As Indonesia cracks down on protests in the disputed West Papua territory, the Government has declined to condemn the violence.

Indonesia has deployed a thousand troops to the disputed territory of West Papua and shut down the internet in the region in an effort to quell protests alleging racist police violence and supporting self-determination.

The New Zealand Government has re-emphasised earlier commitments to human rights but declined to comment on the specific situation.

The latest wave of violence began after dozens of Papuan students in Surabaya were arrested by police forces while a mob allegedly called them “monkeys”.

In a statement, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson said that “New Zealand continues to encourage the Indonesian government to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia, including in Papua.”

“New Zealand regularly raises human rights with Indonesia bilaterally, and through other mechanisms such as the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

The MFAT spokesperson also said New Zealand “continues to support the position taken by the Pacific Islands Forum” on West Papua.

“The most recent attempt to control West Papuans protesting for their rights by closing down internet services is another example of heavy-handedness and overreach.”

At the 50th forum in Tuvalu earlier this month, Pacific leaders raised concerns over human rights abuses and violence in West Papua.

But Green Party MP and human rights spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman took a stronger stance.

Ghahraman said that the Green Party has raised “the ongoing human rights abuses experienced by indigenous West Papuans … with the Foreign Minister [Winston Peters]”.

“The most recent attempt to control West Papuans protesting for their rights by closing down internet services is another example of heavy-handedness and overreach.

“We also have concerns about an increased police presence given a history of brutality and a recent allegation of tear gas being fired at students in their dormitories.”

Ghahraman added that “West Papuans have long cried out for self-determination and we support them in those calls”.

Disputed territory

West Papua was colonised by the Dutch in the 17th century. After Indonesia won independence from the Netherlands in 1945, it claimed West Papua as part of its territory.

Instead, the Netherlands retained the territory until 1962, when the United States brokered an agreement with Indonesia under which West Papua would be handed over and prepared for a self-determination vote in 1969.

Indonesian authorities handpicked a thousand West Papuans to participate in the vote. They were threatened and given pre-prepared statements to read. The vote was unanimous in favour of remaining part of Indonesia.

Since 1969, there has been an active and at-times militant movement for West Papuan independence. The flag of the independence movement is banned in Indonesia.

In January, Papuan activists presented the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights with a petition, allegedly signed by 1.8 million indigenous West Papuans, asking for a new referendum on independence.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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