West Papua, or Irian Jaya as it's often referred to in Indonesia, is the western half of the island of New Guinea and is only 250 kilometres from Australia.
During the 1950s, with assistance from its Dutch colonial government and the Australian government, West Papua was moving towards independence. By 1961 the colony had its own flag, the 'Morning Star', and Papuan government officials.
However in 1962, conflict erupted over West Papua between The Netherlands and Indonesia, and a United Nations agreement gave control of the colony to Indonesia for six years. This was to be followed by a referendum to determine the views of the population.
These six years of Indonesian control saw well-documented cases of violence and abuse by the military. Then in 1969, Indonesia conducted a shame referendum called the Act of Free Choice.
Only 1025 Papuans, representing a population of one million, were picked to vote. Under severe duress, including threats from senior ranking military officials to cut their tongues out, they voted to remain part of Indonesia.
Despite a critical report by a UN official who was present, citing serious violations, the UN shamefully sanctioned the vote and West Papua officially became a part of Indonesia.
Papuans call this referendum the "Act of No Choice".
In the 42 years that have followed, the people of West Papua have suffered at the hands of Indonesia's military regime. Since 1962 an estimated 100,000 people have been killed or disappeared by the brutal military regime. Thousands have been raped and tortured and entire villages, especially in the highlands, have been destroyed. During the mid-1990s the Indonesian military systematically destroyed village gardens, causing widespread famine.
Despite the democratic reforms in Indonesia following the fall of General Suharto in 1998, terrible human rights abuses have continued. In 2001, the elected leader of the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP), Mr Theys Eluay, was assassinated by the Indonesian military.
A military build up in West Papua has continued under Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a government ban on journalists traveling to West Papua severely limits the international community's ability to monitor the scale and impact of the human right abuses occurring in West Papua.
It's now time for Australians to stand up for West Papua.
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