By James Borrowdale
LIKE apartheid South Africa, I kept hearing. For a long time, the horrors behind the curtain thrown up by South Africa’s racist government weren’t widely known in this country. It wasn’t until the 1981 Springboks tour that the small band of activists, who had all the time been committed to the cause, were able to turn that affair into a nation-splitting episode—and to put increased international pressure on the regime.
West Papua hasn’t had its Springboks tour yet; it is often called the world’s forgotten occupation. Indonesia has held formal control over West Papua since 1962’s New York Agreement granted the South East Asian superpower the former Dutch colony, with the promise of a fair vote on self-determination by 1969. That never arrived: 1969’s Act of Free Choice, in which just 0.2 percent of the population voted—under extreme duress—determined that West Papua was to remain part of Indonesia, a country with which it had no linguistic, cultural, or racial links.
Ever since, the repression of the indigenous population has been ruthless. The figure of 100,000 people killed by Indonesian security forces is commonly cited, but estimates run as high as 500,000. Mass killings of Papuans in the tribal highlands in the 1970s met the criteria for genocide, the Asia Human Rights Commission reported. And the brutality continues: a 2016 report conducted by the Archdiocese of Brisbane titled We Will Lose Everything contains reports of atrocities committed throughout 2015, including extrajudicial executions, torture, and firing on peaceful protestors. Methods of torture, another reportclaims, include rape, slashing with bayonets, and electrification.
Clearly, something horrific is happening—and has been for a long time—in the South Pacific. New Zealand’s response? Successive governments, perhaps wary of aggravating an important trading partner, have refused to dispute Indonesia’s territorial borders. The media hasn’t done much better—VICE NZ was one of just a handful of outlets to cover a visit to New Zealand by Benny Wenda, the leader-in-exile of the West Papuan independence movement and a man twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, earlier this year.
He’s a man with a fascinating tale to tell—a childhood spent on the run in the bush, horrors witnessed, arrest, escape, a life-long commitment to the cause of his people. And it’s a story that is percolating at some political level, with 11 New Zealand MPs across four parties now signatories of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua declaration. Where, then, I wondered, were the profiles in the Saturday newspapers, the coverage on Sunday-night current-affairs shows?
Dr Pala Molisa, of Victoria University’s School of Accounting and Commercial Law, is a long-time supporter of West Papuan independence. Addressing why the New Zealand media is reluctant to take on the story of the subjugation of an entire people, happening so close to home, he says, means confronting an “uncomfortable thing”. “It shouldn’t be too controversial [to say] today that black and brown lives, when you look at the patterns—socioeconomic, police shootings, mass-incarceration—are devalued when compared to white lives.”
Molisa is from Vanuatu, a country that also had to fight for its independence from colonial rule. He bemoans how dependent Pākehā awareness is upon coverage in established media: “Most of our educated Pākehā population is highly reliant on mainstream media. As long as [West Papua is] kept out, that’ll affect the amount of participation.”
Professor David Robie, director of the Pacific Media Centre has, as a journalist, been reporting on West Papua since the early 1980s, and finds the lack of interest “puzzling”. A veteran journalist (“I think I’ve got a reasonable handle on what is international news”), he wonders why the majority of the press has for so long largely ignored West Papua.
“It has so many elements that have resonance with New Zealand—indigenous issues, land issues, development issues. And in the past we’ve had an affinity with the people of the Pacific, going right back to the nuclear-free policies, which were very intertwined in Polynesia with indigenous self-determination.”
In the wider Pacific, at least, there is some momentum gathering. In March this year, seven nations—Vanuatu, Tonga, Tuvalu, Palau, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, and the Solomon Islands—addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, raising concerns about human rights abuses in West Papua.
“Within their suffering we see our own”
Māori, too, have been vocal about West Papua. When Wenda visited Auckland, he was welcomed onto Ōrākei Marae by Ngāti Whātua. Wayne Pihema, a Ngāti Whātua Board Trust member who helped organise the hui, says shared experiences of colonialism motivated the invitation to Wenda to speak. “We’ve got somewhere in our genetic history a memory of that kind of experience… We can relate to people in West Papua as being part of the Pacific and being indigenous Pacific people like us. Within their suffering we see our own.”
