An interview with Ghazali Ohorella a Human Rights lawyer from Maluku

In the build up to the Week of Peace we sat down with Human Rights Lawyer Ghazali Ohorella to talk about the impact of militarism in his homeland of Maluku, a group of islands in the Pacific.

Ghazali Ohorella

Could you tell about yourself?

Well, to know me, is to know my heritage. I’m a proud descendant of the Alifuru people, the Indigenous Peoples of the South-Maluku islands, home town of my dad is Tulehu and of my mom is Aboru/Hulaliu.

I can’t blame you if you don’t know where it is. We’re an archipelago comprising of 999 islands in an area of almost 75000 sq kilometers located between the Philippines and Australia, with around 2 million souls living under military Indonesian occupation as they took over our islands right after we became independent in 1950. Since the 16th century Maluku was known as the “Spice Islands” as cloves and nutmeg grew only in our area, which is also the biggest reason why Europeans came to our neck of the woods. The spice trade created enormous wealth for the Arab world, and the colonial powers from Portugal and the Netherlands, last mentioned colonized us for more than 300 years until 1950.
A bit about us. The Alifuru are originally Melanesian in origin like our relatives in for example West-Papua, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Norfolk Islands, and we have over 100 indigenous languages on the islands, mostly Polynesian related, just to give you an example here’s how I count from 1 to 10. “Sane, Rua, Toru, Ha’a, Rima, No’o, Hitu, Waru, Siwa, Husae”.

Whereas our lands and waters are the core of our Peoples, our language our strength, our ancestors our guides, the promotion and protection of the Alifuru heritage for future generations is my goal. That is why I have been advocating for Alifuru rights and rights of Indigenous Peoples across the world in international fora since 2003, with some interesting roles like co-chair of a round table of the UN General Assembly on the occasion of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples held in September 2014, legal expert to Indigenous organizations, board member to Drumbeat Media and the International Organisation for Self-Determination and Equality.

Can you tell us about how militarism has impacted your people?

Colonialism and militarism go hand in hand in a Maluku context, like I said before the Maluku islands has been colonized by the Dutch for more than 300 year, first by the Dutch East-Indies Company (VOC), which was often described as the first multinational corporation in the world. Mind you, this was no ordinary “company”, better said it was everything but a company, it behaved like a State.

The traders were politicians, bureaucrats avant-la-lettre, surrounded and supported by a strong military apparatus to implement the decisions they made. This Dutch trading company controlled a large area of the world, politically, militarily and economically it made its mark on the world.

The main purpose of the VOC was to colonize, obtain and retain control over the trade in spices from primarily South-East Asia, amongst others the Maluku islands. To date the world knows the VOC by its core business, however as a so-called trading company it excelled at the political and military level, with penetrating implications for millions of Indigenous Peoples, including the Alifuru.

The VOC was very aggressive, it used its vast navy and army to establish a powerful trading network by destroying not only competitors, for the Alifuru peoples, if one did not cooperate or if people simply got in the way, the VOC did not hesitate to exterminate entire communities, their lands, territories, livelihoods, the use of violence was their “ordinary business”. That regime lasted until the 1800 when we became a Dutch colony.

Now, fast forward to the early 1900s, just like I said we were a Dutch colony called the “Dutch East-Indies”, and over the years a lot of men joined the colonial army to be able to sustain their families as decent paying jobs were artificially scarce. The impact of militarism became even greater when the Dutch East-Indies decolonized in 1950. On that occasion we proclaimed our independence of the Republic of the South-Moluccas.

We didn’t do that just for the fun of it, our council was very concerned with the future of the State of East-Indonesia which we were still a part of, mind you Sukarno was mobilizing to invade all the other States and declare a Republic. Not wanting the roughly 4000 Maluku soldiers to be around to defend their newborn Republic, Sukarno asked the Dutch to ship all the soldiers and their families to The Netherlands. The Dutch promised to Maluku natives to be returned to their Republic after 6 months. Once they arrived in Holland the soldiers were demobilized and the 13,500 souls were left hung out to dry in former Nazi camps. The promise was never kept, 6 months turned into 60 years, and meanwhile we have grown to around 50,000.

Can you tell us about the relationship between militarism and colonisation?

So, as you can see militarism and colonialism are inseparable forces which have shaped Maluku, whilst currently that military-dominated regime rules Indonesia came to power with Sukarno and since then has been ruthless in repressing opposition. That the military mainly serves to maintain internal control, and to run the government proves that Indonesia is built upon militarism and cannot survive without. Militarism of Indonesia fosters also an aggressive nationalism, which in practice means state domination, colonialism and repression of Indigenous peoples which try to regain their independence.

