Freedom for West Papua – A ‘slow genocide’

Indonesia’s occupation & repression must end

London, UK – 25 August 2020

Peter Tatchell writes:

In one of the most shameful decisions in its history, the United Nations in 1969 sanctioned the Indonesian annexation of West Papua, the western half of New Guinea, against the wishes of 80 percent of the indigenous people who wanted independence.

The former Dutch colony was handed to Indonesia in 1963. The decolonisation agreement stipulated that the West Papuans should allowed to vote on whether they wanted incorporation into Indonesia or independence. Jakarta never honoured the agreement. Instead of a national referendum, in 1969 it hand-picked around 1,000 West Papuan “representatives” to vote on behalf of the population at large. Bamboozled, threatened and bribed, they voted to be part of Indonesia. To its eternal shame, the UN accepted this phoney plebiscite.

Six decades later, the West Papuans are still suffering under the yoke of Indonesian annexation. Despite the end of decades of military-backed dictatorship in Jakarta, the supposedly democratic government of Indonesia continues the same old policy of colonial-style subjugation.

Unlike the Indonesians, who are Asian, West Papuans are ethnically black Melanesians, like the people of Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Indonesia’s racism against the West Papuans is far worse the Israeli racism towards the Palestinians.

Jakarta is hell-bent on destroying the West Papuans, culturally and, if necessary, physically. Over 100,000 indigenous people have been killed (one-tenth of the entire population at the time of annexation).

The actual number of West Papuan murdered, starved to death and killed by diseases related to the occupation is impossible to put an exact figure on. Some estimates suggest that it could be closer to 500,000 and amount to a ‘slow genocide.’

At the time of independence in the 1970’s, the population of neighbouring Papua New Guinea was about 1 million, the same as West Papua at the same time. Now the PNG population is 5.2 million but there are only 1.5 million indigenous West Papuans. How do you explain the difference, if not as a result of a policy of violence, neglect and exploitation?

In 1977, while I was trekking in the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea, word spread of the presence of a “white man” wandering in the mountains. Through some local villagers that I befriended, a note was delivered to my campsite in the middle of the night. It read: “Dear Mr Tatchell, Please help us. We are refuges from the killings in West Papua.” I was instructed to meet them two days later at a distant village church. There I interviewed massacre survivors. They told me of eye-witnessing Indonesian soldiers burning whole villages and executing all the men folk. Others told me of family members being locked in metal crates and being dumped in the sea to drown.

These killings are legitimated by an ethos of Indonesian supremacism.  West Papuans are routinely denounced as “savages” and “barbarians”. Their culture and beliefs are ridiculed and despised.

Indonesia’s conquest of West Papua is based on a two-pronged strategy: violent suppression and colonisation. Jakarta has given financial incentives to encourage hundreds of thousands of people to migrate from Java, with the deliberate aim of making West Papuans a minority in their own land. The capital, which the Indonesians call Jayapura, used to be almost 100% black Melanesian. Now it is mostly populated by Indonesian settlers.

To further erode West Papuan identity and culture, Islam is being vigorously promoted in a bid to overturn the dominance of Christian and animist beliefs among the West Papuans. The pressure to convert to Islam is immense.

The Indonesian occupation also works in more subtle, sinister ways. Tens of thousands of tribal peoples have been forced down from the highlands into coastal settlements, partly so the Indonesians can police them more easily. These “resettled” people are then subjected to Jakarta’s secret weapon of extermination: malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Highlanders have no resistance to malaria, which is endemic in the lowlands. They die off in large numbers, which is a covert way for Jakarta to reduce the West Papuan population, without having to shoot people and stand accused of human rights abuses.

The Indonesian imperialists are aided by their western counterparts. For years, the US and the UK have sold Jakarta many of the weapons it uses to enforce its bloody occupation. Western multinationals are heavily involved too. West Papua is rich in natural resources: oil, copper, nickel and timber. British corporations like Rio Tinto and BP have West Papuan blood on their hands.

Foreign journalists and human rights organisations are banned from West Papua. Indonesia does not want the outside world to know about the horrors of its brutal rule. But the truth about Jakarta’s secret, dirty war is being smuggled to the outside world by brave West Papuan activists.

As West Papuans see increasing evidence of global support for their cause, the stronger their demand their freedom grows. They want the right to self-determination, which is recognised for all people’s in international law.

If you would like to find out more about supporting West Papua, please check out the Free West Papua campaign website: and follow them on Twitter: @FreeWestPapua