There has been a rumour about self-determination and human rights violations in Papua circulated in media. Indonesia has been accused of colonizing West Papua.

Benny Wenda, a leader of Free West Papua Movement (ULMWP), has lived in UK for 15 years after he was granted political asylum by the British Government in 2003. UK Interest to west papua issue increases especially after Jeremy Corbyn, The British Labour Party Leader, helped Benny Wenda to build the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP). Even Oxford City Council announce that on 1 Dec 2018 they will fly the morning star flag represented the national and support of independence of West Papua.

All actions given by the British activism raised questions: Why is West Papuan issue so interesting for UK?

The Position of British Government

Contradict with the activists and opposition party, the British executive government seems to stand and obedient to the rules regarding non-interference principle towards other countries, especially on their internal affairs.

According to the British government, the Papua and West Papua Provinces have already become part of the NKRI territory. That was as stated by the British Ambassador to Indonesia, Moazzam Malik.

“The UK fully supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indonesia. We regard Papua as an integral part of Indonesia. We also support the efforts the government and civil society organisations to address the challenges in Papua and hope to see it enjoy the same level of peace, stability, and prosperity as other parts of this nation.” said Moazzam Malik during his visit to Papua from 14-18 November 2017.

The History of Indonesian Governance in Papua

The media have told the same story about west papua. It started in 1962 when the world war II had just ended, the Dutch as the colonial master of West Papua, wanted to give independence to Papuans. But, Indonesia against Dutch decision and declared West Papua as part of Indonesia since it was also part of Dutch Hindie colony. Using the situation of cold war between US and soviet union, Indonesia had made US to support its purpose to administer Papua as part of their country. Dutch accepted the decision as long as Papuans were permitted to have a referendum (the act of free choice).

Is that true, that West Papua is only an object of Indonesian colonization? We gather data from Indonesia history about their independence. There seems to be different perspectives between Indonesia and the media.

From Indonesia perspective, Indonesia highlighted that its independence in 1945 happened during power transition from Japan to the Dutch. Before the return of the Dutch colonials, Soekarno (the first president of Indonesia) had first declared the independence. Indonesia affirmed that the territory of Republic of Indonesia included all Dutch colonial territories, from Sabang to Merauke. Therefore, the moment Indonesia gained its independence, West Papua also became independent along with Indonesia.

In response, the Dutch colonials did not accept the Indonesian declaration of independence. Along 1947-1948, the Dutch released military aggression twice, causing hundreds of death tolls from Indonesian side, in order to cancel the independence. The main goal of these aggressions was to gain control over locations which possessed strategic natural resources like plantations, and especially oil.

In 1949, due to international pressure, the Dutch retreated from their aggression and participated in an agreement with Indonesia, in a roundtable discussion (The Roundtable Conference). One of the key point in the agreement was that the Netherlands only acknowledged Republic of the United States of Indonesia (RIS) as an independent and sovereign country. Another point noted that another discussion on the issue of West Papua would be arranged within 1 year after the acknowledgment of RIS’ sovereignty.

Alas, the intended discussion regarding Papua never took place. In 1961, the Dutch one-sidedly announced the conception of the state of West Papua, which angered and left Indonesia betrayed. The Dutch also carried on with their devide et impera politics to seize control over territories. There were 6 other region which were given the promise of independence by the Dutch colonials: (1) the State of East Indonesia (NIT) (2) the State of East Sumatra (3) The State of East Java (4) the State of Madura, (5) the State of Pasundan, (6) the State of South Sumatra.

In the same year and month, Indonesia announced the People’s Triple Command (Trikora, Tri Komando Rakyat) consisting of:

  1. Thwart the formation of the puppet state of Papua by the Dutch.
  2. Hoist the Flag of Indonesia in West Papua, the Indonesian Motherland.
  3. Be prepared for public mobilization in order to preserve the independence and unity

For Indonesia, it was a tough situation because the world political constellation has also impacted to the newly independent state like Indonesia while the state is still in a stage of stabilizing and establishing the government system. The price that Indonesia had to pay to free West Papua from the Dutch was painstakingly expensive.

During the campaign to liberate West Irian, Indonesia experienced a severe economic crisis. Indonesia has borne the economic burden of nationalizing Dutch companies. This burden is increasingly heavy with the accumulation of debt through the purchase of weapons from the Soviet Union. Almost all of Indonesia’s budget is absorbed to strengthen defense. In his research at Cornell University, Franklin B. Weinstein noted, in late 1965, Indonesia had foreign debt of 2.4 billion US dollars. A total of US $ 1.4 billion came from loans given by communist countries.