Mind you, throughout Indonesian history, the military has recruited, trained and supported militia and quasi-military groups to do its dirty work. I think Von Clausewitz said “To achieve peace, one must prepare for war”, a creed that Indonesia is about to follow aided by these quasi-military groups. Last year Indonesia launched a program compulsory for all Indonesians under 50 years old called Bela Negara, it is a program which is more about politics and maintaining the colonial areas rather than any effort to establish a national defence system. Bela Negara aims to recruit over the next 10 years over 100 million militant cadres across its archipelago. Consisting of two components: a general program for citizens who have not had prior training, and a special refresher or advanced program for people who have already been trained, to allow them to reach national defence standard.

There is a significant risk and fear that the program will increase the frequency of human rights violations that are already occurring. However, it is hoped that this militarism feeds the desire for fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples, that they become more determined than ever before to continue their struggle for freedom, dignity and the right to self-determination.

How important is solidarity between Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific?

Look, if you consider that our region comprises ⅓ of the planet, most island States are established by Indigenous peoples, and be proud of the fact that there are many language cognates and we share common history, you can see that there’s much that binds us and can take us forward.

I’ve seen the insides of the UN for some years now, shown support for Pacific Indigenous Peoples inside and outside the security zone, have roamed the halls with many of our island delegations, and often together burned the midnight oil writing collective statements. 

But there is an undercurrent, most times I see that the Pacific indigenous meetings are attended by no more than a handful of people (mostly because of lack of funding), solidarity often disappears more quickly than it appears, there’s a bottleneck on some urgent processes but little to no advocacy on all the important ones.

More than often we are proud of the pre-existing solidarity, the whakapapa or genealogy that we all share, yet we should be conscious that pride can be a pitfall for solidarity. More than often we face challenges into finding that solidarity again, we are already a force to be reckoned, imagine what we can achieve when our solidarity is robust.

There is so much we can achieve as a region, Indigenous peoples worldwide are fighting for their rights, at every process imaginable, with solidarity amongst Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific, as a region, we can lighten the load of the entire movement, be more spread across the board, and make the Indigenous movement more stronger than ever.

Karanga Tangaroa – A pasifika callout out for action

Kia orana, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Faka’alofa lahi atu, नमस्ते, Ni sa bula Vinaka,Taloha ni, Namaste, Kam na mauri, ً ابح, Halo ola keta, 你好, Kia ora.

Calling all P.O.C, Pasifika, Māori artists and activists that support a nuclear free and independent pacific. Stand with us as we call to Tangaroa in a spirit of resistance against those that use our island homes to wage wars.

From West Papua to Mauna Kea, from Tamaki-makau-rau to Rapanui, from Moruroa to Manus we as pacific peoples must continue to make a stand for a nuclear and military free independent pacific.

Between Nov 16th and Nov 20th the NZ Government will be holding a week of War.

  • Over 30 navies, including the US, Russia and China, have been invited to NZ to take part in the “International Naval Review”. In response to this extravagant display of war making, war resisters will take to the water to show opposition to the foreign warships coming into Auckland’s Harbour, and conducting war games in the Hauraki Gulf.
  • The world’s top weapons manufacturers and over 500 arms dealers are coming to the Viaduct Events Centre, to view and buy new weapons.
  • Our Government (& Opposition parties) have agreed to spend $20 Billion dollars on weapons over the next 15 years. This money could be better spent on housing, education and health.

Join us or get your own collective or crew out there to stand for a peaceful pacific.




Stone in Our Shoe: The Military Co-option of Indigineity and Protection Exposed

You know when you got a stone in your shoe, and even though you keep intending to work it out… you never get around to it until at some point you just can’t walk any further and everything has to just wait while you deal with that one, annoying, stone. That one stone that just won’t go away.

I have a stone in my shoe, and I gotta get it out.

I’ve written, already, about the links to plastics and warfare. The fact that plastics, the golden child of convenience – mass-produced so cheaply, and with so many applications, was a natural feature of wartime economies. A material that allowed our governments to save metal for the purposes of weapons production. A material that, post world-war, has continued to shape our economy – one that is characterised by rapid, and rabid consumption. An economy that continues to wage war on our environment, on our Atua, regardless of the presence or absence of human conflict.

