By James Borrowdale
LIKE apartheid South Africa, I kept hearing. For a long time, the horrors behind the curtain thrown up by South Africa’s racist government weren’t widely known in this country. It wasn’t until the 1981 Springboks tour that the small band of activists, who had all the time been committed to the cause, were able to turn that affair into a nation-splitting episode—and to put increased international pressure on the regime.
West Papua hasn’t had its Springboks tour yet; it is often called the world’s forgotten occupation. Indonesia has held formal control over West Papua since 1962’s New York Agreement granted the South East Asian superpower the former Dutch colony, with the promise of a fair vote on self-determination by 1969. That never arrived: 1969’s Act of Free Choice, in which just 0.2 percent of the population voted—under extreme duress—determined that West Papua was to remain part of Indonesia, a country with which it had no linguistic, cultural, or racial links.
Ever since, the repression of the indigenous population has been ruthless. The figure of 100,000 people killed by Indonesian security forces is commonly cited, but estimates run as high as 500,000. Mass killings of Papuans in the tribal highlands in the 1970s met the criteria for genocide, the Asia Human Rights Commission reported. And the brutality continues: a 2016 report conducted by the Archdiocese of Brisbane titled We Will Lose Everything contains reports of atrocities committed throughout 2015, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and firing on peaceful protestors. Methods of torture, another reportclaims, include rape, slashing with bayonets, and electrification.
Clearly, something horrific is happening—and has been for a long time—in the South Pacific. New Zealand’s response? Successive governments, perhaps wary of aggravating an important trading partner, have refused to dispute Indonesia’s territorial borders. The media hasn’t done much better—VICE NZ was one of just a handful of outlets to cover a visit to New Zealand by Benny Wenda, the leader-in-exile of the West Papuan independence movement and a man twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, earlier this year.
He’s a man with a fascinating tale to tell—a childhood spent on the run in the bush, horrors witnessed, arrest, escape, a life-long commitment to the cause of his people. And it’s a story that is percolating at some political level, with 11 New Zealand MPs across four parties now signatories of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua declaration. Where, then, I wondered, were the profiles in the Saturday newspapers, the coverage on Sunday-night current-affairs shows?
Dr Pala Molisa, of Victoria University’s School of Accounting and Commercial Law, is a long-time supporter of West Papuan independence. Addressing why the New Zealand media is reluctant to take on the story of the subjugation of an entire people, happening so close to home, he says, means confronting an “uncomfortable thing”. “It shouldn’t be too controversial [to say] today that black and brown lives, when you look at the patterns—socioeconomic, police shootings, mass-incarceration—are devalued when compared to white lives.”
Molisa is from Vanuatu, a country that also had to fight for its independence from colonial rule. He bemoans how dependent Pākehā awareness is upon coverage in established media: “Most of our educated Pākehā population is highly reliant on mainstream media. As long as [West Papua is] kept out, that’ll affect the amount of participation.”
Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre has, as a journalist, been reporting on West Papua since the early 1980s, and finds the lack of interest “puzzling”. A veteran journalist (“I think I’ve got a reasonable handle on what is international news”), he wonders why the majority of the press has for so long largely ignored West Papua.
“It has so many elements that have resonance with New Zealand—indigenous issues, land issues, development issues. And in the past we’ve had an affinity with the people of the Pacific, going right back to the nuclear-free policies, which were very intertwined in Polynesia with indigenous self-determination.”
In the wider Pacific, at least, there is some momentum gathering. In March this year, seven nations—Vanuatu, Tonga, Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and the Solomon Islands—addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, raising concerns about human rights abuses in West Papua.
“Within their suffering we see our own”
Māori, too, have been vocal about West Papua. When Wenda visited Auckland, he was welcomed onto Ōrākei Marae by Ngāti Whātua. Wayne Pihema, a Ngāti Whātua Board Trust member who helped organise the hui, says shared experiences of colonialism motivated the invitation to Wenda to speak. “We’ve got somewhere in our genetic history a memory of that kind of experience… We can relate to people in West Papua as being part of the Pacific and being indigenous Pacific people like us. Within their suffering we see our own.”
Oceania Interrupted is an Auckland-based group of Pacific and Māori women who use visual and performance art to raise awareness of the suffering of West Papuans. The group, which has included women from as many as 13 different Pacific ethnicities or nations, has staged 10 of the 15 “artistic interventions” it plans to hold—15 years being the mandatory prison sentence for raising the West Papuan Morning Star flag within the Indonesian-occupied territory.
