Nation profile

West Papua
Papua Barat

General information
2,646,489 inhabitants (2005)
420,540 km²
Provinces of Papua and West Papua (each with its own governor and legislature), Papua People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, representative of Papuan tribes)
Major cities
Jayapura (capital), Manokwari, Sorong, Timika, Fak Fak
State administration
Territorial languages
More than 300 languages, most of them belonging to the Papuan family.
Official languages
Bahasa Indonesian
Major religion
Protestant Christian, Catholic Christian, Islam

West Papua consists of the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half is the independent state of Papua-New Guinea). The pro-independence movement, based on the island's Indigenous population, demands a referendum on self-determination.

The Indonesian government rejects such a vote. As an alternative, Indonesia devolved some degree of autonomy to West Papua in 2001. The territory was subdivided into two autonomous provinces (Papua and West Papua) in 2003.

The West Papuan conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead —most of them, Papuan people killed by Indonesian forces— since the 1960s. Human rights organizations —both from West Papua and from abroad— report gross human rights violations and repression against press freedom.

The roots of the West Papuan conflict

All the territories that currently make up Indonesia, including West Papua, had been part of the Dutch colony of the East Indies until 1949. That year, Indonesia achieved independence from the Netherlands, but the former colonial masters managed to retain West Papua, which they turned into a new Dutch colony.

The Netherlands, however, finally withdrew from West Papua in 1962 without having carried out a proper decolonization process in which Papuans would have had a choice on independence.

The Indonesian military occupied West Papua, and Indonesian authorities subsequently organized a referendum in 1969 in which only 1,026 people, picked by the Indonesian army, were allowed to vote. The result was unanimous for annexation.

Indonesia, on the contrary, argues that the 1969 vote -labelled the "Act of free choice" by the Indonesian government- was perfectly legal, and calls on other countries to recognize its sovereignty over West Papua.

The West Papua movement

Beginning in the mid-1960s, a part of the Papuan pro-independence movement organized itself into an armed group, the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which has waged an intermittent struggle against Indonesian forces.

Traditionally plagued by internal division, the pro-independence political movement has recently united itself under the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) umbrella, which has been recognized as a legitimate representative organization of the Papuan people by several countries in the region.

The ULMWP includes (2015 data) the National Parliament of West Papua (PNWP), the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), the Federal Republic of West Papua (NRFPB) and the National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL).

(Last update: December 2016)