I wrote that piece, and reflected on those issues, prior to my journey to Hawai’i – and since then, I have had much to reflect upon and observe. It’s kind of hard not to reflect on the experience of militarisation in Hawai’i, it is everywhere you look. Military installations dot the landscape – (there is something in the order of 180 of them in Hawai’i). Sacred sites are desecrated over, and over again while the military carry out their war games, using illegally occupied lands and waters to train their own forces for further oppressive military action overseas. The constant threat of the military rotor blades pound the air above you, in case you ever dared forget who holds the cards. If you get a moment – I would highly – HIGHLY recommend that you watch the award winning documentary “Noho Hewa” – by Anne Keala Kelly – which so clearly draws important lines between desecration of our sacred ways and places at the hands of military occupation and rabid tourism. It’s incredibly sobering, but critical, viewing.

To add to matters, I encountered a perplexing and awkward moment when I wandered through the IUCN exhibition hall, and found myself surrounded by military stands. After some enquiries I learnt about the interesting process through which many marine protected areas, both in the Pacific and around the world, do NOT preclude weapons testing and war-game exercises. In fact, many military installations have had conservation (marine and land based) areas established around them, and thus provide the military with a measure of seclusion to carry out their activities, and also provide conservation portfolios and profiles to the armed forces.



Please see THIS very informative blog by Craig Santos Perez which lays out the connection between marine protected areas, military occupation, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, in order to understand that this arrangement is anything but an altruistic exercise.

And yet these apparent contradictions are audaciously presented to us – the military as conservationists, as well-resourced and responsible custodians of our natural resources. Of course, we know that the industrial military complex is responsible for the largest portion of the planet’s pollution. We know that they are as brutal to landscapes in their weapons testing and wargames, as they are to the people and places they devastate wherever they are sent. But we are expected to place all of that knowing to the side and simply accept the surface evidence of “Hey look at this marine protected area that the navy look after” and “but wait look at this conservation work that the marines carry out”. It’s a clear conflation of contradictory values – those whose core purpose is war, presented as beneficent agents of care and protection. I was then keenly aware of my other lens upon this phenomena – that of indigeneity. For just as the military were presented as carers and protectors of the land and waters – our message to the IUCN was that 80% of the world’s biodiversity rests within indigenous territories, and us, the indigenous protectors of those areas, are consistently labelled as terrorists, and persecuted at the hands of military, and police, who are mobilised against us by the very state that bargains away the wellbeing of our territories to multinational corporations.

That’s right – the military gets to bomb these zones and defend rampant extraction, and call themselves the protectors, while we, the actual descendants of these spaces, are persecuted for standing in the way of their destruction, then we are called terrorists, and arrested by the military “protectors”.

Ain't it?
Ain’t it?

So how do we wind up in such a perverse situation? Well, it doesn’t happen all at once. It’s an incremental process where our rights are eroded at multiple spaces, in multiple ways. There’s a process in Aotearoa that unscrupulous corporations use in order to get past our resource management processes – it’s called “unbundling”. When there is a large activity that, when viewed in its entirety, would undoubtedly cause concern, corporations will break the activity up and apply for consent applications for each constituent activity – and with each application is the inference that “well you have approved THAT activity (e.g. building a ford across the river to the drilling platform) – it would be unreasonable not to consent to this next activity (e.g. erecting the drilling platform) – and then the next application will do the same. In this way, the actual impacts are shrouded within a more drawn out, convoluted process.

Assessors, and the community, are incrementally lulled into accepting a state of affairs that would be absurd if originally assessed in it’s entirely.

That’s how I feel about this situation with the desecrators claiming the notion of protection, and the protectors being persecuted as terrorists/disruptors. We see it happen everywhere – Mauna Kea, Standing Rock, Río Gualcarque, West Papua,, – and here, in Aotearoa. In fact next month, the government has pre-empted indigenous resistance to the nuclear vessel by passing the “Maritime Crimes Bill” that criminalises protest action on our own waters. Around the world, they jail us, disappear us, and murder us, for defending our sacred spaces.

maunakea berta-caceres   west-papua

But that isn’t the stone in my shoe – it’s appalling, and unjust, to be sure – but that ain’t the stone in my shoe. You see there’s another tactic employed that distracts and disguises the agenda of armed forces. That agenda being to serve the Crown/Colonizer/State. They don’t just co-opt the notion of protection – they co-opt indigeneity. THAT’S THE STONE.



And it’s been in our shoe for a long time… and it’s not easy to remove you see, because we have to go back a while in order to look at this phenomena, and I particularly have to look at my own whakapapa. You see – my family line is associated with a long-held tradition of loyalism – that is, fighting for the Crown. My great Uncle Apirana Ngata was responsible for largescale drafting of Maori into the World War 2 Maori 28th battalion. His father, Paratene, was a runner for the Crown forces in the East Coast Wars. Paratene’s uncle, Rapatawahawaha, was a famous loyalist who utilised his alliance with Crown forces to settle local scores and protect the lands of the East Cape from Crown confiscation. I still have many whanau in the military who I love very dearly – and I think most Maori do.


