Avoiding Another East-Timor Atrocity: The Fight for Indigenous Sovereignty and Self-Determination in West Papua

Part of the Contemporary Systems Thinking book series (CST)


The province of West Papua (also commonly known as Papua, Western New Guinea, Irian Jaya or West Irian) on the western mainland and surrounding islands of New Guinea is native land to 17 indigenous ethnicities. These ethnic groups are referred to as Papuan people, along with an additional 38 ethnicities in neighbouring Papa New Guinea (Elmslie, The Asia-Pacific Journal 15(2):6, 2017). The region of West Papua was officially recognised as Indonesian territory after the controversial ‘Act of Free Choice’ vote in 1969 (National Security Archive, Indonesia’s 1969 takeover of West Papua not by ‘free choice’, Washington, D.C., 1–2, 2004). As the 50-year anniversary of the 1969 referendum approaches, the Papuan people’s fight for independence is once again hot on the agenda. This essay will examine the fight for self-determination in West Papua up to its most recent developments. A comparison will also be drawn between East-Timor’s 1999 independence from Indonesia. The main aim of this essay is to show that Papuan people have a right to sovereignty in West Papua and to highlight why their desire for self-determination should be supported by the international community. As West Papua edges closer to independence from Indonesia, necessary actions will be discussed in hope of avoiding another East-Timor-esque atrocity. This assignment is restricted to only utilising secondary research data; however, it is not limited to analysing transformative mixed methods research for the benefit of furthering social justice (Mertens, Qualitative Inquiry 16(6):469, 2010). Both qualitative and quantitative research data will be assessed to formulate the analysis.


Atrocity Mining social and environmental injustice 


  1. ABC News. (2016). Indonesia accuses Pacific nations of ‘misusing’ the UN after Papua criticisms. [online]. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
  2. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic Yale Law School. (2004). Indonesian human rights abuses in West Papua: Application of the law of genocide to the history of Indonesian control (p. 1). New Haven: Yale University.Google Scholar
  3. Asian Human Rights Commission. (2013). The neglected genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977–1978 (p. 11). Hong Kong: Asian Human Rights Commission.Google Scholar
  4. Chega! The report of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste (CAVR). (2005). Commission for reception, truth and reconciliation in East Timor. Dili.Google Scholar
  5. Coates, K. S. (2004). Introduction: Indigenous peoples in the age of globalization. In K. Coates (Ed.), A global history of indigenous peoples: Struggle and survival (p. 1). Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. (2017). Federal Republic of West Papua. [online]. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
  7. Elmslie, J. (2017). The Great Divide: West Papuan demographics revisited; Settlers dominate coastal regions but the highlands still overwhelmingly Papuan. The Asia-Pacific Journal, 15(2), 6.Google Scholar
  8. Elmslie, J., & Webb-Gannon, C. (2013). A slow-motion genocide: Indonesian rule in West Papua. Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity, 1(2), 144.Google Scholar
  9. Fox, L. (2017). Pacific nations call for UN investigations into West Papua. [online]. ABC News. Retrieved October 26, 2017, from
  10. (2015). More support for West Papua’s freedom from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. [online]. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
  11. Malaspinas, A., et al. (2016). A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia. Nature, 538(7624), 207–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Mertens, D. M. (2010). Transformative mixed methods research. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(6), 469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. National Security Archive. (2004). Indonesia’s 1969 takeover of West Papua not by “free choice” (pp. 1–2). Washington D.C.: The George Washington University.Google Scholar
  14. Osborne, R. (1985). Indonesia’s secret war (1st ed., pp. 87–88). North Sydney: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  15. Robinson, J. (2010). Self-determination and the limits of justice: West Papua and East Timor (p. 172, 175, 187). Melbourne: Future Leaders.Google Scholar
  16. Rollo, S. (2013). Ending our pragmatic complicity in West Papua. [online]. ABC News. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from
  17. (2016). About ULMWP. [online]. Retrieved October 26, 2017, from
  18. United Liberation Movement for West Papua. (2017). West Papuan People’s Petition signed by 1.8 million. West Papuans handed to the UN by ULMWP.Google Scholar
  19. (2004). West Papua: Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu calls on UN to act. [online]. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from
  20. Webb-Gannon, C. (2013). Indonesia’s reign of violence in West Papua. Refugee Transitions, 27, 33.Google Scholar
  21. Wenda, B. (2017a). Massacre of 5 people in 24 hours—Under Indonesia, West Papua is becoming another East Timor—United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). [online]. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from
  22. Wenda, B. (2017b). West Papua REFUSES the Day of Betrayal—1969 Act of NO Choice. [online]. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. E.
    • 1
  1. 1.Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations