Global leaders gain awards and recognitions for their sincere, real hard work for bettering our civilization. Without commitment and real actions, they do not and will not be willing to receive and accept such appreciations. The awarders, meanwhile, should not release any recognitions unless they can see and validate themselves the real impacts of the actions. Without those premises, the awardees reflect nobody people with vested selfish interests and are seeking fame from their impact-less actions, if any.
Such awards are nothing but a deliberately ignorant play on top of one-sided-info-based considerations and are possibly orchestrated for political gain and media attention. The Oxford City Council’s recent Freedom of the City award, unfortunately, is seen to be that kind of ignorant recognition. The recipient, Benny Wenda has recently been criticized for his silence, if not endorsement, toward the recent massacre of construction workers in West Papua and the use of child soldiers by an armed criminal group he claimed to be under his military command.
The Oxford City Council gave the Freedom of the City award to Mr Wenda by seeing his ‘tireless independence peace campaign’ he has been doing for, as he claimed, his fellow West Papuans. The head of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua Organisation (ULMWP) has been residing in the city since 2003. The City Council award is a routine agenda conducted every two years. As written on the website, the award does not provide any special treatment for its recipients other than to be entitled to attend formal meetings of the city council.
It is hard to understand the reasons of the city council to conclude the award as they said, “He (Wenda) has acted as special representative of the Papuan people in the UK Parliament, United Nations and European Parliament. In 2017 he was appointed Chairman for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a new organisation uniting the three main political organisations struggling for the independence of West Papua.”
Here is why all the reasons mentioned above are baseless and even misleading, which we may find it painful to hear and read.
Is Wenda a West Papuan leader while endorsing massacre?
The council may not have heard or decided deliberately ditched the info about the last year massacre in West Papua. It was confirmed that armed rebel civilians raged the camp of construction workers in Nduga Regency, West Papua, and killed dozens of them. The murderer group had also claimed responsibly of the massacre. Some workers, who tirelessly ran away from the herd of murderers, eventually met and told security forces about the tragic event. Unfortunately, though, some escapers were caught by the armed group and in the end, were murdered.
Some international media eventually reported the event and saw that as very unfortunate. With the immense media coverage, Benny Wenda, who claims himself, as also some media like BBC dub, as a leader of West Papuans, made no comments whatsoever about the murder. He only said that what happened was out of his control, and he could not do anything about the tragedy. Let alone sending condolences to the victims’ families, Wenda was not even able to say sorry for that.
That situation implies two meanings, for us, at least. Firstly, any claim that Mr Wenda is a West Papua’s leader is baseless. While some international media like BBC and RNZ claim that Wenda represents West Papuans, we found that the majority of West Papuans residing in West Papua do not know who he is and what he is doing. Who they regard as West Papuan leaders are those Native West Papuans that are now de facto and de jure mayors and governors in both provinces in West Papua.
Meanwhile, as Wenda claimed himself as a West Papuan leader, he in fact has no consent nor clues about what is and happening and developing in the region. When he made no comments about the last year massacre that should show how detached he is with the massive tangible and intangible developments happening in West Papua.
Both Benny Wenda and the Oxford City Council, unfortunately, seem to deliberately ditch any info about how West Papua is now an emerging region economically, culturally and politically to conclude that the awarding ceremony. This is where one will understand that the freedom of the city award for Wenda was ignorant. It can also be an insult of families of the massacre victims as Wenda claimed himself the military leader of the group that murders those innocent workers. To this end, the award is more like a ‘transactional’ play, far from a well-thought recognition.
Endorsing the use of child soldiers
As reported in the Associated Press of June 23, the armed separatist groups in Papua acknowledged that they use underage child soldiers in armed forces. They say that the involvement of the child soldiers is normal and is a necessity as consequences of conflict.
“These children automatically become fighters and opponents against Indonesia military,” said Sebby Sambom a spokesman for the Papuan Liberation Army (TPNPB) who now resides in the border area between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The group, even though they have refused, is claimed to be part of West Papua Army that Wenda, alongside his ULMWP, dubs himself as the leader.
For information, under the international human rights laws, 18 is the minimum legal age for the recruitment and use of children in hostilities, according to the UN Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. Using children under the age of 15 as soldiers is defined as a war crime by the International Criminal Court!
One should raise a question here. Who is actually abusing human rights in West Papua these days?
At this point, Wenda has shown the same degree of ignorance, claiming that that the use of child soldiers in West Papua has nothing to do with him and his movement. One will see that Wenda seems to play the issues around West Papua. On the one end, he wants to be the military leader of any armed groups in West Papua, but on the other end, he always runs away from responsibility when tragedies like what was mentioned above happen.
To this end, the award should have been given to another figure that may have more real impacts on battering society through their real actions. If it were still for Benny Wenda, it should have been for his works for, say – if any, volunteering for years helping local communities around his residence.
As the award was given for Wenda’s campaign for West Papua, we now have concluded that for any reason, the recognition was baseless and even painful to read and hear. The British government, though, has shown their opposing stance over the award.
They stipulate, “Wenda’s presence in the UK does not mean that the UK Government supports his position on Papuan sovereignty, and the award by the Oxford City Council has no bearing on UK Government policy,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated. The office wishes to underline that the UK Government’s longstanding position on Papua has not changed. We support Indonesia’s territorial integrity and regard Papua as an integral part of Indonesia.” (*)
Written and edited by: Editorial team of WJ