It is very easy to look back at these times and speculate on the whys, and what ifs. Some of this story belongs within our whanau only. Other aspects I know have very little to do with our whanau, and more to do with hegemonic profiling – like the fact that much is made of Papa Rapatawahawaha – much less so (outside of our whanau) his hauhau brother in law (and father to Paratene) – Wi Tito; and also much less so their other kingite brother in law Hoera Tamatatai. Three men, married to three sisters, all on separate sides of the war – and he on the side of victory enjoys the profile spoils (or the kupapa sneers, as the case may be). Would Papa Api have recruited so many had he known the transactional “Price of Citizenship” we paid would not be honoured by our Treaty partners – and that generations later we would still be fighting, tooth and nail, for our rights on our own land? That we would still be dragging a resentful Crown to the Treaty table while trying to address the social fallout of war-borne PTSD and its multi-generational assault on our communities? Would he still make the same choices in retrospect of all this? Who knows. He was a man with heavy burdens – a man ahead of his times in many ways… and a man of his times, in many ways.

What I do know is that he made his choices based on what he knew from what was around him. It was a different world from that of his own tipuna – and choices required a triangulation of whakapapa, aspirations, and contemporary contexts. That helps me a lot when I feel conflicted about the armed forces – I don’t have to agree with the choices made, but I can understand that they were made under great burden, and in a specific cultural and political context.

That helps me when I have the task of telling the armed forces to back the hell away from my indigeneity.


General Rommel once said “Give me the Maori Battalion and I will conquer the world”. They’ve always known we were great fighters. Passionate fighters, strategic fighters, considered fighters. That these soldiers were also farmers, gardeners, artists, poets, parents, and sons… that didn’t figure. But our fighting prowess – that stuck. The Crown liked that. The fact that when we fought for them, we were less likely to fight them… they liked that, too. Who wants to bite the hand that feeds you, right? After all – the army offers you a future. Training. A house. Income. A way out of the shit-pile you inherited from… well, from colonization. And often, from the effects of war two or three generations back. All you have to do – is obey. Nope no doubt about it – the armed forces love us – and many of us love them right back. We consider our allegiance the maintenance of tradition. A way to ‘honour’ our Papas that went to war for the British monarch, for this nation (and more often than not to get away from the farm). We adhere to a tradition that conveniently and arbitrarily blends precolonial, colonial, and post colonial battlegrounds. We enable and allow our Atua to be used as marketing and recruitment tools. We join in the droves. We also maintain the traditional drinking culture of the military, drinking heavily together while on military bases. We raise our families on base. We even have – drumroll – military marae.

And herein sits the foundations of indigenous co-option by the military. Because according to the forces, military Maori families deserve to at least ‘feel’ at home while they are in service. They deserve to maintain their customs, traditions, and practices even when fighting for the Crown.

Yet there is a tension there – a white elephant that, for my years of looking, I have yet to see anyone address. The co-option of the term “Ngāti Tumatauenga” (a pseudo-tribe without ancestral genealogy that the Army translates as “descendants of the God of war”) perpetuates a problematic stereotype of the “Maori Warrior”. It is a stereotype that is compounded by New Zealand tourism in much the same way as “lovely hula hands” operates for our Hawaiian cousins, and in no small part contributes to our mischaracterisation as brutish, fearsome criminals, well deserving of the high incarceration rates. It exacerbates the one dimensional stereotype that plays itself out in the policy and social sphere, resulting in inadequate health services, resulting in the removal of our children, resulting in lower employment.

We are not an ethnically harmonious country. The socio-economic injustice experienced by Maori, at the hands of the colonial complex, accounts for a significant amount of the disparity that many seek to escape when they run to the bosom of Crown military servitude. Even though, in more recent years, the army has sought to “decolonize” itself by providing Maori nomenclature, and pseudo-tikanga and cultural education, and defends this practice by saying that it provides for a better experience in service – what it also does is provide an easy, accessible escape from the reality that you are serving a destructive, brutal, and ultimately imperial force. You can no more decolonize the army than the monarchy itself.

