West Papuans Testify: Excerpt from “Merdeka and the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua”

West Papuans Testify

Book Excerpt from “Merdeka and the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua”

We have come to testify. There is much that we want the world to know.

We want you to travel with us to the remote places of Papua—Wamena, Paniai, the Jayawijaya Highlands, the Star Mountains, Mindiptana, Timika, Arso, Mamberamo, Biak, Merauke, Asmat and many other places. We want you to hear stories of suffering from the mouths of ordinary people. Our memories are clear and sharp.

‘In this river our father was murdered’

‘On that mountain slope there used to be villages. They were destroyed by the military’

‘On that open field, our old men were forced to burn their koteka [penis sheaths] because they were considered primitive’

‘In the past that mountain was ours, now people have destroyed our mother’

We want you to travel with us to the sites of the massacres. We want to testify about the killings and the beatings with rifles.

We want to testify about the people who were disappeared, those who were imprisoned and those who were tortured.

There have been many forms of torture – the burning, the stabbing of the genitals, the rape of women.

These are some of the injustices that we want the world to know.

On some days bombs have fallen like rain. We have been up against Hercules aircraft and helicopters and boats. They had overwhelming power.

And after the massacres or murders, the injustices always continue.

Rather than acknowledge the truth, they tell lies.

The perpetrators are promoted not punished, while the victims are dragged into court.

Some of us have spent years in prison. One of us was jailed for 15 years simply for raising our Morning Star flag.

Over years we have faced one injustice after another and then another.
There has been violation after violation since 1963. Entire villages have been destroyed. And Papuan people have been turned against other Papuans.

Injustices continue to this day. Today we face human rights violations, economic injustice, and every week thousands more migrants come in white ships and planes. We are becoming a minority in our land.

Those who resist face continuing discrimination. We are excluded from employment, education and health care. And for women, it has been worse.
They suffered the rapes and assaults and then even more. They were shamed by their own families and often marriages broke apart. These are forms of double injustice and women’s suffering that no one should ever have to face.

These are just some of the injustices that we are testifying to today.
We want the world to know about this.

We also want to testify to the effects of these injustices

Some of our bodies bear the scars.

And so do our souls. We will never forget the sound of the killings.
Some of us still feel the fear. For those who fled we don’t know if we will be safe when we return.

Other survivors have been left with physical disabilities and troubles in the mind.

The rapes brought shame – so much shame that some women did not seek medical help.

And sometimes survivors may feel guilty for being alive. The killings can make us doubt that we have a right to live.

There have been effects for children too. Fear came to the children who did not go to school for months.

When the foreigners have taken our land, cut down our forests and destroyed our rivers, this destruction affects us too. The loss of our sacred places has brought sickness to our people.

And sometimes we feel like we are slaves in our own land. Some of us have to struggle everyday just to feed our families and send our children to school.

But there is more that we want you to know.

We want you to know our testimonies of remembrance.

We are survivors and also witnesses. We have always remembered those who were killed. We will remember them until we die.

There are many ways that we do this.

We have cultural ways of joining in memory and in prayer. We place stones or wreaths of flowers. And there are traditional songs that we use to connect us with those who have died and with the ancestors. These are songs we can sing to those who have passed. We do this in a quiet place, a garden, a beach.

Or we remember through making statues of our loved ones, or photos, or lighting candles. We commune with our ancestors.

But we never forget them. They are with us. Those of us who are still alive have a responsibility to keep progressing the struggle. I have dreams of those who were killed in the jungle. They come to me in my dreams and they encourage me to keep going. I dreamt of them just last week. I listen to their voices.

If they knew that we were meeting together now, if they knew that we were gathering this testimony, they would be very happy. This would mean something to them.

They have gone over there to another world. We will always remember them.

We also want you to know the stories of our resistance, action and rescue

Our people have a long, long history of resistance. We Papuans have been resisting outsiders for centuries. Back to the 1850s, the Dutch who were seeking to protect their spice trade, faced more than 40 Papuan rebellions – both violent and nonviolent. Diverse tribes came together to resist. Angganeta Menufandu, a Konor (indigenous prophet) from Biak Island, led a mass defiance of government and mission bans on wor (ritual singing and dancing) and urged her followers not to pay taxes and to withhold labor. When the Japanese invaded, towards the end of World War Two, they were initially welcomed but, after acts of cruelty, the movement for a free and independent West Papua began again. The killings and massacres began in these times. And our resistance continued.

