By Extinction Rebellion Amsterdam
Part 1: The History of former Dutch New Guinea
What would you say if I told you that you could help save the third largest rainforest in the world, fight for the self-determination of an indigenous community and end colonialism on the world’s second-largest island? To tell you the truth, those of us who live in the Netherlands have the power to bring about such change. Not only do we have the ability to do so, but we also have the responsibility to do it. In this three-part article, I will tell you how we who live here in the Netherlands can fight to end climate change and at the same time amplify and support indigenous people. But first, in part one of this story, I must tell you about the history of a Dutch colony you probably never heard about: West Papua.
The History of West Papua
In the southwestern Pacific Ocean, on the world’s second-largest island of New Guinea, lies West Papua. Initially populated by Melanesian people thousands of years ago, its first contact with the West was through the Dutch colonisation of the region in 1898 when the territory formally became Netherlands New Guinea. When the Netherlands prepared to decolonise their territories in South Asia in the 1950s, the Dutch government recognised that West Papua was ethnically, culturally and geographically distinct from Indonesia, and deserved independence in their own right. West Papua declared independence in 1961, but their victory was short-lived.
Indonesian military invaded West Papua in 1962 and conflict broke out between The Netherlands, West Papua and Indonesia about who had the rights to the territory. To secure support for the invasion, the Indonesian government turned to the Soviet Union for help. Fuelled by the communist fear of the Cold War, the US government began to worry that Soviet support would help spread communism in South East Asia. In a letter to the Dutch Prime Minister in 1962, the US President John F. Kennedy urged the Netherlands to hand West Papua over to Indonesia to avoid communist stronghold in the region. Through US involvement, a meeting between Indonesia and the Netherlands was set up, which resulted in West Papua’s transfer to Indonesia in 1962. The West Papuans were never consulted.
The Act of Free Choice
For the remaining part of the 1960s, there was strong discontent and resistance to Indonesian rule in West Papua. The Indonesian military had killed and arrested thousands of Papuans during its first decade of occupation. In an attempt to settle the disputes, The UN agreed to oversee a vote for independence in West Papua in 1969. The vote was called the “Act of Free Choice” and gave the Papuans a choice between remaining a part of Indonesia or becoming an independent nation. However, the Indonesian military selected 1025 men and women to represent the roughly 800,000 Papuans living in the territory. Due to alleged bribes or threats, they all voted unanimously to remain. Despite international condemnation of the vote, the UN approved the results. The vote has since been called the “Act of No Choice”.
An ongoing conflict
Since Indonesian occupation in the early 1960s, West Papuans have been under continuous attack. The systematic murder, rape and torture perpetrated by the Indonesian military could constitute a genocide. Scholars estimate that between 100,000 and 500,000 people have been killed in the West Papuan conflict since 1962, a conflict which is still ongoing.
Learning the history
It took me four years of living in the Netherlands to learn about West Papua’s conflict and its history as a Dutch colony. I have since learned that many Dutch and Internationals living in the Netherlands do not know about the conflict or that West Papua used to be a Dutch colony. To be part of the solution to help support indigenous activists fighting for the freedom of West Papua, and battle the environmental degradation of a territory that contains the world’s third-largest rain forest, we must begin by recognising and learning its history. Next week you can read part two of this three-part series on XR Medium, which will delve deeper into the Dutch responsibility for the West Papua conflict and the environmental impact of the continuous colonisation of West Papua.
— By Sarah Fuchs