west papua

West Papuan indigeneous people walking in the forest

about West Papua

“West Papua” refers to the Indonesian half of the Island of New Guinea, which is home to some of the largest and most biodiverse tropical rainforests and coral reef systems in the world. It has a higher level of plant biodiversity than any other island on earth, and hosts thousands of unique species of flora and fauna including rare orchids, birds of paradise and tree kangaroos.

West Papua is also one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse places in the world - with over 250 ethnically diverse groups who speak over 280 languages and dialects, and who play a critical role in protecting these vital ecosystems and enabling and nurturing their role as climate regulators.

The eyes of the world are closed to the fate of West Papuans. We have suffered in silence for too long. Now is the time for change.
Jungle and mountains in West Papua

The conflict

Unfortunately, decades of conflict, political instability, human rights violations and inequitable and illegal resource extraction have begun to take their toll,  as outsiders - including the Indonesian government - have looked to profit off West Papua’s rich natural resources. An Indonesian-led programme of ‘development’ is carving open Papua’s forests, burning its peatlands, polluting its rivers and decimating its wildlife as the state seeks to access everything from fossil fuels to gold, and to create space for a new food estate by removing an estimated 1.3 million hectares of primary rainforest.

Meanwhile, Indigenous West Papuans - who have long contested Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua - are becoming a minority in their own lands as a result of ongoing marginalisation, and ever increasing migration from other islands. West Papuan calls for liberation and self-determination are being met with excessive violence and repression, and many consider themselves to be being subjected to a genocide by the Indonesian state.  

Conflict timeline


West Papua is colonised by the Netherlands (or the Dutch East Indies) along with the rest of the islands that currently constitute modern-day Indonesia.


After seven decades of Dutch colonial rule The Republic of Indonesia is formed, declaring independence from the Netherlands and appointing Soekarno as its first President. West Papua (or Netherlands New Guinea) remains under Dutch control, and starts preparing for its own independence.


The Indonesian government – which recognises the profits that could be derived from Papua’s rich natural resources – contests the idea of Papuan independence, arguing instead that Western New Guinea should become part of Indonesia, such that Indonesia would be the successor state to the whole of the Dutch East Indies. 

Bilateral negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands take place between 1950- 1953, and from 1954 Indonesia takes the ongoing dispute to the United Nations.


A congress of Indigenous Papuans raises the Morning Star Flag on December 1st in what is now known as Jayapura, singing a new national anthem and announcing that West Papua is officially an independent nation. From then on, this is known as Independence Day.


The declaration of West Papuan independence is not officially recognised by the international community, nor the Republic of Indonesia. Under pressure from America, the Dutch agree to relinquish Netherlands New Guinea to Indonesia under a UN Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). 

The New York Agreement is signed, stipulating that a Papuan vote on independence must be held before 1969. 


The Free Papua Movement, or Free Papua Organisation (OPM), is formed, seeking to take over Indonesian administration of Western New Guinea and declare an independent West Papua.


The Indonesian military organises the promised independence referendum, ironically known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’. 1,025 Indigenous Papuans are hand-picked by the Indonesian State - less than 1% of those who should have been eligible - and forced to vote against independence at gunpoint. 

In spite of being an undemocratic act, the vote is approved by the United Nations, cementing West Papua’s place under Indonesian rule.


The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) is formed as the military wing of the OPM, which is the beginning of decades of actions against the Indonesian state.  

Freeport mine (now known as Grasberg) is officially opened, becoming the largest gold mine in the world, and kick-starting decades of environmental and human rights abuses in the Timika region, including the large-scale destruction of forest areas. Exploitation of West Papua’s resources begins in earnest. 


West Papua is granted ‘Special Autonomy status’ via the Otsus law, with the idea that the Papuan Peoples’ Assembly (MRP) will have the right to administer local government and govern natural resources, including through receiving increased revenue from the Indonesian state. 

Members of the MRP remain discontent with the enactment of this law, claiming that in reality all powers remain in the hands of Indonesia’s Central Government. 


