West Papua is the western half of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world. The island is divided into two parts, West Papua, which Indonesia has incorporated as a province, and Papua New Guinea, an ex-Australian-administered territory that gained its independence in 1975. The inhabitants of West Papua emigrated from Asia nearly 50,000 years ago, during the last ice age. They consisted primarily of three groups—Negritos, Papuans, and Melanesians—who are today categorized as a single race, Melanesians. Historically, the people living in West Papua have been divided along clan and linguistic lines. In 1963, when the Netherlands handed West New Guinea over to Indonesia, it included 200 languages among 500,000 Papuans in an estimated population of 700,000.4 Separate communities often came together in loose political confederations and according to their common ecological conditions, but relationships were often colored by competition for power over traditional lands. West Papuans’ first contact with neighboring Malay cultures occurred as traders from the Malay archipelago (now Indonesia) took herbs, spices, and slaves from the island, beginning at least as early as the seventh century. Indonesia claims that the Java-based Hindu emperor Majapahit included West New Guinea5 within his kingdom circa 1293. He did not make any effort to inhabit the island or befriend the natives, and many historians dispute the view that Majapahit’s empire extended this far to the east.6 European explorers discovered the island along the Spice Route, and a Spanish trader claimed it for his king in 1545. The Spanish never returned, and the island became home to a British settlement in 1793, during a period when the


The difficulty of inhabiting the land with European settlers contributed to the new colonial government’s decision to appoint the Sultan of Tidore to administer the territory for the Dutch.7 Although this arrangement was made in 1848, the Dutch were slow in setting up administrative institutions and used the territory mostly for its natural resources. The oil company Royal Dutch Shell began to tap into the region’s oil reserves in 1907. Over the next few decades, the wealth of resources available became increasingly apparent and was being actively exploited by both British and American companies. As a response to the widespread Indonesian rebellion against colonial rule in 1926, the Dutch instituted a policy of internal exile. They created a new settlement in West New Guinea, known as Tanah Merah (“red earth”) to house exiled Indonesians. The settlement served to establish an Indonesian presence in New Guinea. Because of its frequent malaria outbreaks and its isolated location in the midst of a jungle peopled by headhunting tribes, Indonesian nationalists dreaded Tanah Merah and grew increasingly hostile toward the West Papuan people. When the Netherlands surrendered its colonies to Japan in 1942, the Dutch forced Indonesians from Tanah Merah onto steamers headed to Australia, where they were imprisoned by the Australian government.8 When the Dutch fled West New Guinea, they did not leave behind much of an administrative infrastructure. The majority of the island’s inland areas were in contact only with churches and missionary projects, which were scattered throughout the region. Japan saw itself as the liberator of the region from the control of white imperialists, yet sought to impose its own sovereignty over the West Papuans. The Japanese were faced with voices of West Papuan dissent left over from Dutch rule, including the Koreri movement that had developed in Biak.9 The movement was based on a belief that a powerful spiritual figure would come and liberate the Papuans from oppression.10 In response to the Koreri movement and the small, armed resistance to Japanese domination, Japanese officials arrested, tortured, and killed suspected members of the movement and ordered entire villages to be relocated. West Papuan resistance and Japanese retaliation continued until the liberation of the region by American-led forces in August 1944. After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the Dutch administration gradually returned to West New Guinea. In the meantime, a separate independence movement had been brewing in neighboring Indonesia. The Body for Researching Indonesian Independence (BPKI), an organization created under the Japanese that later included many of independent Indonesia’s most prominent leaders, held two meetings in July 1945 to discuss the possibility and the implications of Indonesian independence, including the question of which territories would be part of the new state. The majority of the delegates supported an independent Indonesia that would include all of the Dutch Indies and West New Guinea. When Indonesian nationalists proclaimed independence on August 17, 1945, their version of Indonesia included the territory of West New Guinea. During the four-year independence struggle that followed, the Papuan