Groups in support of the Free West Papua Movement fear an escalation of state violence in West Papua is imminent, and are calling on the NZ Government to join the international outcry against racial violence.
Over the last 24 hours, Indonesian paramilitary organisations such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) were spotted in Wamena, West Papua, attempting to push locals out of their homes. Nationalist-Islamist groups in Indonesia are a common sight on the main islands, and while they are sometimes a cause for concern in Jakarta, the Government tolerates their presence provided they can be mobilised against liberation movements. That these same groups are now marching down the streets in West Papua is worrying.
Members of the FPI were also present during the siege and attempted lynching of Papuan students by Indonesian nationalists and soldiers in Surabaya on August 16. According to the ABC, “Nationalist vigilantes gathered outside the student’s dormitory building from Friday night — a day before Indonesia’s independence day —singing the Indonesian national anthem, cutting power to the building, and attacking good Samaritans delivering food and drinks to the trapped students.
The mob grew the following day, chanting ‘get rid of the Papuans right now’ and ‘monkeys, get out’. Eventually, elite counter-terrorist commandos from the Indonesian military were brought in, not to keep the peace, but to side with the race-rioters and assault the Papuans.
The presence of militia groups in West Papua is particularly concerning, as Indonesia has historically used paramilitary religious, nationalist and youth groups as the vanguard in major crackdowns against independence movements, such as in East Timor. In that often forgotten occupation, up to 300,000 people were killed in the tiny nation, often by Indonesian-backed warlords, militias and mobs rather than occupying soldiers. The National Military dislikes getting its own hands dirty.
Wamena has already seen race-riots against locals (called “monkeys” by Indonesian media) that have claimed as many as 41 lives in recent days. Many fear that the violence will increase now that Indonesian-backed militias have taken over from the army and police, giving plausible deniability against allegations of human rights abuses.
Organise Aotearoa says that as a Pacific nation, the New Zealand state has an obligation to speak out or intervene diplomatically to push back against Indonesian racial chauvinism, and the ongoing neo-colonial development of West Papua. We have a common cultural and historical link with Melanesia, and just as importantly, an internationalist commitment to fighting for the rights of all oppressed and working people. That it is happening on a whenua so close to us, with relatively little outcry, is all the more shameful.
More inaction and silence on the part of the Government will lead people in Aotearoa to the conclusion that the state doesn’t care about violence against heavily racialised groups like Melanesians.