Our struggle for freedom continued after WWII when the US drove the Japanese out of West Papua at the cost of thousands of lives. And since
1963 we have resisted Indonesian government rule.

We remember our long history of resistance. This history raises us up.
We carry it on.

Many of us have formed organisations of action. We come together for survivors of human rights abuses, for women, for people all over Papua.
We form resistance groups. We are students, young people, older people, women, men, religious leaders and traditional leaders. We take action on behalf of those who are living and those who are no longer alive.

Some of us, who witnessed massacres, were involved in acts of rescue on the days when bullets were raining down, and when the sky was on the fire. After the Biak Massacre our family gave shelter to two men who were fleeing for their lives. My father gave them his clothes. He sat my sisters on their laps. We sat down quietly and we opened all the doors and all the windows. When the soldiers came in with all their weaponry, we stood there shaking. As they held their guns at us, and asked us if we were hiding anyone, we said no. We were all shaking, my father, my sisters, myself, but we survived, and the two men survived too. For four days they stayed with us. We had almost no food but my mother found a way to feed us. We are survivors, rescuers and resistors.

Right across Papua, and for so many years, we have continued to resist, to rescue and to raise the Morning Star. When we cannot fly our flag we have painted it on our bodies, stitched it into noken string bags. When one of us was imprisoned for 15 years for raising our flag, he was offered amnesty if he apologised, but he refused. ‘Why should I say sorry? I have done nothing wrong. It is the Indonesian state who has to say sorry. And not just to me but to all the Papuan people. They have to return our sovereignty.’

And even though it is risky for us there are many times we have come out on to the streets in our thousands, even in our tens of thousands, to demand freedom.

These are just some of our stories of resistance. There are stories of resistance all over Papua.

We want you to know that building unity is not easy – but we are doing it

The Indonesian government and corporations use many methods to divide us. To turn Papuans against Papuans. If some people raise their voice, the company will come – or the government will come – and say, ‘Hey come into the office, let’s talk.’ They then give that person money, or a scholarship, or a good job. These are some of the ways our opponent uses to break our resistance.

But we keep taking steps to come together. There is a long history to this. When the Amungme have a problem we build a traditional house. In this house – this Tongoi – people come, sit down and talk. We invite every leader and chief from every village. People come together in one mind. When people then go out of the Tongoi they are going to bring a change. These are traditional ways of calling up assistance. In our culture, no one can stand up by themselves. Everyone needs everyone.

So we keep taking steps to come together. We have now formed the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Inside this United Movement are the National Federal Republic of West Papua (NFRWP), the West Papua National Coalition of Liberation (WPNCL), National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), National Parliament for West Papua (PNWP) and other non-affiliated groups. We are strengthening our struggle and as we do so more and more people join us. People in other Pacific nations are raising their voices.

Our resistance is like a mat or noken – many strands woven together to become one.

Our resistance is like a spear, sharp and dangerous.

Our resistance is like a drum that speaks with the voices of the ancestors.

We want you to know about Papuan skills in survival

Despite all the injustices we have faced, we are survivors and we have many skills. We are wise about when to speak, when to stay quiet, and when to sing our songs. Some of these songs were written in prison for the future of West Papua. Some of our singers have been arrested and murdered. But we continue to sing freedom.

We also have our dances. We wear our traditional dress, and dance traditional Papuan dances. Our Papuan culture helps us to love and care for one another. When we live inside our culture we are free.

We have prayer, faith in Jesus Christ, and God as our witness.

And we have each other. We are among friends and we want to acknowledge all those who have stood with us.

There are other Papuan survival skills too.

Like mothers’ skills of endurance. Mothers who sell fruit and vegetables to feed their families and send their children to school display their produce on hessian mats by the side of the road. Rain, hail, sun and dust they sit. They survive.

