Labour must support national liberation in West Papua – Labour for a Green New Deal


“The international dimensions of ecological collapse further impel the need to campaign for a UK foreign policy based on self-determination, human rights and environmental justice.”

By Chris Saltmarsh, Labour for a Green New Deal

On 26th April, a new network Labour Friends of West Papua will launch with an event in London. I’m proud that campaign group Labour for a Green New Deal is actively supporting this new group as part of our commitment to international solidarity and climate justice.

West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, bordering Papua New Guinea, and has been illegally occupied by Indonesia since 1962. As Dutch colonisation was coming to an end in the 1950s, preparations were made for West Papua’s independence. However, West Papua’s dream of independence never came to fruition, as Indonesia soon invaded. A fraudulent ‘referendum’ in 1969 saw just over 1000 Papuans intimidated into voting against independence on behalf of a population of over 800,000. A democratic say over West Papua’s sovereignty has never been allowed. Instead, Indonesia occupies with military force and bans international media and monitoring bodies from entering West Papua.

Indonesia’s illegal occupation is upheld by racist and genocidal violence. with over 500,000 West Papuans killed in the past 60 years. Indigenous West Papuan culture is criminalised, including growing dreadlocks. Uprisings and resistance against the occupation are regularly met with violent repression including extrajudicial killings. It is illegal to raise the Morning Star flag – West Papua’s symbol of freedom – with imprisonment of up to 25 years a common punishment.

This genocidal occupation continues in part to open up West Papua to ecocidal plunder by western capital. Corporations profit from large-scale mining, deforestation and extraction of oil, copper, gold and gas. All of this takes place without the consent of indigenous Papuans and involves violent mass displacement and destruction of communities. While American mining company Freeport operates one of the world’s largest gold mines and the world’s third largest copper reserve, British fossil fuel company BP operates gas fields. The link between occupation and Western profits is made all the clearer by direct payments made from these companies to Indonesian military and security forces which facilitate the extraction.

Labour for a Green New Deal is proud to support the West Papuan struggle for liberation as part of our commitment to internationalism. In practical solidarity, we believe it is important to highlight the situation in West Papua, including raising the profile of the movement, and further build links between the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and Labour Party members from the grassroots, through local authorities, and into Parliament.

Our internationalist solidarity also extends to the international and domestic policy reforms we advocate. A socialist Green New Deal as we understand it must not be confined to the borders of one country. Instead, it must seek to reorganise the international political system away from domination by corporate interests and towards empowerment for poor and occupied peoples. The international dimensions of ecological collapse further impel the need to campaign for a UK foreign policy based on self-determination, human rights and environmental justice.

Labour for a Green New Deal’s solidarity with the West Papuan struggle is especially pertinent due to the ULMWP’s Green State Vision. In 2020, the ULWMP announced an interim government with exiled leader Benny Wenda as interim-President and the aim of a referendum on independence. Part of the ambition to establish a future Republic of West Papua includes the intention of becoming the world’s first Green State. In a stark departure from Indonesia’s genocidal and ecocidal occupation, this would be a modern state founded on the values of green philosophy, green economics, green development and green life values. With economic growth and ‘development’ deprioritised, focuses would include combatting climate change and making Ecocide a criminal offence.

Labour Friends of West Papua will follow the international leadership of the ULMWP in promoting such a vision, combining national liberation and a practical politics of climate justice. One aim of the group will be to cement the place of West Papua in Labour’s manifesto at the next general election. In 2019, Labour pledged to “uphold the human rights of the people of West Papua”. By engaging with Labour’s policy-making process, we will advocate for an even stronger commitment to supporting an internationally monitored independence referendum. Labour Friends of West Papua will build the prominence of the West Papuan struggle within the Labour Party so that it takes its rightful place alongside other international injustices. Finally, it will build practical solidarity with West Papua throughout the British labour movement.

The Morning Star Flag used by the Free West Papua movement. Photo credit: lussqueittt under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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