The Fight For West Papua

On Wednesday, protesters at the Land Forces Expo in Brisbane rallied against producers who supply weapons to Indonesia. There have been persistent allegations that Indonesian security forces have perpetrated severe human rights abuses on Melanesian West Papuans, including extrajudicial killings.

The West Papua Liberation Army (WPLA) conducted an ambush attack on a senior Indonesian military official in late April. The conflict intensified in the highlands of Papua. In response, Indonesia deployed hundreds of troops to Papua and West Papua. Earlier in March, pictures emerged of Indonesian troops arriving in Jayapura, Papua. It is estimated that 21,000 Indonesian troops are in the region. Indonesia has cut off the internet in West Papua to control and limit the information flow on casualties, human rights abuses, and civilian impacts. In April, two teachers were shot by independence fighters for allegedly being Indonesian spies. Three schools were also burnt down. Tensions will likely continue to escalate and spill over into towns and cities.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has labelled the Free Papua Movement, formed in 1965, and other independence fighters as terrorist groups. They have clamped down on peaceful protests and used racist taunts, calling protestors “monkeys.” Forced disappearances and torture have allegedly occurred.

Last year, it was revealed that the WPLA had purchased weapons from the Indonesian military. Brigadier General Egianus Kogoya, who claimed to have purchased the weapons, oversaw guerrillas massacring 19 unarmed Indonesian road engineers in late 2018. Clearly, potential war crimes are being committed by both sides. Foreign states must speak up clearly and encourage all parties to engage in negotiation.

The conflict for West Papua’s independence from Indonesia has struggled for international attention. It began following the “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 when people hand-picked by Indonesia chose for the region to join Indonesia. Dutch colonial rule ceased in 1961. It is similar to East Timor, which became independent in 1975 following Portuguese colonial rule and was then annexed by Indonesia in 1975 for over 25 years. During that time, significant human rights abuses occurred.

In New Zealand, media coverage on this conflict is largely non-existent outside of Radio New Zealand, while in Australia ABC News maintains reasonably thorough coverage. The international community often remains silent and often supports Indonesia. Australia has provided training to Indonesia’s elite Detachment 88 special forces, which has caused significant controversy. Reluctance for international criticism of Indonesia is most likely due to Indonesia being a significant trading partner to many states.