Ben Hillier – "West Papuans know this day, 15 August, as 'Betrayal Day'." Jacob Rumbiak, a veteran leader of the West Papuan nationalist movement, is speaking at a Melbourne commemoration of the signing of the New York Agreement. Similar protests, events and meetings have been held around the world in solidarity with the West Papuan struggle for merdeka – freedom.
On this day in 1962, the United Nations brokered the transfer of the western half of the island of New Guinea from Dutch administration to Indonesian rule. The inhabitants of West Papua, who are ethnically Melanesian (Pacific Islander), were given no say.
The Melbourne commemoration is small – only a handful or so. But Rumbiak enthuses about the growth of the global solidarity movement, the recognition of West Papua by the Melanesian Spearhead Group and, in particular, the growth of the West Papuan student movement, which this week is holding commemorations and actions across the Indonesian archipelago and in West Papua.
Rumbiak is foreign minister of the Federal Republic of West Papua, which was declared in 2011 at the third Papuan People's Congress. The Federal Republic is one faction within the United Liberation Movement, which was formed in December to give common voice to the independence movement.
"This agreement was part of global foreign policy and resulted in genocide", he says. "We are a victim of global policy."
To Indonesia, which had in the late 1940s waged a successful war of independence against Dutch colonialism, the territory was known as West Irian – the latter word being an acronym for "Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti-Nederland" (follow Indonesia against the Netherlands).
That the Dutch continued to control the area for so long after their rule elsewhere in the archipelago had been overturned had been a source of angst for the leaders of the new Indonesian state. President Sukarno pledged to "liberate West Irian from the stranglehold of Dutch imperialism".
More than 50 years of Indonesian occupation have proved anything but liberating, however. Once right wing dictator Suharto took over in 1965, the attacks became ferocious. There are an estimated 100,000 dead as a result of the slow-burn genocide. Independence leaders say the figure is half a million.
Today the struggle continues: for acknowledgement of the West Papuans' right to self-determination, against the brutality of the Indonesian military and police forces and for basic democratic and human rights.
[For more information about the West Papuan solidarity movement, visit freewestpapua.org and tune in every Monday night at 6:30pm to The Voice of West Papua on radio 3cR, which streams live around the world. For background reading, see "MERDEKA! Struggle and survival in West Papua".]