In a similar fashion to Pihema, spokesperson Leilani Salesa calls the group’s duty to West Papua an “ideological commitment”, one borne of a sense of Pacific solidarity. “ he ocean is what binds us together, the ocean is our sea of islands… the ocean is what our ancestors conquered.”
Salesa, though, highlights the role that Pākehā activists have played in raising awareness, singling out veteran campaigner and writer Maire Leadbeater: “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t know who I know and what I know.”
I put it to Leadbeater that Māori and Pacific groups within New Zealand are now taking the lead, something she said was “amazing”. “I see it in the context that the interest in West Papua has extended so much through the Pacific recently. Communities here are linking up with really strong movements in the Solomons and Fiji, and to some extent in Tonga and Samoa, and so on. It’s really important people here are getting engaged because they are in touch with their families in those countries, and it’s those countries that are actually taking action at the moment—it’s not New Zealand, unfortunately.”
While it’s great, Leadbeater says, that impetus comes from Māori and Pacific communities, it’s important there is wider—and whiter—support. “Look at the tino rangatiritanga movement in this country: it’s always had strong allies in the Pākehā community, hasn’t it? And that’s always been important to the success of campaigns.”
“The anti-apartheid activists would’ve felt like they were just spitting into a cyclone…you just need to keep having faith.”
She remains upbeat about the effect protest and public opinion have on government action, citing her previous research that, she says, proves the Government is attuned to public opinion on Indonesian activity, especially as it has related to atrocities committed in East Timor and, to a lesser extent, in West Papua. “You think the Government is not taking any notice, but they do have to take account of public opinion and the stronger it gets the more they have to take notice. [But] you can’t expect people to identify with an issue they’ve hardly ever heard of.”
Molisa, too, is optimistic. “What gives me faith, to put it in that historical perspective, is that this is in the early stages, and the anti-apartheid activists would’ve felt like they were just spitting into a cyclone. If you look at the long arch of history, that tells you that you just need to keep having faith because these sorts of things have a way of building in ways you can’t expect.”
James Borrowdale is a Journalist at VICE, New Zealand
Urgent international intervention in the Regency of Nduga, Papua Province, Indonesia : Open Letter
OPEN LETTER TO :
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister of Japan
Ueli Maurer, President of the Swiss Confederation
Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden
Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland
URGENT INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION IN THE REGENCY OF NDUGA IN THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA
Indonesian security forces are killing civilians in Nduga, a remote regency (kabupaten) in the province of Papua.
The bodies of four women and a boy who disappeared on September 20, 2019, were found yesterday, the most recent victims of army violence in Nduga. They had been buried secretly to hide the crime committed by the army.
In early 2019, large numbers of additional Indonesian troops were sent to Nduga after an altercation involving the OPM, a Papuan group opposed to Indonesian sovereignty of Papua. By including the civilian population in this conflict, killing them indiscriminately with modern weapons, Indonesian security forces (army and police) not only are breaking international law but are making the conflict worse.
Papuan inhabitants of Nduga (2,168 sq klm) are a distinct ethnic group numbering about 100,000 people. The violence by the Indonesian army which escalated in 2019 has resulted in more than 40% of the population now being internally displaced persons. This means twelve administrative districts of Nduga have been emptied of their population, many schools left deserted, buildings and agricultural land vacant. This year, with 190 people in Nduga killed, Indonesian army policy is nothing less than ethnic cleansing and must be stopped immediately.
The Indonesian government in Jakarta is responsible for the actions of the Indonesian army but clearly the army is operating beyond all law, killing for no reason other than killing innocent people because they are the inhabitants of Nduga. Why the army wants to occupy this region, empty of its original inhabitants, has not been revealed.
Many thousands of people in Nduga have already fled because of the threat of being killed – but these four women and a young boy were ones who did not flee – and they were killed by the army. This is their home, this is where they live – it is the army which needs to leave, not the people who live here.
Indonesian President Jokowi is aware of problems caused by continuing army violence in Nduga. Together with the heads of many governmental departments, the governor of Papua, Lukas Enembe, publicly requested the excess army troops be withdrawn, but the request has had no effect. I myself met with his top minister, ex-army general Wiranto, in charge of co-ordinating political, legal and security affairs, and with ACM Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces. Despite repeated requests, nothing has changed.
Only one day after Jokowi himself announced that all foreign journalists would be given access to Papua, not just a few carefully-selected media representatives, the regional army commander himself in Papua contradicted the president. Beyond the control of Jakarta, the violent methods used by the army, whether described as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or worse, must be stopped immediately.
