The Silent Genocide – The Exploitation and Illegal Occupation of West Papua


4th April 2016

By Craig Moore

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

The Silent Genocide

West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, bordering the independent nation of Papua New Guinea. It lies just 200km north of Australia. The land comprises a large mountainous interior, forest lowlands, large areas of coastal mangrove swamps and is surrounded by numerous small islands and coral reefs.

Indonesia officially acquired West Papua in 1969, after a sham ballot on independence in which only a handful of the local population were allowed to vote. When the ballot was held in 1969, it was far from free and fair: the Indonesian military handpicked 1,026 leaders to vote on behalf of the entire population, and threatened to kill them and their families if they voted ‘the wrong way’.

In this environment, the outcome of the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’ was unanimous – and Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua was rubber-stamped by the UN. The ‘Act of Free Choice’, in 1969, was obviously a sham referendum headed by the US Government and United Nations with support from the Australian Government. The UN has failed to acknowledge, and rectify this, showing its lack of commitment to human rights, international law, and UN Resolution 1514.

Consequently, the UN and a number of countries are complicit to genocide.

Indonesia has been criticised for many human rights abuses in the past which includes the mass slaughter of communists in 1965 in Indonesia itself, the invasion of East Timor in 1975, and now its illegal occupation of West Papua.

The Genocide Australia Does Not Want You to Know About

Since the first days of Indonesian occupation, the people and land of West Papua have been under relentless attack. In an attempt to control the Papuans, and to claim the land to make way for resource extraction, the Indonesian army has systematically murdered, raped and tortured people in numbers that would constitute a genocide.

Indonesia has also carried out a social engineering project on a massive scale in West Papua by relocating hundreds of thousands of people from across Indonesia to live in camps cut into the forests of West Papua. This program of transmigration has long been heavily criticised and has brought problems for both the indigenous population and trans-migrants alike.

One of the worst examples of this is the displacement and killing of thousands of people to make way for the giant American owned Freeport mine, the largest gold mine in the world, which has reduced a sacred mountain to a crater and poisoned the local river system.

Indonesia guards West Papua aggressively not allowing journalists, diplomats or human rights workers into the country. The massive US owned Freeport McMoran gold and copper mine in West Papua is one of the Indonesia’s largest taxpayers. The US, UK, China, Japan, Indonesia, South Africa and Australian have mining interests operating in West Papua.

The Indonesian Military along with global corrupt governments, and associated transnational companies, are supporting the oppression of the West Papuan people to ensure they maintain control of West Papua’s rich natural resources. 

Exploitation and Genocide in West Papua

Estimations of over 500,000 indigenous West Papuans have been murdered over the last 54 years. This also includes reports of wide spread torture of women and children.

The United Nations, European Union, and associated governments have received ample evidence of atrocities, massacres, torture, and crimes against humanity and chose to remain silent and complicit.

Australian refuses to talk about the genocide in West Papua due to their financial interests in the country. Australia supports Indonesia with 605.3 million AU dollars a year. They also train 100 Indonesian military officers a year at no cost.

Human Rights Abuses continue today and those who protest for independence openly in West Papua do so at a high personal cost. It is illegal to raise the morning star flag and many West Papuan leaders are sitting out long jail terms for peaceful acts of defiance.

Australia, a quasi-military ally of Indonesia through the 2006 Lombok Treaty (which was itself based on suppressing international support for West Papua), will find itself in an increasing awkward position: a self proclaimed promoter of human rights, yet a supporting actor in an occupation entailing crimes against humanity and genocide.

Australia and the world should be ashamed of their inaction.

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  • Benny Wenda: “West Papuans are living in a prison”

    by Mischa Wilmers. Wilmers is an independent journalist based in Manchester covering social justice and international affairs. He has reported from the UK and South America for theGuardian, the Independent, New Internationalist, Deutsche Welle, Huffington Post, Equal Times, the Big Issue in the North, and the Santiago Times.