question was largely ignored by  the international community. At the 1949 Hague Round Table Conference, which established independent Indonesia, the Dutch refused to cede control of West New Guinea to the Indonesians, preferring to maintain it as the final foothold of Dutch imperialism in southeast Asia. The Dutch promised Papuan independence at some point in the near future. Thus, when Indonesia finally gained independence in 1949, it did not include West New Guinea. The exclusion of West New Guinea from newly independent Indonesia was largely the result of strong Papuan opposition that made it clear that the inhabitants of West New Guinea had no interest in being grouped with Indonesia. In July 1946, the head of the Netherlands administration in New Guinea organized a conference of representatives from the eastern archipelago. Franz Kaisiepo, the Papuan delegate to the conference, expressed the view that if Papua were to become part of Indonesia, it would be swallowed up without any attention paid to the economic situation of the inhabitants.11 Supported by the Australian government, he cited differences in language and ethnic background as the major factors separating the people of Papua from the rest of the archipelago.12 He was joined by Johan Ariks, a nationalist Papuan who advocated armed resistance to any foreign control of the area.13 As fear of the Indonesian communist threat grew among the Western countries, the Dutch promised to bring West New Guinea into the modern world by educating and training the indigenous Papuans to govern the country and then pulling out of the area. In the 1950s, the Dutch began the process of Papuan nation building in earnest. By 1957, the Netherlands had created numerous positions for Papuans in government services, and the goal of handing over a majority of government posts to Papuans seemed within reach.By the end of the 1950s, the Dutch development plan was well on its way to success, but it was cut short prematurely by the Sukarno government’s escalating diplomatic and military pressure on the Dutch to cede control over Papua. President Sukarno used the Dutch plan as an opportunity to play on Indonesian nationalism and distract his constituency from their declining economic situation. The Indonesian government began a campaign with pamphlets, slogans, rallies, and a war cry emphasizing the need to gain control of West Papua. Indonesia amassed weapons from the Soviet Union in a military buildup intended to intimidate the Dutch. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, seeking to avoid a Cold War confrontation, chose not to support the Papuans and instead sought to placate the Indonesians. Nevertheless, the U.N. General Assembly, in three separate debates on the question of “West Irian,”15 failed to pass a resolution either backing Sukarno’s claim to the territory or affording the Papuans the right to self-determination. Nonetheless, in February 1961, the Dutch held elections for the West New Guinea Council, a representative body intended to encourage the establishment of a Papuan political elite that would eventually govern the region after Dutch withdrawal.16 In April 1961, the Council met for the first time. With this governing body in place, the Dutch government formally proposed the “Luns Plan” to the U.N. General Assembly. The plan called for a termination of Dutch sovereignty followed by a U.N. administration and the establishment of an international study commission that would supervise the administration and organize a plebiscite to determine the territory’s status.17 On December 1, 1966, the Council agreed on the name of West Papua for their new nation, created a national anthem, and adopted the Morning  Star Flag. The flag was raised for the first time later that day, the anniversary of which is now celebrated by West Papuans as their independence day. In response, the Indonesian government began to use military tactics against the Papuans. Indonesians launched a paratroop assault on West Papua and forces of its former colonial ruler, and the Indonesian and Dutch navies engaged each other off the Papuan shores. With outright war an imminent threat, U.S. President John F. Kennedy took on the role of negotiating a peace accord between the Dutch and the Indonesians. On August 15, 1962, the two parties signed the New York Agreement under the auspices of the United Nations. No West Papuan representative participated in the agreement. By its terms, the Netherlands was to transfer its authority to an interim U.N. administration, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA), on October 1, and the U.N. administration would hand the territory over to Indonesia on or after May 1, 1963. The agreement further provided for a U.N.-supervised election, sometime after Indonesia’s take-over, to allow the Papuans to decide their own fate: whether or not to remain a part of Indonesia. The plan was implemented immediately, and UNTEA took control of West Papua in October 1962.