Oceania Interrupted is an Auckland-based group of Pacific and Māori women who use visual and performance art to raise awareness of the suffering of West Papuans. The group, which has included women from as many as 13 different Pacific ethnicities or nations, has staged 10 of the 15 “artistic interventions” it plans to hold—15 years being the mandatory prison sentence for raising the West Papuan Morning Star flag within the Indonesian-occupied territory.
In a similar fashion to Pihema, spokesperson Leilani Salesa calls the group’s duty to West Papua an “ideological commitment”, one borne of a sense of Pacific solidarity. “ he ocean is what binds us together, the ocean is our sea of islands… the ocean is what our ancestors conquered.”
Salesa, though, highlights the role that Pākehā activists have played in raising awareness, singling out veteran campaigner and writer Maire Leadbeater: “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t know who I know and what I know.”
I put it to Leadbeater that Māori and Pacific groups within New Zealand are now taking the lead, something she said was “amazing”. “I see it in the context that the interest in West Papua has extended so much through the Pacific recently. Communities here are linking up with really strong movements in the Solomons and Fiji, and to some extent in Tonga and Samoa, and so on. It’s really important people here are getting engaged because they are in touch with their families in those countries, and it’s those countries that are actually taking action at the moment—it’s not New Zealand, unfortunately.”
While it’s great, Leadbeater says, that impetus comes from Māori and Pacific communities, it’s important there is wider—and whiter—support. “Look at the tino rangatiritanga movement in this country: it’s always had strong allies in the Pākehā community, hasn’t it? And that’s always been important to the success of campaigns.”
“The anti-apartheid activists would’ve felt like they were just spitting into a cyclone…you just need to keep having faith.”
She remains upbeat about the effect protest and public opinion have on government action, citing her previous research that, she says, proves the Government is attuned to public opinion on Indonesian activity, especially as it has related to atrocities committed in East Timor and, to a lesser extent, in West Papua. “You think the Government is not taking any notice, but they do have to take account of public opinion and the stronger it gets the more they have to take notice. [But] you can’t expect people to identify with an issue they’ve hardly ever heard of.”
Molisa, too, is optimistic. “What gives me faith, to put it in that historical perspective, is that this is in the early stages, and the anti-apartheid activists would’ve felt like they were just spitting into a cyclone. If you look at the long arch of history, that tells you that you just need to keep having faith because these sorts of things have a way of building in ways you can’t expect.”
James Borrowdale is a Journalist at VICE, New Zealand
Indonesia’s pressure tactics over West Papua issue resemble the actions of China over Tibet
By Nithin Coca
EARLIER this month, the Indonesian military raided and destroyed the offices of the West Papuan National Committee, a separatist group in the country’s easternmost region, which has long agitated for independence. The raid came amid allegations that the military had used chemical weapons in airstrikes on separatists in West Papua in late December. The Indonesian government has responded harshly after at least 17 construction workers were killed by West Papuan militants in early December, the deadliest such attack in West Papua in years.
This surge in unrest in the region is the outcome of a harder line that the Indonesian government has taken on West Papua in recent years. During the United Nations General Assembly last September, the prime minister of the tiny Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, Charlot Salwai, criticized that approach. Referring directly to West Papua, he said the Indonesian government needed to “put an end to all forms of violence and find common ground with the populations to establish a process that will allow them to freely express their choice.”
The reaction from Indonesia, which is usually quiet at the U.N., was fierce. President Joko Widodo hasn’t even bothered to attend the General Assembly in his five years in office, but his government immediately lambasted Salwai. Jakarta’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dian Triansyah Djani, declared that “Indonesia will not let any country undermine its territorial integrity.” Referring to separatist and independence groups in West Papua, he said Indonesia also “fail[ed] to understand the motive behind Vanuatu’s intention in supporting a group of people who have [struck] terror and mayhem [on] so many occasions, creating fatalities and sadness to innocent families of their own communities.”
