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The Guardian Draws Attention To Colonial Attitude Towards West Papua

Freedom West Papua 
In an article published on 15 July 2014 in The Guardian, Morgan Godfery draws attention to the exploitation and colonial attitude of Indonesia towards West Papua – a mineral rich region annexed by Indonesia in 1960, without the consent of its indigenous population. Mentioning recent arrests and ill-treatment of West Papuans handing out leaflets encouraging a boycott of last week’s presidential election, the article refers to UNPO who strongly supports the right to self-determination of the Papuan people through advocacy, diplomacy and nonviolent action.
Below is the article published in The Guardian :

Orwell would recognise the logic of postcolonialism at play in West Papua.

In many respects, the West Papuan struggle is the story of Indigenous peoples the world over: exploitation.

Few people know that George Orwell, better known as the author of the dystopian novel 1984, is one of the earlier founders of postcolonial studies. Orwell’s best known contribution to the field is Burmese Days, but his earliest contribution was How a Nation Is Exploited – The British Empire in Burma. Published in the French journal Le Progrès civique, Orwell describes how the land, labour and resources of one country – that is, Burma - are used to finance the industrial development of another – in this case, Britain. Care is taken to avoid technical and industrial training [in Burma]. This rule, observed throughout India, aims to stop India from becoming an industrial country capable of competing with England. 

The role of the colony, then, is under-development for the sake of the coloniser’s development. This is the logic of colonialism.

One might think this is merely of historical interest. If only. There is a newly industrialised country on our doorstep and it is using a colony to finance its growth. Orwell would recognise the coloniser – Indonesia – and the logic of colonialism in the West Papua region.

Indonesia annexed West Papua in the 1960s. Thus began and thus continues the deadliest postcolonial struggle in Oceania. In the past half century the Indonesian security forces have killed as many as 500,000 West Papuans. Last year the Asian Human Rights Commission released. The Neglected Genocide, a report on atrocities committed in 1977 and 1978. Survivors describe how they escaped the killing fields while others recount their run-ins with the torture squads. Violence wasn’t just something that happened in West Papua, it was a form of government. One would hope that, some 40 years later, things have improved. It doesn’t seem so. According to the Free West Papua Movement a local independence leader was shot dead on his motorcycle in June. The UNPO reports that local democracy activists have been beaten and arrested for handing out leaflets encouraging West Papuans to boycott last week’s presidential election. In the run up to the election the security forces were put on full alert.

But why does Indonesia cling to West Papua? The basis of Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty is the farcical Act of Free Choice”in 1969. The act was a nominal referendum where a little over 1000 men – less than 1% of the eligible voting population - agreed to transfer sovereignty to Indonesia. The result was controlled - an act of forced choice – with the military carefully selecting and coercing the participants. The Indonesian government has exercised its claim to sovereignty at the end of an assault rifle ever since.

But that claim is only a convenience. West Papuans are ethnically Melanesian and geographically part of Oceania – Jakarta acknowledges this much – but, importantly, the West Papua region is home to the world’s largest goldmine, third largest copper mine and rich mineral deposits. Freeport-McMoRan, the American company that operates the Grasberg mine, is Indonesia’s largest taxpayer. The company has contributed more than $12 billion to Jakarta’s coffers since 1991. Rather than relying on private security at the mine, Freeport-McMoRan pays the Indonesian security forces. Jakarta is happy to oblige.

Orwell would recognise the logic of colonialism here. West Papua has largely missed the Indonesian industrial revolution, instead being compelled to finance it. In many respects the West Papuan struggle is the story of Indigenous peoples the world over: exploitation.

Former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies warned of as much in the 1960s when he said that Indonesian control of West Papua would merely substitute white colonialism for “brown colonialism”. We did not listen then, will we listen now?

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