Some of us travelled by canoe with 43 others all the way to Australia to seek another life. Years later, some of us sailed back to West Papua with the Freedom Flotilla. The West Papuans, Aboriginal elders and other Australian supporters on board the Flotilla carried a message of peace and solidarity, and reignited ancient connections.

And we have skills in humour, in jokes and in laughter. Even in the hardest times, we pray, we sing, we dance, and somehow we find a way to laugh.

We want you to know about our hopes and our dreams

We carry a big hope together … a free West Papua. We have held onto this hope for many, many years.

As we lift up these injustices to the light, then all the other cases will also be lifted up.

And we carry a hope for justice – international justice, western justice, West Papuan justice, spiritual justice.

That is why we are testifying today.

We are sharing with you testimonies of injustice.

We are speaking about the effects of these injustices.

We are sharing testimonies of remembrance.

We are sharing stories of resistance, action and rescue.

We are sharing the ways we build unity.

We are sharing our Papuan survival skills.

And we are testifying to our hopes and to our dreams.

What we are testifying here has been an open secret. We have always known this, God has always known this, but now you will know it too.

This means that now you are also witnesses.

So these stories and our hopes will now also be carried by you.

Thank you.


Biodata: Jason MacLeod is an organiser, researcher and educator. He is the author of the just-published book ‘Merdeka and the Morning Star: civil resistance in West Papua’.
 This testimony was written in collaboration with Mama Tineke and Daniel Rayer, two West Papuan activists who survived the Biak Massacre, and David Denborough from the Dulwich Centre. It contains the voices of many of the people of West Papua Jason has collaborated with and is in part based on a similar testimony developed for the Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal.

The Struggle for Merdeka in West Papua

Book Review:
Merdeka and the Morning Star: Civil Resistance in West Papua
Author: Jason MacLeod
University of Queensland Press
Release Date: 1/12/2015
Pages: 304
ISBN: 978 0 7022 5376 8

Excerpt from the book can be read here


Review by Robert J. Burrowes

January 19, 2016

It has been argued that nonviolent struggles to liberate occupied countries – such as West Papua, Tibet, Palestine, Kanaky and Western Sahara – have failed far more often than they have succeeded but that secessionist struggles (that have sought to separate territory from an existing state in order to establish a new one) conducted by nonviolent means have always failed. (See ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict’.)

However, this argument fails to properly take into account one crucial variable: the quality of the nonviolent strategy that has been used. Given that none of the cases cited above, for example, has ever planned and then systematically implemented a comprehensive nonviolent strategy of liberation/secession, it is accurate to observe that struggles that largely (but not necessarily wholly) reject the use of violence and then use a randomly selected and applied range of tactics, most of which are not violent, have ‘failed far more often’ or have ‘always failed’ to achieve the desired outcome.

In essence, the failure is one of strategy, not of nonviolence per se. And if we fail to identify the problem correctly, we inaccurately assign the blame for failure.

In Jason MacLeod’s new book, ‘Merdeka and the Morning Star: civil resistance in West Papua’, the failure to develop a comprehensive strategy of any kind, violent or nonviolent, to liberate West Papua is overwhelmingly evident. And MacLeod does an excellent job of identifying why this has happened as he provides us with an overview of the history and geopolitical circumstances of the occupation of West Papua as well as a history of the resistance, both violent and nonviolent, to this occupation. He then identifies what still needs to happen if Papuans are to develop and then effectively implement a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to achieve the richly textured and multifaceted merdeka to which they aspire.

MacLeod, an Australian, has spent an enormous amount of time in West Papua since 1991 and the reason for this is explained early in the book with a compelling personal story that gives his commitment to West Papua both focus and depth. He has been actively involved in their struggle as a student (learning about the history and culture of West Papua), scholar (observing and documenting the origin and history of the occupation by interviewing key personnel and reading important documents), compassionate consultant and teacher. He has also spent time in Indonesia and travelled to many countries in search of the knowledge necessary to better understand why Indonesia occupies West Papua while most of the rest of the world either supports the occupation or does nothing.