West Papua was not part of Indonesia when the country gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. The region, which has a distinct ethnic and linguistic identity from mostly Polynesian Indonesia, was formally annexed in 1969 after what Indonesians call the “Act of Free Choice,” when a group of hand-selected Papuans voted unanimously in favor of Indonesian control in a vote marred by allegations of blackmail and coercion.
Since then, West Papua has been the site of regular violence, either from one of the many separatist groups on the island, or, more often, the Indonesian military. The island is rich in minerals, the revenue from which make up a significant portion of Indonesia’s budget. Freeport-McMoRan’s huge Grasberg mine alone provided more than $750 million in revenue in 2017.
Many West Papuans, either living in Indonesia or abroad, have been advocating for self-determination for years. But what was primarily a local conflict has now become more regional, as both sides have attempted to internationalize the issue. West Papuans are ethnically Melanesian, like the citizens of Vanuatu and other Pacific Island nations, such as the Solomon Islands and Fiji. West Papuan activists have been working to build connections with these countries, with the goal of having them speak up for Papuan independence, like Salwai did at the General Assembly.
“West Papua is a regional issue, because we are part of Melanesia, connected culturally and linguistically,” Benny Wenda, an exiled leader of the Free West Papua organization currently based in the United Kingdom, told WPR. “The majority in the Pacific islands, they don’t see West Papua as distant. It’s close to them.”
The main entity for cooperation in the region is the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group within it, which counts the four Melanesian nations as members. West Papuan advocates have used the forum to push for global recognition, including formal membership for West Papua as an occupied country.
Indonesia, however, has been pushing back by sowing discord among the forum’s members. It provided military support to Fiji after the island’s 2006 coup, which had led to the imposition of Western sanctions, and offered significant aid to Papua New Guinea. With both countries’ support, in 2011, Indonesia was granted observer status in the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Since then, attempts by the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, an umbrella organization of independence groups, to get a similar status have proved futile. Now, both Fiji and Papua New Guinea say they support Indonesia’s full membership in the group, which would push the West Papua issue to the sidelines.
Since Indonesia got its observer status, “the MSG has become an empty house,” says James Elmslie, a political scientist with the West Papua Project at the University of Sydney. “The MSG is now split on the issue.”
Indonesia’s pressure tactics resemble the actions of a much bigger power in Asia dealing with territories it considers its own: China. Having long sought to isolate supporters of Tibet, China regularly pushes countries to refuse access to the Dalai Lama, as both Russia and South Africa have done in recent years. Beijing also uses a carrot-and-stick strategy to shrink the number of countries that recognize Taiwan, which it sees as a breakaway province. In the past year, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic have dropped their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in favor of China. Like other countries that have done this, they can expect to be rewarded with aid, investments and more. Conversely, countries that refuse to switch, like Palau, have been squeezed by China and seen their tourism industries suffer.
Unlike China, though, Indonesia is a democracy, one that is often hailed as a model for both Asia and the Islamic world. There was a small window of opportunity, right after the fall of the three-decades long Suharto dictatorship in 1998, when newly democratic Indonesia was engaging with pro-independence activists in West Papua. At the time, East Timor was permitted to hold an independence referendum, and there were calls for something similar in West Papua.
But when reformist President Abdurrahman Wahid—facing corruption allegations, economic woes and political unrest—was forced to step down in 2001, that window slammed shut. The Indonesian military reasserted control, killing Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay, and things went back to the status quo of repression. Indonesia continued to exploit the region for resources and suppress the voices of Papuans. Democracy may have transformed Indonesia, but it brought little change to West Papua.
Now the situation is only getting worse. The core problem is that unlike a decade ago, the Indonesian government is refusing to engage peacefully, instead allowing, either implicitly or explicitly, the Indonesian military to take the lead.
Getting an independent view of what’s taking place in West Papua remains as difficult as ever. For decades, the Indonesian government has essentially closed off the region to journalists, international observers and NGOs. The few who do enter face risk of arrest, like Jakub Fabian Skrzypzki, a Polish citizen who is now on trial for alleged ties to Papuan separatists and faces potential life imprisonment in Indonesia if convicted.