The Special Automoy Law is ratified, reversing a ban on the use of the Morning Star flag - the symbol of West Papuan independence. The law states that the flag may be raised, as long as it is raised alongside the Indonesian flag, with the latter raised higher than the Morning Star flag.


President Sukarnoputri moves to split West Papua into two provinces (Papua and West Papua) and grants the region special welfare funding.


A United Nations independent expert on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, is blocked from visiting Indonesia, reportedly due to the inclusion of Papua in his proposed itinerary.


The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is formed to drive the peaceful case for Papuan independence, with an agreement to elect new leaders every 5 years.

Security forces open fire at protesters who are peacefully opposing military brutality in Paniai, in the Central Highlands, where protesters had gathered to challenge the torture of a 14 year old boy. The order is reportedly given that “if the masses offer resistance more than three times shoot them dead.” Four people are killed and a further 17 injured. 

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) later rules this to be a “gross human rights violation” and accuses the Indonesian military (TNI) of obstructing justice in regards to the incident.


President Widodo announces that he will lift decades old access restrictions and allow accredited foreign media to have unimpeded access to Papua. This announcement has yet to be followed through.


In response to concerns from the international community about ongoing human rights abuses in the region, Indonesia agrees to issue an invitation to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua and assess the humanitarian situation there. The invitation has still not been issued. 

Members of the TPN-PB kill 18 people working on the controversial trans-Papua mega highway, which is seeking to open up a 4,300km development corridor across Papua. In response, there is an escalation in violence between the Indonesian military and the TPN-PB.


Further protests break out across Papua after policemen in Java reportedly call a group of Papuan students racist names, including ‘monkey’. At least 43 people are killed, according to Human Rights Watch, including one soldier, and 6,000 troops are deployed to quell the violence.


The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) announces that it has set up a government-in-waiting to start working towards independence.  

President Widodo reiterates that the Government in Jakarta is the ‘sole authority’ in the region.


The Republic of Indonesia moves unilaterally to renew Papua’s Special Autonomy Law, making a series of amendments and additions that pave the way for Papua to be split into additional administrative areas. Only one of the 51 sub-laws proposed by the Papuan people remains approved, which was the setting up of the MRP. 

The MRP seek a judicial review of the law, on the grounds that it reduces their authority, and violates the constitutional rights of Indigenous Papuans


The Central Government signs the Omnibus Law into effect, changing 81 laws relating to environmental preservation, and restricting the right of local Governments to West Papuan lands. This includes a controversial law to allow those who saw illegally operating concessions to retroactively apply for permits and escape sanctions

Plans to split Papua into five provinces rather than two go ahead. Estimates suggest that this will require an additional 8 military command centres in the region, bringing over 6,400 additional troops into what is already the most militarised region of Indonesia. 

The Chief Security Minister claims that 82% of Papuans want this split to occur, when in reality Indigenous Papuans have gathered over 700,000 signatures on a petition rejecting the move on the grounds that the MRP were not consulted, that this is a ‘divide and rule’ tactic, and that leadership roles are unlikely to be handed to Indigenous Papuans.


New Zealand Pilot Philip Mehrtens is kidnapped by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB), who say they will not release him until West Papua is granted independence. 

In response, the Indonesian military declares a ‘combat alert’ and sends thousands of new troops to the region, moving indiscriminately to remove Indigenous Papuans from their lands both in Nduga, where the pilot is being kept, as well as elsewhere. Reports surface of the military use of mortar shells and bombs. 

The military, including special unit officers, begin to clear vast areas of customary lands to make way for new provincial government offices. Affected indigenous peoples claim that the land has been taken without the required free, prior and informed consent of customary land rights holders. The military claim that indigenous land rights holders have been consulted and approved the move.  