Soekarno could actually pay off the debt bondage. According to Dutch historian, Pieter Drooglever, by the time the Dutch surrendered West Irian to Indonesia, many foreign investors had peered and examined the wealth of the region. One of them was the American mining company, Freeport. Freeport had prepared a large-scale exploitation plan. “But there is one obstacle,” said Drooglever in “Tindakan Pilihan Bebas!: Orang Papua dan Penentuan Nasib Sendiri.” – “Under Soekarno no foreign company was permitted.” As stated previously, the New Order with Soeharto as its president has different approach in dealing with West Papuan issues.

Soeharto had different moves than Soekarno. He supported foreign investment and aid as he believed that the action was needed to tackle hyperinflation. The opportunity arrived when Soeharto became the official president. As early as 1967, the door to foreign capital was opened through Law No. 1 which regulates Foreign Investment (Penanaman Modal Asing / UUPMA). Soeharto specifically designated West Papua with the name of West Irian then as an autonomous province on September 16, 1969.

The media have drawn a conclusion that Indonesia was the one who started the exploitation of Papuan natural resources, but we never consider the impact of Dutch colonization towards Indonesia for years, and how much it took for Indonesia to maintain its sovereignty.

The following era was a darker time for Indonesia, since Soeharto forced the approach of militaristic regime to ensure stability, translated into the absence of rebellions. This was meant to guarantee that Indonesian sovereignty is absolute. Hence, various violent military acts was a routine not only in Papua, but everywhere all over Indonesia.

The Reformation marked by Soeharto’s resignation and the end of the New Order’s rule brought little relief to the Papuan observers. Several approaches have been raised to see Papua with a broader, more diverse and profound perspective, not merely about separatism. As a result, the problems of poverty and people’s welfare began to be included in talks on resolving conflicts in Papua. This is the background why Indonesia created the Special Regional Autonomy Law for Papua.

West Papua From UK Political Perspective

One of Benny Wenda’s and United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP)’s ways to get international support was done by lobbying with one of the British opposition camps, namely the Labour Party. The ULMWP leader is known to have closeness with the opposition in the current British parliament, especially from the Labour Party. This was evidenced by the presence of one of the founders of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) and the leader of the opposition Labour Party who was predicted to be a strong candidate for the British prime minister, Corbyn himself, in the Westminster Declaration.

Seeing the presence of Rio Tinto (a British mining company) and $100 billions worth of natural resources potential in West Papua, it is hard to see that parties in the UK is not having any interest, which lead to the allegations that political actors who gave their support for West Papuan independence are not free from economic and political motives following the prospect of an independent Papua.

Indonesia once expressed its disappointment towards political figures who refused communicating with the national government, and chose ULMWP instead..

IPWP and its Progress in West Papua Issue

IPWP is a cross-party group of politicians for around the world, supporting the self-determination for the people of West Papua. IPWP was set up by Benny Wenda and is co-chaired by the British politicians Andrew Smith and Lord Harries, also Jeremy Corbyn, an UK Opposition Leader who is also the Chair of The Labour Party in UK who played an important role in disseminating other countries to support the separation of West Papua from Indonesia. The goal of IPWP is to develop international parliamentary support and awareness for the West Papua civil resistance movement and to highlight the inalienable right of the people of West Papua to determine their own future through a free and fair referendum.

In mid 2016, Benny Wenda held IPWP meeting with delegates from various countries in the House of Parliament London, England. The IPWP meeting resulted in the Westminster Declaration to support Papuan independence. The existence of the Westminster Declaration claimed by Benny Wenda as a form of support from the international parties, especially the British parliament, for Papuan independence.

Despite all the efforts, The UK Parliament are still divided in regard to West Papua and its independence. The UK government has been giving Indonesian military personnel in Papua continuous training in facing OPM separatist militants, while the Labour Party and its supporters generally accepts ULMWP as the representation of West Papuan people.

The majority of the 650 members of the House of Commons in the UK Parliament are still support the integrity of Indonesia. This shows that there are differences of views and interest between the British parliament members, and the issue of Papua has became even more interesting for the British public.

Indonesia’s answer for the existence of IPWP towards the ULMWP is that the current economic development, social, political and cultural conditions in West Papua is way different than in 1970s. Indonesia also slammed ULMWP for continuously using outdated data and old pictures from the era of Soeharto’s military regime, while sneakily concealing the current data regarding development in Papua.

Besides that, there is also a question regarding Benny Wenda’s position in UK politics. As a leader of ULMWP and IPWP UK initiator, Wenda is now involved in the British politics, and has benefited greatly from his current position. That is because the issue of Papua which is selling today continues to sell like fried beans in the rainy season because of the growing interest of the international parties. There were comments on how Benny Wenda enjoys various access and abundant funding from his international stakeholders.


https://www.huffingtonpost. com/muhammad-zulfikar-rakhmat/why-the-uks-secrecy-benny-wanda_b_9250772.html
https://www.kompasiana. com/eko-subur/5.52fb7e46ea834dd248b4580/ipwp-acuh-saja-meskipun-pnwp-dan-knpb-demo-di-papua-barat