Before 1988, the struggle against the colonial government of Indonesia was mainly with low-key insurgency in the jungle. The armed struggle began the day the election of 1969 was declared. The pro-independent West Papuan groups known as the OPM retreated to the jungle and began an enduring struggle against a well-armed and well-funded military of Indonesia.
In 1988, however, the struggle for self-determination became a public movement led by West Papuan academic and American educated and ‘Nonviolent activist’ Dr. Thom Wainggai. After his graduation from Florida State University, Dr. Thom returned home with new ideas on how to take on the Indonesian government. His core beliefs:
- West Papuans under international laws should be free from foreign occupation, or colonialism as agreed on after World War II.
- The indigenous people of West are unique and should be granted their own independence. They were and are never part of Indonesia – linguistically or ethnically.
- Under the Rome Agreement, Indonesia was given merely 25 years to administer West Papua. Dr. Thom argued that in 1987 that the Indonesian occupation and administration of West Papua had expired, therefore, it was within the right of West Papuan indigenous leaders to call for their own self-determination.
- Dr. Thom preached the “Melanesianization” of the West Papuan self-determination struggle – an idea rooted in historical connection between West Papua and the Melanesian people of the Pacific region.
Dr. Thom advocated for the inclusion of West Papua in the family of Melanesians. In 1988, Dr. Thom and about seventy other West Papuan tribal leaders gathered at Mandala studium and declared West Papua the “Independent State of Western Melanesia.”
Arrest and incarceration
Dr. Thom was arrested and charged with ‘Subversion’. After weeks of trial in Jayapura, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He held in West Papua for the first few years before he was suddenly transferred to Jakarta where he was held till his death in 1996. His died of suspicious circumstances.
His followers inherited his struggle and continued peaceful march against the Indonesian government to this day. Both men – young and old, women and children have participated in the protest against the occupation of West Papua across the various cities of West Papua. Each time, they are met with violence by the Indonesian military – TNI and armed police SWAT teams.
Fall of Suharto
President Suharto’s three decades of brutal rule in Indonesia ended in the 1998s, but his legacy lives on even to this very day. Dr. Thom’s struggle for independence was largely ignored by the West and neighboring country such as Australia because of Indonesia’s hard-stand against communism. His government went after Dr. Thom Wainggai’s new movement in some of the most violent ways imagined, but before his government came crashing down, he eliminated Dr. Thom. He died in Cipenang penitentiary in the heart of Jakarta in 1996.
Under immense pressure from outside and from within, President Suharto resigned. He’d ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998 – a three decades of sheer dictatorship. He died in 2008 in his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, at the age of 86.
President Suharto was replaced by his right-hand man, President Dr. Habibie. The engineer who became a politician took over Indonesia and oversaw the much anticipated reformation and transition of the Indonesian government, but he too failed to deliver what many reformation advocated anticipates. His administration refused to even consider West Papuans self-determination demands, and though his government had considerably delivered the decentralization of power, which many people called for, he side-lined West Papua.
After the fall of President Suharto, more West Papuan peaceful protesters took to the streets to demand their own self-determination. Instead, they were rejected many the Habibie government and successive governments, but the nonviolent movement didn’t stop, they continued to pressure Indonesia.
The struggle for self-determination also went regional as West Papuans sought members in the Melanesian Spearhead Group supported by the governments of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Indonesia Human Rights Issues
Since the occupation of West Papua in 1969, Indonesia made it clear that the struggle for independence would not be discussed in any public setting. The crackdown and peaceful protesters demonstrated Indonesian commitment to keep West Papua under its win at all costs. Leaders who advocated for West Papua were arrested, tortured, and incarcerated. Dr. Thom was among those who was eliminated because of their influence and political ideology.
However, as the demands for self-determination grew evermore louder than before as tens of thousands took to the streets every year demanding their right to ‘self-determination’ so too was Indonesian materialization of West Papua.
Responding to the increasing internal instability in strife in West Papua, and the popular front for self-determination, and the West Papuan annual flag-raising day on December 1, the Indonesian rumped up military presence while passing laws aimed to cripple any attempt by West Papuans to breakfree from Indonesian rule.
In 2007, the Indonesian government passed the Regulation 77 which bans all forms of symbols other than pro-Indonesian symbols, including the ‘Morning Star’ flag. That regulations led to the arrest of so many West Papuan activists who either flown the Indonesian flag, or wore clothes and traditional baskets with the ‘Morning Star’ flag.
This regulation and others as the reason where there’s a sharp increase in the number of Human Rights violations in West Papua today.