Justin Anthony Knapp comments here prolifically, in addition to frequently sending me great articles about Western Sahara. I asked Justin to write about another colonial issue close to his heart--West Papua.
An intractable dispute between a marginalized colonial possession and a regional power with an ideological agenda. A referendum that promises to be neither to be free or fair. United Nations intervention that only helps the aggressor. Political prisoners held in secret prisons for indefinite sentences. A Western world that has ignored the conflict or given low-level assistance to the aggressor. If this all sounds old hat to you, you may be familiar with West Papua.
Situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea is the other half), West Papua has been in a struggle for self-determination even longer than the Sahrawis have. Under colonialism, Papua was divided between British, Dutch, and German spheres of influence, but like Spanish Sahara, the process of colonization was altogether light and did not destroy the indigenous culture – to this day, over 900 languages are spoken on the island.As World War II ended, it became evident that Britain's empire could not hold and the Dutch were not interested in maintaining a presence half-way across the globe. The eastern half of the island achieved independence in phases from Australia and the United Kingdom through 1975. The western half of the island, however, was targeted by the nascent Republic of Indonesia, who threatened the Dutch with military action if Papua was not ceded to them.
In 1959, the Netherlands allowed for the first instruments of self-rule on the island: local elections and the creation of national symbols such as a flag. Indonesia, watching its chance for a new possession slip away, invaded in 1962.
By the end of that year, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority became the first UN agency to administer a territory and was tasked with organizing a referendum to gauge the will of the Papuans. Unable and unwilling to force out the invading Indonesians, the "referendum" devolved into a tribal council of slightly more than 1,000 tribal elders who voted unanimously for integration with Indonesia.An indigenous movement – the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement or OPM) waged an armed struggle against the Indonesian power, but disarmed in 2006. As a product of the democratization of Indonesia and the disastrous razing of Timor-Leste, Papua was granted autonomy in 2000.
OPM sympathizers claim that this autonomy really a sham (sound familiar?) and rather than self-rule, Indonesia is pursuing a policy of genocide through cultural destruction, religious suppression, and actual mass killings. A high-profile case in 2005-2006 of 43 Papuan refugees fleeing to Australia briefly brought the case national attention there and there are several Australians sympathetic to the OPM cause.
To learn more about the conflict in West Papua:
- See Peter D. King's West Papua and Indonesia Since Suharto: Independence, Autonomy or Chaos?. This 2004 book is the only mass-market English book available on the conflict. King, an Australian, has been studying Papua for over a quarter century.
- TAPOL's web page. "Tapol" is a Bahasa Indonesian word for "political prisoner;" the group focuses on human rights issues throughout Indonesia, with a special focus on Aceh, Papua, and Timor.
- Koteka.net. Few Papuan news sites are maintained, and Koteka is the best of them(the name comes from the penis-gourd worn in traditional Papuan garb.)
Flickr photo from user naturemandala used under a Creative Commons license