Serving the Crown military is more than just a job – it is a blood oath to live, die, and kill at the command of the corporate controlled government. In Aotearoa means service to a government that has continually violated the Treaty to which it owes its existence – and a government that has bargained away environmental, indigenous, and human rights for power and money. A part of a broader global machine that seeks to consume, pollute, and devastate, on mammoth proportions. The military serve this government, and they serve the governments that they are loaned to, through trade relationships. Trade relationships that again are responsible for large scale poverty, injustice, and stripping of ecological resources. Any care for the land or communities is not done because you depend upon the land and live in harmony with it. It is not done out of a responsibility that descends through your ancestry. It is done because you are ordered to do so, by your Master, the Crown. Who may give completely different orders the next day, to destroy lands, waters, and communities, and you will equally be expected to obey.
The military are, literally, the vanguard of extraction and destruction. Standing Rock is a prime example. While Obama told them they “are being heard” – police were mobilising in military fashion and dogs being released upon them.


WE – INDIGENOUS PEOPLE – are holding the frontline in the defence of this planet – and time and time again, it is the military that faces off against us. Are we paid to be on that front line? No – we are not there because the front line offered us a future, and training, and a house, and stable income. We are there because we are descendants of Mother Earth, and we remember that that comes with responsibilities. We are there because we honour our relationships to Papatuanuku, to Ranginui, to Tangaroa, Hinemoana, to Hineputehue and to Tumatauenga. That is our duty – it is not the Crown’s duty, and the Crown cannot carry out this duty while it is ultimately in service to the forces that commit to the desecration of these Atua.

So while they provide these cultural trappings, that shroud their true colonial agenda, in order to provide comfort (read: compliance and less attrition)… there is another impact upon the actual indigenous defenders of these spaces. Not only are we forced to face off against our own in these spaces – but we must also contend with the cultural confusion created when the armed forces co-opt our own sacred terms and ancestry.

Case in point: The New Zealand Navy will soon be conducting wargames with the US and other navies in the Hauraki Gulf. The title for these war games? Operation Mahi Tangaroa. The use of live munitions will undoubtedly have an impact upon the surrounding marine environment – and of course the entire exercise is a demonstration of the military strength the governments have at their disposal, to be utilised in the defence of multinational corporations who wish to continue their agenda of resource extraction.

Yet any indigenous water based protests against these activities has been criminalised by MP Simon Bridges’ Maritime Crimes Bill, founded in anti-terrorism doctrine, signed off in September, and applied to these wargames. That’s right – Operation Mahi Tangaroa will get to bomb Tangaroa – while Tangaroa’s descendants and defenders will be labelled terrorists and jailed for trying to oppose it. The US Navy will be sending their nuclear war vessel – the first in 35 years in NZ waters, to “celebrate” the New Zealand Royal Navy’s anniversary celebrations – also timed for the NZDF international weapons conference in Auckland. Again – our protests against these abhorrent industries that blast Papatuanuku to smithereens, that wipes out vast swathes of Tangaroa, our protests against this industry that creates more pollution than any other industry in the world, our protests against the most brutal facet of a machine that murders and displaces entire populations just to get at their resources – these protests will be criminalised, with protestors jailed, and said military forces mobilised against them.

These forces that have purposefully conflated this dichotomy and courted the patronage of Maori dignitaries like Te Ataairangikaahu. These forces that provide a false space of cultural safety within a machine bent on the ruination of our tipuna. These forces that have the audacity to call for Maori to ceremonially welcome their presence into our space, while they actively subordinate our mana as descendants and protectors of these spaces, relegating our mana beneath ultimate Crown authority.

And now the airforce has a marae too. No doubt, in time, they will also co-opt an Atua, perhaps Ranginui, to make their personnel feel more comfortable. Well this is what they do – whatever it takes to make you question less, and follow more. I’m inclined to think that those who allow these cultural consolations to enable their continued subordination do so because it is much easier than the difficult task of trying to resolve their servitude with the notion of rangatiratanga.

I, for one cannot resolve this – because it is unresolvable.

I would much rather their discomfort remain, and be examined, and understood for what it was. I would rather the military cease this disgusting co-option of our Atua, and tikanga, that creates confusion over who ACTUALLY holds the whakapapa, responsibility, and mana to maintain and defend these spaces. I would rather those who serve in the military understand completely who they are in service to, and what systems they are defending, and who they disempower along the way. I would rather they directly face the fact that they actively engage in the desecration of Tangaroa than allow themselves to believe that this is in some way, ANY way, in honour of our Atua. I would rather they sit in that discomfort, on their boat, with a pākeha name, a name to suit the agenda, to suit the boss. Maybe call the boats variations of “HMS StatOil”, and “HMS Rockefeller”. Better call the exercise “Operation Simon Bridges” or if they must use our Atua then be honest and call it “Operation Bomb Tangaroa”.

I would rather they carry the discomfort of honest contradiction, than rest in false cultural comfort.

Maybe one of them will read this, and it can be the stone in their shoe.