Act of Free Choice Prior to the arrival of the UNTEA forces, various Indonesian commanders who claimed that they had liberated West Papua (or West Irian, as they now called it) asserted their rule over the locals through military force. Even after the arrival of UNTEA’s security force, about 1500 Indonesian commandos remained in West Irian, ostensibly to assist the local police. Instead, they engaged in harsh tactics to curb Papuan nationalist sentiment, including mass arrests and sometimes torture. At the same time, the Indonesians exploited the local economy, mandated the use of the Indonesian language as the mode of instruction in schools, and formulated plans for the emigration and settlement of 400,000 Javanese in West Irian.18 UNTEA pulled out in May 1963, despite repeated requests by West Papuans for them to stay and protect Papuan rights. After UNTEA’s departure, an armed struggle began between the Indonesian military and a pro-independence Papuan resistance movement known as the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).19 Papuans from all over the region joined to support the OPM, and the Indonesian government responded by targeting civilians as well as OPM fighters. Killings, disappearances, torture, and rape of Papuans by government forces became common. In addition, the Indonesian government organized mass migrations from Java to West Papua, resettling hundreds of Indonesian families in the midst of the Papuan population. In April 1967, a U.S.-based multinational mining corporation, Freeport Indonesia, signed its first concession agreement with Indonesia’s recently established “New Order” government. This “Contract of Work” was reportedly the first contract entered into by the military-led Indonesian administration, and it gave Freeport “broad powers over the local population and resources, including the right to take land and other property and to resettle indigenous inhabitants while providing ‘reasonable compensation’ only for dwellings and other permanent improvements.”20 Today, P.T. Freeport Indonesia, which is 91-percent owned by its U.S.-based parent company, Freeport-McMoRan (in which the Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto holds a 16.5-perecent direct interest), continues to mine in West Papua.21 Its mining, as well as security, activities have greatly exacerbated the tensions and violence between the Indonesian  government and the native Papuans. For example, a major purpose of the Indonesian transmigration plan has been to provide a non-native workforce for Freeport’s operations. Freeport arrived in West Papua two years before the Indonesian government conducted the now infamous referendum, the “Act of Free Choice.” Under Article 18 of the New York Agreement of 1962, all adults from the West Papuan territory were to be eligible to participate in the act of self-determination, which was “to be carried out in accordance with international practice.” Fernando Ortiz-Sanz, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Indonesia in August 1968 to “advise, assist and participate” in a referendum to determine the future status of the territory, which was named the “Act of Free Choice” by the Indonesian government.22 From the outset, Ortiz-Sanz found his mission under-funded, under-staffed, and constantly struggling with the Indonesian government in Jakarta to ensure adherence to the guarantees of the New York Agreement, for example, its requirement that the act of selfdetermination be carried out “in accordance with international practice.” The government, for its part, had made its intent clear. In an April 1969 speech, President Suharto assured the Indonesian military of the impending “return of West Irian into the fold of the motherland.”23 Under significant pressure from Jakarta, the West Papuan provincial assembly sanctioned the creation of eight assemblies to determine the individual representatives who would participate in the Act of Free Choice and who were to be selected either by election, by choice of social, cultural or religious organizations, or by the assemblies themselves. All told, each member of the eight assemblies represented approximately 750 West Papuans, and the assemblies in turn selected 1,026 delegates, 1,024 of whom eventually voted on the Act later in the year Ortiz-Sanz, understanding the extent to which the Indonesian government was controlling the Act from behind the scenes, campaigned for more direct representation, but was rebuffed by Jakarta. The resistance movement, the activities of which had largely ceased toward the end of 1968, suddenly came back to life in April 1969.25 Various insurgencies sprouted up in Waghete and in Enarotali, where locals dug holes in runways at a nearby airstrip to prevent Indonesian planes from landing. The April uprisings were characterized by an undertone of nationalism, with the Morning Star flag becoming a rallying symbol for protesters at Enarotali. In response to one of the uprisings in Paniai,26 the Indonesian military