Racism and xenophobia have long been prevalent in Indonesia. Since Indonesia gained independence, there has been, and still is, much sentiment and actions directed at Indonesian Papuans and Chinese Indonesians. Throughout the 1950s-90s, there was much racist sentiment targeted at Chinese Indonesians. After the failed communist coup, there was much anger against them as they were thought of as communist collaborators. In 1959, legislation was passed to forced Chinese Indonesian business owners in rural areas to close their shops and relocate to more urban areas. More legislation in the 70s and 80s effectively limited them to careers in trade, banking, and manufacturing. Furthermore, much of the mob violence in the May Riots of 1998 was targeted at Chinese Indonesians and their shops. Descrimination against Papuans is still ongoing. After WWⅡ, Indonesian nationalists claimed western New Guinea to be a part of the newfound Republic of Indonesia. When the Dutch officially recognized Indonesia’s independence in 1949, it refused to recognize their claim to western New Guinea. After years with no resolution, the land was seized by the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority, then given to Indonesia in 1963 under the condition that they would have put a resolution at vote for independence. In 1969, the UN oversaw the Act of Free Choice. Instead of a free vote, 1025 handpicked men voted unanimously for unification with Indonesia. Ever since, there have been constant protests for independence. State-sponsored violence has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Papuans. Under the transmigration program, Javanese and Sumatrans were relocated to Papua. There is still violence and xenophobic sentiment.
To put a stop to this crisis, there first needs to be political reform. The blind eye turned by the government and occasional endorsement of racial violence is unacceptable. There needs to be a referendum on independence for Papua and West Papua. The United Nations should have handled this situation better in the past. Now, they should step in and help to oversee a fair process and mandate a referendum if needed.
- Oscar Peck-Dorr