It has been a landmark week for the West Papua independence movement.
10,000 demonstrators took to the streets of West Papua, in coordination with the UK-based ‘Road to Freedom’ conference, to challenge the legality of the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ which has enslaved West Papua to an Indonesian rule that is, at best, negligent, and, at worst, genocidal.
Since 1969, an estimated 400,000 West Papuans have been killed, in order to maintain, as Hillary Clinton puts it, “the territorial integrity of Indonesia.”
West Papua is a land of environmental richness unparalleled on earth. It’s cultural diversity is also exceptionally active, being home to over 1/10 of the world’s spoken languages. BUT, and this is the crux of the biscuit, West Papua is also home to an abundance of natural resource wealth, including gold, copper, sulphur, uranium and natural gas. The world’s largest goldmine is there, operated by international mining giant Freeport-Mcmoran, a hole in the ground so large, you can see it from space. The Indonesian military’s exploits in West Papua are largely financed by the tax money they collect from Freeport-Mcmoran, and other such operations. Indigenous Papuans profit nothing from these extractive industries. Policies such as ‘special autonomy’ which were supposed to ensure Papua received some financial return from the resources extracted there have utterly failed. Between 2000-2010, over two billion dollars are suspected to have been embezzled from ‘special autonomy’ funds by corrupt Indonesian officials, pending an audit, that will probably never come.
A Step in the Right Direction
This past week’s protests were significant, if only, for the mainstream media attention they received. One of the biggest impediments to Papuan independence is that the world at large has little idea just how fucked up things have been and for how long.
Mako Tabuni, a rally coordinator from Jayapura, told the Jakarta post:
“The demonstrations aim to show the truth and historical facts of Papua to Indonesians and all nations. We want Papuans to have the right of self-determination through a democratic way recognized by international law, a referendum.”
There were at least 21 casualties, but Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch commented on what he perceived as lack of security force aggression:
“Because international attention on West Papua is getting bigger and bigger, they cannot do the same business as usual… They know there is Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and it’s created a lot of problems for Indonesian diplomacy over West Papua. That’s why they’re working hard to restrain their officers on the ground not to beat people.”
In addition, the presence of several high-profile international human rights lawyers at the ‘Road to Freedom’ conference, working in conjunction with the group International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP) has added a new legitimacy to the Papuan independence movement, and is a LARGE step in the right direction.
The hope is that the ILWP will eventually challenge the UN, US, and Netherlands about the legitimacy of the 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’ at the International Court in the Hague.
The ILWP’s ‘STATEMENT OF LEGAL PRINCIPLES ON WEST PAPUA’ reads:
“We recognise and confirm that the indigenous peoples of West Papua have a fundamental right to self-determination under international law. We are committed to assisting the indigenous peoples of West Papua to exercise freely and peacefully their right to self-determination. We are also committed to upholding, strengthening and preserving the fundamental rights and freedoms of the indigenous peoples of West Papua under international law. We call upon the international community of States and the United Nations to uphold the international rule of law. We request indigenous peoples across the world to help the indigenous Papuan peoples to exercise peacefully their human rights.”
On “The Papuan Problem”
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was dismissive of the ‘Road to Freedom’ conference:
“There are people who want to revive the Papuan problem. However, their efforts have not received wide support from the British government or the people. The British government always underlines its policy to support Indonesia and ‘special autonomy’ in Papua.”
And, just a few weeks ago, on July 24th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the same Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, chaired the 2nd annual U.S.-Indonesia Joint Commission Meeting where Hillary said:
“With respect to Papua, the United States supports the territorial integrity of Indonesia, including Papua and West Papua… We expect to see the full implementation of special autonomy law for Papua, which is the commitment of the Government of Indonesia to address the many problems that have been disclosed… This is a problem for the Government of Indonesia, and they handle it.”
Marty then added:
“Concerns about human rights violations are being handled by the [Indonesian] Government and do not require the involvement of ‘external parties’ to resolve the issue.”
It is clear the Indonesian government are unwilling to change in any meaningful way, the last 50 years have proven that. The policy of ‘special autonomy’ was a desperate attempt to assuage an already thriving Papuan resentment of Indonesian occupation, and has failed for ten years. What is happening in Papua amounts to what has been termed a ‘slow genocide.’ Indonesia and its allies are comfortable maintaining the status quo.
For the first quarter of 2011 alone, Freeport-Mcmoran has paid more than half a billion dollars in taxes to the Indonesian government. If they are paying that much in taxes, how much profit are they pulling out of the ground?
Where’s the incentive for them to change? The incentive is that we the people are no longer silent.