“The situation has just become absolutely critical. We need to talk. I no longer care what happens to me. As long as there is a platform for me to speak about the situation, then I will, because I must. They are eating from our lands and killing our people, and destroying our identity in the process”.
West Papuan woman in traditional outfit

Present Day

The conflict in West Papua has escalated significantly over the past few years, most recently in response to the kidnapping of New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens by members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN-PB) – the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Over 2,000 additional Indonesian military personnel were deployed to the region in March 2023, and the declaration of a ‘combat alert’ in the central highlands of West Papua has seen these troops move indiscriminately to displace indigenous peoples from their lands under the guise of searching for the missing pilot.

internally displaced people since 2019
indigenous papuans killed since the conflict began

At Papua Partners, we are extremely concerned about the impact that the presence of additional military personnel is currently having on the lives, lands and livelihoods of indigenous West Papuan civilians, who are becoming innocent by-products of the Indonesian military’s quest to suppress Papua’s independence movement, and gain control over its rich natural resources. Over 60,000 Indigenous Papuans are currently recorded as being ‘displaced’, and these numbers are rising on a daily basis.

This ongoing militarisation and programme of forced displacement is causing excessive trauma for generations of indigenous West Papuans, whilst removing the last best chance that Papua’s rainforests  have of being protected from environmental destruction.  For example, we have received reports that 16 villages were raised to the ground in Intan Jaya in April 2023 by the Indonesian military, which has opened up access to the Wabu Block gold mine – the mining contract for which is reportedly set to be awarded to an Indonesian state-owned mining company.  By displacing those who own and depend on these lands, the Indonesian state is setting itself up to profit from their exploitation. This situation simply cannot be allowed to continue, and we are redoubling our efforts to support Indigenous West Papuans as they respond on the ground, and to raise critical awareness about the conflict in ‘the West’, amongst those who have the power to intervene.

ha of forest converted to plantations between 2000 - 2019

Key resources

Gold Rush, Amnesty International (2022)

This report details how the Indonesian state’s mining plans risk exacerbating human rights abuses in West Papua.

Kill them first...discuss human rights later, HRM (2023)

An investigation and analysis into Indonesian Security Forces’ attacks on indigenous villages in Kiwirok District, Pegunungan Bintang Regency, Papua Pegunungan Province, which highlights the urgent need for international attention and action in West Papua.

Displaced and Disempowered, TAPOL (2023)

A report exploring the drivers behind ongoing militarization and displacement in West Papua, and the prospects for preventing the conflict from spreading further.

Licence to Clear, Greenpeace (2021)

A detailed report on Indonesia’s forest permitting system, and the impacts it is having on West Papua’s residents and rainforests.

Don’t abandon Us, The Early Warning Project (2022)

A report, based on fieldwork, which assesses the risks of mass atrocities and genocide in West Papua.

Human Rights Monitor (Ongoing)

A website which provides rolling updates on the conflict, based on reporting from the region, including that provided by our partners.

Our Past is Our Future – Indigenous Perspectives on Conflict and Peacebuilding in West Papua, Naomi Sosa (2022)

Our Director Naomi’s masters thesis on the conflict and the potential for peacebuilding in West Papua

Hidden challenges for conservation and development along the Trans-Papuan economic corridor (2019)

A report exploring the social and environmental impacts of the controversial 4,300 km Trans-Papua Mega Highway.

TAPOL - West Papua 2022: Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly

A report into the trend towards worsening police and military violence against civilians in West Papua, including attacks on human rights defenders and the media.

Voices of Papua (Ongoing)

A newsletter sharing stories, ideas, culture and politics from West Papua.

The Gecko Project

An investigative reporting project focusing on land use, rainforests and rights that has a section dedicated to Papua.

Special Report: TP Freeport Indonesia and its tail of violations in Papua (2020)

A report by multiple NGOs on the human, labour and environmental abuses that have followed the opening of Freeport mine in Timika, Papua province.

Human Rights and Conflict Escalation in West Papua (2019)

A report by the International Coalition for Papua and the WestPapua-Netzwerk, which explores human rights abuses and conflict escalation in West Papua.