    Benny Wenda is speaking to some British parliamentarian in October 2008.

    Benny Wenda is speaking to some British parliamentarian in October 2008.

    In episode 46 of Sea Control, Natalie Sambhi from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute talked with Dr. Peter McCawley and Dr. Ross Tapsell, both from the Australian College of Asia and the Pacific. In general 3rd Indonesian presidential election, held on July 9, shows a positive development in Indonesia. Nevertheless, Indonesia has still a long way to go. For example, as Indonesians prepared to vote for a new president, dozens of West Papuanactivists were reportedly attacked by security forces for urging local people to boycott the elections. Mischa Wilmers speaks to the exiled leader of the Free West Papua movement, Benny Wenda, about his lifelong struggle for justice and asks why nobody is talking about the territory he calls “little South Africa”.If someone were to describe a brutal military occupation of a region whose people are routinely attacked for demanding their right to self-determination, it’s unlikely Indonesia would spring to mind as the oppressor. The western media continuously fawns over the progress made by the world’s “third largest democracy” since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship 16 years ago, the dominant narrative being that expressed by David Cameron when he visited the country in 2012. “Indonesia has transformed itself in the past decade into one of the world’s most important democracies, with a free media and elections,” he declared. “The military no longer plays a role in politics, but fulfils its proper role defending the country from external attack.” (see also David Mepham, UK Director ofHuman Rights Watch, “Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on Indonesia”, 18.04.2012).

    Breaking the arms embargo
    In his speech Cameron announced plans for Britain to break its arms embargo with Indonesia, imposed by Labour in 1998 following the revelation that British-built Hawk aircraft had been used by Suharto to slaughter the people of East Timor. The following day BAE Systems and other arms companies began trading with the country for the first time in over a decade.

    To many West Papuans, however, the description of Indonesia as a responsible democracy with a benign military is wildly inaccurate. Last month, as 180 million Indonesians prepared to participate in the country’s presidential elections, dozens of activists in West Papua were reportedly arrested and beaten by security forces for handing out flyers urging local people not to vote. Despite the threat of violence the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) estimated that around 80% of eligible West Papuan voters chose to observe a peaceful boycott. All of this went virtually unreported in the international press.

    This file photo shows a West Papuan separatist carrying the banned Morning Star flag as he walks past a line of Indonesian riot police officers surrounding a pro-independence celebration in Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

    This file photo shows a West Papuan separatist carrying the banned Morning Star flag as he walks past a line of Indonesian riot police officers surrounding a pro-independence celebration in Jayapura, Irian Jaya.

    Benny Wenda, the exiled leader of the Free West Papua movement, was among those leading calls for the boycott. Granted asylum in the UK in 2003 after being persecuted by the Indonesian authorities, he lives in Oxford but retains close contact with friends and family who constantly update him with news from the region. “My people are living in a prison and are discriminated against in many forms,” he protests, though the latest attacks are nothing new to Wenda who has been struggling to bring similar incidents to the attention of western governments for more than a decade. A search of the BBCwebsite reveals just two articles referring to him – an indication of the lack of mainstream media interest in a region many in Britain have little or no knowledge of.Yet his remarkable life story is worthy of far greater attention than it has received, serving as a poignant reminder of a forgotten colonial struggle spanning several decades of western backed exploitation and slaughter. He was born in the West Papuan highlands in the 1970s, several years after the “Act of Free Choice” – a vote to decide whether West Papua should relinquish its sovereignty – led to the annexation of the region by Suharto’s Indonesia. Despite the massacres that ensued, Wenda has fond memories of his early life in the highlands. “When I was a little boy I would play in the forest and help my mum in the garden. I didn’t have any fear, surrounded by nature,” he says, describing his short lived experience of childhood innocence.