Like all occupying powers, but particularly one that is a borderline ‘failed state’, the Indonesian elite cares nothing about West Papua, simply treating it as a resource (particularly for forest and mineral products which it can steal and then export) while subjecting Papuans to the usual abuses of occupation: lack of political recognition and participation, state violence, discrimination, racism, economic marginalisation, large-scale industrial development at the expense of traditional landowners, denial of access to health, welfare, education and other human rights, unfettered migration of Indonesians to displace/dilute the indigenous population, as well as police, paramilitary and military violence, including torture, to repress Papuan dissent.

Moreover, of course, the Indonesian elite ensures that West Papua is relatively isolated from media scrutiny, access to international agencies and diplomats (even though many western states are well-known to oppose any indigenous struggle for self-determination, given it would only raise questions about their own subjugated indigenous populations).

A key feature of this occupation, which is worth emphasizing, is the Indonesian government’s facilitation of resource extraction by large transnational corporations such as Freeport-McMoRan/Rio Tinto and BP among a host of others, including a dense network of Chinese, Malaysian and Korean timber and mining companies. In this context, it is also worth noting the corrupt involvement of the Indonesian police and military in the occupation by securing financial kickbacks for providing ‘security’ to these corporations. This highly profitable corruption ensures the enthusiastic complicity and brutality of the police and military in support of the occupation.

But these are not the only problems, as MacLeod makes clear: ‘There are also significant internal movement challenges’ including significant mistrust and disunity between the various parties of the resistance both within and outside West Papua, lack of resources, inadequate political analysis, and lack of strategic planning and coordination.

In many ways, MacLeod notes, West Papua is a worst-case scenario: ‘internationally isolated and internally divided indigenous peoples facing a genocidal occupying army’.

Nevertheless, ‘Papuans continue to dream, plan and act in pursuit of self-determination and decolonisation’ with significant diplomacy, lobbying and legal work at the international level (particularly among Melanesian allies in the Pacific), a variety of local victories through women’s and worker actions within West Papua and, most notably, a clarity and agreement about the root causes of the conflict in West Papua.

Moreover, there is an emerging consensus about the desire for self-determination, respect for their rights as indigenous peoples, greater trust and unity among Papuans symbolised by the formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua in December 2014, and a gradually emerging consensus about the nature of their liberation strategy with many prominent Papuans articulate in their advocacy of nonviolent struggle and many organisations publicly committed to it. In the words of Reverend Benny Giay: ‘Resisting without violence is not something foreign to us, it is part of our history’. And from Reverend Herman Awom: ‘Even when we were imprisoned we tried to keep a nonviolent struggle.’

The final section of MacLeod’s book provides a compelling explanation of how Papuans might systematically address the problems they face in developing and implementing a comprehensive nonviolent strategy of liberation. It reflects the work of a thoughtful scholar who has both listened well to the needs and aspirations of the people of West Papua, knows and understands the many obstacles that need to be overcome and who has consulted the literature on nonviolent struggle and in other relevant fields.

It was in 1961 that Papuans first raised their Morning Star flag. It is still illegal to do so. Will Papuans achieve their precious merdeka and see the Morning Star flag fly freely over West Papua? Not without a struggle. But the commitment to make that nonviolent struggle more strategic has never been clearer. And it is this commitment that will make the difference. One day, West Papua will be free.

Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is author of ‘The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach’. His email address is flametree<at>riseup.net and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

‘If You Mess With Us You’re Dead’

via NewMatilda.com

By Jason MacLeod

indo soldier in west papua

There was nothing clandestine about the beating of human rights activist Yones Douw in West Papua last week. Jason MacLeod reports on the latest in a long pattern of public violence by the Indonesian military

“You can mess with the police,” said the Indonesian soldiers, “but if you try it with us, you’re dead.”

According to witnesses that was what was said to Yones Douw, a 42-year-old Papuan human rights defender as he was beaten with lumps of wood by soldiers from Kodim 1705, Nabire’s District Military Command in the Indonesian province of Papua. Immediately after the beating Douw went to the local Siriwini hospital but was refused treatment. Local staff demanded a letter from the police before they would treat his wounds. Douw now fears for his safety and has gone into hiding.

