Indonesia tried to build development on the bones of our people.
“Indonesia tried to build development on the bones of our people. The international community must stop the genocide and ecocide of my people in order to protect planet earth. If not, the rainforest will be destroyed by Indonesia.”
Those were the words of Benny Wenda, interim president of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua Provisional Government (ULMWP), at the launch of the independence movement’s plan for a “green state”, where ecocide is a crime and indigenous people have guardianship of natural resources.
Wenda and other West Papuan indigenous independence leaders are in exile from their homeland, which is half of the island of New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest rainforest after the Amazon and the Congo.
Formerly a Dutch colony, the Indonesian military seized control of West Papua in 1963. The indigenous people in the provinces are Melanesian - ethnically distinct from the people of Indonesia.
West Papuans have contested Indonesia’s occupation for more than half a century, with Indonesian forces repeatedly accused of human rights violations and violent suppression of the independence movement.
Last year, the ULMWP announced the formation of a temporary constitution and provisional government, with leader Wenda as interim president.
“We have shown the world that we are ready to run our own affairs, that we have the solution to the world. We have a government awaiting, a cabinet, now we have a vision,” Wenda said.
The green state vision was drafted with the help of international lawyers including UK-based barrister Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers.
It sets out commitments from West Papua’s ‘government-in-waiting’, including that guardianship of natural resources will be restored to indigenous authorities, with Western democratic norms combined with local Papuan systems.
The Melanesian culture treats life as joyful, and serving the needs of the heart rather than just the mind, and involving participation of all communities of beings: spirits, plants, animals and humans, rather than individualism.
Its economic system promotes modes of production that emphasise even distribution and consumption rather than mass production and waste.
The ULMWP also want to make ecocide a serious criminal offence. Ecocide is defined as unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.
Indonesia tried to build development on the bones of our people.
West Papua is home to the world’s third largest rainforest, and is rich in natural resources, including gold, copper natural gas, minerals, timber and palm oil.
But the area is being earmarked for huge deforestation under the Indonesian regime over the coming decades. The ULMWP plans to serve notice’ on all extraction companies - including oil, gas, mining, logging and palm oil - warning that if they do not comply with international environmental standards they will have to cease operations.
Wenda called on the international climate movement and all governments serious about stopping climate change to help West Papua win independence. “If you want to save the world, you must save West Papua,” he said.
“The forest is being destroyed by logging company and giant business. Multinational companies come and destroy it and the people go prison and are killed.
"It's really sad to see, that's why we are declaring a green state vision to restore the balance, restore our identity, our culture, our forests, and our mountain,” he said. The green state vision provided a solution to the world to tackle climate change, he added.
“The unlawful occupation of West Papua by Indonesia is facilitating the destruction of one of the world’s most important rainforests,” said Robinson.
Ensuring West Papua’s self-determination will also ensure the protection of the environment and the climate by allowing the Indigenous custodians of the land to take back control, protection and management of their resources, she added.
Jo Jo Mehta, founder of Stop Ecocide, was at the launch to support the ULMWP. “West Papua is home to some of the world’s greatest ecosystems, but also huge deposits of gold and copper. No wonder the occupying power covets that so much,” she said at the launch.
“Ecocide literally means to kill one’s home. This has been deeply recognised in the green state vision being launched today. And we want to support both the right of Western Papuans to self-determination, and their own determination to respect and protect the richly biodiverse ecosystems that make up their home,” she said.
Nick Deardon, director of Global Justice Now, said that the ULMWP had created a more compelling vision of how to deal with climate change than anyone from the world’s wealthiest countries gathered at COP26.
“This week at COP we see leaders of wealthy country proving yet again that they cannot and will not do what is necessary to fight the climate emergency.
"Far from embedding the principles set out in this wonderful green state vision, they're doing everything possible to keep the existing power structures in the world in place, and doing as little as late as possible.”
But there was reason for hope, he said. “Things only change when those who are exploited and oppressed and marginalised by the system begin to take matters into their own hands.
"And that's what we're seeing here. When we come away from COP we really need to hold ourselves together and not despair of what comes out of it, but begin to look at those movements around the world that we can take inspiration and hope from,” he said.
On the first day of COP26, world leaders announced a pledge to halt deforestation by 2030, which the government of Indonesia signed.
However, just two days later, Indonesia’s minister of environment and forestry, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, declared on social media that “forcing Indonesia to zero deforestation in 2030 is clearly inappropriate and unfair”.
Wenda told The Ecologist that he did not believe the Indonesian government had any intention of stopping deforestation. “I hear Indonesia signing this, but they are already destroying it, so it's too late.
"How they can resolve this, because they already heavily invested [in its destruction]. I don't think this is words on paper, they just go to the outside world.”
During the launch, two young men believed by organisers to be in the pay of the Indonesian government tried to disrupt the event and had to be removed by security. The Indonesian government did not respond to a request for comment.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.