(OLDIE!) Review: “West Papua: The Obliteration of a People” – Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong

(This is an OLDIE – an old review from years ago! My views and opinions might have changed since then.)

Although I had heard of Indonesia’s occupation of West Papua, the Western half of the island of New Guinea, mostly through a few rap/hip-hop songs I listen to, I wasn’t as familiar with it as I was, say, Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor.

“West Papua: The Obliteration of a People” by Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong is a powerful indictment of Indonesia’s genocide of the native Melanesian (Papuan) people. In many ways Indonesia’s genocide of West Papua’s Melanesian people, as described in this book, is virtually identical to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and genocide against the Palestinian people.

Just as in Palestine between 1947-48 the UN failed to uphold the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter, and to protect Palestinians from ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Zionist paramilitaries, so, too, did the UN fail to uphold the Papuan people’s right to self-determination and protect Papuans from Indonesia’s merciless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

As part of the New York Agreement, the UN took over administration of West Papua on October 1, 1962, for seven months, before handing over the territory to Indonesia, which, no later than 1969, would be required to ‘consult’ with the people of West Papua over the future of their territory, whatever that meant.

During the seven-month UN administration of West Papua, the UN did nothing to stop the Indonesian military from torturing and murdering Papuans. Unsurprisingly, therefore, once the UN handed over administration of West Papua to Indonesia, there was nothing to hold back the Indonesian military’s genocidal campaign against the Papuan people.

Indonesia immediately banned all forms of political activities, including all “rallies, meetings, demonstrations or the printing, publication, announcement, issuance, dissemination, trading or public display of articles, pictures, or photographs without permission from the governor or an official appoint by him” (p. 16). In response to an anti-Indonesian insurgency by the Free Papua Movement, the Indonesian military, especially after Suharto’s coup in 1965, initiated a brutal, anti-insurgency campaign against the people of West Papua, not unlike that which it would later wage in East Timor. Hundreds were arrested, without charge or trial, and thousands were indiscriminately killed as whole regions were bombed. This was the context in which the 1,025 Indonesian-appointed ‘representatives’ of West Papua voted ‘unanimously’ to remain part of Indonesia. The UN General Assembly accepted the results of the Act, which the Ghanaian delegation called “a travesty of democracy and justice” (p. 26), leaving the Papuan people at the mercy of the Indonesian military.

Just as the construction of settlements is the hallmark of Israel’s colonial project in the West Bank, so, too, are settlements the hallmark of Indonesian colonialism in West Papua. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from Java, have been relocated into settlements on Papuan land in West Papua. These settlements are heavily guarded by the Indonesian military and exclude Papuans in an apartheid-like system.

And like Israel in its genocide against the Palestinian people, Indonesia’s overwhelming military superiority over the Papuan people, and its willingness to use said superiority, has caused massive human suffering. According to a Le Monde correspondent, for each Indonesian soldier killed, 100 Papuans will be shot and whole villages bombed (p. 78). In a single massacre in West Papua’s Central Highlands in 1981, Indonesian troops are estimated to have killed 13,000 Papuans (p. 81).

I would recommend reading “West Papua: The Obliteration of a People” by Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong to anyone interested in human rights.

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