    The neglected genocide
    In 1977 the military moved into his village, terrorising his family and raping his aunt in front of his eyes. In its recent report, “the neglected genocide,” the Asian Human Rights Commission estimates that at least 4,146 Papuans were killed between 1977 and 1978. As the UN stood by and did nothing, Benny’s village was one of those bombed by Indonesia following a rebellion by 15,000 highlanders. Those who survived fled to the jungle. “Our house was burned down and the Indonesian military were killing my people,” he recalls. “At the time I didn’t know what was going on but I just followed my mum and my dad. We tried to survive in the cold, at risk of malaria. I always asked ‘why did we leave our village? Why are we here?’”

    Wenda and his family hid in the jungle for five years before eventually surrendering to the Indonesian military and returning to their village. Shortly afterwards they moved to Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, where Benny grew up. But the questions that plagued him in the jungle persisted throughout his adolescence and it wasn’t until he embarked on a sociology and politics degree course that he came to understand the historical context of his suffering. “I started looking back at what happened in my village and I started to discover who I am […] I didn’t know any of the history.”

    About 200 Papuan activists clash with police guarding a building housing the office of U.S. Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. in February 2006 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Many claim that the company has not brought any benefits to local residents during its 40 years of operations in West Papua (Photo: Ed Wray).

    About 200 Papuan activists clash with police guarding a building housing the office of U.S. Mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. in February 2006 in Jakarta, Indonesia. Many claim that the company has not brought any benefits to local residents during its 40 years of operations in West Papua (Photo: Ed Wray).

    His search began in the university library in Jayapura where he quickly found that books on West Papua were heavily censored. Then, in 1999 a German student with an interest in indigenous cultures introduced him to the internet. Online he discovered that West Papua had been a Dutch colony until 1962 when control of the region was temporarily transferred to the UN. He read accounts describing how the Dutch had previously prepared West Papuans for independence and how in 1961 his forefathers had raised the Morning Star flag and sung the national anthem in anticipation of their sovereignty.But the celebrations were premature. Eight years later the UN turned a blind eye as Suharto moved in and held a sham referendum in which 1,022 tribal elders were selected by special forces and coerced at gunpoint into voting for an Indonesian takeover. A month before the vote, Frank Galbraith, the American ambassador in Jakarta, wrote in a secret memo: “possibly 85 to 90% [of West Papuans] are in sympathy with the Free Papua cause.” The “Act of Free Choice” had in fact been an act of no choice.

    What followed was the genocide Wenda witnessed as a child. It became apparent that over a period of three decades thousands of West Papuans had been massacred by Indonesia for the purpose of acquiring the region’s natural resources – including the world’s largest goldmine and third largest copper mine – all with the full support of Britain and the US. Armed with this knowledge he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to liberating his people from colonial rule.

    15 years on he remains true to his word. Last year he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and although he is unable to return to his homeland he has become a global symbol of the West Papuan cause – much to the chagrin of Indonesia’s ruling elites who launched an unsuccessful international arrest warrant for him in 2011. He has created a base for the Free West Papua movement in Oxfordand has just opened a new office in Melbourne where he hopes to establish a strong presence despitePrime Minister Tony Abbott declaring that West Papuan activists are “not welcome” in Australia.

    Exploitation is rife
    Though the Suharto dictatorship which bombed Wenda’s village is gone, the current regime faces similar charges of exploiting the region for economic gain at the expense of West Papuans. According to the World Bank, Papua province’s regional GDP is 50% higher than the national average while the people living there are among the poorest in all of Oceania. Around 30% of West Papuans live in poverty – nearly triple Indonesia’s national average of 12%.

    Accusations of exploitation are not solely aimed at Indonesia. British Petroleum which has invested billions of pounds in the construction and operation of gas plants in West Papua has been accused of destroying forests, polluting rivers and employing workers from outside the region rather than creating jobs for local people. “The British have a big investment in West Papua,” Wenda tells me, “they ignore my people and are operating in the middle of the genocide.”

