New Internationalist

A History Of Betrayal

Issue 344

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West Papua / HISTORY

West Papua - a history of betrayal

The first colonizers
Humans first settled New Guinea at least 50,000 years ago, when it was connected to Australia by a land bridge. The British were the first Europeans to attempt colonization, but their 1793 colony was evacuated within two years. The Dutch were next, proclaiming on 24 August 1828 that the natives of the western half of New Guinea were to be subjects of the King of the Netherlands from that time on. But the Dutch made little effort to colonize ‘Dutch New Guinea’. They opened Fort du Bus to protect their lucrative trade with the spice islands from other European powers, but abandoned the area after only 10 years. No continuous settlement was established in West Papua until 1897, and no substantial development was undertaken within the country until the 1950s.
Indonesia’s competing bid
On 27 November 1949 the Dutch ceded sovereignty of Dutch East Indies to the Indonesian Republic, but excluded Dutch New Guinea (West Papua). Throughout the 1950s, they argued that Papua was geographically and ethnically different from Indonesia and the Papuans should – over time – be given self-determination. By contrast, the Indonesians argued that Dutch New Guinea had already been transferred to them in 1949, and had achieved independence then. Anti-Dutch campaigns in Indonesia, brewing throughout the 1950s, climaxed in 1957. Most Dutch people had been driven out and Dutch companies taken over by 1958. Indonesia broke off diplomatic relations in August 1960.
First steps to freedom
Undeterred the Dutch accelerated preparations for the Papuans to exercise their rights of self-determination. Elections were held for the West New Guinea Council, half of whose members were from the indigenous population. Following the installation of the Council on 1 December 1961, the territory was renamed Papua and the Morning Star flag was adopted and raised to fly next to the Dutch flag. Since then, the Morning Star flag has been a potent symbol of West Papuan resistance and nationalism, while 1 December is celebrated every year by the West Papuans as their independence day. At the UN, however, the Dutch were not able to achieve the two-thirds majority they needed to endorse their plans. Neither were the Indonesians. In 1962, 1,500 Indonesians ‘invaded’, either by parachute into the jungle or by submarine on to West Papuan beaches.
Theft – while the UN watches
Before this small-scale invasion, Indonesia had requested $400 million of arms from Russia (worth $10 billion today). Locked into Cold War rivalry, the US could not leave Indonesia to align itself to Russia. So, newly elected President JF Kennedy offered his support to Indonesia’s President Sukarno to end the dispute over Papua. Under the auspices of the UN, the US urged Indonesia and the Netherlands to the negotiating table. Here retired US diplomat Ellsworth Bunker drew up a plan to transfer the administrative authority for West Papua from the Netherlands to a neutral administrator, and thence to Indonesia. Not a single West Papuan was involved in these negotiations.
The ‘New York Agreement’
The ‘New York Agreement’ was signed by the Indonesians and the Dutch at UN headquarters on 15 August 1962. It fell well short of guaranteeing a referendum on independence, instead requiring Indonesia to make vague arrangements for West Papuans to ‘exercise freedom of choice’. It did however confer on all Papuans the right to participate in any act of self-determination. On 1 October 1962 – for the first time in its history – the UN was given temporary executive authority over a territory of significant size: West Papua. The handful of civil servants making up the UN Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) acted as apologists for the Indonesians, banning West Papuans from celebrating their second independence day and handing over administrative control to Indonesia after the seven-month minimum.
Sham voting
Another UN team returned in 1968 to ‘assist, advise and participate’ in the exercise of free choice – called the Act of Free Choice – planned for the following year. The team, headed by Bolivian diplomat Fernando Ortiz Sanz, comprised just 16 staff including administrative personnel. (The UN mission to organize and monitor the 1999 referendum in East Timor, by way of comparison, totalled more than 1,000 staff.) Foreign journalists consistently reported that the overwhelming majority of West Papuans did not want to be ruled by Jakarta. The Indonesians maintained that the terrain and the relatively uneducated population made ‘one man one vote’ impractical. They conducted a poll of only a select group of ‘elected’ representatives. Out of a total of 1,026 representatives, the UN managed to witness the election of only 195. One Australian journalist reported that Indonesians would go into a silent crowd and select the representatives themselves. Those local leaders who were included in the 1,026 reported being intimidated by gun-toting militia.