The incident occurred on the 15 June. Douw, a church worker with the Kingmi Church’s Bureau of Justice and Peace in Nabire, heard that a protest was going to take place at the 1705 District Military Command (Kodim) base in Nabire, Papua province, and he went to the base to monitor it. Thirty minutes after he arrived, a group of protesters turned up in three trucks, broke into the front entrance of the base and started to shatter the windows and throw objects. Douw immediately rushed into the base to calm the protesters.

In response, the military fired shots into the air and started hitting the protesters. Douw was struck on the head with pieces of wood many times. He also sustained injuries on his shoulder and wrists from the beatings. The protesters fled the scene, pursued by members of Kodim 1705 and armed troops from neighbouring Battalion 753. This is what gave Douw time to escape.

Yones Douw was not the accidental victim of some random act of violence. And the protesters he was defending were not some random mob of outraged Papuans or an attack by the Papuan Liberation Army, Papua’s lingering guerrilla force. The attack on the Nabire District Military Command was an expression of a grief stricken family angered at the senseless killing of one of their own. The family wanted to hold the military accountable for the killing of Derek Adii, a man who was beaten to death by soldiers a few weeks earlier.

In mid-May Douw, a chronicler of human rights violations in the troubled Paniai region for some years now, published a report that was picked up by Jubi, West Papua’s only independent news service. Douw’s report detailed the killing of Derek Adii on 14 May 2011. Adii, a 26-year-old Nabire man had just completed his application to join Papua’s burgeoning civil service.

According to Douw’s report, Adii was boarding the crowded passenger vessel KM Labobar at Nabire’s dock when he was beaten by six members of the military. One of the soldiers allegedly pulled out a bayonet and stabbed Adii in the head. The six men then threw his body overboard. Adii died at the scene.

Douw believes he was beaten by the military for retribution — not only for reporting Adii’s killing but also for continuing to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in West Papua, an area the Indonesian police and military are trying to close off from international scrutiny by locking out journalists and even diplomats.

The circumstances surrounding Adii’s very public murder and Douw’s public beating in the front yard of a military base located on a main road in the middle of a town is typical of the patterns of human rights abuses in West Papua. Australian National University scholar and former Director of the Catholic Office of Justice and Peace in West Papua, Br Budi Hernawan OFM who is studying torture in West Papua, says that torture and human rights abuses in Papua are a kind of “public spectacle”.

In the 400 odd cases of torture that Hernawan has studied it is mostly poor and innocent Papuan civilians are rounded up and publicly abused. The perpetrators are nearly always the Indonesian military and police. It is classic state terror, the purpose of which is to violently pacify the population, to enforce the security apparatus’ control over human bodies and the body politic — and to intimidate and silence Papuan dissent.

It is a script that Yones Douw has refused to buy into. In the meantime other Papuans have stepped into Douw’s shoes. They are now chronicling the military’s attack on him and sending reports out to a domestic and international network in the same way that Douw has been ceaselessly reporting on the human rights abuses of others.

The Indonesian Government: closing window for peace in West Papua

This article originally appeared at
Jason MacLeod

Just as Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono was being feted globally for being a democrat, the Indonesian government was entrenching Papua’s reputation as Indonesia’s last bastion of authoritarian military rule. Now Peace Brigades International has finally been forced out.

The latest casualty in the Indonesian Government’s efforts to seal off West Papua from international scrutiny is Peace Brigades International (PBI). In January this year the international non-government organisation was finally forced out of Indonesia. Since 1981 at the invitation of local people, PBI has been providing unarmed protection to human rights defenders at risk in conflict zones around the world. International accompaniment is literally the embodiment of the international community’s concern. The presence of internationals increases the cost of attacking human rights workers and expands the political space for local activists. All this is made possible by an elaborate communication network. PBI staff meet with local police and military personal as well as their superiors in regional and national capitals to let them know exactly who is being accompanied. This acts as a deterrent. The PBI volunteers are the eyes and ears of the international community, communicating the human rights situation on the ground to an international network of governments and civil society actors. It is a tried and tested approach that has worked in places as diverse as El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Members of the PBI Indonesia Project were invited by Acehenese activists to accompany them through the darkest days of martial law. Acehenese civil society organisations like Flower Aceh and Koalisi HAM (the Human Rights Coalition) were able to continue their work because of PBI protective accompaniment. It gave local workers a sense that the international community cared about their situation and sent a clear message to the Indonesian army that they were being watched. PBIs protective accompaniment helped expand the space for peace in Aceh in the lead up to the historic Helsinki Peace Agreement. But in West Papua, home to Indonesia’s longest running separatist conflict, the world’s oldest international nonviolence organisation has finally met its match. After years of harassment from the Indonesian security forces the PBI Indonesia Project was closed down.

