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West Papua’s ‘Silent Genocide’ mirrors past indigenous oppression

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By Calum Rosie

INDIGENOUS people of various cultures are being oppressed and killed the world over.

As with native populations past and present, the natural resources of their land are stolen and used to generate profit for various global corporations.

Time and time again, corporations are allowed to act with impunity and violate the most basic of human rights, all in the name of accruing capital.

West Papua represents one particularly horrific example of this.

‘Silent Genocide’ is a term used to describe the systematic torture and extermination of the indigenous people of West Papua by the Indonesian government, wherein over 500,000 civilians have been murdered, and many more tortured and imprisoned.

It’s called a ‘Silent Genocide’ because foreign journalists have been banned from setting foot in the region, and the local population has been silenced through violence and intimidation.

Couple this with the fact that governments the world over refuse to condemn or even comment on the horrors that happen in West Papua on a daily basis, and an attempted genocide of an entire people goes almost entirely unnoticed.

Just like other indigenous massacres the world over, the people of West Papua are suffering for the crime of living near a valuable resource. West Papua has one of the largest gold mines on the planet, operated by US mining company Freeport.

While stealing the gold and other natural resources such as timber from the West Papuan people, Freeport pays the Indonesian army for protection from the locals, funding the infamous Detachment 88 – an elite death squad attached to the Indonesian army responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of West Papuans.

Not only do international corporations support Detachment 88’s human rights abuses, but so too are several governments complicit.

Detachment 88 receives funding and training from the UK and US governments, while Australia has signed an agreement of non-interference in Indonesian policy which, among other things, blocks West Papuan refugees from accessing the Australian immigration system.

All so companies like Freeport can continue exploiting the region’s natural resources for profit.

The ‘Silent Genocide’ mirrors a similar act of colonial violence against the Bandanese people 400 years ago.

The Banda Islands are barely 500 kilometres to the southwest of West Papua and were raided by the Dutch East India Company in 1621, with the full support of the Dutch government, because the islands were rich in spices.

The population was decimated, with 15,000 killed and the rest sold into slavery. The parallels between these two acts of colonial violence are chilling, and paint a terrible picture of the treatment of those native to the region during the last 4 centuries.

Areas throughout this region have seen similar violent exploitation of indigenous people and their land for hundreds and hundreds of years, whether under the European colonialism of the past or the global capitalism of the present.

Between 1691 and now, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk beyond comprehension, and the people who lived there killed by loggers; recently the Brazilian government released footage of the last member of a tribe wiped out for profit.

In Northern Canada, the Wet’suwet’en people have been in a decades-long conflict with oil companies who want to build pipelines through land that has belonged to the Wet’suwet’en people for centuries.

These are just the tip of the iceberg of modern-day colonial violence that has occurred every single day for centuries, committed by and with the support of governments and global corporations the world over.

Human beings have a right to live in peace and safety, and a company’s bottom line should never infringe on that, but until there is a global restructuring of priorities that puts every human life ahead of any amount of profit, that forces multinational corporations to take responsibility for the lives they have shattered, it is unlikely to ever stop.

If you would like to know more about how you can help the West Papuan people, click here.

Calum Rosie is a writer based in Edinburgh, and a correspondent for Immigration Advice Service, a company that specialises in helping with the immigration process.

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