The ignored plight of West Papua


Blue King Brown’s Carlo Santone and Nattali Rize with Wensi Fatubun, a UN ambassador and activist for the West Papuan people. Photo Jeff Dawson

Hans Lovejoy

December 1, 2016 should be a celebration for West Papuan independence.

Instead, the day will mark 55 years of what should have been a sovereign nation; 19 days after the Dutch left their colony, Indonesia invaded and have occupied ever since.

It’s a sad tale of genocide and assimilation – and resource exploitation.

Irreplaceable rainforests are being lost and the island has some of the largest copper and gold mines on the planet.

It’s also well established that the population is now less than 50 per cent West Papuan.

Half a million people are believed to have been killed in this time.

And this is all happening on Australia’s doorstep.

West Papuan activist, filmmaker and UN ambassador Wensi Fatubun was in the Shire last week in support of a new project headed by Blue King Brown’s Carlos Santone.

‘Australian government wants to forget about us,’ says Wensi, and he spoke of how raising the issue of independence in West Papua can land you in jail.

As for media access, Wensi says it is open but not free.

‘Foreign journalists are always led around by officials so they have no access to anyone who would speak against.’

Wensi also spoke of chronic lack of access to doctors in villages. ‘They are not empowering us with modern health and education,’ he says.

High HIV rates

‘They are killing our culture; the use of condoms in brothels – which are Indonesian run – is discouraged for example. HIV rates are very high.’

The UN – which is largely funded by the US – gave control to Indonesia in 1969 with The Act of Free Choice – it is referred to by West Papuan activists as the Act Of No Choice.

And then in 2006, the Lombok Treaty was signed, signalling agreement between Indonesia and Australia.

It has helped to stifle any real criticism from our leaders.

But West Papua is not alone Wensi says; Vanuatu is a longtime supporter, and just last month, six Pacific Island countries raised the West Papuan issue in the UN.

‘The issue will be again raised before the UN in March 2017’, says Wensi.

Rize of the Morning Star 

Jail can result from waiving the West Papuan flag. Pic Carlos Santon

Jail can result from waiving the West Papuan flag. Pic Carlo Santon

A new project from Blue King Brown’s Carlos Santone is called Rize of the Morning Star (ROTMS) and its first film clip/song is Sorong Samarai by artist Airileke.

Santone, who is based part time in Byron Shire with Nattali Rize, says the politically motivated record label was co-founded in 2012 with Airileke and West Papuan musician and activist Ronny Kareni.

To shoot the clip, he says a small team travelled from the tip of West Papua (Sorong) to the tip of PNG (Samarai), ‘capturing the culture and identity of one people, separated only by a colonial border’.

‘West Papua contains the most culturally diverse people on Earth, with more than 1,000 languages, and has the third largest tract of rainforest in the world.’ He says, ‘Using music as a key unifier and amplifier, ROTMS have successfully organised some of the largest scale international free West Papua solidarity actions to date’.

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3 responses to “The ignored plight of West Papua”

  1. Peter Hatfield says:

    After the Dutch lost most their colony of Indonesia they focused their colonizing energies on the area under discussion here, the part they retained that lies on the island of New Guinea. This provided an outlet for the die hard colonialists who didn’t move to Australian New Guinea, Brisbane Perth etc (anywhere except freezing Holland). To a greater degree than we did, the Dutch concentrated their very limited resources on educating and developing a tiny elite of mainly coastal locals. This elite was paid in the public sector at the same pay as Dutch officials, and lived in similar housing. That sound fair but it was a practice that the economy of the colony could not afford without Dutch subsidy and which they never did or could have afforded to do in other parts of Indonesia – it appeared they were using the opportunity to show the Indonesians what they had missed out on by spurning Dutch rule. After Indonesia “liberated” the colony, the local officials reverted to Indonesian salaries. Unsurprisingly some of the elite did not accept the idea of being paid at a rate commensurate with the economy they were part of, and at trying to live on incomes more akin to those around them. Over time they were forced to compete for their elite position with other Indonesians and as the Indonesians introduced mass education, with people from the highlands and other parts of the of the province. That loss of privilege, along with a deal of rapacity by the new rulers, spawned an independence drive and resulted in heavy-handed counter measures, particularly under Suharto. Some of that elite fled to Australia and Europe. At one point the military foolishly accused the family of one of the local Dutch elite of disloyalty , driving them out as of Indonesia and expropriating their business interests. This lead the group via PNG, Europe and Vanuatu to Canberra where the local labor-left member John Langmore took them under their wing and where they could better fan interest in their cause (one went back to Vanuatu where they maintain a self-styled embassy, and continue to generate interest in their “cause”). If you have spent some time in Indonesia and PNG, one of the the things that strikes you when you meet them is that they how culturally more alike they are to other Indonesians from the former Dutch educated elite, particularly the Christians from other parts of eastern Indonesia. Indonesia is not perfect and its actions in the provinces of New Guinea have often not been exemplary. It has however provided stable government and a measure of development, and its growing prosperity is important in itself and remains important to peace and stability in our region . A World Bank comparative study over 15 years ago found that the main factors that makes it likely that conflict will continue in any place is not the validity of the cause – their are many more wrong s in the third world than there are independence movements – but the opportunity for control of resources and also the existence of an overseas diaspora, who are able to garner funds and support for their cause. The so called West Papuans provide a case book example of overseas activists continuing a damaging low level conflict in their resource-rich homeland, in support of a cause that is largely about them regaining the elite position they were forced to share with other Indonesians, and a share of the corruption that Indonesian officials, local or otherwise, gain from the minerals and timber resources of the province. We should do what successive Australian governments have done for decades – support Indonesia in its development of its Eastern provinces and, encourage them in their anti-corruption measures, democratization and strengthening of rule of law – that will benefit the people of this area far more than support for disruptive elite groups like these.

  2. Joe Monks says:

    West Papua is just another example of how the members of the Government of Indonesia have taken a lesson from the occupation of Java etc by the Dutch.

    West Papua will be stripped of its assets for the profit of members/friends/family of the Indonesian Government and then granted independence.

    It’s the standard set by the other imperialist powers of yesteryear that are now struggling to provide basic services because government revenue has been diverted for the benefit of the influential rather than the common person.

    • Petrus says:

      Your comments are correct in that members of the government and military reflected aspects of Dutch rule with its complex systems of economic licensing and controls, but with weaker governance and much more corruption. However the Indonesia has provided widespread education and basic health beyond what the Dutch ever attempted (or the Portuguese ever did in Timor). And after the economic ruin under the left-wing Sukarno, the economy has grown in Indonesia and poverty has been greatly reduced – the picture is not all negative. The problem I have with articles like the above is that they imagine that the leaders of these movements are somehow unquestionably going to provide an inclusive, non-corrupt and politically economically stable governments in the future. Apart perhaps from Vanuatu, the history of other Melanesian states has shown the leaders are as capable on mendacious and environmentally destructive behaviour as too many other third world leaders, including too many in in Indonesia – and sexism, nepotism and tribalism – or wontokism as it is known in PNG English is deeply entrenched. I have no reason to think the West Papua movement would be any different in power – the largest private party I ever attended in Canberra was given by one of the leaders of West Papua movement, who flew in from Honiara to host it. When I visited Honiara some years later a taxi driver confirmed the story I had been told – that he ran a clandestine casino there – and he drove me past the restaurant above which it operated, and talked about taking the Malaysian and Korean loggers there along with the Melanesian politicians they had bribed to access the timber.

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