The Indonesian state is again cracking down on protest and free expression in West Papua. Protestors who took to the streets to commemorate World Human Rights Day in Manokwari and Timika were greeted with water cannons, tear gas, batons, and mass arrests. At least forty people were taken into custody, including a one-year-old baby who was detained along with its mother. 

As we approach the end of what has been a bloody year for my people, Indonesia is continuing its campaign of brutality in West Papua. In Timika, 36 people were arbitrarily arrested while Indonesian police broke up a rally organised by the KNPB. Four protestors were beaten, suffering wounds to their heads and bodies. In Manokwari, peaceful protestors were violently dispersed with teargas and water cannons while attempting to march to the Provincial Parliament building.  

This crackdown is a reminder that there is no democracy in West Papua. In other regions of Indonesia people may enjoy democratic rights, but the daily reality for West Papuans is military occupation and colonialism. We cannot speak, pray, or protest freely; we lack even the basic right to fly our national flag.  

Whether protestors gather peacefully or use violence makes no difference in Indonesia’s eyes. Any Papuan standing up peacefully for their rights can be beaten, arrested, or worse, just as any murdered civilian can be labelled as ‘KKB’. The culture of Indonesian rule in West Papua is violence and racism: violence to suppress our just demand for freedom, and racism to justify this violence. 

Indonesia is able to get away with its crimes with impunity because it has turned West Papua into the Pacific North Korea: journalists are barred from reporting there, along with international NGOs like Amnesty and the Red Cross. It is also now over four years since Indonesia vowed to allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua, a visit that is still outstanding. These are not the actions of a democracy.  

As Lord Lexden said in a House of Lords debate on the UN visit in April, “this small country is suffering grievously under a colonial oppressor, Indonesia, which is busily exploiting the country’s rich mineral resources and extensive forests in its own interests”.  

The ULMWP demands that Indonesia allow the international community into West Papua to monitor human rights abuses. In particular: 

  1. Indonesia must immediately allow the UN High Commissioner to conduct an investigation in West Papua, in line with the call of over 85 states;
  2. Indonesia must allow all journalists, foreign and domestic, to report freely from West Papua without fear of intimidation. 

At the same time, we remind international observers that denial of our self-determination is the root cause of all violence in West Papua. Indonesia’s presence in our land is illegal under international law and will continue to be resisted. Having lost the legal and political argument in West Papua, Indonesia continues to rely on brutality and military tactics to suppress our rights. We urgently need international action to protect our rights. 

Benny Wenda