With Indonesian sovereignty of Papua, there is a ‘responsibility to protect’ the Nduga population from the extreme human rights violations occurring there. According to the R2P global political commitment adopted by the United Nations and endorsed by Indonesia, action is urgently needed to address Jakarta’s inaction, reluctance or incapability of providing a safe place for civilians, including Papuan women and children in Nduga. Because Jakarta cannot stop the killing, I am asking for international assistance to protect the lives of people in Nduga. These four woman and the boy killed by the army were part of my family, and I am asking for international protection for all Papuan people who still live in Nduga – those who have not already fled in fear.
If we cannot live in Nduga without fear of being killed by the army, where can we go? In the past, refugees have fled from Papua Province across the border to Papua New Guinea but starting a new life in PNG is not the answer to the problem. It is the Indonesian army which is the problem.
What is needed is International intervention to stop the killing in Papua, to remove those sections of the army currently involved in the killing of innocent people in Nduga. Of course, Jakarta will disagree, as shown by repeated requests for President Jokowi to intervene. The tragedy here is well past the stage where mere promises or blatant denial by Jakarta will stop the killing. It must stop now. International intervention is required to stop the killing.
Director at Papua Language Institute (PLI)
The origin of Indonesian racism towards Papuans and its implication to a Free West Papua Movement
By Yamin Kogoya
ESCALATING violence and attacks on Papuan students saw thousands of young people march on the streets and set fire to the Parliament building in West Papua on 19th August 2019. This was in response to Papuan students being attacked in their dormitory in Surabaya last week after they had alleged bent a flagpole during the Indonesian Independence Day celebrations (on 17 August).
Surabaya police chief, senior commissioner Sandi Nugroho, said the attack on the Papuan student dormitory was carried out by Indonesian nationalist community groups who were angered by the treatment of their national flag.
In an effort to restore calm, the Papua Governor, Lukas Enembe called on all Indonesian citizens to respect their national value of “unity in diversity” (Bhineka Tunggal Ika), and for the security forces to act professionally and in accordance with Indonesian laws and to not let activist groups take the law in their own hands. He reiterated that Papuans studying in Indonesian cities and towns must be treated with dignity and respect and is how Papuans treat Indonesians studying in West Papua.
The timing of last weeks’ attacks, retaliations and protests could not be more significant for both the Papuans and Indonesians. On 16th August 2019, the leaders of Pacific Island nations passed several resolutions regarding the Papuan genocide at the Pacific Island Forums, while 17th August 2019 was the 74th anniversary of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
PAPUANS HAVE ENDURED YEARS OF RACISM AND VIOLENCE
Papuans are no stranger to Indonesia’s cruel and violent racism and which they have endured since the 1960s. Papuans have died, been marginalized, and had their rights denied because of racism.
Filep Karma, a West Papuan political activist experienced firsthand racism by Indonesians during his university years, and in 2014 said: “As If We Are Half Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land”.
Fifty-six years later, and these cruel racial slurs are alive and thriving as Papuans continue to be called monkeys, insinuating that they are primitive. This insult cuts deep in the hearts of Papuans.
Just last week, Indonesian Human Rights Lawyer, Veronica Koman posted videos on her Twitter feed of Indonesian demonstrators holding up picture monkeys and chanted “kick out, kick out the transmigrants, kick out transmigrants now”.
While the world’s media is focusing on the violence involved in the demonstrations, they are ignoring what is at the heart of the demonstrations, that being racism. It is not acceptable to call Papuans monkeys, effectively denying them their fundamental intrinsic value of being human. And while President Joko Widodo called on his brothers and sisters in Papua and West Papua to forgive and forget, the racial harassment and discriminations against Papuan students has been ongoing.
Governor Enembe said “Papuans students throughout Indonesia always get called Monkey and are not safe”. During an interview on Indonesian TV ONE, he condemned the way Papuan students are treated in other parts of Indonesia. “It has been 74 years since Indonesia gained its independence from the Dutch and this country still treats my people inhumanly. If the situation doesn’t improve, I will bring my Papuan students back home”.
Racism is a weapon deploy by the colonial power to break down the Papuan human spirit. This is the same weapon Indonesia is using that was used on them by the Europeans, and who killed millions of the first nation people around the world over 500 years.
IS IT A CASE OF MONKEY-SEE-MONKEY-DO FOR INDONESIA?
As the Jakarta Post reported “racism” is at the heart of the Surabaya -West Papua conflict, and highlighted Indonesia’s own experience of racism under the Dutch colonial rule.
