John McDonnell (SAS) - 2019-20 Students

Physical, Cultural and Environmental Destruction in West Papua: Re-examining the UN Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Indonesia’s colonisation of West Papua has resulted in the killing of an estimated 500,000 indigenous people in the last fifty years, presenting a necessity to re-examine the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide for its inability to protect cultural minorities. The legal definition of genocide focusses solely on the physicality of genocide (e.g. mass-killing). However, recent scholarship has demonstrated that the term’s creator, Raphael Lemkin, was more concerned with the loss of culture – ‘the shrines of the soul of a nation’ – than with physical killing, since it is culture that animates the ‘genos’ in his concept of genocide. In doing so, the field of genocide studies has been reinvigorated through interdisciplinary research that places culture at the centre of genocide studies, addressing what is at stake for cultural minorities whose culture is destroyed – the very fabric of their social existence. Subsequently, as many indigenous groups present a cultural relationship to land, the concept of ecocide has been introduced to genocide studies, developing the idea that environmental destruction can cause an “ecologically induced genocide” on these groups. Therefore, this project analyses West Papua using this culturally-centred, ecologically-engaged genocide lens for the first time to provide exclusive insights into this under-researched case study, our understanding of genocide, and how the Convention can be revised. West Papua provides a unique case study to analyse the shortcomings of the Convention as it is one of the most culturally and ecologically diverse regions in the world with 250 indigenous groups and is resource-rich with the world’s largest gold and second-largest copper mine. No other study applies this lens within West Papua, thus, the project is fundamental in providing critical observations about the nexus between culture, the environment and genocide, and how this can impact the law of genocide.

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