Fight for freedom: new research to map violence in the forgotten conflict in West Papua



BAGUS INDAHONO/EPA

Camellia Webb-Gannon, University of Wollongong; Jaime Swift, University of Oxford; Michael Westaway, The University of Queensland, and Nathan Wright, The University of Queensland

Indonesia has recently indicated it is considering investigating the killings of hundreds of thousands of people in the 1965 “anti-communist” purge under authoritarian leader Suharto.

If the inquiry goes ahead, it would mark a shift in the government’s long-standing failure to address past atrocities. It is unclear if they will include other acts of brutality alleged to have been committed by the Indonesian regime in the troubled region of West Papua.

According to Amnesty International, at least 100,000 West Papuans have been killed since the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s.

While the number of killings peaked in the 1970s, they are rising again due to renewed activism for independence in the territory. In September 2019, as many as 41 people were killed in clashes with security forces and Jihadi-inspired militia.

Clashes between security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have escalated since January, which human rights groups say have resulted in at least five deaths. At least two other civilians were killed in another incident.

The latest violence was sparked by racial attacks on Papuan university students in Java last year, which prompted thousands of Papuans to protest against the government. The protests brought renewed media attention to human rights violations in the region and Papuans’ decades-long fight for autonomy.

However, because the international media have been prohibited from entering West Papua, the broader conflict has received relatively little attention from the outside world. (This week’s feature by ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in Australia was a rare exception.)




Read more:
Riots in West Papua: why Indonesia needs to answer for its broken promises


New project to map past atrocities

Late last year, we embarked on a project to map the violence that has occurred in West Papua under Indonesian occupation.

This was in part inspired by the massacre mapping project of Indigenous people in Australia by the Guardian and University of Newcastle, and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre’s mapping of violence in Sri Lanka.

Our aim was to bring renewed attention to the protracted crisis in West Papua. We hope that by showing the extent of state-sanctioned violence going back decades, we might encourage the kind of international scrutiny that eventually led to intervention in East Timor.




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Will Australia take a stand on West Papua?


The map only documents some of the massacres that have taken place in West Papua since the 1970s, as conditions in the territory make it difficult to accurately record and verify deaths. The challenges include a lack of resources for record-keeping, internal displacement and frequently destroyed properties, and a fear of reporting deaths. Others have disappeared, and their bodies have never been found.

We also encountered a relative dearth of data from the 1990s to 2010s, in part due to few journalists reporting on incidents during this period.

For the purposes of our project, we relied largely on reportage from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the International Coalition for Papua (both of which have strong connections within West Papua), as well as research by the historian Robin Osborne, Papuan rights organisation ELSHAM, Indonesian human rights watchdog TAPOL and a comprehensive report by academics at Yale Law School published in 2004.

Among the most recent attacks is the torture and murders of scores of protesters on Biak Island in 1998, according to a citizens’ tribunal held in Sydney. Some estimates say the death toll may have been as high as 200.



Though far from complete, our mapping project reveals several broad trends.

  • The majority of massacres have taken place in the West Papuan highlands, the region with the highest ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous West Papuans

  • many killings were committed while Papuans were peacefully protesting for independence from Indonesia

  • given the numbers of troops posted to West Papua and the types of weapons at their disposal, the government should have had full knowledge of the extent of devastation caused by attacks by security forces and militia groups. (Indonesian security forces are generally known for being out of the government’s control)

  • in the vast majority of killings, the perpetrators have never been held to account by the government.

The government claims the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) is conducting inquiries into some of the more recent incidents, although there are concerns the body doesn’t have sufficient powers and the government has previously been reluctant to accept findings of abuses.

Why has the world stayed silent?

Both Australia and New Zealand have been hesitant about intervening in human rights crises in the region, particularly when Indonesia is involved.

In 2006, Australia signed the Lombok Treaty, which assured Jakarta it would respect the sovereignty of the Indonesian state and not support “separatist movements”.

However, Australia – and the rest of the world – did finally act when it came to the independence referendum in East Timor.