conducted machine-gun strafing runs from the air on protestors, killing dozens and forcing thousands into the wilderness, where heavily armed Indonesian paratroopers followed.27 Neither of the April uprisings lasted long, but they sparked a flurry of OPM activity throughout West Papua, a flurry that was met with a fierce response by the Indonesian military, which overpowered and captured a number of resistance fighters and imprisoned them in military camps in what have been described as “barbaric” conditions.28 A number of OPM members attempted to flee to Australian-controlled Papua New Guinea (PNG), only to be turned back just over the border. In camps back on the West Papua side of the border, members of the Indonesian military retaliated against the refugees, killing 28 in two separate incidents. As West Papuans staged a number of minor uprisings throughout the countryside, the Indonesian government sought to convince the foreign press and the U.N. team that commerce in West Papua’s commercial centers was booming. These efforts were less than  convincing, with inflation perilously high, few employment opportunities—especially for Papuans—and the local economy in a state of near chaos.29 In response to a surge in anti-government sentiment, Indonesian military leaders began making public threats against Papuan leaders who voted (or advocated voting) for West Papuan independence, vowing to shoot them on the spot if they did not vote for Indonesian control. Consequently, when the voting finally got underway at the beginning of May, there was little doubt as to the outcome. Ortiz-Sanz and his staff attempted to oversee all of the local proceedings, but, in the end, the U.N. team actually observed the selection of only 195 of the 1,026 selected to participate in the Act. Of those 195, it was obvious to the U.N. observers that many—if not all—had been coerced by the Indonesian government.30 With the representatives selected, the eight regional assemblies began meeting in July. The first vote came in Merauke, where the 175 delegates were kept under close guard by the government before eventually voting unanimously for Indonesian control. The scene was repeated throughout West Papua at the next six assembly meetings and the final assembly vote at Jayapura on August 2. With no dissenting votes, 1,024 Papuan council members chose Indonesian control. The Indonesian government had its territory. In November 1969, Ortiz-Sanz filed his official report with the United Nations, expressing disappointment with the process and dissatisfaction with the Indonesian government and the overall mission. The report, while generally affirming the legitimacy of the result, concluded that “‘with the limitations imposed by the geographical character of the territory and the general political situation in the area, an act of free choice has taken place in accordance with Indonesian practice,’” pointedly omitting any reference to the referendum’s accordance with  international practice,” which had been one of the requirements of the New York Agreement.31 Despite strong statements from the delegations from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Zambia, among others,32 the General Assembly passed a resolution taking note of the results of the Act. At least for the time being, the General Assembly acknowledged Indonesia’s legal control of West Papua.

The operation led to the death of several hundred people and drove at least a thousand to flee to Papua New Guinea.69 Indonesian military forces also committed extrajudicial killings. In 1976, Indonesian soldiers, on the order of the chief of intelligence of Korem 172, the military command in Abepura, beat two prisoners, Pilomen Wenda and Oscar, to death with iron bars.70 Mimi Fatahan was another victim of extrajudicial killing. He had fled to Papua New Guinea in April 1977. After Papua New Guinea authorities forcibly deported him to West Papua, the military command detained him in Jayapura. In May 1977, a hunting party of officers from the regional military command took Fatahan to the jungle. He never returned.71 One informant reported that villagers discovered Mimi Fatahan’s body, chopped into pieces, in a drum floating on Lake Sentani, the largest lake in West Papua.72 In 1979, the death of Baldus Mofu, an elected member of the New Guinea Council set up by the Dutch in 1961, drew wide publicity. Mofu had been under close surveillance by the Indonesians. Whenever the OPM went into action or unrest broke out in the towns, Indonesian military officials arrested, beat, and tortured him.73 Mofu was imprisoned again between July and October 1979. Several weeks after the Indonesians released him, two unknown men took him away from his house. Early the next morning, he returned home, bruised and swollen all over. He died within hours.74 Mofu and Mimi Fatahan were particularly prominent victims of Indonesian repression, but many shared their fate as Indonesia sought to consolidate its control over the territory.

