President Wenda: Paniai hospital occupation reveals Indonesia’s strategy in West Papua

The Indonesian military recently occupied a hospital in Paniai for four days, transforming it into a military base and displacing critically ill patients, including some who were on life-support.

This action should put the United Nations on alert. Using hospitals for military purposes, and forcing the evacuation of doctors and patients, is illegal under international humanitarian law. But in West Papua this is nothing new. A Papuan hospital, school, church, or a civilian’s house can be taken over without warning and transformed into a military post.

These practices have been a part of the Indonesian occupation for decades, but now we have evidence that the international community cannot ignore. Indonesia always blames West Papuan guerillas for burning hospitals, or using them and other municipal buildings as camps; the military then uses this as justification for taking them over and expelling their inhabitants. But this is a clear element of the Indonesian strategy in West Papua. Their aim is to intensify militarisation as a way of ethnically cleansing our people, turning them into refugees in their own land, and strengthening their colonial grip on West Papua.

Indonesia cannot be trusted when they accuse West Papuan fighters of committing crimes: many innocent civilians have been labelled ‘OPM’ after they were murdered. This is why they have turned West Papua into the Pacific North Korea, forbidding all journalists, NGOs, and even the UN from operating there. But they cannot close the eyes of the world forever. The torture of Defianus Kogoya in Puncak three months ago, which was filmed by Indonesian soldiers, was witnessed by the whole world. Like the hospital occupation, this is a clear demonstration of what life is really like for indigenous Papuans in their own land.

This incident also shows that Indonesia specifically targets areas that are centres of resistance. The military knows that Paniai is a stronghold for the West Papuan struggle. Occupying the hospital is therefore a punishment, as well as a warning and a threat to the people of Paniai. What is happening in Paniai, as well as Intan Jaya, Nduga, Maybrat, Oksibil and elsewhere, is settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing, part of Indonesia’s genocidal strategy to exploit our mineral wealth. That is why military violence is always greater in areas where there is lots of gold, copper, or other resources.

I’m therefore calling on all international fora, the UN, the MSG, PIF, and OACPS, to increase the pressure on Indonesia to allow a UN visit to West Papua immediately. Indonesia must also allow journalists to operate in West Papua. Ultimately, Indonesia must withdraw their troops come to the table to discuss a referendum. This is the only path to a peaceful solution in West Papua.

Benny Wenda

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