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  • Writer's pictureMerdeka Secretariat

Statement on the 59th Anniversary of Indonesia’s Occupation of West Papua

May 1, 2022

Papuans fightback against plunder and fascism on the 59th Year of Indonesia's colonial authority

On May 1, 1963, after less than one year of transitional rule by the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA), administrative power over West Papua was formally transferred to Indonesia. Ever since the transfer, West Papua’s legal and political status shifted from a non-self-governing territory to Indonesia's trust territory. The entire process of determining West Papua’s fate was done without the West Papuans themselves. One of the conditions of the transfer of administrative control was that there would be an internationally supervised act of self-determination.

Prior to the official transfer, the roadmap to full independence was crafted and declared during the raising ceremony in December 1961, wherein West Papua’s Morning Star Flag was raised alongside the Netherlands flag. However, the UN failed, almost inexplicably, to pass the Dutch motion in placing the non-self-governing territory of West Papua on the UN Decolonisation list in November 1961. Nineteen days after the flag-raising ceremony on December 1, 1961, Indonesia declared it was annexing what it described as a ‘Dutch puppet state’. Indonesia’s military operations followed pursuit and brutal occupation began until votes were secured in favor of Indonesia's annexation of the territory in the 1969 sham ‘referendum’, ironically named as the “Act of Free Choice”. Consequently, there has never been an act of self-determination in West Papua.

Today, the ‘root cause’ of the conflict remains unresolved and exposes an international legal issue (breach of right to self-determination) whereas Indonesia views the conflict as a ‘domestic’ and ‘separatist’ problem. The Special Autonomy framework serves as an engine for the exponential growth of military infrastructure, tripling the number of ‘autonomous’ districts to which Jakarta assigns a set of formulas of land, air and sea defense.

West Papuans are still at the bottom of Indonesia’s human development index, calculated to constitute just 30% of the population in their homeland in 2030. In 1962 they were 99%; in 2010 they were 47% with a growth rate of 1.6% compared to the non-Papuan rate of 10.5%.

In 2014 Papuan leaders established the United Liberation Movement for West Papua as an ‘inclusive, representative, united body to carry the independence program’. The ULMWP is accountable to an array of resistance and nation-making institutions that have developed over decades into pillars of parliamentary architecture. In 2015, the ULMWP received a diplomatic ovation with acceptance for its application for membership at the Melanesian Spearhead Group. Its lobbying since has overseen the 18-member Pacific Islands Forum (including Australia and New Zealand), 79-member African Caribbean Pacific grouping and European Union parliament passing resolutions for a UN human rights envoy to the territory. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government disregards the call from these intergovernmental bodies, including those from the UN Special Rapporteurs, and dismisses any diplomatic talks or negotiations in relation to West Papua but all the while waging a bloody war on its Indigenous Peoples.

Fightback against Fake Autonomy

In July 2021, the Indonesian parliament passed the extension or second phase of the Special Autonomy Law, known as Otsus or Otonomi Khusus, despite strong opposition from West Papuans. The Otsus 2001, the governance frame for the past two decades, has failed. Principally structured by Jakarta, it actually enhances ‘national’ security not ‘local’ autonomy in the aspects of local administration and development.

The Otsus framework is Indonesia's settler-colonialism project. It spells doom for indigenous rights and binds the concept of autonomy or self-determination to a superficial definition of integrity and promotes ethnic cleansing. This manifests in the empty promises which remain only as written words such as the right of West Papuans to manage their natural wealth. In reality, the Otsus expedited the issuance of business licenses that essentially sold off customary lands to destructive mining and plantations.

Under the Otsus plan, the Indonesian parliament made a unilateral decision to expand West Papua from two to five provinces. This move has once again excluded West Papuans in any level of decision-making. It only serves to benefit the Indonesian oligarchs, military generals, and few national and local elites who are able to consolidate their political power in the territorial divisions, through exclusive access to state funds and machinery, as well as policy-making.

Fightback against Fascism

Active resistance against military repression and systemic racism has led to civil and resistance organizations joining forces in 2020 to reject the second phase of the Otsus. Petisi Rakyat Papua (PRP) or Papuan People’s Petition was formed as a network of, and a grassroots movement of, the indigineous Papuans and allies to demonstrate a united opposition to the Special Autonomy. To date, 122 organizations have signed on, including support organizations based in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the UK.

During its launch in 2020, Victor Yeimo served as the International Spokesperson for both the PRP and the Komite Nasional Papua Barat (West Papua National Committee), up until his arrest without a warrant on May 9, 2021, by the Indonesia's covert Nemangkawi Task Force. The state basically imprisoned him for speaking out against racism using false charges of treason and incitement of violence during the 2019 West Papua Uprising. He has been in solitary confinement for 3 months with limited access to lawyers and family and has yet to receive proper medical treatment for his poor health condition which deteriorated while in prison. Many West Papuans are imprisoned, harassed, tortured, and/or killed for exercising their right to dissent, either legal and armed, as these are all deemed treacherous acts under the “Unitary State of Indonesia”.

Landback for Papua

‘West Papua is not an empty land’. This statement has been true long before Indonesian occupation, and even before Dutch colonization. Hundreds of Indigenous tribes have lived, and continue to live, on both sides of the island of New Guinea with their own traditional languages, customs, and ways of life. They have served as the guardians of one of the world’s largest biodiversity, recognized as the “lungs of the Earth”. The struggle for West Papua’s self-determination is a struggle for social justice and climate justice.

May 1 is also commemorated globally as labor day or workers day. The over-extraction of natural resources and under compensation of the working peoples is the central character of imperialism. The struggle for West Papua’s self-determination is the people’s struggle against capitalist exploitation.

The Merdeka West Papua Support Network supports the actions and mobilizations initiated by West Papuans, as well as of supporters and human rights advocates around the world that asserts West Papua’s sovereignty and right to self-determination, as well as condemn Indonesia’s occupation and aggression against West Papua.

On May 6, we also invite everyone to the soft launch of the “War on West Papua” website, a collaborative work with Wage Peace - Australia, Tapol, War Resisters International, and other organizations that aims to shed light on the global weapons trade that supplies the firearms used against West Papuans. We hope that this resource material enriches our campaigns, especially as Indonesia is to host the G20 Summit as its president in November this year.

As we say “Landback for Papua”, it also carries our call for the freedom of all political prisoners unjustly arrested for defending the land and the rights of their people. We reaffirm our strongest solidarity with the people of West Papua, as well as with the working peoples of Indonesia who are one with our Papuan brothers and sisters, and call for the genuine development of both nations based on the right to self-determination and just peace.


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