At the beginning of the sixties, the United States took an active role in the management of the crisis. As the Cold War intensified, the US made it a priority to ensure that Indonesia would not be driven towards the Soviet Union. Under American supervision, the Netherlands and Indonesia signed the New York Agreement, according to which the administration of the West Papua region would be assigned to the United Nations for a short time, and would then pass to Indonesia. In the years between the 1940s and the 1960s, Indonesia’s politics declined from constitutional democracy to an authoritarian regime. After the UN withdrawal, Indonesia’s President Sukarno banned all political parties and activities, and clashes started breaking out between Papuans and Indonesian military units. It is estimated that from the beginning of the UN administration to the consultation that took place in 1969, the Indonesian military killed thousands of Papuans.In 1967, Sukarno stepped down and Suharto became Indonesia’s second president. The regime change was accompanied by brutal anti-communist massacres organized by the military, and ushered in a period of military-backed rule that brought human rights abuses to many parts of the country. Before any consultation with Papuans about the future political status of the region had taken place, the Indonesian government signed a concession with mining corporation Freeport, granting them mining rights over 250,000 acres for thirty years. The consultation on whether the West Papua region would become an independent country or join Indonesia took place in 1969 — the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’. The New York Agreement established the ‘eligibility of all adults’ and required that the vote should be carried out ‘in accordance with international practice’, which, in turn, explicitly required a ‘one man one vote’ system.However, Indonesian military officials selected 1,022 representatives, who voted in favour of West Papua becoming part of Indonesia. Several foreign observers and Papuans reported that Indonesian forces threatened the chosen representatives and that Papuans did not want their territory to become part of Indonesia. British diplomatic officials reported that ‘[privately] … we recognise that the people of West [Papua] have no desire to be ruled by the Indonesians … that that process of consultation did not allow a genuinely free choice to be made’, and that the vote was a ‘foregone conclusion’.5 Narasimhan, former UN Under Secretary, later claimed that the process was a ‘whitewash’.6 Jack W. Lydman, from the American Embassy, stated that members of the UN mission had privately conceded that 95 per cent of the Papuans were in favour of independence.7 Despite this, West Papua has since been part of Indonesia. Under President Suharto, the Indonesian military engaged in extremely violent operations, leaving thousands of civilian victims behind. The Indonesian government pursued a process of so-called ‘Indonesianization’, trying to incorporate Papuans into the Indonesian nation state through the education system, the media, economic development, and transmigration.8The latter consisted in the transfer of many Indonesian families to West Papua. It led to the displacement and deaths of thousands of Papuans. In 1981 the Indonesian military launched Operation Clean Sweep, which aimed at forcing Papuans out of their lands and relocating transmigrants in the area.9 It is estimated that between 2,500 and 13,000 people lost their lives during the operations.10 From the nineties, an increasing number of selffinanced migrants also started settling in the region. They moved for economic reasons and mainly arrived from eastern Indonesia. This led to dramatic changes in the demographics of the region. It is estimated that migrants now make up around 50 per cent of the population in West Papua.11 Migration has led to structural discrimination in employment: while indigenous Papuans struggle to find work, migrants can easily find occupations.12 In 2001 the Indonesian government approved the Special Autonomy Law for Papua. This has given Papuans a higher degree of fiscal and administrative autonomy, and increased the number of Papuans in positions of leadership. However, military control has remained tight. The funds are not employed on the most urgent goals, such as education, health, and public infrastructure, and the policy has favoured the Papuan elites but not the wider population, leading to an increased gap between wealthy and indigent Papuans.13 Many thought that the election of Joko Widodo as Indonesian President in 2014 would mark a change in the relationship between Jakarta and West Papua. President Widodo promised to visit Papua regularly in order to gain an understanding of Papuans’ needs, announced the end of restrictions on the access of foreign media, released five Papuan political prisoners,14 and planned several new investments in infrastructures and development projects.15 However, the promises made on media access have not been followed by official instructions, and several political prisoners remain behind bars. Widodo also initiated a regulation increasing military operations in the West Papua region, and appointed Ryamizard Ryacudu as Minister of Defence. The latter is a General of the Indonesian army, responsible for several civilian victims in Aceh. He also attracted public attention in light of controversial statements on West Papua: when members of the Special Forces killed Papuan separatist leader Theys Eluay, he called the perpetrators ‘Indonesian heroes’ and praised them for killing a ‘rebel’.16 Human rights and development Since West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia, Papuans have been subject to extremely serious human rights violations. Underlying the human rights abuses in West Papua is the fact that the region is de facto controlled by the Indonesian military. It is estimated that around 15,000 troops are currently deployed in the West Papua region.17 The number of Papuans killed by Indonesian security forces since 1969 is not known, since the restrictions on access of international observers make it difficult to collect evidence on the matter. Estimates are highly uncertain, but victims may be in the tens or hundreds of thousands. The most commonly cited is the figure of 100,000 people directly killed since 1963.18 The International Coalition for Papua documented twenty-two extrajudicial killings between April 2013 and December 2014.19 More than four hundred cases of torture were counted in the region from 1963 to 2010.20 Papuans are often arrested for peacefully expressing their opinion about the political status of West Papua. Between April 2013 and December 2014, the human rights organization Papuans Behind Bars reported 881 political arrests and 370 cases of ill treatment.
