9 Oct 2013

Indonesian intent critical in determining West Papua genocide

6:24 pm on 9 October 2013

An Australian academic says West Papuans have been subject to a slow-motion genocide and the United Nations should step in.

Jim Elmslie, of the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, is the co-author of a just-released report titled 'A Slow-Motion Genocide - Indonesian Rule in West Papua'.

Dr Elmslie says the report concludes the Indonesian Government has intentionally carried out genocidal policies for the past 50 years.

Under the United Nations Genocide Convention, the classification of an act as 'genocide' requires proven intent.

Amelia Langford asked Jim Elmslie about the findings of the report.

JIM ELMSLIE: We believe that a slow-motion genocide is and has been occurring in West Papua. It's a very deep-seated and difficult problem for everybody involved, including Indonesia. And it's a problem I think needs a lot more attention because it's festering away, getting worse, and the Papuans are suffering quite badly now, or they have been for many decades.

AMELIA LANGFORD: What do you mean by 'slow-motion genocide'?

JE: Well, it's a term that was first used by a man called Clemens Runawery, who's deceased now, who was a West Papuan who thought about what was happening to his country and his people, and he compared it with disasters like had happened in Rwanda, where a large number of people were killed quickly in a sort of turmoil, a catastrophic series of events. In West Papua, the situation has gone on for decades, and over that period, cumulatively, many thousands of people have died, but not in a short, sharp burst that many people tend to associate with the word 'genocide'. So that's why we've used that term, that it's a process that's unfolded over decades, but it's a genocide in the sense that the killings fall within the definition of the UN convention on genocide.

AL: And tell me about the paper's findings and what you set out to find or explore.

JE: Well, we set out to explore the whole issue of genocide, really, that many West Papuan people - leaders right down to the grassroots people - often describe what's happened to them since the Indonesians took over the place as a genocide. And that word has a pretty specific meaning under the international convention. And there's various acts that fall into the definition of 'genocide', including the intentional killing of members of a group or conflicting conditions that make life difficult. And most of those acts have been carried out there, people would agree they've been carried out. But then the other aspect of fulfilling the criteria of being called a genocide is there's some element of intentional government policy or there's intent - the word 'intent' is the critical word.

Jim Elmslie says parties to the Genocide Convention have a responsibility to look into genocide claims.