It looks like another move out of China’s playbook. Why would democratic Indonesia go that route? Because so far, it’s working.
Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on social, economic, and political issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in Southeast Asia.
Baby Kana, three forgotten people in the story of Puti Hatil and Korowai (Part 3)
Written by Rev. Trevor Christian Johnson
Jakarta, Jubi – The 3rd and final forgotten person I want to write about during the drama of Puti Hatil’s sickness and healing is Baby Kana, also from Afimabul.
The day that Dakinus led Daniel and his baby son to Danowage, Baby Kana was also carried with them in their group. She was also brought to Danowage along with Puti Hatil. But she did not heal.
Last week (end of December) Puti was flown back to his village by helicopter, his cheek sewn closed and the wound clean and dry and healthy. He was returned to the Korowai region because he was healed and was sick no more.
He is a success story.
But Baby Kana also suffers no more. She also no longer has any illness. Instead of being flown back to her village by helicopter, however, she was returned to the dust of the earth.
She has now been dead for over 6 weeks.
Most people do not know that this other small child was also brought to Danowage from Afimabul during the same trip along with Puti Hatil. They were both carried to Danowage together.
While Puti was being cared for in the VIP Room at Dian Harapan Hospital with many visitors and enjoying much media attention and money was being gathered on his behalf, the baby Kana lay rotting in the ground, buried in a very simple wooden coffin made from rough boards.
She was yet another statistic demonstrating the poor condition of healthcare in this region.
We wanted to help her so bad. We did our best. But she died during the night. When we received her in Danowage she had already been sick for a whole month, and she was just too sick and weak to recover when she arrived.
Maybe the journey was too much for her. We did not have a chance to really treat her or an opportunity to fly her out to the hospital like Puti.
But Baby Kana is just as much a part of this story as Puti. The child Puti Hatil was saved. Baby Kana was not.
But help came because of Puti.
God is using the case of Puti to bless the entire Korowai region. And through Puti’s sufferings, the whole Korowai region seems to be experiencing a blessing of health care.
He became a symbol to rally around and to gather help and support. Because of Puti’s pain, many Korowai children will not need to experience illness or death.
After many long years of waiting for help, we are now being flooded. I can only praise the churches and students and the government officials who are very quick to help.
Upon hearing of the health crisis in the Korowai region, the Governor of Papua Lukas Enembe quickly responded and visited Danowage and promised more help and embraced many of the local people, showing his heart for the interior peoples of Papua.
Many good people are now involved and working together from both church and government to help the Korowai.
But sometimes I fear. Sometimes I fear that it will not be the case of Puti Hatil that is representative of the help that is coming to the Korowai region (a very sick baby who was helped and healed and returned successfully to the city).
Sometimes I am afraid that people will soon forget the trials of the Korowai. Instead of Puti Hatil being a symbol of hope, I am afraid that the case of Baby Kana will become a more fitting symbol – a child who died without help and will be forgotten unless I can keep her memory alive through written articles such as this.
We have two future options for the Korowai. Who will better represent the fate of the Korowai, Puti Hatil and his rescue? Or Baby Kana and her death?
This is the real tragedy of Papua; while 90% of the media is focused on politics in the cities, the interior peoples of Papua go to bed hungry and many die due to neglect. There are MANY Puti Hatils in my region. Even more sadly, there are many MORE Baby Kanas.
Between the years 2009 and 2015, shootings within the Freeport Mine project area killed 20 people and injured 59. In that same period of time illness and disease has killed much more in just this Korowai region of Papua where I serve.
I pray and plead that this is the last year that their cries will go unheard. (End)
Editor: Zely Ariane
The ties that bind Papua and Indonesia
By Karim Raslan
Source: South China Morning Post
Jayapura, Jubi – Young Papuans in an eastern Indonesian boom town are excited about the future, thanks to a resurgent economy. But will the good times last?
Sorong is booming. With 9.3 per cent GDP growth in 2016 (almost double Indonesia’s average) and located on the westernmost point of Papua, the 300,000-strong city is fast becoming a regional transport and logistics hub, boosted by its proximity to the fabled Raja Ampat islands and the ever-elusive bird of paradise.
