Friday marks independence day for West Papua . But, since 1963, it has been occupied by Indonesia – to the eternal shame of the UN.
The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 30 November 2006
In one of the most shameful decisions in its history, the United Nations in 1969 sanctioned the Indonesian annexation of West Papua, the western half of New Guinea, against the wishes of 80 percent of the indigenous people who wanted independence.
Nearly four decades later, the West Papuans are still suffering under the yoke of Indonesian imperialism. Despite the end of decades of military-backed dictatorship in Jakarta, the supposedly democratic government of Indonesia continues the same old policy of ethnic persecution.
Unlike the Indonesians, who are Asian, West Papuans are black Melanesians, like the people of Papua New Guinea and Fiji .
Indonesia is a racist state. Its racism against West Papuans makes the vile BNP look moderate and respectable.
Jakarta is hell-bent on destroying the West Papuans, culturally and, if necessary, physically. Over 100,000 indigenous people have been killed (one-tenth of the entire population at the time of annexation).
In 1977, while I was trekking in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, word spread of the presence of a white man wandering in the mountains. Through some villagers I befriended, a note was delivered to me in the middle of the night. It read: “Dear Peter Tatchell, Please help us. We are refuges from the killings in West Papua.” I was instructed to rendezvous at a distant church. On my arrival, I interviewed massacre survivors. They had eye-witnessed Indonesian soldiers burning whole villages and executing all the menfolk. Others told me of family members being locked in metal crates and being dumped in rivers to drown.
These killings are fuelled and legitimated by an ethos of Indonesian supremacism. West Papuans are routinely denounced as “savages” and “barbarians”. Their culture and beliefs are ridiculed and despised.
Indonesia’s conquest of West Papua is based on a two-pronged strategy: violent suppression and colonisation. Jakarta has given financial incentives to encourage hundreds of thousands of migrants from Java, with the deliberate aim of making West Papuans a minority in their own land. The capital, which the Indonesians call Jayapura, used to be almost 100 % black Melanesian. Now it is mostly populated by Indonesian settlers: a classic colonial settler state, similar in some ways to Ulster, Rhodesia and Israel .
To further erode West Papuan identity and culture, Islam is being vigorously promoted in a bid to overturn the dominance of Christian and animist beliefs among the West Papuans. The pressure to covert to Islam is immense.
The Indonesian occupation also works in more subtle, sinister ways. Tens of thousands of tribal peoples have been forced down from the highlands into coastal settlements, so the Indonesians can police them more easily. These “resettled” people are then subjected to Jakarta’s secret weapon of extermination: malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Highlanders have no resistance to malaria, which is endemic in the lowlands. They die off in large numbers, which is a covert way for Jakarta to reduce the West Papuan population, without having to shoot people and stand accused of direct human rights abuses.
The Indonesian imperialists are aided by their western counterparts. For years, the US and the UK have sold Jakarta many of the weapons it uses to enforce its bloody occupation. Western multinationals are heavily involved too. West Papua is rich in natural resources: oil, copper, nickel and timber. British corporations like Rio Tinto and BP have West Papuan blood on their hands.
This Friday, I December, is West Papuan Independence Day, when the people of West Papua celebrate their aspiration for self-determination and freedom from Indonesian domination. In London, there will be a protest outside the Indonesian Embassy
It will be addressed by West Papuan independence leader, Benny Wenda. He told me:
“December 1st is a day written in every West Papuan’s heart. It’s the day in 1961 when the Dutch (the former colonial power) gave us our flag, national anthem and parliament, and promised us independence in 1970.
“Two years later the Indonesians invaded and 43 years of occupation and killing began for my people. We call 1st December our Independence Day because we have never given up our hope of freedom,” said Wenda.
The London protest will raise the West Papuan flag – the Morning Star. The display of this flag is banned by the Indonesians as an act of “rebellion against the State”.
Our flag raising will be in solidarity with Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, two West Papuans who were jailed by the Indonesians for 15 and 10 years respectively. Their crime? They flew the Morning Star flag on Independence Day 2004.
Sadly, the anti-imperialist left will not be joining us. They don’t support the West Papuan freedom struggle. The Indonesian killers are the wrong race, the wrong nationality and the wrong religion. In other words, they are not white Christian American killers.
This strikes me as a tad hypocritical. If any western nation was massacring 10% of a country’s people, imposing on them an alien religion and swamping them with colonial settlers, the left would protest non-stop. The left’s silence and inaction with regard to the killing fields of West Papua indicates that a once great humanitarian movement has lost its moral and political bearings. What happened to the socialist values of universal human rights and international solidarity? And to the left’s once clear commitment to the right of nations to self-determination?