Australian troops serving on the East Timor/West Timor border with the UN peacekeeping force in 2000.
Dean Lewins/AAP

In his memoir, former Prime Minister John Howard mentioned East Timor independence as one of his key achievements. However, in office, he showed very little appetite for supporting East Timor independence and ruffling Indonesia’s feathers.

It was largely the diplomatic intervention at the international level by US President Bill Clinton, alongside the deployment of Australian Federal Police (AFP) working as unarmed civilian police for the UN mission in East Timor, that eventually secured the referendum.

Co-author Jaime Swift serving in East Timor in 2006.
Author provided

Media coverage played a critical role in persuading the world to take action. In West Papua, the media have not had the same effect.

This is in part due to what the Indonesian security forces learned from East Timor on how to control the media. The Indonesian government has frequently cut internet services in West Papua, enacted a complete ban on foreign journalists and denied requests from the UN Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights violations.

Despite this, mobile phone videos of abuse continue to leak out.

In the absence of extensive media coverage, Papuan pro-democracy advocates and their supporters have been calling for a UN-sanctioned human rights investigation. There is also significant support from human rights defenders in Indonesia for such an inquiry.

As it now has a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia should fully support such a move. However, the military retains considerable influence in the country, and holding commanders suspected of human rights abuses to account remains politically difficult.




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In fact, President Joko Widodo last year appointed as his new defence minister Prabowo Subianto, who himself has been accused of human rights abuses.

Given these challenges, what will it take for the world to show enough moral courage to force change in West Papua?

The right way forward is clear. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Indonesia needs to put an end to the media ban in West Papuan, support an independent UN investigation and hold accountable those responsible within the government for violent acts.

If Indonesia does not take this course of action, then diplomatic pressure from the world will be required.The Conversation

Camellia Webb-Gannon, Lecturer, University of Wollongong; Jaime Swift, DPhil (PhD) candidate, University of Oxford; Michael Westaway, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Archaeology, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, and Nathan Wright, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Riots in West Papua: why Indonesia needs to answer for its broken promises



Political arrests have been on the rise in recent years in restive West Papua, and the local population is pushing for a new referendum on independence.
Frans/EPA

Camellia Webb-Gannon, University of Wollongong

Last weekend, the Indonesian police took 43 West Papuan students into custody for allegedly disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an independence day celebration (an allegation the students deny).

Police stormed the students’ dorm and used teargas to force them out, while bystanders and officers called them “monkeys”, a derogatory term for ethnically Melanesian Papuans.

West Papuans have long been cast by Indonesians as primitive people from the Stone Age, and this racist treatment continues to this day. West Papuan author Filep Karma described the extent of racism against West Papuans in his 2014 book, As If We Are Half-Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land, saying he often heard Indonesians call West Papuans monkeys.

This latest episode of discrimination builds on more than five decades of racism, torture, summary executions, land dispossession and cultural denigration of West Papuans by Indonesian security forces.




Read more:
Finding a dignified resolution for West Papua


After the students were detained last weekend, riots erupted in the cities of Manokwari and Jayapura. Thousands of people turned out to protest against the mistreatment of the students and, more broadly, the mistreatment of West Papuans by the Indonesian authorities. Many protesters waved the nationalist Morning Star flag, an act punishable by a 15-year jail sentence (Indonesia is not just sensitive about how West Papuans treat the Indonesian flag – the state prohibits them from flying their own.)

In response to the deteriorating security situation, Indonesia has deployed more troops to the region.

Protesters set fire to the local parliament building and cars in West Papua earlier this week.
Sofwan Azhari/EPA

Widodo’s promises haven’t changed much

When the politically moderate Indonesian President Joko Widodo came to power in 2014, West Papua observers had high hopes he might broker peace in the region, much the same way the government of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was able to quell a long-running separatist conflict in Aceh.

However, Widodo has not been capable of controlling the Indonesian military in West Papua. He also doesn’t seem to realise that economic development is not the solution to ending the armed resistance in the region – West Papuan leaders want a political resolution, not an economic one.

