Minority rights and mineral extraction for the global energy transition in West Papua

On 14 and 15 June 2022 the United Nations Special Rapporteur and the Tom Lantos Institute organised the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Minority Issues. The event was held online.

The Asia-Pacific Regional Forum provides regional insights, which will feed into the thematic work of the Special Rapporteur for his report to the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023. Furthermore, discussions will inform the work and recommendations of the 15th session of the Forum on Minority Issues, which will take place in Geneva in December 2022.”

Mr. Jeroen Zandberg made a contribution about the situation of the Papuans of West Papua. The statement is copied below:

Distinguished guests,

I wish to highlight an issue which impacts the minority on the western part of the island of New Guinea, West Papua, which is part of Indonesia. This issue is the increased extraction of natural resources to supply the international market as part of the global energy transition and its impact on minorities in the West Papua region.

The West Papuan region contains the world’s largest reserves of gold and second largest reserves of copper. The extraction of these minerals has been a major driving force for economic development and brought many migrants and multinational corporations to the area since the 1960’s. This development has however brought little progress in the wellbeing of the indigenous Papuan minority who continue to suffer from exclusion, poverty and the inability to take control over their future.

In recent years, the extraction of minerals has intensified and expanded. For example, recent Nickel mining in the Raja Ampat Regency in the western tip of the island has had a major impact on the bio-diversity of the region, where the coral reefs are suffering from the environmental impact of the mining. Furthermore, the economic structure of the region has been transformed from indigenous ownership of natural capital to extractive capitalism with little to no control over the economy by the indigenous minority.

Copper and Nickel extraction play a key role in the global energy transition since they are essential for the production of many electrical products. The supply chain, from the extraction of minerals to the end product, is diffuse and obscure with many private and public organisations having control over small parts of it. This lack of transparency of the supply chain is detrimental to holding people and organisations accountable for human rights violations and leaves the Papuans powerless. Furthermore, the Indonesian government has started a program to stop the export of minerals and instead use them to create the high-end products nationally. However, the Papuan minority has no say in this policy and the move by the Indonesian government to add more value to the supply chain nationally has led to a further decrease of transparency.

This brings me to the recommendations. These are the following:


  • Include the Papuan minority in the decision-making process on where and how to extract mineral resources.
  • Create a fully transparent structure of the entire supply chain for products needed in the energy transition in order to empower minorities.

Thank you,

Jeroen Zandberg