Our beautiful West Papua is well-known to many by its Raja Ampat Islands which contain the richest marine biodiversity in the world. Besides great beauty Islands, and the resources that sustained our people for centuries, our home of West Papua is home to the largest gold mine in the world as well as the 2nd largest copper mine the world (Grasberg Mine). The mining operation belongs to McMoran Freeport – a United States mining company based in Arizona. These make control of West Papua highly desirable, and they are reasons why we’ve seen so many armed private soldiers and Indonesian special operations around West Papua.
Indonesian Annexation using the ‘Act of Free Choice’
It was the Netherlands who formally colonized our homeland of West Papua until the early 1960s when Indonesia began a campaign to take over the colony. In 1963, after intense pressure from Indonesia and its allies at the UN, the Netherlands ceded control of West Papua, which was known as Western New Guinea at the time, to Indonesia as part of the controversial agreement signed between the Netherlands and the Indonesian governments known as the New York Agreement (NYA). Based on that agreement, Western New Guinea would be temporarily transferred from the Netherlands government to Indonesia, and by 1969 the United Nations would oversee a referendum on the issue as a final step to settle the dispute. According to historical records, the referendum would give our voters two choices: 1. To remain part of Indonesia or 2. To become independent nation. In other words, our people would have a choice of determining their future. This election was known as the Act of Free Choice.
It turned out, however, the ‘Act of Free Choice’ was carried out by the demand of the Indonesian government, backed by the United Nations: They determined the number of delegates who would vote, when to vote, and where to vote. The Indonesian government handpicked 1025 voters and coerced them to vote in favor of West Papua becoming part of Indonesia; the result was unanimous in favor of the Indonesian government, just as the Indonesian government designed it.
Though the election showed signs of extreme bias – a gross violation of the NYA and the rights of our people to vote, the UN observers formally accepted and recognized its outcome, followed by the international community. After that election, Indonesia took over West Papua named it Irian Jaya (renamed Papua in 1999).
Our people flat-out rejected the result of the Act of Free Choice and started fighting back. Some took up arms and others used their pens and papers to criticize the election. To keep these unhappy indigenous people in line and in total submission, the Indonesian government turned West Papua into one of the world’s highly militarized zones. There are military bases at various locations near the PNG-West Papuan border and around major operations in and around West Papua. There are also police posts in every corner of West Papua – manned by undercover police, uniform police, and heavily armed tactical police squad. Their job was and remains – to protect Indonesian assets, properties, and to suppress any uprising and riots among unhappy indigenous people.
Indonesia Rejected the UN Convention Against Torture
In 1984, members of the United Nations came together and passed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Indonesian government flatly rejected the agreement, and announced its reservation to the treaty:
The Government of the Republic of Indonesia declares that the provisions of paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of article 20 of the Convention will have to be implemented in strict compliance with the principles of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States.
The Indonesian government went on to explain its reservation to the Treaty, this way:
The Government of the Republic of Indonesia does not consider itself bound by the provision of article 30, paragraph 1, and takes the position that disputes relating to the interpretation and application of the Convention which cannot be settled through the channel provided for in paragraph 1 of the said article, may be referred to the International Court of Justice only with the consent of all parties to the disputes.”
It was clear that the Indonesian government was willing to ignore international treaties to pursue its goal of keep West Papua at all costs, even if it means arresting, torturing and murdering of the leaders of our pro-independence groups.
Human Rights Violation
For 50 years (since 1969), the Indonesian government has engaged in gross human rights violations. These Human Rights abuse now reached an unprecedented level; meeting the definition of Genocide by international standard. Not only has the Indonesian government responsible for the death of half a million people, the sheer number of human rights abuses in the hands of Indonesian authorities in West Papua is also staggeringly high.
The Indonesian used various techniques to keep our people at bay, and by doing so violated our basic human rights. Here are ways Indonesia used to suppress our rights:
• Restrictions on freedom of expression and gathering – all gathering of West Papuans regardless so how peaceful they are, are often broken up by armed Indonesian police in riot gears. You cannot express yourself!
• Imprisonment – Peaceful protesters of any form are arrested and taken to prison or police station for interrogation. Some are held for a long time without charges.
• Torture – They tortured people they deemed dangerous to try to get information out of them. Other forms of intimidation involved displaying guns in front of suspects, threatening them with death, and hours of sleep deprivation.