Police officials accused of human rights abuses in Papua are not subject to adequate civil investigations, and violations against Papuans are often left unpunished.Until very recently, foreign journalists needed to obtain approval from eighteen government agencies in order to enter the region. Applications were often denied, delayed, or rejected. In 2015, President Joko Widodo claimed that the government would lift restrictions on access to foreign journalists. However, the promise has not been followed by official instructions, and has been repeatedly contradicted by other Indonesian authorities. Indonesia has also obstructed the activities of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the region and blocked access to UN representatives, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Regional Representative of the High Commissioner for Refugees.West Papua is extremely rich in natural resources, including forest, oil, gas, copper, and gold. Papuans have traditionally relied on forests for their livelihood. However, the forests are increasingly coming under threat from mining, logging, and planting oil palms. The Grasberg mining complex in West Papua is the world’s largest gold reserve. It is run and mostly owned by American company Freeport, while British-Australian multinational Rio Tinto has a joint venture for a share of production.25 The mine has extremely serious environmental repercussions for the surrounding area. A New York Times article in 2005 reported Freeport paid the Indonesian military almost $20 million between 1998 and 2004.26 British Petroleum (BP) started operations in the West Papua region in 2005, at the Tangguh Liquefied Natural Gas project. The company employs the services of the Indonesian police force, which has also been accused of perpetrating human rights violations. The West Papua region has the highest poverty rates and the lowest levels of human development in the country. While schools and hospitals are built, health and education services are extremely ineffective, due to poor management, lack of accountability, and absenteeism. Political and economic context West Papua remains of concern to the international community. Concerns have resonated most loudly in the immediate Melanesian region. The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was recently admitted as an observer to the Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG), a regional organization that focuses on economic growth, sustainable development, good governance, and security. In October 2015, West Papua’s case was brought to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly by the prime ministers of the Solomon Islands and Tonga.West Papua is also attracting increasing support from civil society in the Pacific area, including PNG, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia,and Australia. West Papua has also attracted attention on a wider international level: for instance, in 2008 politicians from around the world formed the International Parliamentarians for West Papua group, to support self-determination for the West Papua region. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also repeatedly supported Papua’s case. Investors have started to question the ethical implications of supporting the Indonesian government in West Papua. This situation has affected British companies based in the region. In 2006 and 2007 the Norwegian government pension fund divested from Rio Tinto on the basis of the environmental damage caused by the Grasberg mine.33 In 2012, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund divested from Freeport. The decision was a result of reports of human rights violations by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over payments to government security forces. In 2013, the Swedish national pension fund divested from Freeport. The Ethical Council, which advised the fund, reported that Freeport’s mining operations in Papua had adverse environmental impacts that contravened UN standards. BP has also suffered reputational costs for its activities in West Papua. Britain has strong economic and political ties with Indonesia. The UK is Indonesia’s fifth largest foreign investor. During his visit to Indonesia in 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron promised up to £1bn to help finance infrastructure development.During the same visit, Cameron also agreed to measures to counter the terrorist threat posed by ISIS. Britain provides training and delivery of military