Part of Widodo’s development agenda in West Papua has been to commence building a Trans-Papua Highway to facilitate movement of goods and people across the astoundingly rugged terrain in the region.




Read more:
Papuans and Jokowi are hostage to Indonesian politics


But in December, West Papuan guerrilla forces attacked Indonesian workers constructing the highway, killing several dozen. There’s deep resentment among West Papuans toward Indonesian migrant workers, who they believe are taking their jobs and land and disrupting Papuan life in the region.

Violence by the Indonesian military and police against West Papuans has also increased during Widodo’s presidency. According to the International Coalition for Papua, a human rights organisation, more than 6,400 people were arrested for political activism in 2015 and 2016. The group has also documented more than 300 victims of torture or maltreatment and 20 victims of extra-judicial killings for those years.

In addition, local journalists continue to face harassment from security forces, while foreign journalists are still denied entry to West Papua. Preventable diseases and malnutrition have also had devastating effects throughout the region.

In 2017, Widodo finally reached out to West Papuans offering dialogue – a process West Papuans had been requesting since at least 2008. However, the leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) decided it was too little, too late.

A new independence referendum

West Papuans are now calling for a UN-supervised referendum on independence from Indonesia.

In 1969, seven years after Indonesia invaded West Papua, the United Nations oversaw a referendum in which West Papuans were to decide on independence or official integration with Indonesia. Indonesia handpicked less than 1% of the Papuan population to vote and threatened them with violence should they make the “wrong” decision.

The result has been a lengthy, often brutal colonial occupation of Papuans and their land.

Independence advocates have the support of at least seven Pacific island nations – as well as a number of MPs in New Zealand – as they pursue the possibility of a new referendum on decolonisation through the United Nations.

Through revived links with global Black Power and Indigenous movements in the Pacific and beyond, as well as the mass connectivity afforded by social media, Papuans are enjoying levels of solidarity from around the world they have never before experienced.

While independence is still unlikely for West Papua, it would be foolish to rule it out. Timor Leste, South Sudan and Kosovo have shown us that right to self-determination is one that is still honoured, even if infrequently.




Read more:
All the ingredients for genocide: is West Papua the next East Timor?


Why does West Papua matter?

Why should the world care about this little-known decolonisation movement?

The answer is simple: In the post-Rwandan genocide world, the international community has committed to a moral and political “responsibility to protect” people whose states are unable or unwilling to ensure them safety, or are perpetrating crimes against them.

The United Nations “responsibility to protect” mandate means that UN members are required, under international law, to protect anybody at risk of

genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

It is time the world lives up to its responsibility to demand that state-sanctioned violence against West Papuans stop, no matter how bad relations with Jakarta become. Ultimately, lives are worth more than politics.The Conversation

Camellia Webb-Gannon, Lecturer, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

United Nations: Weakness on West Papua


The link below is to an article that reports on the snub given at the UN towards West Papua.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/30/west-papua-independence-petition-is-rebuffed-at-un

Indonesia: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Indonesia (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/08/04/more-efforts-needed-protect-religious-minorities-hrw.html
http://www.globalindonesianvoices.com/21710/on-tolikara-incident-president-to-hold-dialog-with-religious-leaders/
http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/persecution-of-ahmadi-muslims-in-indonesia-remains-unaddressed/
http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Two-Protestant-churches-torched,-possibly-in-retaliation-for-the-burning-of-mosque-in-Papua-34828.html
http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/officials-react-papua-mosque-burning-labeled-accident/

Indonesia: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Indonesia.

For more visit:
http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/news/police-investigate-burning-papua-church/

Indonesia: West Papua – Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from West Papua in Indonesia.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/08/03/west-papuan-christians-suffer-indonesian-political-military-abuse/

Indonesia: West Papua


The link below is to an article that reports on the situation in West Papua, Indonesia.

For more visit:
http://www.christiansincrisis.net/latest-news/1604-papua-indonesia-from-mission-field-to-killing-field.html