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Indigenous peoples protest in West Papua

Indonesia is home to an estimated number of 50-70 million indigenous peoples. Indonesia has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Still, the government does not fully accept the concept of indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples in Indonesia are increasingly experiencing criminalisation and violence, often related to investments in indigenous territories.


August 2, 2019.- “Monkey”, “pig”, “dog” – these words were shouted at a group of West Papuan students, who had been arrested and later released due to lack of evidence. They were accused of burning the Indonesian flag.

This is the latest development in a more than 60-year struggle for the independence of West Papua. Massive protests are currently taking place in West Papua, and news of victims on both sides has reached the media. A local indigenous organisation condemns the racist remarks and general stigmatisation of indigenous peoples in West Papua.

Thousands of people in West Papua have gone to the streets protesting against Indonesia's government, and against the racism, they encounter in Indonesian society. The demonstrations are believed to have been ignited by racist comments made by security forces towards Papuan students in Surabaya. Security forces allegedly called the students "monkeys" and "dogs".

Photo credit: One PNG

Recently, the situation has escalated and several people have reportedly been killed in the demonstrations. However, it is difficult to get any confirmed information as the government has shut down parts of the internet in the easternmost territory in Indonesia. Read more here

AMAN – an indigenous organisation representing more than 2,332 indigenous communities in Indonesia – released a statement last week where it "strongly condemns the siege, attack and stigma of Papuans that are said to be "monkies" by a mass organisations [sic] and state apparatus (police and army) against Papuan students in Surabaya". Read the full statement here (in Bahasa Indonesia)

Protestors demand independence

Despite being a rich region in natural resources, very few benefits have reached the 2.7 million inhabitants of West Papua, where an estimated 50 per cent is indigenous peoples and 50 per cent Indonesian migrants. The region is one of the poorest in Indonesia and demands of independency has simmered since its incorporation into Indonesia in 1969.

In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region. The current protestors are carrying the West Papua morning star flag – which is banned by the Indonesian government – and are calling for a new referendum on whether the region should remain part of Indonesia.

"IWGIA condemns any racist remarks made towards indigenous peoples and calls for the government to recognise indigenous peoples' rights to self-determined development to be respected," says Signe Leth, IWGIA's Senior Advisor.

Five facts about West Papua

  • The region consists of the two provinces of West Papua and Papua
  • It is home to around 2.7 million inhabitants
  • 50% of the population is indigenous peoples and the rest Indonesian migrants
  • In 2016, poverty affected 27% of the population (significantly higher than the 11% average for Indonesia)
  • Maternal mortality, illiteracy and HIV infection is significantly higher in West Papua

Read more about the situation in West Papua in this chapter from The Indigenous World 2019

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