It appears that after 74 years of independence from the Dutch, and despite Indonesia’s national ideology of “Pancasila” and “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (Five constitutional Pillars and Unity in Diversity”, it is still suffering from the decades of racial abuse under Dutch rule.
Indonesian treatment of Papuans is like a revenge towards unexamined grievances they suffered. Papuans’ genocide at the hands of Indonesia in West Papua and unprecedented destruction of their ancestral homeland originated in the minds of racist Europeans. But they are projecting their anger onto the wrong people. They should direct their anger onto the Dutch and Western Governments.
The Dutch used guns and the Bible to tame the Indigenous Indonesian over 300 years. They broke their human spirit and imagination through racial discrimination. They were dehumanized and used as a lethal weapon against all other non-Dutch Europeans.
The Dutch implemented a class system whereby the Indonesians were third class citizens, well beneath the first-class Europeans, and the second-class Chinese and Arabs.
And so, the cycle continues, with Indonesia trying to dehumanize and break the Papuan spirit so they can rebuild them to identity with Indonesian colonial ideas.
Indonesia wants to love Papuans and accept them as part of Indonesia. However, they can’t because, just like their former European colonialists, Indonesia has wrong and distorted information about Papuans.
As articulated by sociologist Thomas Scheff in the Jakarta Post on Friday, May 31, 2013:
“there is no love between Papuans and Indonesians. It is infatuation. Genuine love requires detailed knowledge of the other”.
Another tragic learned behaviour from the Dutch is Indonesia taking the role of “definer”. Essentially, Indonesia sees itself as the tape measure that other people and cultures have to measure up to or ‘be defined’.
Papuans are subjected to racism everywhere they go, from university dormitories, the marketplace and on the streets. The Papuan values, feelings, emotions and psychology are under constant attack by the colonial racist system. This is the institutionalized racism to poison the soul of Papuans.
PAPUA HAS BEEN THE RACISM FOOTBALL THAT’S BEEN KICKED AROUND FOR YEARS
West Papua has been treated as a commodity for years, being passed around and sacrificed as world leaders saw fit. The USA, Australia, Dutch and Indonesia decided its fate during the negotiations in the 1960s. It was sacrificed for world peace on UN’s alter in 1963 and handed over to Indonesia in an attempt to halt the spread of communism in Indonesia (by way of providing an army). Remarkably, West Papuans was never considered nor were they invited to participate in this meeting
US president Kennedy referred to West Papuans as “The 700,000 living in the stone age…a few thousand square miles of cannibals land.” Papuans was used to secure the interest of Western governments and the Soviet Bloc. They had no value and rights. The result of these negotiations cost millions of Papuan lives.
Western policy makers were more concerned with teaching Papuans how to eat with knife and fork rather than their rights for political independence.
Unfortunately for Papuans, their relationship with Europeans has always been tainted by racism. The Western governments, Chinese, Indonesian and industrialised countries always assume that natural state of being Papuan is not desirable which is why they always attempt to dehumanise the Papuans.
According to Dr. Tarcisius kabutaulaka, associate professor at the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies at the Univeristy of Hawaii, European’s have always placed Melanesian people at the bottom of human hierarchy because of their darker skin colours and cultural traits that led to them being viewed as primitive. They bare the internal stigma of “Oceanic Negroes”. The crimes Melanesian committed to be boxed at the bottom of Europeans category was simply the fact. 
IS THIS THE PATH TO INDEPENDENCE
The intriguing aspect about this recent demonstration is how seriously Papuan students and young people are taking the issue of ‘racism’. They are using the ongoing racism to voice their deep aspiration for independence from Indonesia.
Recently, Indonesia has been focusing on building diplomatic relationships with the Pacific island countries but, how can a genuine relationship be built and sustained when one party approaches the other with a paternalistic colonial mental outlook? This was evident during the 2019 Pacific Exposition in Auckland whereby the Indonesian government did not disclose the real issues faced by Papuans. What Indonesia did display was misconstrued image of the Papuan.
If Indonesia continues to see Papuans through the lens of racism (monkey), why would they treat any other black race in the Oceania with love and respect. To build a sense of brotherhood among all men across all our cultural and religious prejudices, we need a new interconnectedness worldview, not racially fragmented one.
if President Jokowi was sincere about calling Papuans “brothers and sisters” then it is time for Indonesian to treat Papuans with dignity and respect, including the overwhelming desire by Papuans for “Independence”. Otherwise these words are meaningless.
Despite the Indonesian effort to truncate the growing support for an independent West Papua, the Pacific island leaders did pass a few resolutions in during last week PIF’s meeting in Tuvalu.
