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West Papuan Talk for Academy of Management Meeting ( AOM )

West Papuan Talk for Academy of Management Meeting ( AOM ), Boston, 2012

West Papua is a province in New Guinea , a land with around three hundred different languages and a habitat to ancient cultures including the oldest cultivating society. The geography of West Papua spans from snow capped mountain tops in the highlands, to vast areas of lumber and many still unexplored lands in the midlands and prosperous coastal fishing in the lowlands. To begin with, it’s important to know that New Guinea is the second largest island on earth and one of 20,000-30,000 archipelagos in the South Pacific. The island is divided vertically with independent Papua New Guinea occupying the eastern section and West Papua, a province of Indonesia, occupying the western side. There are abundant natural resources including one of the largest goldmines, natural gas, oil, lumber, and fish; Each of these resources began being exploited in the 1960's and still it continues today. The natural resources have been seized by foreign opportunists who see Papua as a place to be exploited for their own purposes.

The people of this forgotten land have been struggling for freedom for over forty years under brutal Indonesian military occupation. The people of the different tribes are being slaughtered, raped and tortured and their exceptional surroundings being ruined, hence its future is at risk and insecure. In their efforts to resist this suffering, the leaders have been arrested, tortured and threatened with death, since their resistance regarded as a crime. For this reason, the leaders who have been involved in peaceful campaigns for freedom, now live in exile where they continue to be involved in education and activism around the ongoing suffering and encouraging the international community to participate in the people’s liberation. Life is difficult for the people of West Papua yet all they ask for is the freedom to speak one’s mind, live without fear in a secure environment, and the opportunity to choose their own government.


Why did I come to Australia in 2006 ? I was being targeted by the Indonesian police (POLRI) and military (TNI) which one circumstance that I was still remembering when I imprisoned twice in a cell police station in Jayapura, West Papua, Indonesia. They arrested me and put a gun behind me and forced me to the police station. They locked me up in an interview room and put a gun in front of my eyes. Three hours later they came to interview me and put me in cell where I had to sleep on a floor that was covered in dried blood. That blood was my friend’s blood – he was arrested a week earlier. They (the Indonesian Army/Police) hate them (student activists) and they killed one of them on the same spot. The people of West Papua, especially the youth and university students, who are actively involved in the peaceful struggle in the city of Jayapura in two thousand and five and two thousand and six have decided that they can’t go back to their studies. As a result of the search and arrest operation after the demonstration in front of the Cendrawasih University, hundreds and perhaps even thousands students have escaped into Papua New Guinea, returned to their own villages for safety or have gone into hiding in the jungles.

In the struggle for freedom, the people of West Papua have explored non-violent resistance to the Indonesia's repressive and colonizing government. The land and people still experience the effects of a disorderly colonial transition and are struggling for the international community to recognize and acknowledge all the years the West Papuan people have suffered systemic abuse of their rights, indigenous culture, and daily lives. West Papua is home to the virgin rainforests remaining apart from the Amazon. Before the first Indonesian military invasion on 19th December 1961, the land had a splendid ecosystem of flora and fauna co-existing with humans. The environment had stunning birds of paradise flying over the natural forests and coral reefs, alpine glaciers and coastal swamps. Since the Indonesian air force dropped troopers into the forest, and the navy dropped soldiers along the coastline, these precious ecosystems and aesthetic value of the land have been increasingly lost. The Indonesians were interested in gaining control of the land's rich natural resources and, after formal acquisition in 1969, they promoted the social costs of environmentally destructive development projects. This encouraged more Indonesians to migrate to West Papua so as to make profits from the territory’s natural resources. The increased population led to destruction of forests, damaging much of the ecosystem and eventually destroying it. The occupation of the Indonesians also led to increased competition and conflicts over land resources and institutionalized racism in the education sector, economy, and enhanced government bureaucracy. These proceedings triggered a self determination struggle in which the colonists were at first challenged by a handful of poorly equipped guerilla fighters.

For almost fifty years, the people of West Papua had resisted Indonesian occupation in many forms and have found more success when using non-violent strategies and tactics, which democratized the struggle because it increased the level of participation among the people. The different tactics employed included public demonstrations by community groupings and students, unarmed opposition, flag raisings during national identity celebrations, public rallies, songs of defiance in the mother-tongues of the different tribes, pronouncements of an independent nation, and promotion and retention of national identity. Moreover, clandestine non-violent resistance groups and resistance to the colonial power through the stories told to the young generation in each home and village throughout West Papua were also a form of tactic. The organizers and activists have used these tactics to overcome the challenge of international awareness about the ongoing genocide and are able to achieve significant victories in an effort to fight for freedom.Yet the international community is becoming increasingly aware for the need for peace and justice in every sense in the land. Papuan people need healthy and prosperous communities and a healthy economic environment for the nation. Like other nations, Papuans search for democracy, justice and equality, but West Papua continues to be haunted by what has been called a 'memoria passionis', or a collective 'memory of suffering'. On the one hand this refers to the complex of suffering experiences of the West Papuans under Indonesian government control for nearly five decades. On the other hand the Memoria Passionis is a theological term referring to the redemptive sufferings of Jesus. This faith-construct imbues many West Papuans with a sense of identity, purpose and meaning in a life of afflictions and subjugation. In that sense it is analogous to the early black American experience of slavery in America, finding cultural expression in their 'spirituals' e.g. Nobody knows the trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus. This has enabled them to celebrate 'life in the midst of death' and transform defeat into hope of victory, hate into love, violence into peace and the inhuman dispensing of wrong into commitment to justice. The ongoing conflicts, however, inspire West Papuans to endeavour to solve their 'memoria passionis' through non-violence. In this way their claims can be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international conventions.

