Benny Wenda: A Controversial Figure in the West Papua Independence Movement

source: Wikipedia

Exiting the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) forum was carried out by the Indonesian delegation when one of the leaders of the Free Papua Movement group, Benny Wenda, was set to speak at the forum. So who is this Benny Wenda?

Benny Wenda is the leader of West Papua Independence, the Interim President of the ULMWP (United Liberation Movement for West Papua) Interim Government, and the founder of the Free Papua Campaign.

The ULMWP is a separatist organization in Papua that has been an observer status in the MSG. Under the leadership of Benny Wenda, this organization intends to become a full member of the MSG, which was established in 1988 in Port Vila, Vanuatu, an Oceania country situated on the eastern side of the Island of Papua, Indonesia.

Benny Wenda was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and is a recipient of the Freedom of Oxford. He lives in exile in the UK.

In 2003, he was granted political asylum by the UK government after escaping from detention during his trial in West Papua for politically motivated charges.

Early Life

As a young child in the 1970s, Benny Wenda came from a village in the remote highlands of West Papua. During that time, his life revolved around tending to gardens with his mother.

They were among the Lani people with the principle of "living peacefully with nature in the mountains." In 1977, Benny's life dramatically changed.

That year, the military appeared in his village. Every morning on their way to the garden, Benny, his mother, and his aunt would be stopped and inspected by Indonesian soldiers.

Many young women, including three of Benny's aunts, died in the forest due to trauma. They were injured by attacks from the military, often involving genital mutilation.

Every day, Papuan women had to report to military posts to provide food taken from their own gardens. They were also responsible for cleaning and cooking for the soldiers. Violence, racism, and enforced compliance became part of young Benny's daily routine.

Living in the Wilderness

Between 1977 and 1983, Benny and his family, along with thousands of others from the highlands, lived in hiding in the forest. Life was difficult.

Food and shelter were scarce, and the weak struggled to survive in harsh conditions. Military violence remained a constant threat.

During the 1980s and even into the early 1990s, there was little written history or discussion about the incorporation of Papua into Indonesia or the subsequent events.

Benny eventually learned about how the Netherlands maintained control over the province after 1945 and promised independence.

Political Life of Benny Wenda

Benny learned about the declaration of Papua's sovereignty on December 1, 1961. He studied the West Papua flag (Morning Star), the national anthem ("Hai Tanahku Papua"), the Indonesian invasion, and the 1969 Act of Free Choice, in which a small group of selected Papuans were coerced into choosing integration with Indonesia.

In 2013, Benny, alongside his lawyer Jennifer Robinson, delivered a TEDx speech at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Jennifer's moving speech detailed Benny's life and his efforts to free Papua from the Indonesian military.

In the same year, he opened the first official office of the Free West Papua Campaign in Oxford, UK. This triggered diplomatic disputes between the UK and Indonesia. The Indonesian government summoned the British Ambassador to Indonesia to explain why the office was allowed to open.

In December 2017, after a restructuring, Benny Wenda was elected as the Chair of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

In July 2019, Benny Wenda was awarded the Freedom of Oxford - the highest honor given by the city of Oxford and one of the oldest surviving traditional ceremonies. Previous recipients included Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.

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