    The Grasberg Mine, located near Puncak Jaya in West Papua, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world (Photo: Kadir Jaelani).

    The Grasberg Mine, located near Puncak Jaya in West Papua, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine in the world (Photo: Kadir Jaelani).

    Those who complain are dealt with harshly by security forces. In its latest annual World Report, Human Rights Watch states that violence and fatal attacks on protestors are commonplace and claims that 55 activists are presently incarcerated for their peaceful involvement in the independence movement. In July five political prisoners were released after serving three-year sentences in a Jayapura prison. Their only crime had been to read out a “declaration of independence” from Indonesia at a rally in 2011. But these stories rarely make it outside of West Papua – a situation which is not helped by the fact that foreign journalists are heavily restricted from entering the territory.

    “500,000 West Papuans have been killed since the Indonesia occupation and nobody knows what is really happening because Indonesia is able to ban the Red Cross, Amnesty International and all the media so they can get away with murder and discrimination,” laments Wenda. “I call West Papua ‘little South Africa. The apartheid regime is the same as what Indonesia are doing.”

    Hope for the future
    Indonesia’s newly elected president, Joko Widodo, spoke in support of indigenous peoples in the lead up to the general election. But Wenda’s central demand is for Indonesia to respect West Papua’s right to self determination under international law. He argues that the only basis for Indonesia’s claim to the territory, the “Act of Free Choice,” has been thoroughly discredited and that his people must be permitted to determine their own future with a new, fair referendum. Indonesia continues to resist these demands while the UN remains silent despite urgent calls from human rights groups for a Special Representative to investigate the situation.

    While the “international community” continues to ignore Indonesia’s abuses there is no doubting the magnitude of the task ahead for the Free West Papua movement. Yet Wenda appears remarkably positive, drawing inspiration from the likes of Gandhi and Mandela and from the experience of East Timor which obtained independence from Indonesia in 1999 – though not before a third of the population had been slaughtered.

    The challenge is to capture the attention of the world before it’s too late.

    “I’m doing it, I’m campaigning and I know something will happen in the future,” he says. “While my people are dying nobody can stop me. Not until they are free.”


    Beleaguered West Papuans left to count the cost of Indonesia’s palm oil boom 

    Photo from:Palm Oil-free Vegan QLD & NSW

    Indigenous Papuans are reeling from the cut-price sale of the land and forests that are their lifeblood


    Papua is one of the last great frontier wildernesses. Its vast rainforests and coral rich waters are home to more than 250 indigenous tribes, the most linguistically diverse population on Earth. But it is also the scene of a brutal and under-reported conflict.

    Indonesia took control of the western half of New Guinea – now the provinces of Papua and West Papua – in 1969. Its claim was ratified by the UN through the controversial Act of Free Choice, in which only 1,026 of an estimated population of 800,000 Papuans voted for Indonesian sovereignty, having been selected by the Indonesian military.

    Since then, Indonesia has been trying to extinguish an increasingly desperate independence movement. Amnesty International estimates that at least 100,000 indigenous lives have been lost as a direct result of the conflict.

    West Papua is of immense importance to Indonesia because of its wealth of natural resources. Indonesian and multinational companies reap enormous profits from timber, mining and fossil fuel interests in the territory, yet standards of health and education for indigenous Papuans are far below the national average. While resources flow out to world markets, a constant stream of Malay migrants is reducing the Melanesian population to a minority underclass in their own land.

    Environmental impacts have been severe. Rampant illegal logging decimated swathes of primary forest, before Indonesia’s current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, finally took steps to curb it. In May 2011, he signed a moratorium freezing all new permits to clear primary forest, in exchange for the promise of up to $1bn in grants and compensation from the Norwegian government through its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (Redd) programme. In 2007, Indonesia’s CO2 emissions were the third highest in the world after the US and China, according to a World Bank report.