Since the beginning of Indonesian rule, government and military officials have been heavily involved in resource extraction in West Papua. By 1980, the oil industry in West Papua had gone into decline, prompting the dismissal of local West Papuan employees in favor of Javanese labor, which was viewed as more skilled and reliable.75 A U.S. professor who visited West Papua in 1980 noted the planned influx of Indonesian workers, including more than 2,000 families that were scheduled to be “dropped” near two major oilfields in order to implement a “policy of non-employment of Melanesians in the oil industry.”76 For the Indonesian government and its foreign investors, the success of copper mining in West Papua more than made up for the decline in oil production. In the 1980s, U.S.-owned Freeport continued to exploit the rich copper resources of West Papua.77 By the beginning of the 1990s, the mining town of Tembagapura had become an enclave of expatriates and Indonesians, segregated from the local people in a way described by Budiardjo as “reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid system.”78 In 1982, Freeport employed 452 expatriates, 1,859 Indonesians, and only 200 Papuans. The Papuans were hired as unskilled laborers and forced to live on the outskirts of the site in illegal squatter settlements.79 Freeport’s mining operations also led to the relocation of the Amungme tribe from the region around Tembagapura to a hot, malarial area near the coast. In June 1980, the Amungme were devastated by an epidemic that swept through the settlement, killing 216 children. Freeport did nothing to provide food or medicine to the Papuans to fight the epidemic, although the company itself attributed the high death toll to undernourishment.80 The Amungme leaders sent numerous unsuccessful petitions to the Indonesian government, asking for government services; access to schools and jobs; land rights, recognized by law, that had been denied to the Papuans; and the negotiation of a new contract between Freeport, the Indonesian government, and the Papuans.81 These petitions were uniformly unsuccessful, suggesting an Indonesian policy of deliberate indifference toward the West Papuan people. Indonesia’s desire to promote the growth of the plantation economy in West Papua led to the further alienation of West Papuan land and culture. An investigation in the early 1980s of two plantations managed by a state-owned company named PTP-2 revealed that land had been seized with minimal if any compensation. Villagers were relocated and left with insufficient land to practice their traditional shifting cultivation, as large areas of land were transformed from self-supporting food production to single-crop production for sale on the global market.82 In 1988, the U.S. company Scott Paper and the Indonesian company Astra entered into a joint venture and established a eucalyptus plantation and pulp mill in the Merauke region, threatening to further displace indigenous Papuan sustenance production and to cause desertification in the region.83 Indonesian authorities also continued to exploit West Papua’s rich timber resources. In 1982, three articles published in a Jakarta daily described the exploitation of the Asmat tribe, which lived near the south coast of West Papua, by Jakarta-based timber companies. The companies relocated the Asmat people and subjected them to a regime of compulsory labor, by which local officials forced villagers to cut down their own forests at below-subsistence wages.

Officials warned that those who refused to accept the logging jobs and conditions could be arrested.84 “The compulsory log-felling scheme exploited forests that were the property of the tribespeople. It threatened their sago supplies, the staple food of the Asmat people. . . . It disrupted village life, forcing villagers to stay in the forest for as long as six weeks.”85 An Indonesian environmental group warned that the Asmat people were “on the brink of cultural starvation after a decade of enforced ironwood logging.”86 In 1988, a Jakarta weekly newspaper warned that the Asmat area, rapidly succumbing to soil erosion, might soon be submerged by nearby rivers.87 A similar instance of forced labor occurred in the Paniai region of West Papua from 1982 onward. There, the Indonesian military, having established a post around Tiga Danau, imposed a system of forced labor on the indigenous population.88 All men, with the exception of teachers, were required to work around the guard post every Wednesday, performing night patrol, and the youth were forced to deliver rations to the guard post without compensation.89 If one man from the village was absent for any of these duties, the whole village was punished.90 These punishments included monetary fines as well as physical punishment or torture.

