Any decent Australian would be shocked if they knew what was happening on our country’s doorstep.
Massacres, tortures, the burning of villages, rapes, economic and political marginalisation, cultural suppression. All being inflicted upon people in a land situated only 250km from Australian soil. But I bet you don’t hear about it. That is partly because the Indonesian government doesn’t allow human rights monitors or journalists access into this region.
The land I am talking about is West Papua, the Indonesian western half of the Island of New Guinea.
West Papua is a land rich in many different natural resources and species of wildlife. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the ethnic roots of indigenous West Papuans are Melanesian.
There are stories of Papuans running under heavy Japanese fire during World War II to pick up wounded Aussie solders and bring them to safety.
But for over 40 years, Australia has been ignoring the plea for help of the very people who risked their lives with outstanding bravery to save our own.
It shames me to be an Australian. It really does. Let me paint the picture for you.
Once part of the Dutch East Indies, West Papua was not handed over to the Republic of Indonesia in 1949 with the other territories. The Dutch claimed it did not belong to Indonesia due to its cultural and historical differences.
The Dutch were preparing West Papua for independence. A national legislature was formed, the first Papuan Congress was held, and “West-Papua” was adopted as the name of the country along with a national anthem, the Morning Star as the national flag and a Constitution of 129 articles.
Conflict followed. The Indonesians would not rest until they had this resource-rich land.
The United Nations intervened and declared that West Papua was to be under Indonesian control on the proviso that within six years, Indonesia would give West Papuans the “opportunity to exercise freedom of choice” through a referendum.
“All adults, male and female” were to be eligible to participate in a vote of self-determination, in which West Papuans would determine whether to be independent or become a part of Indonesia.
In 1969, Indonesia conducted a referendum, “the Act of Free Choice.” Only 1026 Papuans, representing a population of one million, were picked to vote. Under severe duress, including threats from Indonesian military officials to cut their tongues out and kill their families, they voted to remain part of Indonesia.
Ever since, the West Papuans have just wanted to be free: “Papua Merdeka”.
The atrocities that have taken place since then have been horrifying. Indeed, some claim it has been nothing less of genocide.
West Papua was meant to be an independent nation. It may be a far-fetched ideal for now, but what West Papuans rightfully want and need today is freedom.
Freedom from Indonesian oppression: freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, equal economic and political rights, peace and security.
But it gets worse. Indonesian Detachment 88 was trained and funded by Australia as a counter-terrorism unit, as part of our military relations with the neighbour. This detachment ended up being sent to West Papua where it tortured and killed innocent Papuan people.
Yep, Australia’s hands are dripping with blood.
Why has our government been so quiet? I will delve into the ‘why’ in the next West Papua blog post.
By Vince Stefano