West Papua: Protests reject Indonesia's 'divide and rule' strategy

May 25, 2022
West Papua solidarity protesters hold a banner in Malang, Java, which reads: 'Indonesia coloniser'. Photo: @VeronicaKoman/Twitter

The United Nations International Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories runs from May 25–31.

According to the UN there are 17 non-self-governing territories globally. In the Pacific region there are six: French Polynesia and New Caledonia/Kanaky. (France); American Samoa and Guam (United States); Pitcairn (Britain); and Tokelau (New Zealand).

According to the Australian-West Papua Association (AWPA), one territory that is not on the list and which should be is West Papua. West Papua, colonised by the Netherlands, was removed from the list when the territory was handed over to Indonesian administration by the UN in 1963.

Today, the West Papuan people are still fighting and dying for their right to self determination.

AWPA spokesperson Joe Collins told Green Left: “It is tragic that the West Papuans have been betrayed so many times by the international community: In 1962, under the New York Agreement; in 1963 when removed from the list of non-self-governing territories by the UN; and again in 1969 with the so-called ‘act of free choice’ — which was anything but.”

Fifty-nine years after the Indonesian takeover, the situation in the territory continues to deteriorate, Collins said, with ongoing clashes between the Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army.

Crackdowns and arrests of peaceful demonstrators continue and security force operations have resulted in thousands of internal refugees.

The exploitation of West Papua’s natural resources continues and there is a proposal to divide the territory into more provinces against the wishes of the West Papuan people. This is not only a case of divide and rule, but creating more provinces means more military and more exploitation of the natural resources of the territory.

West Papuans continue to call for a real referendum on their future.

Protests were held in a number of cities across West Papua and Indonesia this month against the creation of new provinces, for a referendum on self-determination and against Indonesia’s plan to grant “special autonomy” status to West Papua.

In Makassar, Sulawesi, West Papuan students were physically attacked by a militia group on May 10, while police watched on. They were called “terrorists” and subjected to racist slurs, such as being called “monkeys”.

At a demonstration in Yahukimo, West Papua on May 10, protesters chanted: “New provinces: reject, reject, reject!”, “Special Autonomy: reject, reject, reject!”, and “Papua: freedom!”

In Jayapura, West Papua, footage emerged of the start of an Indonesian police attack on unarmed West Papua protesters on May 10. The lead police officer appears to give a warning before shouting, “Attack! Attack! Shoot! Shoot!”

In Bali, Indonesia, West Papuan student protesters were blocked from protesting by police, militia and Balinese security forces on May 10. They were pelted with rocks and their motorbikes damaged, while police watched on.

In Paniai, West Papua, police with riot gear and armed soldiers blocked protesters from marching.

In Wamena, thousands of people took to the streets.

A solidarity protest with West Papua organised in Timor Leste on May 10 was blocked by police and at least ten protesters arrested as they headed towards the Indonesian embassy in the capital, Dili.

The recent election of a Labor government in Australia presents both challenges and opportunities for the West Papua solidarity movement. “Although we have a new government in Australia, we can’t expect any change in the relationship with Indonesia,” said Collins. “It will continue to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua, but hopefully will be more likely to raise concerns about the human rights situation in the territory, which would be a good start.”

AWPA also hopes the new government will support the call by Pacific leaders and the new network of European Union parliamentarians in calling on Jakarta to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to be allowed into West Papua to investigate the human rights situation in the territory.

Shortly after Labor’s foreign minister Penny Wong was sworn in, she shared “a few thoughts with our Pacific family” in a video emphasising Labor’s commitment to tackling climate change, assisting with COVID-19 pandemic recovery and strengthening connections between First Nations and the Blue Pacific.

West Papuan advocate Veronica Koman tweeted in reply: “Let's all remember that West Papuans are Melanesians hence part of the Pacific family. They are facing unprecedented armed conflict and internal displacement worthy of global attention.”

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