During the same period, the Indonesian military waged a series of brutal campaigns against the West Papuans, targeting civilians as well as members of the OPM. In 1981, the military launched Operation Clean Sweep, which sought to undermine support for the Papuan resistance by persecuting relatives of OPM members. Soldiers raped, assaulted, and killed the wives of known rebels and sacked villages suspected of lending support to the OPM. Survivors reported brutal murders in the Jayapura district, claiming that whole families had been bayoneted to death and their bodies left to rot.92 Operation Clean Sweep apparently aimed both to intimidate those suspected of supporting the OPM and to cleanse the border regions of Papuans to make room for Javanese migrants. This objective was suggested by the army’s slogan: “Let the rats run into the jungle so that the chickens can breed in the coop.”93 Lands emptied by Operation Clean Sweep were converted into transmigration areas and soon populated by settlers from Java or elsewhere in Indonesia.94 By the summer of 1981, the campaign had extended into the Central Highlands. In August, the military responded to apparent OPM activity by bombing the village of Madi, in the Paniai basin in the Central Highlands, where a Dutch television team had filmed hundreds of OPM supporters training for the resistance. Troops used napalm and chemical weapons against the villagers and killed at least 2,500; some estimates put the death toll as high as 13,000 A 1984 report by Amnesty International noted that the Indonesian army and police often arrested and detained anyone suspected of OPM involvement, especially after nationalist incidents such as the raising of the West Papuan flag.96 Military personnel arrested and detained people without warrant and for indefinite periods of time.97 While most detained West Papuans were never formally charged or tried, those who were brought to court were unlikely to receive a fair trial. TAPOL reported that police, the army, prosecutors, and judges in West Papua regularly disregarded the procedural safeguards codified in the Criminal Procedure Code. In 1983, Mulya Lubis, then chairman of the Foundation of Legal Aid Institutes (“YLBHI”), declared, “The new Criminal Procedural Code might just as well not exist, for it has no reverberations in Irian Jaya.”98 Indonesian officials commonly subjected political prisoners to torture, including electric shocks, beating, pistol-whipping, deprivation of toilet facilities, and water torture, in which the prisoner was placed in a bunker nearly filled with water. Many former prisoners also claimed that detainees died after being poisoned by prison guards. Amnesty International documented the experiences of eight West Papuans who were detained in the late 1980s after returning to West Papua from Papua New Guinea, where they had been living as refugees. The eight men were subjected to repeated beatings during their detention; during one session, an Indonesian soldier ordered one of the men, weak from the beating, to climb a tree and recite the five articles of the State ideology.

I’ve heard stories about people being put in 44-gallon drums of water and just left there for eight hours, and after that, taken out and put in the sun for eight hours. I’ve heard lots of stories about people being cut to pieces. I’ve seen photographs, a photograph of a hole in the ground, full of water, and you can just see two heads—two or three heads—just above the water. . . . I saw a photograph of a Melanesian in a room of some sort. It looked like a morgue slab and he was naked. It was obvious that he was dead and it looked to me that strips of skin had been taken off his legs and his feet. 100 In the 1980s, several West Papuans were killed while in detention or were disappeared and presumed killed after being released from custody. In early 1984, Indonesian forces responded to a pro-independence uprising in Jayapura by launching a major retaliatory campaign called Operation Clean-up.101 Elite para-commandos flown in to direct the operation arrested and shot to death several West Papuans suspected of OPM involvement.102 In 1983, the Indonesian authorities arrested and detained anthropologist Arnold Ap and his colleague Eduard Mofu, who was the son of Baldus Mofu.103 Ap had promoted Papuan cultural expression, championed the revival of traditional Papuan music, and, closer to the time of his arrest, criticized Indonesian policies on the radio program that he hosted.104 Ap’s arrest resulted in immediate protests and calls for his release. Neither Ap nor Mofu were released, however. In April 1984, para-commandos killed the two men after tricking them into leaving  their place of detention on the premise that they would be taken to Papua New Guinea. The Indonesian government claimed that the pair had been killed while trying to escape.105 Despite popular outrage at Ap’s death, extrajudicial killings continued. In May 1985, Indonesian troops burned down 200 village houses in the Enarotali region of the Central Highlands in retaliation for the killing of two migrants from Indonesia killed in an OPM operation. In June and July of that year, the military killed 517 villagers in several highland villages in reprisal for a confrontation between OPM and Indonesian troops that resulted in the death of more than thirty Indonesian soldiers.106 In a 1987 report, Amnesty International identified five West Papuans who were believed to have been killed by security forces in 1986. Amnesty noted, however, that information about extrajudicial killings “is often scanty and difficult to verify, given the limited access to Irian Jaya by independent observers and the restrictions on press freedom in Indonesia more generally.”107 Such restrictions by the Indonesian government served to block international scrutiny


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