Sixty years of Indonesian occupation

Once a Dutch colony, West Papua's right to self-determination was denied by a fraudulent 1969 referendum which saw just 1,026 West Papuans hand-picked by the Indonesian military and intimidated into voting for Indonesian rule.

This founding injustice produced one of the world’s oldest and most brutal occupations. Over 500,000 West Papuans have been killed under Indonesian rule, though the exact number is unknown due to a six-decade media blackout imposed on the territory. Hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes. At the same time, a state-sponsored settlement programme has made Indigenous Papuans a minority in parts of their own land. Home to the world’s largest gold mine, second largest copper mine, and copious reserves of natural gas, oil, and timber, West Papua continues to have its resources expropriated by the Indonesian state.

Papuan culture is criminalised by the state, and raising the West Papuan national flag, the Morning State, is punishable by up to 25 years in jail. Despite intense repression, West Papuans overwhelmingly want independence. A well-organised resistance movement campaigns for self-determination both on the ground and in exile.

Current situation

Since the West Papua Uprising in 2019 – the largest Papuan protest in two decades – the human rights situation in West Papua has seriously deteriorated:

  • Forced displacement: Between 60,000 and 100,000 West Papuans have been internally displaced since December 2018.
  • Extrajudicial killings: According to Amnesty International, “cases of unlawful killings by security forces are common in Papua but accountability is rare”. Recent massacres include ten Papuans killed by security forces in February 2023, and four indigenous Papuans killed and mutilated by Indonesian Special Forces in August 2022.
  • Ecocide: Researchers estimate that 13% of West Papua’s rainforest – the third-largest on earth – will be destroyed by Indonesian development by 2036.
  • Political imprisonment: Arbitrary detention of West Papuans on the basis of political belief has increased severely since 2019. Current detainees include political leader Victor Yeimo, who has been held by Indonesia on treason charges since May 2021.

Indonesian police protect the Grasberg mine, the largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine in the world. 

A protest during the 2019 West Papua uprising.


1961: The West New Guinea Council raise the Morning Star flag, declares independence, and calls on the world to respect West Papuan self-determination.

1962: The US, Netherlands and Indonesia sign the New York Agreement which transfers control of West Papua to Indonesia pending an ‘act of self-determination'.

1963: Indonesia seizes West Papua.

1969: Indonesia holds the ‘Act of Free Choice’, whereby 1,022 West Papuans (0.2% of the population) are forced at gunpoint to agree to Indonesian rule.

1973: The Grasberg mine begins operations.

1977-78: ‘Operation Koteka’, aimed at forcing Papuans to stop wearing their traditional dress, kills thousands in the central highlands.

1983: The Transmigration programme begins. Over 1 million Indonesians have since settled in West Papua. 

1998: Around 150 Papuans are killed during the Biak massacre.

2000: The ‘Papuan Spring’ uprising culminates with the Second Papuan People’s Congress, attended by over 50,000 people. 

2001: The ‘Special Autonomy’ law is passed.

2014: All major West Papuan independence groupings come together under one umbrella, the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).

2019: The West Papua uprising marks the most serious Papuan protest in a generation.

2022: West Papua is divided into five new provinces, allowing Indonesia to expand military control and sparking mass protest.

The UK: Complicit in crimes against West Papua

Britain has long provided diplomatic, economic, and military support for Indonesia’s occupation. The UK is the lead training provider at the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC), where Indonesian military units implicated in numerous massacres in West Papua are trained. The Conservatives are aiming to deepen these military links, and have presided over a huge expansion in weapons sales to Indonesia.

Indonesian troops marching through the streets of West Papua in front of local children. West Papua is the most militarised zone in the Pacific.

Activists Dano Tabuni and Ambrosius Mulait were convicted of treason for flying the Morning Star flag.