For over 50 years, the black indigenous community occupying the West Papua province of Indonesia have been fighting for their independence.
The region was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 as provided by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2504 (XXIV). The annexation was considered controversial as the Dutch, who had colonised the region considered West Papua geographically, ethnically and culturally different from Indonesia. It, therefore, prepared the region for its own independence throughout the 1950s. But this was not meant to be as Indonesia took over in 1962.
Presently, the people of West Papua are suffering at the hands of the Indonesian authorities, who have waged a war against them.
They consider themselves Melanesian, a group of people with dark skin, living in the highland western half of the island of New Guinea.
West Papua is home to at least 250 diverse tribes, each with its unique language and culture. Most of them still live traditional subsistence lifestyles.
According to human rights reports, over 500,000 people have been killed in the fight for independence. Thousands more have been tortured, raped, imprisoned and even made to disappear after detainment.
Aside from this, the people of West Papua do not have basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and they are living in constant state of fear and intimidation. Foreign media and human rights activists are restricted from the region, making it quite difficult to document the situation.
The resistance started way back but one of the most vital is in 1970 when an armed guerrilla movement called OPM (the Free Papua Movement) was formed. The OPM, armed mostly with bows and arrows, carried out a number of guerrilla attacks on the Indonesian military as well as multi-international establishments in the area.
A reprieve came in 1998 when the Indonesian dictator General H. Muhammad Suharto died. For the first time, the flag of West Papua was flown and a public congress was held in 2000. The congress reaffirmed the independence of West Papua and the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) was established.
However, this reprieve was short-lived. The Indonesian military moved in and shot thousands of people, killing the president of the PDP Theys Eluay in 2001.
The fight of the West Papua people is still ongoing and it is being noticed by the international community.
In 2017, exiled West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda presented a petition to the United Nations’ decolonisation committee, seeking the independence of the region.
The petition bore 1.8 million signatures of West Papuans, who put their lives in danger for signing it. The document was banned by the Indonesian government but found its way to Wenda who then presented it, saying:
The people have risked their lives, some have been beaten up, some are in prison. In 50 years, we have never done this before, and we had to organise this in secret. People were willing to carry it between villages, to smuggle it from one end of Papua to the other, because this petition is very significant for us in our struggle for freedom.
At the moment, the struggle continues.