Indonesia’s brutal colonial project​

A colonial project hundreds of years in the making


by Samira Homerang Saunders

Between Thursday June 27th and Saturday June 29th, the Centre hosted Session 53 of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, on State and Environmental Violence in West Papua.

Over the three days, the seven judges and audience members joining both in person and online via livestream, heard from nineteen eyewitnesses, most delivered live via-zoom from West Papuan community members, recounting their deeply personal stories of grief, displacement, arrest and various massacres at the hands of the Indonesian state. These eye-witness testimonies were punctuated by ten resource testimonies, that is academics and NGOs who have conducted in-depth research into the situation in West Papua.

What became increasingly evident over the three days, was the interconnectedness between the struggle for self-determination, resource and land grabbing and the intensity and brutality of the Indonesian government’s efforts to silence and hide any narrative other than the official one: that West Papua is inherently a part of Indonesia. First hand accounts of massacres and mutilation cases from across West Papua were accompanied by photographic evidence.

While not a court of law, peoples’ tribunals allow for those who have been historically marginalized to be listened to with the respect and seriousness their experiences merit – something that can often be diluted within the confines of the legal framework. 

Described by Amnesty International Indonesia as an “historic” event, this Permanent Peoples Tribunal has already garnered international attention, yet is only a stepping stone in a much longer struggle to bring the situation and experiences of West Papuans to public attention. The Indonesian government is under pressure from the international community to allow a visit to West Papua by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  We hope this will add to the pressure.

Although the Indonesian government was invited to provide a defense presentation, they refused to respond and an ex-officio statement was presented by the prosecution team in their absence, referencing the official state position through available statements and claims.

On Saturday the 29th, the last day of the hearing, the panel of judges delivered a preliminary judgment to the attendees. They will now be taking a month to consider the evidence and deliver a more robust final verdict.

This excerpt from the preliminary judgment gives some indication of what the verdict might say,

“What has happened in these regions cannot be constrained by the term “environmental degradation.” In the view of many Papuan witnesses to this Tribunal, there is no sense in which the “environmental degradation” that they describe can be disaggregated from a project tending toward the obliteration of a people, or what was called by more than one witness a “slow genocide.” It is not that the poisoning of lands, waters, plant life and human bodies testified to by the witnesses is “accompanied by” racism, that the racism experienced every day by Papuans is a mere “instrument of control and manipulation of nature,” or that industrial extraction of the type currently being experienced by Papuans could conceivably be “consented to” by them some day or be made “noncolonialist.” Rather, the deforestation and extraction is itself racism. It is itself, despite the assertions of the Indonesian state, the very apotheosis of a colonial project that has been hundreds of years in the making.”

Samira Homerang Saunders is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Climate Crime and Justice. You can find links to the Indictment, to press reports of the event and to other commentary on our ‘Events’ page.