My colleagues and I helped set up the PBI West Papua project in 2003. I left the organisation in 2004 but kept in close contact with many of the organisers and staff members. One of the reasons PBI responded to an invitation from Papuan human rights defenders was because for years the Indonesian government has closed off access to West Papua to humanitarian organisations, journalists and even diplomats. It is important that Papua is opened up to the international community if human rights are to be addressed. But while the rest of Indonesia moved towards greater democracy, Papua slid back into an authoritarian backwater ruled by the Indonesian security forces as if it was their own private fiefdom. Since PBI established a presence in West Papua Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Dutch NGO CordAid and even the Red Cross have all been denied access. This level of hostility by a State to international scrutiny of a human rights situation is unusual. Even during the height of apartheid, the South African government permitted the Red Cross access to political prisoners. Not so in West Papua.

Prior to being forced out of West Papua, PBI was the only international human rights organisation with a permanent presence in Indonesia’s restive Pacific periphery. A group of long-term international volunteers based in Jayapura, the capital and in Wamena, in the troubled highlands, provided unarmed protection for Indonesian and Papuan human rights defenders and monitored the situation on the ground. PBI helped protect human rights defenders and lawyers trying to expose police brutality during the ‘Bloody Abepura’ trial in 2004. PBI also protected Papuan human rights defenders who were investigating the security forces after they cracked down on Papuans in the wake of the March 16 2006 blockade of the main road outside the University of Cendrawasih in Jayapura.

PBI is governed by a strict mandate. The organisation only supports unarmed actors, they do not take sides and they do not tell Papuans how they should run their struggle. Despite this the Indonesian government was petrified of PBI. I experienced this personally. When I was taken in for questioning in West Papua in 2007 after observing a demonstration in Papua, the very first question the Indonesian police intelligence agent asked me – even before enquiring whether I was a journalist or spy – was “Are you PBI?” By then I had left the organisation but it revealed the depth of the intelligence services concerns about PBI.

Almost from the moment PBI started work in West Papua the Indonesian government acted to restrict PBI’s access and ability to work. In 2009 the organisation was pressured to close the Wamena office in West Papua’s remote highlands, the scene of frequent human rights violations by the Indonesian military. PBI staff were refused permission to work as the police and intelligence services launched an official investigation into the organisation’s status. National Indonesian staff started to receive threatening phone calls. They felt increasingly vulnerable.

By late 2009 all one-on-one protective accompaniment had ceased. In an effort to stay in Papua protective strategies were reduced to regular check-in calls with PBI clients who felt threatened by state security forces. Then on 30 July 2010 Ardiansyah Matra’is’s naked, handcuffed body was found in the River Gudang Arang. His arm had been tied to a tree to prevent his body from floating downstream. Matra’is was a journalist working for Papua’s only national independent paper, Jubi. Matra’is had been critical of illegal logging operations run by the Indonesian military in Merauke and had taken photos of their activities. Matra’is was also a PBI client. His murder was the first time in Indonesia that a current PBI client had been killed.

The writing was on the wall: PBI was no longer making space for peace in Papua. In fact the opposite was happening. The Indonesian government was closing space for peace in Papua, and PBI appeared powerless to halt the slide into greater military impunity. Just as Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono was being feted globally for being a democrat, the Indonesian government was entrenching Papua’s reputation as Indonesia’s last bastion of authoritarian military rule.

