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West Papuan Genocide Continues – Can Diplomacy And International Institutions Redeem Themselves?

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On February 9, West Papuan Interim President Benny Wanda warned of new plans by the Indonesian government to divide the West Papuan territory into three provinces, the Morning Star U.K. reported. As another 450 troops arrived to ‘violently enforce its policies,’ the new plans to partition the region are part of the proposals to replace the expiring Special Autonomy Law and status that has not only long disenfranchised the West Papuans, but also sidelined their representatives from consultations. To enforce the renewal of the Special Autonomy Law, Indonesian troops have been flooding into West Papua as early as 2019 when 6,000 new troops were sent, and over 1,000 more last year. As this armed liberation struggle persists for nearly 30 years now, President Wanda entreats the international community to treat this genocide as a ‘question of military occupation and colonialism’ – not as Indonesia’s internal matter.

President Wanda stated in response to the plans, ‘We are not three separate regions, we are West Papuans, one people with one soul and one mission: freedom.’ He called on ‘all countries of the world and the UN [to] immediately intervene in overcoming the extermination of indigenous Papuans and the extermination of all natural resources in the land of West Papua.’

Since 1963, West Papuans have suffered in a slow-motion genocide brought onto them by Indonesian annexation, wherein hundreds of thousands of Papuans have been killed, tortured, jailed, or forcibly disappeared. The Special Autonomy Law of 2001 aimed to solve these grievances, but it has only diminished the area to a state of de facto military operations area in which they are subject to racial violence, torture, and discrimination. To this day, the Indonesian military exercises state-sanctioned human rights violations. In addition, as West Papua is rich is natural resources and home to virgin rainforests, Indonesia’s environmentally-destructive projects continue to subject West Papuans to economic indigenous disadvantage and economic injustice for more than five decades now.

Diplomacy ceases to matter and military might takes centre stage in a situation such as this. Indonesia, the state carrying out human rights violations is both regionally and economically influential to the point that no country will benefit from opposing it – and the West Papuans suffering under this full-scale genocide have neither political sway nor economic autonomy. While West Papua demands international peace talks and a legitimate UN-sponsored referendum on their status, these colonial circumstances rob them of any position to realistically engage or negotiate with Indonesia. How effective will UN action be in forcing Indonesia’s hand or uniting the international community against this genocide?

The colonization process back in 1969 was facilitated by the UN, and even ironically called an ‘Act of Free Choice.’ Indonesia’s longstanding violation of the Guiding Principles by their official under-reporting and reclassifying of Internally-Displaced Peoples from West Papua is only one instance affirming their choice to breach international humanitarian rights framework. Neighbouring Australia and Papua New Guinea have insisted on appeasement policies despite the Indonesian military’s worst excesses. When West Papua was proclaimed an Indonesian province, Western nations continued to support brutal military rule with military support, arms, and even World Bank funding. For the longest time, the international community is and has been complicit in Indonesia’s state-endorsed terrorism – and must acknowledge this fact.

In these colonial circumstances, perhaps it would benefit the international community to address what enabled this genocide in the first place – the ‘decolonization’ agreement between Netherlands and Indonesia in 1949 – although the ideological and political violence started way before that. Indonesia has been simply imposing West Papuan ‘inferiority’ just as the Dutch has once done.

Adrianne Ramirez

Adrianne has been involved with the OWP since 2019 – first as a correspondent and currently as an advocate as well. Adrianne believes strongly in pushing for human rights and social equity, and has a particular interest in international relations, indigenous rights, and feminist security.

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