Indonesia is supposed to have a new liberal leadership with the election of new president Jodo Widodo, the first president since the Suharto dictatorship was overthrown in 198 to be elected from outside the Javanese military/political elite.
But the Australian public, in the furore over the fate of two the Australians and others facing execution, are getting a glimpse of the stance of Widodo — and other influential Indonesian leaders — towards human rights, justice and compassion.
Of all the areas ruled by Indonesia, resource-rich West Papua is especially suffering. Its people are getting little in the way of social and economic benefits and the native West Papuans live under a brutal Indonesian army occupation.
West Papua has the world’s largest copper and gold mines, but with corruption and injustice rife the West Papuans endure poverty and inequality while foreign companies are further enriched.
At the same time, the exploitation of minerals, rainforests and other resources of West Papua is leading to pollution, deforestation and destruction of wildlife and habitat.
In 1961, West Papua was promised independence from their former Dutch colonial rulers. Indonesia, however, wanted to take over the country to get access to the vast mineral and timber resources of West Papua. The US pressured the Netherlands to give West Papua to Indonesia.
Indonesia was granted interim control of the territory until West Papua’s future was decided. West Papuans were not consulted. The United Nations promised the West Papuans they eventually get a say in determining their own destiny.
In 1969, the UN organised what was farcically known as an “Act of Free Choice”. Indonesia selected 1025 people to take part, then forced them at gun-point to vote for incorporation with Indonesia.
Since the invasion and occupation of West Papua, the Indonesian army and police have carried out a policy of slow, but systematic genocide against the indigenous Papuans. Before the Indonesian invasion the native Papuans were 98% of the population, today they are only 48%.
It is estimated that 500,000 West Papuans have been killed or have disappeared since the Indonesian invasion.
Indonesian military and police carry out frequent operations in the rural areas. These result in houses being burned and villagers being terrorised, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed.
Many West Papuan leaders and activists have been killed. Many others are held as political prisoners for engaging in peaceful protests or other acts of resistance. Some are serving 15 years in prison for merely hoisting West Papua's flag, the Morning Star — an act Indonesia bans. Others have been shot dead for raising the flag.
Bali, a popular tourist destination for Australians, is the regional headquarters of the military operations for West Papua. While oppression, gross human rights abuses and atrocities continue in West Papua, people of conscience should not holiday in Bali or the rest of Indonesia or buy products made there.
Behind the Indonesia's sham democracy, the old corrupt military elite remains the real power in Indonesia. As was the case in South Africa, East Timor, Burma and elsewhere, pressure and actions from outside can play a role in supporting and encouraging badly needed change.
The West Papuan people, who continue to struggle against oppression and for freedom, deserve our support. The Australian government supports Indonesia's occupation — including providing military training to the Kopassus special forces responsible for human rights abuses in West Papua. It is up to us to raise our voices against it.