The recent uprising in West Papua was sparked by racist attacks on Papuan students in the Indonesian city of Surabaya. However, the West Papuan people have been struggling for more than 60 years against Indonesian occupation, human rights violations and for the right to self determination.
Indonesian occupation has led to human rights abuses, disappearances, kidnappings, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement and the death of an estimated 500,000 Papuans.
The Australian government is complicit in Indonesia’s repression of Papuan demands for self-determination and has a long history of opposing West Papuan self determination, right back to the end of Dutch colonisation in 1949.
Australia has supplied military helicopters used to carry out attacks, including napalm bombings and (along with Britain and the United States) trains Indonesian troops.
In 2006, the Australian government signed the Lombok Treaty with Indonesia, a security agreement that recognises Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua and precludes Australia's involvement in West Papuan matters.
In 2013, during a visit to the Indonesian island of Bali, then-prime minister Tony Abbott said “the people of West Papua are much better off as part of a strong, dynamic and increasingly prosperous Indonesia”.
In September, while protests were being violently repressed by Indonesian troops, the Australian government publicly reiterated its recognition of Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua.
The Australian Labor Party’s position is no better. While Labor’s Penny Wong recently expressed “distress” and “concern” about the recent violence and affirmed Labor’s support for the right to "peacefully express political views" in West Papua, she also made reference to Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua under the Lombok Treaty.
Since August, untold numbers of protesters (many of them students) have been killed, arrested or disappeared. The internet is still shut down and journalists are not allowed in.
In the Papuan city of Wamena, more than 41 people were killed on September 23, after Indonesian forces opened fire on an anti-racism rally organised by high school students.
Human rights activist Surya Anta, spokesperson for the Indonesian People's Front for West Papua was arrested on August 31. Human rights lawyers have been interrogated and activists charged with sedition.
Australian-based human rights lawyer Veronica Koman is now wanted by the Indonesian government for her work in exposing the arrests, killings and repression in West Papua.
Koman told SBS News on October 3 that she has received daily death and rape threats: "They're trying to kill the messenger. They cannot refute my data, all the footage they cannot refute that so they're trying to destroy my credibility."
According to an October 9 report in the Jakarta Post, a coordinated, well-funded social media campaign has been waged in Indonesia, to discredit the West Papuan movement and its advocates, including Koman.
The Socialist Alliance National Council met on October 5–6 and adopted the following resolution on West Papua.
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The Socialist Alliance demands the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Surya Anta and the withdrawal of all military forces from West Papua.
We call on the Australian government to:
1. End its military training of repressive Indonesian forces;
2. Demand that Indonesia cease its violent repression of the West Papuans, restore the internet and allow journalists inside West Papua;
3. Respect the right to self-determination of the Papuan people by calling for an internationally monitored referendum on independence; and
4. Grant human rights lawyer Veronica Koman protection and not hand her over to Indonesia.
[Susan Price is national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance. For more information, visit: socialist-alliance.org.]