Skip navigation


West Papua has been under military occupation since 1872

The Nederlands 'officially' included West Papua into the Dutch East Indies in 1872. A site of horrific conflict during World War II, the region was returned to Dutch administration after the war. In 1961, Dutch authorities prepared to cede the territory back to the indigenous people in cooperation with a Papuan Representative Council. On December 1 1961 the Morning Star flag was raised for the first time and West Papuans asserted their right to self-determination. The Indonesian state believed it had a right to West Papuan lands, however, and successfully pressured the United Nations to agree to their demands. On 15 August 1962, representatives from Indonesia and the Netherlands signed the "Agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands Concerning West New Guinea (West Irian)" at the United Nations Headquarters. West Papua was placed under UN administration before being handed over to Indonesian administration on 1 May 1963. At this point the Indonesian military invasion and occupation began in earnest. Consistent with the terms of the UN Agreement, Indonesian authorities held an 'Act of Free Choice', a referendum held between 14 July and 2 August 1969 in which 1,025 men and women selected by the Indonesian military, and surrounded by armed soldiers, voted unanimously in favour of Indonesian control. 

Expressions of resistance to the 'Act of Free Choice' in West Papua

No West Papuan representatives were party to the United Nations decisions about their future.

The international framework that allowed the Indonesian occupation to take place was based on the economic and political interests of the United States and its allies the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. The United Nations actively denied West Papuans' right to self-determination and supported the Indonesian occupation.



Militarism and extractivism

During the first few years of the Indonesian government’s occupation West Papuan resistance was brutally crushed through military operations and aerial bombardment. Two years before the United Nations formally facilitated the transfer of Dutch sovereignty to Indonesia – all without West Papuans' consent – the United States and Indonesia established a massive gold and copper mine in West Papua. From the beginning, the Freeport mine was declared a national asset and security project protected by a massive Indonesian military presence. Old fashioned colonialism marked by territorial occupation by a foreign military force remained and was augmented by industrial scale extractivism: intensive capital investment in the extractive industries and the influx of large numbers of Indonesians to displace indigenous West Papuans. In the early years the Indonesian government’s transmigration program was funded by the World Bank. Although on paper the project was designed as development to benefit ‘the poor’ in reality the Indonesian government’s sole objective was to protect its 'territorial integrity', in other words, the right to log, drill, mine and extract. It was militarised development that in actual fact generated poverty.

TNI soldiers 'securing' the Freeport-Grasberg mine in Intan Jaya, West Papua.

The protection of private investments by Indonesia's armed forces is enshrined in law, where the project has 'strategic national asset' status. This special status is accorded to most industrial scale resource extraction projects. TNI has an official role in the 'Food Estates' aka palm oil plantations, logging coupes, oil rigs and large mines in West Papua, 'protecting' these projects from displaced indigenous people protesting the destruction of their lands. TNI often assumes an unofficial role providing 'security' for projects such as Freeport, working - in uniform - as paid mercenaries. If a mining corporation such as Freeport refuses to pay this 'protection money', TNI retribution can be brutal. In 2002, Kopassus members killed three foreign teachers in Intan Jaya after Freeport stopped paying approximately $5 million per year in 'protection'. 


Displacement and dispossession

Along the Papua New Guinean border from Arso in the north to Sota in the south indigenous Papuans have been displaced by large-scale logging which then gave way to palm oil. The territorial displacement was exacerbated by ‘transmigration’, the relocation of Javanese and other Indonesian workers to work for the extractive industries.  In the northern region of Keerom, for example, indigenous Papuans went from being 100% of the population to 40%. The border was also secured by military bases and the insertion of Indonesian military personnel into every level of society including the most remote village.

Colonial occupation and neo-colonial investment and transmigration are supported by a range of political policies, most recently UP4B (the Unit for the Acceleration of Development) and MP3EI (Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development). 


Deforestation, logging and palm oil plantations are rapidly destroying one of the world's last large rainforests in West Papua. The same militarised extractivism in the archipelago has already annihilated the jungles of Borneo (Kalimantan) and Sumatera.

In the south of West Papua, foreign companies such as Korean companies Korindo and PosCo (who also export weapons to Indonesia) were invited to participate in MIFEE, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate. The MIFEE is a massive 1.2 million hectare land grab, that will displace tens of thousands of Indigenous West Papuans who have lived on their land since time immemorial. Indigenous farming and forest dwelling communities are deprived of their land rights, including forests, gardens and rivers, and forced to become day laborers for subsistence wages. All of these palm oil, logging and mining companies have connections with current or former Indonesian military officers, notably Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.

Rising Resistance

West Papuan resistance to colonialism, neo-colonialism and militarism has existed since the beginning of the occupation, whether we are talking about Dutch or Indonesian rule. Defending customary land is the foundation of a larger resistance movement for self-determination. Since 1998 that resistance has been overwhelmingly through nonviolent means. In the south of West Papua where the MIFEE project is being established the indigenous Malind Anim people have occupied the offices of companies trying to access their land. Members of the Malind Anim, for instance, blocked the road, turning company access roads into food gardens.


In the wider political movement resistance has been growing. In 2014 the three largest resistance groups came together to form an umbrella organisation: the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. The ULMWP’s first campaign goal was to seek membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, an important sub-regional forum with status at the United Nations. Inside West Papua over 500 people were arrested, scores tortured and one person was killed. The centrepiece of this campaign was a paper petition signed by over 55,000 people. Outside the country – in the Melanesian nations of Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in particular – massive mobilisation compelled governments to support the West Papuan cause. As a result, the ULMWP gained observer status at the MSG. This effectively creates a permanent forum for political negotiations with Indonesia.

These daily streams of small everyday acts of resistance are in the process of converging into a raging river of political dissent.

Colonialism, development and militarism show no sign of abating in West Papua but the West Papuans are more determined than ever before to continue their struggle for freedom, dignity and the right to self-determination.