THOUSANDS OF West Papuans have joined demonstrations in Papuan cities and Highlands towns to demand an end to Indonesian occupation. The protests come as a push for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to join the sub-regional forum, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), gains pace.
A vote will be taken on including ULMWP at the next meeting. If it succeeds, it will create another challenge to the legitimacy of Indonesia’s brutal occupation of West Papua.
Demonstrations over MSG membership have been growing for over a month.
The Indonesian state has tried to shut them down prevent any news of them getting out. On May 2, almost 2000 West Papuans were arrested at peaceful demonstration. Those protests also marked the anniversary of the United Nations’ handing control of West Papua to Indonesia in 1963.
Following the end of Dutch control of West Papua, the Indonesian government invaded before West Papua had a chance to declare independence. Since control was handed to Indonesia, the West Papuans and their struggle for independence have been brutally repressed.
Papuans, including children, are shot for holding peaceful demonstrations, meetings are raided, and people are frequently harassed and questioned by officials. The repression often involves the use of the special counter-insurgency unit, Densus 88, which is trained, armed and funded by the Australian, UK and US governments.
While the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, initially signalled a change in policy towards West Papua with his election in 2014, human rights abuses have continued. Journalists still do not have free access to West Papua, and beatings and shootings are still occurring at alarming rates. There are at least 73 West Papuan political prisoners in Indonesia.
The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KONTRAS) reported in 2015 there were some 1,200 cases of people inWest Papua suffering harassment, killings, and torture.
Major projects, such as the mega Freeport copper and gold mine provide almost no benefits to West Papuans while they see the environment destroyed and the profits eaten up by the mining companies and the Indonesian government.
Benny Wenda, an independence leader living in exile in Britain, recently visited Australia to raise awareness of the plight of West Papuansand their struggle for independence. Addressing a forum at the University of Sydney he stated, “Our freedom has been taken away, the fight still continues… 500,000 men and women have been killed and it still continues.” A Free West Papua campaign office has opened in Perth.
Australia supports the Indonesian occupation. In 2013, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said West Papuans who wanted to “grandstand” against Indonesia were unwelcome in Australia. Former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr says in his memoirs that supporting independence for West Papua is “an appalling thing”.
The Indonesian government has tried to bully other nations into rejecting West Papuan membership to MSG, and last year Indonesia successfully applied for associate member status. If ULMWP wins full membership status it will be an important step in creating greater recognition of West Papuan’s right to independence.