But the Indonesian government’s restriction of access to West Papua is not just confined to grassroots international nonviolence organisations. Jakarta is even willing to snub the US government. In late 2010 the US Ambassador, Scott Marciel asked the Indonesian government if staff from the Embassy could observe the trial of three soldiers involved in torturing Papuan civilians. The torture, which including burning a man’s genitals with a stick, was filmed on a mobile phone camera and leaked to transnational human rights networks. When the footage was uploaded on to YouTube and featured on domestic and international news networks it generated massive moral outrage not just internationally but inside Indonesia as well. When the trial went ahead last month, Mr. Marciel was notified by the Indonesian government only 24 hours beforehand, not enough time to apply for a surat jalan, a letter of permission to travel to West Papua required by the Indonesian government. It was not an official denial from the Indonesian government but it may as well have been.

The Indonesian government is blocking access for all those who want to shine a light into West Papua. The problem for the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhuyono is that he has allowed the Indonesian intelligence services to dominate decision-making processes in West Papua. The intelligence services determine who gets access into West Papua and who does not. They are the ones who assess the applications of foreign NGOs, journalists and even diplomats who want to travel to West Papua. Access to West Papua should be subjected to the rule of law and not to surveillance principles. If democracy and rule of law was present in West Papua, the surat jalan regime would be abolished altogether.

The Indonesian government cannot have it both ways. The human rights situation in West Papua cannot be fine while at the same time the Indonesian government and its intelligence and security forces insist the territory is off limits to foreigners. Either human rights are respected in West Papua or they are not. The closure of PBI in Indonesia only sharpens the international community’s perception that the Indonesian government has something to hide in West Papua.

Jason MacLeod worked for the PBI Indonesia Project from 2000 to 2004. He teaches civil resistance at the University of Queensland.

West Papua is Indonesia’s Palestine.

West Papua is Indonesia’s Palestine.

August 16, 2010

John Ondawame is right. West Papua is on the verge of a “total intifada” (Ben Bohane, ‘West Papua warns of intifada against Jakarta’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 7 2010). Intifada means to “shake off” in Arabic. It has become a word used to describe the desire by Palestinians to free themselves from foreign occupation. The question is what kind of intifada is and will take place in West Papua? Will it be like the recent Palestinian intifada, led by a resurgent Hamas? An uprising of fury waged through political terror. Or will it be like the 1987 Palestinian intifada, a largely unarmed insurrection?

West Papua is the Indonesia’s Palestine. Papuans consider that their land has been occupied without their consent. Freedom of expression is prohibited, foreign journalists banned, migrants continue to pour into the country, and the police and military keep a repressive lid on boiling Papuan anger. It is also a modern day Avatar. Papuans are defending their land form the exploitative practices of resource extractive industries. For the Papuans theirs is a struggle for survival.

However, unlike Palestine and the film Avatar, resistance to the Indonesian government’s rule has overwhelmingly been through civilian based movements. Only last month, for instance, 20,000 plus people – students, women, young people, religious leaders, NGO activists, traditional chiefs, farmers and even members of the Majelis Rakyat Papua, West Papua’s indigenous senate – all converged on the capital and occupied the provincial parliament for two days to pressure the Papuan political elite to hand back Special Autonomy, a package or policy, finance, and legislation designed to give Papuans a measure of self-rule. After ten years of broken promises and still born hopes, Papuans concluded Special Autonomy had failed. It is a news story that should have been covered by every major media outlet. But here in Australia we heard next to nothing.

Now, as Bohane writes, Papuans are feeling abandoned by their Melanesian kin. At the recent Pacific Island Forum, Vanuatu tried to raise the West Papua issue but Papua New Guinea’s political leaders blocked the discussion. Again. The Australia and New Zealand governments also failed to raise their voice for on behalf of Papuan rights. Again.

Some Papuan leaders are now talking about making the territory ungovernable through mass civilian based non-cooperation with Jakarta. How long civil resistance continues depends not only on the tactical and strategic choices made by Papuan leaders. In part it also depends on whether solidarity movements in the region, including inside Indonesia, can raise the political and economic costs so that political leaders and foreign companies feel compelled to agree to what Papuans have been demanding for years: political dialogue with Jakarta and the international community about their grievances.

Will the international community support the Papuan’s right to rise up for freedom? Or will they send the same message they sent to the Kosovo Albanians? That international intervention and the goal of independence will only come about when there is armed struggle and mass violence. Surely we can all do better than that.

Jason MacLeod

(The writer lectures in political science at the University of Queensland.)

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