However, Sorong isn’t a pretty sight. In fact, the city feels as if it’s still emerging from the scrubland – its urban sprawl stretching many kilometres into the interior, far from the waterfront that’s now bustling with activity.
I was very curious how the younger generation – the city’s millennials – viewed their future.
Were they optimistic? Did they see the new airport, port and Trans Papua Highway as the harbingers of a prosperous future? How were relations between indigenous Papuans and newer communities – the Bugis, Javanese and Minahassans?
I met three 18-year-old students: Maria Hestina, Maria Korwa and Mega Imbiri. All three were studying at the city’s largest tertiary institution, the Sorong Muhammadiyah University.
Maria Hestina is the daughter of transmigrants, her family was originally from Flores in East Nusa Tenggara. Her parents – now divorced – weren’t well-to-do. Her father was a labourer while her mother sold petrol and fruits at the market.
Maria Korwa’s family has been in Papua for generations. She was the product of an interreligious marriage: her father was Muslim while her mother was Christian. In an arrangement that is common in some part of Indonesia, her brothers were Muslim but her sisters and she were Christian.
Mega Imbiri was the daughter of a fisherman and a housewife, both of whom are Papuan natives.
“My father has to go out to sea every day and sometimes comes back with very few fish. He has to brave the rain, the waves and saltwater. … As a child I would hold his hands; they were always coarse.
Papua has long been considered a restive, troubled part of Indonesia.
However, Sorong, on the very “tip” of the island, has largely escaped the turmoil of the interior.
Instead, the city has benefited enormously from the current administration’s focus on strengthening transport links with the rest of the republic – creating a boom that more than matches Timika, the central Papuan town, home to Grasberg, the world’s largest gold mine and second largest copper mine run by the controversial American miner Freeport-McMoRan.
The three young women present a positive “spin” to the Eastern Indonesian region. Their religious diversity is remarkable – Maria Hestina is Catholic, Maria Korwa is Pentecostal Christian and Mega Imbiri is Protestant. Maria Hestina is a first-generation transmigrant while Maria Korwa and Mega Imbiri are natives.
Maria Korwa is unequivocal about the province’s problems.
“There’s a lot of crime in Sorong. Every day, there are muggings, fuelled by alcoholism and drug addiction – including glue-sniffing among youths.”
Maria Hestina adds: “Around 2005-2006, the water supply was very unreliable and we often suffered from blackouts. It has improved since then, but there’s still a long way to go.”
“The price of petrol has also gone up – it’s now 5,000 rupiah per litre. I know because my mother sells petrol; people are finding it difficult to cope.”
Mega Imbiri has her own take.
“Development is difficult in Papua. The terrain is hilly and heavily forested. It will take years before projects see results. What makes me very happy is the attention Jokowi (Indonesian President Joko Widodo) has been giving Papua. He’s visited the island more times than any other president before him.”
The administration’s initiatives have already begun to bear fruit. Maria Hestina noted that under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jokowi, primary and secondary education was made free. On December 20, the government announced plans to bring electricity to the whole of Papua and build new roads.
While the two provinces (Papua and West Papua) continue to represent a major challenge to Indonesian unity and stability – the eagle-eyed focus on economic growth has brought tangible gains to their people.
It’s this transformation that may well hold the key to binding the island of Papua to Indonesia.
Admittedly, this is a very positive take – that the current administration’s focus on economic grievances is having an impact. But is it enough?(*)
Editor: Zely Ariane
Health & Education Service5 years ago
Sex Education Taught at School In Jayawijaya
Headlines10 months ago
Three refugees reportedly died in Nduga Forest
Headlines11 months ago
Papuan people demand the President to withdraw troops from Nduga
Human Right3 years ago
LP3BH: Indonesia continues to lie on human rights violations in Papua
Environment1 year ago
Green economy development would be on five indigenous territories
Headlines1 year ago
When a dense forest turns into an oil palm plantation
Economy1 year ago
Freeport Indonesia disregards Papua Manpower Office’s Decree
Headlines1 year ago
Civilians are allegedly among casualties in Tingginambut gunfire