West Papua – the forgotten occupation

The Indonesian government has taken several highly controversial measures to quash autonomist sentiments.

Tom Tyler is a London-based university student

A great tragedy of the break-up of European colonial empires was clumsy partitioning, with little or no regard to ethnic, linguistic or cultural divisions. This was scarcely more evident than with the abuses seen in the Indonesian territory of West Papua

In order to fully understand the issues facing the region, one must understand its background. Prior to its succession, what is today known as West Papua was a Dutch colonial possession (Netherlands New Guinea) constituting part of the Dutch East Indies.

In a tale that was repeated throughout the colonial world, Indonesian nationalists sought secession from foreign rule and, following armed and diplomatic struggle, achieved independence in 1950.

Crucially, however, the secessionists claimed sovereignty over all of the Netherlands’ former possessions, including areas in which Muslim Javanese and Sundanese (the two ethnic groups most represented in Indonesian society), such as Timor and West Papua.

In 1961, President Sukarno reasserted this claim and, under the guise of combating ‘Western Imperialism’, led an invasion of the territory in 1962. The indigenous Melanesians, who have inhabited the island for over 45,000 years, have long resented being ruled from Jakarta, signified by a decades long insurgency under the separatist Free West Papua Movement.

In response (or perhaps as an excuse), the Indonesian government has taken several highly controversial measures to quash any autonomist sentiments. These include:

  • Attempting to dilute the province’s ethnic and religious makeup through the transmigration programme, which encourages Indonesian (mostly Muslim Javans) settlers to migrate to Papua.
  • A series of indiscriminate killings and massacres that, since Indonesian rule began in the 1960’s, have amounted to a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, leading to allegations of genocide levelled against Jakarta;
  • Journalists and Human Rights activists are barred from entering the territory, contributing to a “dearth of information” regarding the situation;
  • In a particularly outrageous development, it has been reported that Jakarta is actively engaging in the kidnap of Papuan youth, destined for madrassas for ‘re-education’;

These policies continue to this day, with little resistance from both the international community and human rights organisations.

An explanation for this could be the aforementioned ban on the entrance of journalists and activists. This trend has, however, slowly begun to change.

In a pioneering diplomatic move, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) – a supranational union composed of the four Melanesian sovereign states of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands – has considered extending membership to West Papua.

Although largely symbolic, with officials undecided on precisely who would represent the Papuan people, it is among the first movements of its kind in recognising the Papuan right to home rule.

Away from the field of international politics, the Free West Papua Campaign – an NGO that is exclusively devoted to self-determination for the Papuan people (note it is unrelated, at least officially, to the militant group Free West Papua Movement) – has also gained traction.

Indeed, their petition calling on Jakarta to overturn their ban on journalists and activists entering West Papua has accumulated almost 35,000 signatures. Further, the campaign’s de facto leader, a political refugee by the name of Benny Wenda, was nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize along with fellow activist and political prisoner, Filep Karma.

West Papua map

The campaign has also attracted some high profile supporters, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu; prominent British human rights activist Peter Tatchell; Australian senator Richard Di Natale; Australian human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson; and of course the infamously outspoken Mark McGowan (commonly known by his alias ‘Chunky Mark’ or the ‘Artist Taxi Driver’).

These activists highlight the importance of investigating all alleged human rights abuses, no matter how far-flung and exotic their location.

Although I consider it dubious, it is neither my position nor my right as a private individual to deny Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty. What remains certain, however, is that the appalling situation must be addressed soon, lest it deteriorate into another East Timor – the likes of which the world does not want to see again.

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4 Responses to “West Papua – the forgotten occupation”

  1. Andrew

    Dear Tom and readers,

    Indonesia made its claims in the 1950s and they were all rejected, in the 1960s Indonesia threatened a partnership to with Soviets and to invade West Papua but did not have transport able to move any effective invasion force to Papua in the Pacific.

    The current occupation and suffering was designed by the Rockefellers and grandson of the Union Pacific empire Robert Lovett who wanted the world’s largest gold mine, http://fcx.com The Rockefellers had been concealing the geological discovery from the governments since 1936, so when the Dutch mining office began sending teams to identify which mountain was the source of alluvial gold along the southern coast, the Rockefeller family joined forces with Robert Lovett and their joint company Freeport in August 1959 flew a Forbes Wilson to claim the Ertsberg regions as a “possible copper reserve” – no mention of the gold which and other wealth that had been surveyed in 1936.

    Lovett in December 1960 told US President-elect Kennedy who to appoint as his cabinet including Lovett’s friend McGeorge Bundy as the US national security adviser under who the NSC began asking Kennedy to support a scheme to get Indonesia into Papua and prevent the locals from gaining independence. According to the US Dept. of State record Bundy got his wish on 1/Dec/1961, see http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/frus/summaries/950306_FRUS_XXIII_1961-63.html

    Legally the US and Holland cand not buy & sell people or their nations, instead they asked the United Nations to take responsibility for the colony and ask Indonesia to “administrate” the colony on our behalf. Our governments approved the deal on 21 Sept 1962 by using article 85 of the UN Charter to make UN General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII), then in 1963 we decide to ask Indonesia to occupy and administrate the colony.

    Legally every UN member is required to “promote self-determination or indepenedence” of West Papua under article 76 of the UN Charter, see http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter12.shtml

    West Papua is a UN trust territory, the reason nobody knows the legal fact is because the UN Secretary Generals for 51 years have ‘forgotten’ to add notice of res. 1752 (XVII) to the agenda of the UN Trusteeship Council. The genocide and US mining of Papua will continue until a UN member aubmits an agenda item telling the Trusteeship Council about res. 1752(XVII), it’s a one page fax that needs to be sent to stop the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people…

  2. Tom

    I was aware of US interests, particularly concerning the region’s mineral wealth, but admittedly I was unaware of Rockefeller’s involvement. Away from the domains of my article, you’ve opened my eyes to a new dimension of the conflict. Nonetheless, i was limited to a wordcount of 700 words, so it’s unlikely that I would’ve been able to fit in anything meaningful haha.

    Even if Indonesian sovereignty over WP was challenged in the UN, it’s highly doubtful that anything would be done, given the UN’s bloc votes and vetoes and general ineffectiveness and indecisiveness. Unless the grassroots campaign reaches the level of that which challenged South African Apartheid or Indonesian rule over East Timor, I’m very pessimistic about the prospects for the people of West Papua. It thus falls only to us to tell the world about this heinous, and criminally under-reported, genocide.

  3. Patrick

    Tyler says: ” Prior to its succession, what is today known as West Papua was a Dutch colonial possession (Netherlands New Guinea) constituting part of the Dutch East Indies”….This is NOT true. The Dutch East Indies (the islands in the present day Indonesian archipelago) was administered as a separate colonial entity whilst the Dutch New Guinea (present day West Papua/West New Guinea) was a separate entity under Dutch administration. Dutch East Indies got its independence first in 1945, whilst the Dutch New Guinea was given its independence by the Dutch on December 1, 1961. West Papua NEVER had any colonial historical affiliations with the Asiatic Indonesia. Get your historical facts right.

  4. Tom

    Absolutely untrue; The Western half of New Guinea was incorporated into the greater Dutch East Indies in 1920. The two then parted ways in 1949 after Indonesia declared independence (this was, of course, prior to the country’s occupation).

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