The West Papuan territorial conflict stems from Indonesia’s incorporation of the territory in its post-colonial era. West Papuans refute the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ that proclaimed West Papua as Indeonesian territory. West Papuan grievances with Indonesian rule, including human rights abuses, militarisation and frustrations about self-determination, have attracted increasing international attention and concern. A rising Indonesia is gaining influence throughout the region, countering support for West Papuan independence aims, and Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) members (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia’s Kanaks) have become divided over West Papua. Recent clashes between West Papuans and security forces and the emergence of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) have further accelerated tensions. Since the Indonesian takeover of West Papua in the 1960s, an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 West Papuans have been killed.
Where: West Papua/Western New Guinea
Population: 760, 422
Casualties: Over 500,000 indigenous West Papuans killed since the 1960s
Goal: Independence from Indonesia, seeking self-determination for the people of West Papua
An umbrella term for the independence movement established during 1965 in West Papua. The group conducts attacks against Indonesian security forces.
Founded 19 November 2008 by a number of Papua NGOs. A non-violent organization of people campaigning for a referendum for the Papuan people of West Papua.
An intergovernmental organization made up of four Melanesian states. These include Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front of New Caledonia.
The Indonesian government and its security forces have been accused of human rights violations against the Papua movement, despite pledging economic growth to Papua.
International support for West Papuan independence exists but has so far failed to result in any meaningful action. International journalists are refused access to the region, which makes accurate information on the situation, including deaths and abuses, hard to report.
During the ratification of the “Act of Free Choice” at the UN General Assembly, African representatives argued that the act undermined UN principles of decolonisation.
Internal politics within the ASEAN, of which Indonesia is the co-founder, arguably prevents response from nations such as Australia and Papua New Guinea. On the former, Australian-Indonesian relations are subject to the Lombok Treaty of 2006, which reinforces the right to sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs.
The United Nations views West Papua as residing within Indonesian territory and, as such, the mounting civil unrest and violence is deemed as an internal matter for the Indonesian government to control.
The government of Papua New Guinea has attempted to avoid direct military confrontation with Indonesia. Despite this, OPM operates in the country, which has often led to border clashes by Indonesian forces.
The European nations of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany have all claimed land historically in Papua New Guinea. Between 1950-1962, the Dutch government argued that Melanesian Papuans were ethnically and geographically different from Indonesians, refuting Indonesia’s claim to West Papua. This stance was supported by other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
The southern coast of New Guinea (‘Papua’) was granted as a British protectorate in 1884, taking the name of British New Guinea. Other countries, namely Germany and the Netherlands, set claim to New Guinea land by establishing trading posts. The territory of West Papua remains a Dutch colony until 1962.
Indonesia proclaimed Papua an important part of the nation in its declaration of independence on 17 August 1945. It was claimed that Indonesia included all parts of the former Netherlands Indies.
Indonesia’s surrounding islands were colonized by the Dutch, however, as the Republic of Indonesia gained independence as a nation state in 1949, West Papua did not join the country. As the Dutch government acknowledged West Papua’s geographical, ethnic and cultural difference to Indonesia, the Dutch government prepared West Papua for its own independence in the 1950s.
The U.S. urged the Dutch Prime Minister to hand over West Papua to Indonesia, in an attempt to appease a communist friendly Indonesian government. The US government set up a meeting between Indonesia and the Netherlands which resulted in the New York Agreement that gave control of West Papua to the United Nations.
West Papua was transferred to Indonesia where an agreement under UN supervision mandated Indonesia give West Papuans the opportunity to express freedom of choice by ‘ascertaining’ their will. However, the oppressive Suharto regime catalysed clashes between Indonesian security forces and West Papuan rebels.
In 1963, control of West Papua was transferred to Indonesia. The Papuans were never consulted. However, the agreement did promise them their right to self-management and determination.
West Papuan people are horrified by brutal abuse by Indonesian military and the disappearance of many leaders. As a result, the OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) movement is formed to coordinate political efforts to regain independence and freedom from Indonesia
In 1984, after Indonesia installed extensive military warfare and captured traditionally owned land. More than 10,000 West Papuans crossed the border to obtain sanctuary in Papua New Guinea.
Since the fall of the Soeharto government in 1998, Indonesia has undertaken many institutional and judicial developments. Post-Soeharto administrations have also officially acknowledged the long history of human rights violations by security forces in Aceh and Papua and authorized special autonomy arrangements for both.
The ‘Papuan Spring’ of 1999 ended abruptly with Indonesian authorities clamping down on pro-independence activities, and a new hardline president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who declared that without West Papua, “Indonesia is not complete”.
Concessions from Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) led to 2000’s landmark Second Papuan People’s Congress in Jayapura, in which West Papuan demands for independence were made clear.
KNPB (National Committee for West Papua) chairman Mako Tabuni was killed by Indonesian police, whilst many others face lengthy jail sentences for raising the West Papuan flag.
On the morning of 8 December 2014, military armed forces opened fire on hundreds of Papuan demonstrators assembled nearby the district headquarters of the military and police, in the town of Enarotali, in Papua Province.
The demonstration was a reaction to military personnel allegedly abusing Papuan children in East Paniai Subdistrict the day before. After demonstrators started throwing stones and pieces of wood at the building, security forces opened fire into the crowd, killing four people.
A historic meeting was held at British parliament in Westminster where West Papuan leaders and other leaders from Pacific countries and elsewhere gathered together and affirmed their support for the people of West Papua being able to choose their own future to live in a free and Independent nation.
Peaceful protesters are injured and up to 6 are killed after Indonesian police fire live rounds into a crowd of students protesting for independance for Papua.
Up to 41 people were killed in clashes between with security forces and Jihadi-inspired militia.
Over 6,000 Indonesian troops are deployed to various provinces in West Papua, including its captial, to break down protests and anti-racial discrimination rallies.
Clashes between security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army have escalated since January 2020, which human rights groups say have resulted in at least five deaths. At least two other civilians were killed in another incident.
The separatist group West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) attacked workers at the Freeport mine in Papua province, reportedly killing a New Zealander and wounding many others. The mine has been the target of Papuan rebels fighting for self-determination, who view business and development projects as encroaching on Papuan land.
Reports on the Papua Conflict
For more information and the latest developments on the Papua conflict, please see the list below for a collection of reports written by our correspondents.
The Balikpapan district court in Indonesia found seven Papuan men guilty of treason. The seven men prosecuted are part of the “Balikpapan Seven” group of
A joint supervisory body meeting between representatives of the government of Papua New Guinea (P.N.G.) and the Autonomous Bougainville Government (A.B.G.) will be held on