[Documents menu]History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG
Date: Sat, 17 May 97 11:00:22 CDT
From: rich%pencil@uga.cc.uga.edu (Rich Winkel)
Subject: West Papua: The Case for Re-examination
/** reg.easttimor: 511.0 **/
** Topic: West Papua: The Case for Re-examination **
** Written 6:17 PM May 16, 1997 by gn:wpaireland in cdp:reg.easttimor **

West Papua: The Case for Re-examination

By Mark Doris,
16 April 1997


This paper sets out to explain why we as members of the international community should be concerned by the shoddy precedents set by the United Nations and interested governments in relation to West Papua New Guinea ( Dutch New Guinea ). The arguments are strong, and the case is clear. It is the belief of the author that nothing short of a full re-examination of all the facts relating to this case is acceptable if the basic tenets and institutions of international law and human rights are to continue to have validity and a credible foundation in a historical precedent of just practice.

The Case

The case for a re-examination rests on a number of compelling factors:

1. In the Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands Concerning West New Guinea ( West Irian ), negotiated in New York and signed on August 15, 1962 ( "The New York Agreement"), it was considered sufficient that the disputing parties were the Netherlands, as colonial power, and Indonesia, who had laid claim to the territory. The inhabitants of the territory, the West Papuan people, were not party to this agreement; thus the New York Agreement was signed without their informed consent. This alone is sufficient reason for a re-examination of this case.

2. Within the parameters of the New York Agreement, which I repeat was not negotiated in an inclusive fashion, provision was made for the holding of a referendum in West Papua within 6 years of Indonesia assuming de facto control of the territory, which control later commenced on May 1st 1963. The method chosen by the agreeing parties not including the West Papuans for eliciting whether or not the West Papuan people wished to integrate with Indonesia was not representative of the adult population of the territory. Instead of a one-person one-vote system, a system called Musjawarah was chosen, again without the consent of the West Papuan people. In the event, in 1969, just 1, 025 individuals exercised the franchise out of a total population of some 800, 000. These 1, 025 voted in conditions which by themselves constitute a sufficient reason for a re-examination of this case. The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Fernando Ortiz-Sanz reported to the General Assembly on 6 November 1969:

"I regret to have to express my reservation regarding the implementation of article XXII of the Agreement, relating to the rights, including the rights of free speech, freedom of movement and of assembly, of the inhabitants of the area. In spite of my constant efforts, this important provision was not fully implemented and the Administration exercised at all times a tight political control over the population."

The General Assembly did not adopt, ratify or in any other way endorse this report of the proceedings by which 1, 025 people voted in unsatisfactory circumstances. This is a crucial point: the General Assembly merely "took note" of the Secretary-Generals Report containing Mr. Ortiz-Sanz report on the conduct of the so-called Act of "Free" Choice. Taking note of a report means nothing in moral, legal or diplomatic terms. Taking note of Hitlers annexation of Czechoslovakia does not endorse the annexation.

3. It has been argued that there are difficulties involved with raising this matter at the United Nations with expectation of success. Raising this matter at the UN in itself is not a difficult matter. What is meant by "success" is open to debate. The international community has consistently raised the question of East Timor at UN level, passing some ten resolutions on the matter. One could argue that all this diplomatic activity has been fruitless: East Timor is still occupied by Indonesian troops; and Amnesty International still reports extrajudicial killings and torture in the territory. Thus the definition of a successful diplomatic initiative is relative. No diplomatic initiative of any consequence has occurred concerning West Papua. If it is accepted that there is, prima facie, questions to be raised concerning the manner in which the question of West Papua New Guinea was handled; and one accepts the bona fides of reports by Amnesty International and other reliable sources of ongoing human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings and torture in West Papua; and if one is concerned that the Indonesian Government, even with the spotlight of the international community shining to a degree on East Timor, feel they can still act with impunity; surely this underlines the need more strongly for international attention to the case of a disputed territory, West Papua, where the spotlight of international attention is weak or non-existent?

Conclusions and Recommendations

In summary, the facts are irrefutable:

  • West Papuans were not party to the key agreement concerning their fate, the Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands Concerning West New Guinea ( West Irian ), signed, New York, August 15, 1962;
  • Only 1, 025 West Papuans voted on the question of whether or not the territory of Dutch New Guinea should be integrated with Indonesia;
  • The conditions under which these 1, 025 voted were not free and fair.

The Dutch Government continues to bear some responsibilities towards the people of West Papua. As a partner government in the European Union, the Irish Government also assumes some of this responsibility, and thus cannot, morally, ignore this question.

The onus is thus on the Irish Government to:

1. Raise their concerns with the Dutch Government, along the lines outlined in this paper.

2. Raise the question of the incorporation of West Papua into Indonesia directly with the United Nations, asking the Secretary-Generals office to re-examine the validity of the 1969 Act of "Free" Choice, given the concerns outlined in this paper.

The Alternative

1. Suppression / Human Rights Abuses. Already tens of thousands of West Papuans have died since the Indonesian Government took control of the territory. Some sources put the death toll as high as 300, 000: it is impossible to know the exact figure without adequate investigation. This killing will continue, threatening the very survival of the West Papuan people.

2. Outside Settlers ( Transmigration ). Indonesian, mainly Javanese, transmigrant settlers will continue to pour into West Papua threatening indigenous survival and taking indigenous land. The settlement of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians in West Papua has had no impact on population pressures in Java and elsewhere. Transmigrants tend to have more children. The underlying political rationale for the settlement of outsiders is a geo-strategic one: to control and box-in the native population - at the Papua New Guinea border in particular - and to ensure Papuans are dispersed, surrounded by settlers.

3. Rainforest Destruction. Transmigration and logging are threatening the survival of the New Guinea rainforest. The Indonesian province of Kalimantan, once with vast tracts of tropical rainforest, now has practically none. The same is happening and will continue to happen in West Papua if nothing is done now.

The alternative is bleak: without international attention and support, the West Papuan people will be written out of history.

This paper was prepared by:

Mark Doris, Co-ordinator, West Papua Action.
5 Coote Street, Portlaoise, Co. Laois, Ireland. Tel.
*353 502 61035.
Fax. *353 502 61590.
e-mail: wpaireland@gn.apc.org

Date: April 16, 1997.

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