What do these resolutions really mean to Papuans? Whether it was a mere Orwellian exercise concocting the final communique -a pure fiasco or it is one of the steps that will enable the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to enter UN General Assembly, one thing is clear that support for the West Papuans plight is growing.
This support from Pacific island communities will likely grow in the future if Indonesia continues to mistreat their fellow Papuans.
Calling Papuans a monkey can and will ignite the fire of resistance (as seen by thousands of Papuans protesting and setting fire to parliament house). The issue of racism is serious and failure to recognise this will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to.
As Evi Mariani warned Jakarta in her paper published yesterday by the Jakarta Post:
“Racism in the love story in Bumi Manusia is the prequel to Indonesia’s budding nationalism against the occupation of the Dutch before our independence in 1945. Surely, we would not want the racism befalling Papuans to pave the way for their struggle for independence from “Indonesian occupation” on their land”.
The outspoken Free West Papua advocate, the governor of PNG Oro Province, Gary Juffa has warned through his official Facebook page that:
“In case any of you have any misconception about your future fate at the hands of expanding Indonesian influence…here is a grim remainder…if they call our brothers and sisters monkeys…on their own land…that is exactly what they are calling us now”
The leaders of “Blue Pacific” cannot be naïve like a rabbit by inviting the wolves from Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra to discuss about what they are going to have for dinner. Dangerous and yet virtues rabbit is better than harmless and virtue less creature that lives only to be eaten by predators.
It is West Papua’s deepest hope that the Pacific Island leaders will not sacrifice West Papua by accepting a worldly materialistic offer by Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra. How remarkable it would be in this modern world for the racially abused and subjugated people are able to stand firm against the might and reject the gold in favour of their own souls. That would be the retelling of an old story written anew. (*)
Author is Australia-based anthropologist
Who actually benefits from the Trans Papua Highway?
Papua, Jubi – Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Cahyo Pamungkas says that the Trans Papua Highway has yet to bring any benefits to the Papuan people.
“The benefits for indigenous people can’t be seen yet. So people ask who exactly is the road for? Because the there is still illegal logging in the central highlands, the highlands are being destroyed, it’s easier for outsiders to exploit natural resources”, said Pamungkas at a press conference on the conflict in Nduga regency at the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) offices in Jakarta on Thursday July 18.
Pamungkas explained that instead of benefiting ordinary Papuans, the Trans Papua Highway threatens their economic wellbeing.
“Pig livestock from Toraja comes into Wamena. So the Wamena’s people’s pigs don’t sell. This threatens their economy. It is increasingly easy for outsiders to come to Wamena, so Wamena people see the road as a threat to their future”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas said that the Trans Papua Highway project only connects regencies or cities and the benefits of this are not felt by the Papuan people. Meanwhile roads between villages and districts which are in fact what is actually needed are not being built.
“Yet roads like this (between villages and districts) are very important, for example simply to sell vegetables produced by farmers in markets”, said Pamungkas.
According to Pamungkas, the Trans Papua Highway actually facilitates the exploitation of natural resources which can be seen from large number of trees being felled and gold mining.
“Moreover when LIPI researched development on this road, we found many logging camps for logging in the direction of the Papua Lorentz National Park, which should a protected area”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas is of the view that the government should immediately hold a dialogue with Papuan social leaders with the assistance of appropriate mediators.
“Because the most important thing at the moment is liberating the Papuan people from the memory of suffering which has built up over time. Particularly the acts of violence by security forces which has resulted in trauma for the residents of Nduga regency, Papua province”, he explained.
Local people’s rights
Expressing a similar view to Pamungkas, Amnesty International Indonesia researcher Aviva Nababan believes that the Trans Papua Highway does not provide any clear benefits. He also questions the government’s planning process for the road.
“Looking at it again from the process. Did the government design its function by thinking about the rights of the people the road impacts on? Did they really follow the principles of involving local communities? If not, this needs to be fixed. We think it shouldn’t be seen from the perspective of western Indonesia. There’s a road, lovely. There’s a road, great”, said Nababan at Jakarta LBH on Friday July 19.
Nababan warned that Indonesia has a commitment to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) meaning that it must involve local communities in all development planning.
He also asked the government to respect the rights of indigenous Papuans. Because according to Amensty’s research, there have been alleged human rights (HAM) violations which have made Nduga residence traumatised and afraid of the security forces.
“When there are problems of HAM violations related to law enforcement in Papua, the tendency is that the cases are rarely investigated. Let alone followed up, or satisfactory accountability”, he explained. (*)
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