabu Block gold mine; it also allows them to more effectively exert military control.
I myself am a political refugee. I arrived in the UK in 2002, after escaping imprisonment in Indonesia. I did not want to leave, but my life was in grave danger because I advocated for my people’s freedom. Right now, countless West Papuans are risking their lives by resisting. Indonesia fears them because they threaten their business interests. But the world must support our struggle. We have already seen what has happened in Kalimantan, where Indonesian palm oil plantations have exhausted and destroyed much of one of the world’s great forests. This is what awaits West Papua if we do not win our liberation soon.
In place of Indonesia’s ecocidal destruction, the Provisional Government I lead has offered the world our Green State Vision. With it, we will restore indigenous sovereignty, and build a society driven by the needs of people and the environment, rather than profit. We will serve notice on the oil, gas, and logging corporations that are devastating our rainforest. We will be the first country to make ecocide a criminal offence and will advocate for it to be internationally prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.
West Papua is the world’s heart and lungs, and our future is the shared future of all of humanity. There can be no climate justice without our liberation.