Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Book reveals UN colluded in West Papua takeover

In 2002 Dr John Saltford published a book entitled The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969 - The Anatomy of Betrayal.

At the launch of the book Justice Desmond O'Malley remarked:

"The history of the handover of West Papua (or Irian Jaya as it was renamed in 1973) to Indonesia is, to say the least, controversial, particularly when one considers how far along the path to independence West Papua was in the 1950s / early 1960s. In 1952 the Netherlands, as the colonial power in the territory, recognised Papuan self-determination and began preparing the nation for independence. It was given a governor and an administration of its own directly under the Hague. In 1961 various steps towards self-determination took place: - the first parliament was installed, on October 19th the Papuan National Committee introduced the national anthem and the Papuan flag and decided that in future the country should be called West Papua. As Indonesia was at this time strongly opposed to Dutch policy on West Papua and claimed that the area was part of the Indonesian Republic, the Dutch presented a plan to the UN General Assembly to resolve the dispute - the proposal was to hand over the territory to a UN administration until such time as the population was ready to exercise their right to self-determination. Indonesia rejected this idea and armed clashes broke out between Dutch and Indonesian troops.

Both sides eventually agreed to UN brokered talks, and in August 1962 the New York Agreement was reached and ratified by the UN General Assembly on 21st September 1962. It stipulated that the Netherlands was to leave the territory and transfer authority to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) on October 1st. UNTEA was to hand over the area to Indonesia on May 1st 1963 - a far cry from the original Dutch plan, where the UN administration was to have remained until the Papuans had considered the issue of self-determination.

However, the New York Agreement did give the Papuans certain rights, including that of self-determination and it stipulated that within six years, the people of the territory would determine, in a free and fair manner, whether they wished to remain under Indonesian control or whether they would seek independence.

Thus in 1969, under UN supervision, the Indonesian government conducted the so-called "Act of Free Choice" in West Papua. As we know this Act has been widely disputed, as evidence suggests that the process of voting for the Act was seriously defective. Concern still exists about the manner in which those local council representatives who participated in the Act of Free Choice were selected and there are allegations of Indonesian interference in the process.

The reasons for such poor administration of the Act of Free Choice under UN supervision are addressed in this new text, but clearly the UN failed in its obligations to assist in the act of self-determination in accordance with international best practices. Despite fundamental flaws in the process, international reaction was comparatively muted and a UN General Assembly resolution confirmed the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia - which has condemned the West Papuans to more than 30 years of repression and remains a source of great unrest in the territory.

In the years since Jakarta's assumption of control, there has been widespread opposition to the Indonesian administration of West Papua and in the more open atmosphere since the fall of General Suharto in 1998, there have been ever more explicit expressions within West Papua for independence from Indonesia. However, the preservation of Indonesia's territorial integrity is a corner stone of President Megawati's governing policy and separatists' activities are being suppressed by Indonesian security forces, amid increasing allegations of human rights abuses.

The parallels with pre-referendum East Timor are already apparent in West Papua: the transfer to the territory of police and military commanders formerly assigned to East Timor, the barring of foreign journalists unless granted special clearance, constant harassment, arbitrary arrests and murder of West Papuans expressing their basic human rights which have been denied them for so long. As was the case in East Timor, many thousands of mostly Papuan civilians have been killed by the Indonesian security forces since the 1960s. One figure suggests that about 30% of the population of the territory has been wiped out by the Indonesian regime.

The international community cannot forget the painful lessons of East Timor and must not stand by while history repeats itself in West Papua.

There have been calls for a review of the events surrounding the 1969 Act of Free Choice and the role of the UN in that process."

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