Saturday, 6 April 2013

Asia's Hidden Genocide

The blog is an early copy of an article I had published in the Warwick Globalist, before it was cut down to size and slightly changed by the editor. This was more or less how I intended the article to be. Given the style of the magazine, there are no references and it reads more like an emotive opinion piece than my usual blog posts do/will. Enjoy:

In 1969, 1,022 native tribesmen of West Papua were summoned by the UN to vote on the so-called ‘Act of Free Choice’; a referendum to decide if their land should be incorporated into Indonesia. The tribesman, supposedly representative of all 1m native inhabitants, voted under the gaze of the Indonesian army’s guns. Unsurprisingly, they voted to surrender independence. The beginning of a brutal subjugation of one of the world’s oldest civilisations had begun.

In 1962 West Papua- the western half of Earth’s second largest island and recently freed from Dutch imperialism- was pressured to incorporated with Indonesia. After Dutch protests, the UN agreed to ‘participate in and supervise’ a vote on potential Indonesian rule by the tribal elders of Papua, to be held by 1969. Given that, according to the then-US ambassador to Indonesia, ‘85-90% of the native population [were] in sympathy with the Free Papuan cause’, Indonesia had to rely on a campaign of terror to get the desired result from handpicked ‘representatives’. An officer assigned to intimidate the Papuans into voting for annexation told a group of tribal leaders that he would “shoot anyone who is against [Indonesia] and all his followers”. According to some estimates, the Indonesian army killed around 30,000 Papuans over the 7 year period whilst the UN ‘observed’. In some parts of the country Catholic missionary schools were forced to close following disappearances of entire families.

Thankfully for Indonesia, the world’s major western powers did their utmost to ensure the unimpeded perpetration of this injustice.  The result of the vote required approval from the UN General Assembly; the US pressured Latin American leaders to vote for its acceptance, and the French pressured former colonies to follow suit.

44 years later, the nascent ‘Free Papua cause’, alluded to by the ambassador in 1969, has developed into a fully grown independence movement. The OMP (Free Papua Movement) is a ‘broad based social movement, which almost everyone in West Papua, if you get them alone, will admit to belonging’, according to Paul Kingsnorth, an investigative writer who travelled across West Papua in the early 2000’s. It does have an armed wing- maybe a thousand men armed mainly with bows and arrows- who for decades have sought to regain their homeland from the occupying Indonesians. Unfortunately for them, Indonesia is armed by the most advanced military machines in the world- the US and UK- and is willing to use this equipment in the most brutal manner imaginable. According to Human Rights Watch, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, and local Papuan human rights groups, torture, assassination, detention without trial, rape and massacres of peaceful protesters are common place. In 2003 a group of Yale Law School academics released a report making a strong case that the Indonesian government was liable for prosecution under the 1948 Genocide Convention. According to official estimates, around 100,000 West Papuans have been killed since 1969. Unofficially, the number approaches 800,000. The truth is unknown, and the destruction of ‘the forgotten bird of paradise’, as it is known, is invisible to the rest of the world.

The tale of West Papua is mirrored in another island in the region: East Timor. In 1975 Kissinger and Nixon travelled to Jakarta to authorise an Indonesian invasion of the peaceful land. What followed was possibly the closest anyone has come to the eradication of an entire ethnic group in the post-war period. 90% of the weapons used for the genocide came from the US and UK, and the then-US ambassador to the UN later wrote that ‘The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about’. This story, however, had something of a happy ending; at the end of the 20th century a worldwide protest movement grew, and Clinton was forced to withdraw support from the brutal Indonesian dictator, General Suharto. Consequently Suharto fell swiftly from power, and the Indonesian army withdrew from East Timor- a lesson in the life and death power the West wields. The harrowing occupation of West Papua continues to this day.

In 2010 Obama reauthorised US training and arming of Kopassus- the Indonesian Special Forces group responsible for much of the East Timorese genocide- despite leaked Kopassus documents detailing an assassination campaign against West Papuan independence leaders and civilians, described in the documents as ‘the enemy’. Filep Karma, a celebrated member of the liberation movement, warned that this US support would lead to Kopassus being “even better equipped to commit their murders”.

Compounding the misery in 2012, part time arms salesman David Cameron – ignoring mass demonstrations from the West Papuans imploring him to help end colonisation and genocide - ‘toured Asia’ with UK arms companies promoting sales to Indonesia. British ‘Hawk’ jets have been used to bomb villages and British surveillance equipment helps monitor peaceful protesters. So whilst Cameron talks of ‘freeing’ the Libyan people, he supplies the Indonesians with the equipment and logistical support needed to carry out ethnic cleansing of Papuans, who lived in harmony with their land for around 40,000 years. As privileged students and members of this state, we must demand the British government cease this horror story – in which we are all complicit by association. Visit to learn more and help promote groups working to end our government’s diplomatic and military support for ‘Asia’s hidden genocide’.

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