West Papua is facing a silent genocide as human rights violations affect the archipelago. Following the Indonesian occupation in 1963, the struggle for liberation and self-determination by the indigenous has resulted in violence and revolt. Nearly 58 years later, the conflict rages on between Indonesia and the Free Papua movement.
According to Amnesty International reports, at least 100,000 West Papuans have been reported killed by the Indonesian authorities since in the takeover in the 1960s. Despite, the ongoing conflict in West Papua, the fight for independence remains largely under documented and under reported as Indonesian authorities have suppressed information leaking internationally of the conflict. Most recently, during the revolt in late 2018, the Indonesian government restricted foreign access into parts of West Papua and cut off the region’s internet access. However, in 2019 the Australian newspaper, the Guardian and the University of Newcastle embarked on a project to map the past atrocities and violence in West Papua since the 1970’s.
Therefore, there has been a shift towards uncovering the realities of the conflict which has also been fueled by the renewed activism for independence by the Free Papua movement.
Nonetheless, all efforts of the pro – independence movement have been suppressed by the Indonesian authorities. According to Yan Christian Warinussey, a senior West Papuan lawyer and civil rights advocate, ‘the government’s response is to view nationalist groups as a separatist group and refuse to enter into any kind of dialogue with them.’
Similarly, in 2017, a petition for independence signed by 1.8 million West Papuans was smuggled out of the region and submitted to the UN De-colonisation Committee. This however was rejected on legal grounds.
Thus, the increased tensions stemming from self-determination and breach of civil rights between the Indonesian authorities and the West Papua freedom movement have culminated into violent skirmishes. Most significantly, the contentious highway project in December 2018 fueled tensions as many West Papuans feared the road would allow for further exploitation of resources, thereby negatively affecting local businesses. An armed attack by West Papuans killed 16 Indonesian workers, the Indonesian authorities responded to the conflict by sending military and police into the region to find the attackers.
Hundreds of West Papuan’s were killed, and local authorities reported that 45,000 Papuans have been displaced. Indonesia denies committing the human rights abuses despite further violent outbreaks continuing to affect the region as videos and photos depict peaceful protests becoming violent as tensions flare between demonstrators and security forces.
The current geo-political environment, in which Black Lives Matter has been a widely recognized movement may act as a facilitator for change for the lives of West Papuans. Black Lives Matter has led to increased international scrutiny through social media platforms and has led to tangible social change over the world. Therefore, the West Papuan freedom movement has been given a strong platform and the current political environment has allowed for the modern-day colonization of West Papua by Indonesia to be revealed. Therefore, international pressure could change the trajectory of the West Papuan independence movement.
Recently, Indonesia has indicated they may launch an inquiry regarding the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in 1965, under the ‘anti-communist’ regime of Indonesian military leader, Suharto. This would mark a seismic shift in the government stance on addressing historical atrocities. Furthermore, the inquiry opens up the discourse for reconciliation between Indonesia and the West Papuan indigenous peoples. Fundamentally, it may pave a path for peaceful resolution for nationalist sentiment and is the first step in creating a strong civil society.