Unspoken Genocide: The West Papuan Holocaust

Alia Abbas
4 min readAug 9, 2021


As the Indonesian government attempts to ban network and journalism in West Papua, hundreds of students fight for not only the self determination of the province, but the justice and freedom of democracy (Photo credit to Muhsin Ali).

(repost of 2019 published article on the Bengal Beat: original linked at the bottom)

There is a new war at the heart of Southeast Asia. Last fall, protests lit the bonfire of nearly half a century of racism, torture, and discrimination against the people of West Papua. Today the once silent crisis rages louder. West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea. It borders the east independent nation of Papua. The micro-Indonesian province lies just 200km north of Australia. The rich biodiverse land consists of mangrove swamps, vast mountains, virgin rainforests, and numerous stretched archipelagos with flourishing coral reefs. It is inhabited by many unique species, including tree kangaroos and the birds of paradise. However, West Papua is also home to other inhabitants: over 250 diverse tribes, all with unique languages, cultures, and traditional subsistence lifestyles. The majority of this indigenous population lives high in the large mountainous interior and practices small scale domestic lifestyles by tending smaller farms of cultivated yams and pasturing pigs. Other aboriginals, usually those in the coastal lowlands, live the hunter-gatherer nomadic lifestyle.

During the colonial era of the territory in 1898, West Papua was colonized by the Dutch and was known as Netherlands New Guinea. The name of West Papua emerged as the Dutch began to prepare the people for independence. At the end of 1961, West Papua held a congressional meeting where the people declared independence and raised their flag: The Morning Star. However, in months the dream was deceased with the Indonesian invasion that took place from 1962 to 2000, and renamed the territory Irian Jaya. The name was despised by the aboriginal population who refuted Indonesian reign and continued the independence of West Papua. Over half a century, the Indonesian government has been socially engineering a massive scale relocation of millions of these aboriginals to live in camps cut into the forests of West Papua.

In fact, the Indonesian government was so determined that it had turned to the Soviet Union for help in gaining control of West Papua. At the height of the Cold War, the US Government urged the Dutch prime minister to hand over West Papua as the Soviets involvement could have increased the spread of communism in Southeast Asia. However, some strongly believe the contemporary structure of Indonesia would have thrived under the Soviets influences.

After a significant uproar, the Indonesian government instigated a special autonomic deal, which led to them renaming the entire island Papua. In 2003, without Papuans consultation, the Indonesian government decided to separate the entire province into two separate provinces: Papua and West Papua. Many Indonesians believe the continuous renaming is deceptive and an act to divert attention from the central issue: denying West Papua self determination.

The modern world is just now arriving to the foreign micro-island, as the access to developing and high speed technology and internet has grown significantly in the province. Many young Papuans are using this new technology to coordinate and communicate their struggles for freedom to the rest of the world. Many of these Papuans have left their villages to study at universities across Indonesia and Australia to gain support for self determination and educate themselves on the systems of a sovereign state.

“It’s time the UN made amends for its collusion with Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua in the 1960s. The people of West Papua have a right to self-determination. The UN should supervise a referendum to allow a genuine act of free choice,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

As the youth of Indonesia advocates through mass demonstrations and large networks digital activism, I met a determined young adult, Muhsin Ali, from Malaysia who represents the large number of students who are actively fighting for sensible government rule in their country.

“Today there is chaos in Indonesia where tens of thousands of students in various regions have been holding massive demonstrations since the last 20 years, it is caused by government policies related to making controversial laws which are considered not pro-people.” stated Indonesian student and activist Muhsin Ali

The issue of West Papua gained mass attention in the fall of 2019, as international agendas and Papuans alerted world leaders of the injustice taking place. Despite the ban of foreign journalism in West Papua, mass media is covering stories and leaking footage of Papuans tortured, villages burning, and devastating logging of the rainforests.

“Among the policies in question are the drafting of a commission on corruption eradication commission, revision of the criminal law book, land law, environmental issues, criminalization of certain groups, repressive attitude of the police, and racism in Papua which results in rebellion because of the governments incompetence to take fix it.” continued Ali.

There are few demends considered the worst alike the problems regarding the draft law on the eradication of corruption, which is placing the policy wrongfully, where the function of this commission is weakened amid the many cases of corruption that occurred. Also in the revision of the criminal law there are some unreasonable clauses, such as fines for beggars

“Rape of wives, fines against livestock, to threats to government critics who are considered to limit freedom of opinion and seem authoritarian. Even the riots in Papua that were happening were not taken seriously by the government, even the government seemed to cover up this issue by restricting internet access and neglect of refugees, even though the riots in Papua had claimed the lives of approximately 200 people who died [as of fall of 2019]” added Ali.