As a former political prisoner, over the years I have worked alongside many activists and political leaders including Thom Wainggai, Jacob Rumbiak, Edison Waromi, Alberth Kaliele, Septinus Paiki, Sonny Mosso, Teriyanus Yocku, Junus Wenda, Benny wenda, Nelson Kabak, Niko Mote, Albert Kirimadi, Markus Yenu, Marthen Manggaprouw, Eduard Paririe, Piter Hiowaty, Marselus Daimboa, Jenggo Nuburi, Jack Wanggai, Filep Karma, many more other activists.

The most critical factor in the non-violent struggle has been and continues to be the movement's capacity to educate people about their opportunity to participate in worthwhile struggle for their benefit, spreading the necessary skills required for effective civil resistance and raising international awareness. The Indonesian government has long seen this movement as extremely dangerous for its international reputation, because of its basis in peaceful protest. The Indonesia military began to target those where the key new leaders in the struggle among the university students. I was one those targeted. Therefore, as a former political prisoner, I felt my life was dangerous, fear and full of intimidation if I still continuing to organise the rally or protest against Indonesia government and his authority peacefully in West Papua.

Forty-nine years later I find myself living in Washington, D.C., the capitol of the powerful and influential government of the United States of America. Since I arrived in what Americans call “Our Nation’s Capitol”, I feel fortunate to have spent many hours with professors, students, government officials, the United States Institute for Peace (USIP),International Center on Nonviolent Conflict ( ICNC), Peace Brigade International ( PBI ) , Amnesty International ( AI ), other NGO’s, friends, and their families discussing the situation in West Papua. All these people believe that nonviolent resistance is the most effective way to fight for independence and this will open up significant opportunities to reach out to the public.

The other challenge is the desire of a profitable global produce market driven by extractive industries and states that assist them, leading to the activists and leaders devising clever strategies and tactics to overcome this extremely challenging situation. For example, the strike organized against one of the largest United States based mining company, whereby the workers downed their tools, causing the company huge losses leading to negotiations that saw the workers’ wages increased. The goal for the popular resistance as opposed to the guerilla form of resistance is to minimize the risks involved when fighting against the Indonesian government. The Indonesians are experienced in the field of war, and simultaneously work within a framework that enhances mobilization of the people of West Papua. It is evident that apart from the economic hardships, the movement operates under the constant threat of violence, though the people try to mute this by exposing issues of injustice, exploitation, and abuse to the international community, which has not been easy. The cultural and ethnic distinction of the West Papuans is a key part of the resistance as the people attempt to preserve and protect their identity while the Indonesians try to absorb or erase it. This is achieved through the resisters incorporating traditional chants, dances, symbols and songs as a strategy of building unity as well as expressing their varied identities. The most important symbol of the people’s determination is the displaying of the morning star flag, which is considered an incendiary act of political defiance. The Indonesian authorities have recently been arresting anyone caught
doing so.

The continuation of arresting and incarcerating nonviolent political prisoners since the 1980’s and the October 19, 2011 arrests of over three hundred civilians during the Third National Congress, including our friends and colleagues Edison Waromi and Forkorus Yaboisembut, Prime Minister and President, respectively, will not deter Melanesians from their nonviolent struggle until we are practicing self determination within a democratic framework, and are recognized, respected and supported by the international community.

Despite vast amount of evidence that shows West Papuan commitment to achieve freedom against the background of intense suffering and deficiency, the international community has been denied the opportunity to hear of their struggle. The Indonesian government has been very restrictive in allowing diplomats and foreign media to enter West Papua. This has also been enhanced by the geographic isolation of the island, which poses challenges to anyone intending to get information about the territory. Seeking to share information with the outside world is also a challenge, as it would involve great risk to anyone trying to get information out of the territory. Recent technological advancements have enabled these barriers to be breached because through the internet and social media, information can reach even the most remote population in the world. For example, the graphic video of Indonesian soldiers torturing an armed West Papuan man on You Tube sparked Amnesty International and other human rights groups to urge that the soldiers be put to trial for torture. This was a small victory for the movement as it forced Indonesia to acknowledge military abuses in the region.

Conclusion :

West Papua's struggle is a tragic, rich and tough drama about cold-war politics, the depravity of an unrestricted military dictatorship, greed and corruption, the struggle to end a colonialist era as well as an indifferent Indonesian public and international public to the atrocities of fifty years perpetrated on the Papuan people. It is also a drama about sacrifice, hope and courage of a people who have never stopped and will never stop fighting for justice and freedom. The ideology of civil resistance of the people of West Papua is best described with the metaphor of the woman, bearer of children. Although her body bleeds, as does the collective memory of sufferings West Papuans have gone through under the Indonesian occupation, she is able to survive and give birth to new life in the world. This life is in the long run used to refer to the people achieving freedom, justice, equality and democracy. The ongoing conflicts motivate the West Papuans to find a solution to their sufferings through non-violent strategies rooted in
their profound culture and ancient wisdom so that their claims can be resolved in a peaceful manner and according to international conventions.

Herman Wainggai
West Papuan Independence Advocate

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