West Papua: no-one’s colony
By Online Editor
5:13 pm GMT+12, 20/05/2014, Fiji
Commentary from the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)
West Papua, comprised of the provinces (Papua and Papua Barat) is the Indonesian government’s last remaining colony,
situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea, adjacent to independent Papua New Guinea. Papuans want what
all colonized people want: to be free – to be masters of their own destiny. More specifically, Papuans demand, as a
matter of urgency, that West Papua be reinstated on the list of non-self-governing territories in order to hasten their
progress towards political self-determination.
Eligibility to be reinstated on the list of non-self-governing territories
West Papua satisfies the criteria for being reinstated on the list of non-self-governing territories set down in United
Nations Resolution 1541 (XV). Specifically, West Papua is geographically separate from Indonesia. Papuans are culturally
and ethnically distinct and they have had a different historical experience from Indonesians. The former colonial
authority, the Netherlands, prior to the current colonial administration, the Unitary Republic of Indonesia taking
control, established a national parliament – the Nieuw-Guinea Raad – paving the way for Papuans to progress towards
self-rule. Sukarno, a former Indonesian president tacitly acknowledged West Papua’s sovereignty when he referred to West
Papua as a Dutch ‘Puppet State’ prior to launching a military invasion.
West Papuans have a right to self-determination under international law set down in the Declaration on the Granting of
Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples and adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 1514 (XV), Article
1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic
Social and Cultural Rights and more recently, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The need to reinstate West Papua on the list of non-self-governing territories is made more urgent by ongoing gross
human rights violations and a failure of governance on the part of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.
Human rights violations and state violence has been documented during recent United Nations Human Rights Council
Universal Periodic Review of the Indonesian Government’s commitment to civil and political rights and economic, social
and cultural rights in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Civil and political human rights issues raised include included the freedom
of expression, the human rights violations committed by the security forces, the problem of impunity, the repression of
human rights defenders, and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.
Economic, social and cultural rights issues raised include lack of access to health care and education, the problem of
land-grabbing, and the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. In addition concern was expressed about the
Indonesian government’s delay in making specific arrangements to allow visits by UN special procedures and human rights
experts. In regards to both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural right the United Nations
Committee showed particular concern to the situation in Papua.
Political scientists Dr Jim Elmslie and Dr Camilla Webb-Gannon characterise Indonesian rule as presiding over
slow-motion genocide. They conclude that there is evidence to show that the Indonesian state has engaged in intentional
genocidal acts designed to “counter and eliminate Papuan attempts to create an independent state for their nation or
enjoy political freedom on a par with other Indonesians.”
Taking the above facts into consideration, in a special report into decolonization in the Pacific Region adopted by the
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in their Twelfth session in May 2013, Valmaine Toki stated that
“there are clear grounds for the General Assembly to support [West Papua’s] reinstatement on the list of
Toki listed three compelling reasons. “First, West Papua had satisfied the criteria set down in resolution 1541 (XV).
Second, it had featured initially on the list. Third, the right of self-determination is articulated in article 3 of the
United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” In light of gross human rights situation in West Papua
Ms. Toki wrote that “urgency is recommended.” As a result the International Community has a Responsibility to Protect
West Papuans by granting political self-determination as a remedy for the Indonesian Government’s failure to govern and
adequately protect West Papuans.
West Papuans formed their own parliament in 1961 but have never been permitted to govern. The Indonesian government
claims sovereignty over West Papua was transferred from the Netherlands to the Unitary Republic of Indonesia by the
United Nations as a result of the Act of Free Choice in 1969. That is not true. The Act of Free Choice was not free,
fair or peaceful. Less than 0.01% of the population, just over 1000 people, participated in the Act of Free Choice and
100% of those that did were coerced to vote. Two in-depth academic studies – one by Professor Pieter Drooglever, the
other by Dr. John Saltford – conclusively showed that the Act of Free Choice was fraudulent and backed up by extremely
ruthless violence, including the willingness to bomb entire villages. Until Papuans have been given the right to decide
their own political status, a right which is theirs under international law, Indonesia cannot claim to be a democracy.
In the intervening five decades the political situation has not improved.
West Papuans are determined to be free
Desmond Tutu once said that “nothing can stop a people determined to be free.”
Papuans have not given up. Even more remarkably, the overwhelming majority have chosen to pursue their aspirations for
freedom through a combination of unarmed civilian based resistance and diplomacy. Instead of ensuring West Papuans’
safety and security the Indonesian state is endangering their lives. West Papuans are driving the struggle; they are
being killed, tortured, imprisoned and pushed to the margins of political and economic life but they are not backing
down. However, they need their regional neighbours and other governments to stand with them so they can continue living
in the land of their ancestors. Papuans want their country to be reinstated on the list of non-self-governing
territories and urge member countries of the Committee of 24 to take immediate action to support Papuan aspirations.