Wednesday, 27 May 2015

West Papua's fight for self determination

A future possibility an independent and self rule West Papua (on the left) at home with Papua New Guinea in Melanesia aka South Asia.

 The Story of West Papua is rarely talked about or mentioned in discussions about the rights of self determination of occupied and oppressed people around the world. Everyone knows the story and struggle of Palestinian, African American, Tamil peoples to live as free people and as dignified human beings. Even the Aboriginal people of Australia and East Timor's struggle against violent Indonesian military rule against Timorese people is now known around the world.

There are hundreds of thousands of islands in the Pacific Ocean. The only time they seem to make the news especially in the United States is when the Ring of Fire is awaken leading to a tsunami, a hurricane or an earthquake. Most of the time, Pacific islands and archipelagos are regarded as a relaxing, breathtaking tourist destinations on par with the Caribbean islands' beauty. However, the Pacific islands have unique histories and cultures that go beyond the tourist brochure.

West Papua is a province of Indonesia's far east and part of the wider Pacific region known as Melanesia in the South Pacific bordering Australia to the East and North. Why is this region named Melanesia? The majority of the people of the New Guinea Island, Solomon Islands, Fiji. Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea are darker people resembling African peoples from mother continent and Aboriginal peoples. They are the descendants of the first migrants ie the Africans who gradually left Africa for Asia and other parts of the world. The Pacific Ocean didn't halt Africans from traveling to the Pacific islands hundreds of thousands of years ago. Its not coincidental that West Papuans or other Melanesian people look, "Black" in many people including Indonesians' eyes. Although Indonesians like many South Asian people are many shades of brown and black. West Papuans share similar culture, art and languages with PNG and Australian Aboriginal people. They are also the indigenous people of their island nations. In neighboring countries such as Philippines, Malaysia and Andaman Islands (India) the indigenous people or original people are darker people who live in the rural areas of their homelands. Papuans like the Aboriginal and original peoples in Phillipines fought against the arrival of European colonizers and conquistadors to their homelands. No people would tolerate occupation no matter the benefits. The West Papuans' fight against European colonialism and genocide is not different from the current fight against Indonesian policy of military force and genocide against West Papuan identity and culture. Indonesian racism against indigenous West Papuans in their homeland have only upped the need for West Papua to be fully liberated from Indonesian rule and become fully self determination with no conditions to appease Indonesia.

Backyard Separatists

Indonesia is home to multi ethnic groups and cultures spread out over thousands of island. It is famous for being the most populous Muslim countries in the world. Indonesia has a history of rebellion across the archipelago. The Indonesian people rose up against the Dutch in the mid 20th Century to demand their rights to self rule and an immediate end to Dutch and other European rule for some 300 years. The Portuguese, Dutch and Australian had controlled Indonesian islands, waterways around the region and Indonesian leaders. Indonesia is also home to a couple of low intensity separatist movements from Aceh in Western Indonesia's Sumatra island which calmed after 2004 Tsunami to Maluku Islands. The Maluku people traded with the Portuguese in 15th century and eventually fought against Dutch and Indonesian rule for most of the 20th century. From 1950-1963, Maluku Islands had formed the Republic of South Malukus but was largely unrecognized.  East Timor gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a brutal 25 year old military occupation that saw the death of 100,000 Timorese. Both East Timor and West Papua .

It was only 50 years ago that Indonesia was seen as torch of Third World liberation movement and the champion of the Global South. The 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia led to the formation of the Non Alignment Movement that served as a beacon for many countries who wanted to remain independent from the USSR and US/Europe sphere of influence throughout the Cold War. These countries pushed decolonization, non aligned economic and political cooperation, revival of indigenous history, culture, government and society that would benefit and address the people's needs instead of foreign or political interest. The Non Alignment Movement's blueprint remains an inspiration for the BRICS countries today.

West Papua has witnessed the jockey over control of the island. Bordered by its most famous neighbor Papua New Guinea, West Papua is often glazed over as a resource rich province of Indonesia. Its identity is mistaken as Indonesian while Papua New Guinea's unique identity and culture is recognized. Indonesian settlers . Whether or not the settlers legal or illegal doesn't spring up on West Papua's legal status in international law. Indonesian government knows the importance of being able to control the access to West Papua's resources and the island's future fate. In the middle of foreign and Indonesian interest in resources are the West Papuans whose needs and struggle are often ignored in regional and international discussions on Asia's resources, BRICS' role in local affairs or the future of Asia. West Papua's status and future referendums on independence and self rule has not been finalized. However, that has not stopped the Melanesian Spearhead Group for voting on West Papua's membership into the regional block. Membership gives West Papua a voice in the region and in one day in the ASEAN block.

Soldiers of Empire

Many Pacific islands including West Papua have faced long periods of military occupation by every empire and foreign power attempting to control the resources and strategic waterways needed by super powers to support their power, respective societies or standard of living. The United States holds over 600+ military bases around the world and over 100,000+ military personnel are stationed in Asia. This includes friendly allies such as South Korea and Japan. The people of Okinawa have been fighting for justice for Okinawan women and girls who have been raped and assaulted by US servicemen from 1990s onward. Only a few of have been fully persecuted. The continual presence of US military base on the island angers most Okinawans for what the bases represents: Hegemony and arrogance, misogyny aimed at local women, super power dictating the foreign policies and defense of an ally against the wishes of the majority citizens of the host country. On the small island Diego Garcia, the Chogasian people have been in over a half century old legal battle with the United Kingdom and U.S. governments for the right to return to their homeland Diego Garcia. In the early 1950s, the British with help from the Americans rounded up and removed the Chogasian people from their island (a British colony) to build an illegal foreign military bases and supply route to monitor Soviet Union's military or sea maneuvers. Sound familiar? The Chogasians were denied from returning in mass from their exile in London and Mauritius. Only a few Chogasians remain in Diego Garcia today. Many other Pacific islanders and African islanders have stories with similar or slightly different outcomes. The trauma and denial of justice is still universal. 

The U.S. is currently moving its military equipment closer to China to monitor Chinese activities and claims to islands in the South China Sea. The Asian region has become militarized over the last several decades from fears of nuclear aggression and attempts by US and NATO to check China and by extension Russia's defense pacts and soft power influences in the region. The US fears also exist in the Middle East and Africa. 

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