The Act of No Choice
Between 14 July and 2 August 1969, 1,025 representatives (one was sick) gathered in eight consultative council meetings around the country and were asked in open meetings (not secret ballots) to give their verdict. UN Secretary-General U Thant reported to the General Assembly that: ‘Without dissent, all the enlarged councils pronounced themselves in favour of the territory remaining with Indonesia.’ To explain this unanimous result, two annexes were attached to his report. They presented misleading – sometimes wrong – accounts of events before the vote was taken. The UN ratified the Act of Free Choice on 19 November 1969. The Ghanaian delegation to the UN called the process ‘a travesty of democracy and justice’. Together with several other African countries, Ghana called for a proper vote on West Papuan self-determination to be held in 1975, on the grounds that the New York Agreement had not been properly fulfilled. This proposal was defeated in the UN General Assembly by 60 votes to 15, with 39 abstentions.
Forty years of oppression
Even though there has never been a war, almost all West Papuans can name at least one relative who has been beaten, raped, tortured or killed by the Indonesian armed forces since the Act of Free Choice. Officially, more than 100,000 have died. Unofficially, the estimate is 800,000. In February 1999, 100 West Papuan leaders met with President Habibe in Jakarta and said that they had had enough: Indonesia must leave. The team flew back to a hero’s welcome by the thousands waiting to greet them at the airport. Until 1 December 1999, the Indonesians treated the raising of the Morning Star as an act of treason. Jails all over the country held Papuans imprisoned (some for up to 25 years) for raising their flag. The security forces surprised everyone by announcing that the raising of the flag would be permitted on 1 December 1999. In an emotional and peaceful ceremony, the capital city of Jayapura became ‘Papuan owned’ for a day. People throughout the country excitedly began preparations for the grant of independence that they thought would necessarily follow.
The road to freedom reopens
In February 2000, 400 delegates – including representatives of the armed wing of the OPM – met in Sentani and openly discussed a strategy to take West Papua towards independence. This meeting rejected the 1969 Act of Free Choice as fraudulent and illegal. It was followed by a Papua People’s Congress from 29 May to 4 June 2000, when 3,000 delegates came together. The Papua Council and its Presidium (Executive) emerged from these two meetings. Throughout these developments, President Abdurrahman Wahid and his successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, consistently opposed independence but supported greater ‘autonomy’ for the ‘province’. Legislation implemented in January this year hands back much of the tax and royalties previously sent to Jakarta and spent elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Papuans oppose autonomy because it fails to deliver self-determination and allows continued military and police intervention.

Sources: The United Nations in West Papua – An Unprecedented Story (UN pamphlet, New York, 1963); Report of the Secretary-General regarding the act of self-determination in West Irian tabled at the UN General Assembly dated 6 November 1969 (Ref: A-7723); PJ Kuyper and PJG Kapteyn ‘A Colonial Power as Champion of Self-Determination: Netherlands State Practice in the period 1945-1975’ in International Law in the Netherlands edited by HF van Panhys et al, Vol III Ch 3 (Oceania Publications Inc 1980); Greg Poulgrain’s paper ‘Outside Indonesia – An international perspective on the 1962 New York Agreement and the Indonesian claim to Netherlands New Guinea.’ (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane 2000). Dr John Saltford’s excellent research in the paper ‘United Nations involvement with the Act of Self-determination in West Irian (Indonesian West New Guinea)’ www.angelfire.com/journal/issues/saltford.html; Theo van den Broek and Alexandra Szalay ‘Raising the Morning Star’ in The Journal of Pacific History 36 (2001) 77-92; Tapol ‘Secret Operation in West Papua to undermine pro-independence movement’ (London, 2001); Indonesian Human Rights Network (www.indonesianetwork.org); and leaders and academics of West Papua who cannot be named for fear of military retaliation.


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