    But another industry is now threatening West Papua’s unique forest ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. Ironically, it is an agribusiness touted as one of the solutions to global warming rather than a driver of it. The recent growth of palm oil plantations in Indonesia has been exponential, driven by the food and cosmetic industries and an anticipated biofuels boom as the world seeks alternatives to petrol. Ironically, the country’s carbon-sequestering forests are being cleared to make way for these plantations.

    Based on ancient systems of ancestral tenure, much of West Papua’s rainforest is actually owned by the indigenous population. But palm oil companies owned by powerful corporations are coercing communities into selling their land, sometimes for less than $1 a hectare. Promises to build schools and homes go unfulfilled, and villagers are left bereft of the ecosystems they have relied on for generations.

    Even more concerning, a report by the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals that Norway is profiting from West Papua’s plantation boom, in spite of its commendable efforts through Redd+. The country’s Government Pension Fund – Global (GPFG), the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, is heavily invested in the Noble group, a Singaporean commodities trading company that is the majority shareholder in one such palm oil operation.

    PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP) is one of three palm oil plantations in the Sorong Regency of West Papua, all of them established by the Kayu Lapis Indonesia (KLI) group, one of Indonesia’s biggest logging and plantation companies. According to the EIA and Greenpeace (pdf), KLI has flouted forestry laws.

    The EIA report uncovers serious instances of malpractice by PT HIP in its dealings with Sorong Regency’s Mooi people, including a contract indicating the company paid 8.5m rupiahs ($925) for a 1,420-hectare plot owned by the Gilik clan of Malilis village. That is just 65 cents a hectare. Once developed, similar land assets have been valued at about $5,000 a hectare.

    Villagers in nearby Klamono reported that a four-year-old child was made to sign a contract in 2006 stipulating that, if his father died, PT HIP would retain control of the land it had purchased. When EIA visited in May 2011, the villagers had still not received the homes, vehicles and education they had been promised. The EIA report goes on to detail instances of illegal land clearing, logging and corporate coercion by PT HIP and associated company PT Inti Kebun Sejahtera (PT IKS), both associated with KLI.

    Noble purchased a 51% stake in PT HIP in 2010, paying $24,525,000. According to analysis obtained by EIA, once developed the plantation could be worth more than six times as much. When questioned about PT HIP’s record, Stephen Brown, Noble’s director of corporate affairs, said “the company and the relevant parties are actively engaged in a process aimed at any justified grievances being settled amicably”.

    Noble’s shareholders will have ample reason to celebrate – not least Norway’s GPFG, with its $47m stake in the company. According to Hilde Singsaas, state secretary at Norway’s ministry of finance, the GPFG follows established ethical guidelines in its investments.

    “An independent council on ethics advises the ministry on companies in the portfolio with activities which might be in breach of these guidelines,” said Singsaas, adding that the GPFG also invests$20bn in targeted environmental investments.

    Nevertheless, Norway is involved in the continued destruction of the very forests it is trying to preserve, demonstrating how the complex investment portfolios in the commodities marketplace implicate not only multinationals but entire countries in environmental degradation and social injustice.

    Meanwhile, the people of West Papua continue to lose their land and their way of life in return for pocket change and empty promises.

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2 thoughts on “The Silent Genocide – The Exploitation and Illegal Occupation of West Papua

  1. Indonesia – on behalf of it’s own interests – the interests of Australia – & when you say Australia you must include everyone that is Australia – Queen Liz, heraging husband HRH Philip, immediate family, extended family & the parasite aristocracy there of – & maybe even thelikes of Sir Clifford Richards, the European Union Group – USA – Israel – The New West-eners, Saudi Arabia, UAE –
    AND – it stems from the a very strong & passionate desire – you see – everyone wants to be Whiteman.
    The Cultural Cringe.

  2. If only we knew who was collecting the Aged Pensions being paid to the Baby Boomers – the Baby Boomers – people who were never born – people who do not, in fact exist.
    If it is ‘that’ little old lady – greedy little piggies have no shame what so ever !

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