• Lack of basic medical support – Our indigenous people have the highest number of HIV cases. A good number of them are believed to have been resettled by the Indonesian government in West Papua. They also faced a higher risk of HIV infection than any area or group in Indonesia.
• The systematic relocation of Muslim Indonesians in Christian neighborhoods – The Indonesian government is deliberately resettling Muslims in Christian areas, creating religious tense and animosity among Christians and Muslims.
• Poisoning our indigenous population – mining operations destroyed the natural resources that our people depended on for survival, killing them slowly. And polluting the air with the mass clearance of virgin forests to give way for international corporations to farm and build factories.
• Most egregious of all, the Mass Killings of innocent people. Kidnapping, torturing, and execution of innocent people are some ways the Indonesian police use to intimidate our people.
Banning of International Media, UN Investigators, and execution of local reporters
Why has this not been on the level of media coverage and world attention like the levels of media of East Timor, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, etc? Because the Indonesian government has been keeping this a huge secret from the outside world for decades.
By order of Jakarta, foreign journalists are not allowed into West Papua. Those who are suspected of reporting in West Papua are either deported or jailed. Others were used as propaganda – they let them in, while undercover police officers followed them around discreetly.
But the local journalists pay the huge price. They face intimidate and harassment, arrest and torture, and in some cases, death. A young West Papuan journalist was murdered for reporting about the issues in West Papua.
For the last 50 years, no outside reporters have been officially allowed in the area and even in 2018, the Head Inspector of Human Rights for the United Nations was disinvited by the Indonesian President when it was reported that a trip to West Papua be included in his itinerary. That didn’t surprise many of us who are aware of Indonesian tight restriction of journalism in West Papua.
We escaped to tell the world the truth about Indonesia
What has changed over the past 10 years is that the story of these abuses is finally being told to the outside world due to people like myself who have escaped and are brave enough to take a stand for our people back home. Almost all of us West Papuan leaders abroad escaped from West Papua.
Our message is clear and our plea to the international community is direct, and that is – put a stop to these gross human rights violations, and prevent more killings in West Papua. Progress has been made. We know for a fact that our message resonates with the International community, particularly with our brothers and sisters in the Pacific region.
This September, Vanuatu, another Pacific island country has publicly stated that they will introduce a draft resolution to the United Nation calling for a vote on West Papuans self-determination. Similar sentiments were expressed by the delegation of Tonga to the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) meeting held in Tuvalu earlier this month. This will give us a chance to right the wrong of 50 years ago and the Act of Free Choice.
Besides, we simply cannot separate what the mining operation is doing from the political situation in West Papua; it’s directly linked to the human-rights problem such as the recent racism case in Surabaya, Indonesia.
The final analysis
The current uprising in West Papua, which took place across major cities in West Papua, is a clear sign that the people of West Papua are tired of foreign occupation, racism, and decades of utter humiliation. If there’s any sign that the West Papuan people want to remain with Indonesia, you don’t see it because it doesn’t exist, and Indonesia knows this very well!
Since the protest which was caused by racist treatment of West Papuans in Surabaya by Indonesians and police, the Indonesian president Joko Widodo chooses to play dumb: While calling for ‘calm’, his government authorized the deployment of more than a thousand armed police officers to West Papua. Their arrival coincided with the government order of the disconnection of Internet and Telephone services to West Papua. We know the drill – they don’t want the world to see what their soldiers and police going to do in West Papua. So far, they have burned down more than twenty homes and murdered at least two people. The violence will continue unless the international community steps in.
Our message to Indonesia is this:
Restrain from violence and let the people vote. What are you trying to hide from the world? If you think West Papuans are happy with your presence in their backyard, support the referendum and let our people vote! Put Indonesia and self-determination argument on the ballot and let our people decide! And when West Papuans voted for their own self-determination, Indonesia must respect their choices.
We also urge the UN to intervene before more lives are lost!
The end is here and Indonesia knows it. The question is, how far will Indonesia go to retain West Papua? They have all the power in the world to launch an all out war against our unarmed people, but they won’t win. The only easier way and peaceful way for both of our people are a free election, which was denied to 99.9% of our people in 1969.
Long live West Papua!
West Papuan Human Rights Center
Washington, D.C & Virginia
United States of America