West Papua: Report details genocide by Australian-backed occupiers

October 28, 2013
Indonesian forces breakup a protest by West Papuans in 2011.

A recent report details genocide against the indigenous people of West Papua carried out by the Indonesian government, which has occupied the territory since the 1960s.

The report, “A slow-motion genocide: Indonesian rule in West Papua”, was written by Dr Jim Elmslie and Dr Camellia Webb-Gannon, both visiting scholars at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University. It was published in the Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity.

There have been many reports of atrocities, such as killings and torture, committed against indigenous West Papuans.

In the past, the Indonesian government has been reasonably successful at stopping information about the situation on the ground from escaping West Papua.

However, the rise of the Internet and increasingly organised communication between Papuan activists and international supporters has seen a big rise in the spread of accounts of Indonesian abuses.

However, for Indonesia's increasingly documented human rights abuses to be considered genocide under the 1948 UN Geneva Conventions, these acts must be shown to have been part of an intentional efforts to wipe out all or part of the indigenous West Papuans as a distinct racial and ethnic group.

West Papuan leaders are certain it amounts to genocide. Papuan leader Clemens Runawery has labelled the crisis of “missing” Papuans and the flood of Indonesian settlers into the territory as a “slow-motion genocide”.

West Papua National Committee spokesperson Victor Yeimo, political exile Benny Wenda and student leader Selpius Bobii have all described the situation as genocide.

West Papuans are a distinct national, ethnic and religious group. Toward the end of Dutch colonisation in 1962, the West Papuan population prepared for independence by creating national education, national symbols including the Morning Star flag, a national anthem, and the establishment of a parliamentary body.

Indonesia invaded West Papua in 1962-63. It officially annexed the territory via a farcical United Nations-supervised "Act of Free Choice" in 1969 a sham referendum in which only 1054 people, hand-picked by Indonesia, were allowed to vote.

Australia has always supported Indonesia's occupation of West Papua, and helps train Indonesian military units accused of human rights abuses.

Evidence of acts of genocide is readily available. The report cites a study that found up to 500,000 West Papuans have been killed as a result of Indonesian occupation. This has been mostly through indirect policies, but not necessarily unintentionally.

Massacres of West Papuans have been documented, including the 1977-78 strafing and bombing of the central highlands, around the Baliem Valley.

A recent report by the Asian Human Rights Commission, “The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977-1978”, found that two helicopters supplied by Australia were used in the operation, which killed at least 5000 people.

Prominent Papuan leaders have also been assassinated, such as Arnold Ap in 1984, Theys Eluay in 2001, Kelly Kwalik in 2009 and Mako Tabuni in 2012. West Papuan civilians are often “disappeared” by government forces and never seen again.

West Papua specialist Budi Hernawan says torture is often used in West Papua, intended less as a means of procuring information from victims than as a method of public intimidation.

In 2010, a YouTube video showed two West Papuan men being tortured by Indonesian soldiers. Rape of West Papuan women by members of the military is also commonplace.

Many Papuans have been jailed for political activities, such as organising demonstrations. There are now more than 200 West Papuan political prisoners. Soldiers monitor church services and patrol villages throughout West Papua.

A Dutch study found indigenous West Papuans have an infant mortality rate of 18.4%, while the rate among the non-indigenous population is 3.6%. The study claims this is a violation by the Indonesian Government of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A report published in the Sydney Morning Herald in May by Fairfax’s Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard, detailed an organised operation in the trafficking of West Papuan children to hard-line Islamic schools in Jakarta. Indigenous Papuans are mainly Christians.

Their names are changed, they are forced to observe Islamic practices and they are confined in harsh conditions. Many families never hear from their children again.

As well as deaths of Papuans, the migration of Indonesians to West Papua has led to indigenous Papuans, who are Melanesians, now making up less than half the population. Melanesians made up more than 96% of the population in 1971.

The genocidal intent of the Indonesian government can be seen in the way it tried to totally eliminate the independence movement.

As most Papuans are pro-independence, they are regarded by the Indonesian state and armed forces as the “enemy” and, therefore, legitimate targets.

In the lead-up to the 1969 Act of Free Choice, Indonesian Brigadier-General Ali Murtopo told Papuans that Indonesia was not interested in them, but their land.

In 1985, Indonesia’s transmigration minister said: “By way of transmigration [organising Indonesians to settle in West Papua], we will try to ... integrate all the ethnic groups into one nation, the Indonesian nation …

“The different ethnic groups will in the long run disappear because of integration … and there will be one kind of man.”

Elmslie and Webb-Gannon point out that signatories to the Geneva Conventions such as the United States, Britain and Australia, are legally duty bound to examine claims of genocide. However, these governments continue backing Indonesia.

In particular, they say: “Australia, a quasi military ally of Indonesia through the 2006 Lombok Treaty (which was itself based on suppressing international support for West Papua), will find itself in an increasingly awkward position: a self-proclaimed promoter of human rights, yet a supporting actor in a military occupation entailing crimes against humanity and genocide.”

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