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Minggu, 15 Januari 2012

The anti-plebiscite campaigns in West Papua

by Pieter Drooglever

For reasons of opportunity and principle, the decolonisation-policies of the Netherlands since 1945 went under the aegis of self-determination. At the transfer of sovereignty in 1949 to the newly created Federal Republic of Indonesia, the Dutch refused to hand over the residency of New Guinea as well.  According to them, the Papuan population as a whole was not developed up to the point where it could determine for itself as yet, and there were plenty of indications that the leading layers of Papua society did agree with the argument. So the operation of self-determination had to be postponed for an as yet undeterminated period.


The ensuing conflict raged on for years and caused much damage tot the relations between The Netherlands and its former colony. It was only terminated on 15 May 1962 with the signing by both parties of the New York Agreement, that had been brought about under strong international pression. The territory was to be handed over to an UN interim administration, to be followed by an Indonesian take over later on. By then full administrative responsibility would be with Indonesia. The only concession to the Dutch were some UN guarantees for the quality of its administration and an Indonesian commitment to organise an opportunity for selfdetermination, called an ‘act of free choice ’ at a proper time,  but not later than 1969 to enable the Papuas to decide for themselves on their own future.  

At face value the agreement offered a solution acceptable to all concerned. Yet, for Papuas and Dutch alike it was less than that. It still was to be expected to what degree the UN and Indonesia would be able and willing to live up to their promises. The idea of selfdetermination by means of a plebiscite went counter to all that Indonesia had stood for during the conflict, all the time arguing that the sovereignty over the whole of the former Netherlands Indies had been theirs since the proclamation of independence of 17 August  1945. For them, the Papuas were understood to have decided for Indonesia at that fateful day already. In New York, the Indonesian diplomats had seen forced to bypass that argument in silence. During the negotiations, the term ‘sovereignty’  had been carefully evaded by all parties, and for the Indonesians the agreement had been acceptable only because the plebiscite had been weakly worded, giving them every opportunity to do it their way. The word ‘plebiscite’ itself, as laid down in the initial UN proposal, had been replaced by the not well established expression of an ‘ act of free choice ’, while the task of carrying out of the operation had been fully entrusted to the Indonesians. Sure, at the time of the operation there had to be a representative of the secretary general of the United Nations in the field, but his task was limited to ‘advise, assist and participate in arrangements which are the the responsibilities of Indonesia for the act of free choice ’. So in the end Indonesia had full leverage to handle the matter to its own preferences. That done, it was to the secretary general to report to the General Assembly of the United Nations, but he was not explicitly instructed to ask for its consent. 

Under the terms of the agreement, for the Dutch nothing was left but to organise their own phasing out on short term and paying half of the costs of the UN administration and the envisaged act of free choice . The Papuas had had no say at all in the coming about of the agreement, and had to wait for the future. The prospect of being transferred lock stock and barrel through UNO to Indonesia at once came as a shock after of period of happily accepted preparations for selfdetermination under the aegis of the Dutch, which had led them to envisage a future as part of an independent Melanesian commonwealth together with their neighbours from TPNG. It all went up in smoke in a moment in the last weeks of August 1962, which caused widefelt consternation. The only solace was the prospect of selfdetermination in due time and the Dutch strengthened them in that believe. The matter was fiercely discussed within the bosom of their representative councils and institutions. There was serious talk about declaring their own independence right away, but it came to nothing because the Dutch were not willing to lend a hand and their own forces were not sufficient to counter the Indonesians. Then they called together a special meeting of about hundred prominent Papuas from al parts of the country in the third week of September 1962. It was the Nasional Papua Congress, that decided to accept the consequences of the New York Agreement and to cooperate fully with the successive interim administrations of the UNO and Indonesia. However, the participants also decided to prepare themselves right from the start as best they could for the forthcoming act of  free choice.  

The test came soon enough with the transfer to the United Nations Temporary Administration (UNTEA) on 1 october 1962, soon followed by an influx of Indonesian officials and military. That went much faster than planned. The contacts with a first, carefully selected batch of Indonesian administrators were not bad at all, and went accompagnied by kind promises of Sukarno and Subandrio  about autonomy and a happpy future together in the Indonesian homeland.  Yet, as soon as the soldiers started to flow in en masse, the mood rapidly changed. The soldiers entered the territory as conquerors out for loot, and as their number grew the Indonesian officials gladly joined them. That was to increase in the years to come. The result was that the Papuas  were thrown back into a state of misery unknown before. Jobs were taken over, economic possibilities vanished in the air, representative councils were disbanded, political parties dissolved and the liberty of speech and expression strongly limited. The richesses of their country were dragged away by shiploads and very little came back for it. They just had to obey the rules of the Indonesian state, and manifestations of having a national identity of their own were forbidden right away. 

The first lethal incidents took place early December, when Papuan leaders wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of the hoisting of their own flag a year ago. They not only were confronted with a veto from the UNO, but also countered with force by the Indonesian military. As a result, about 50 students took refuge in TPNG but were sent back at once by an Australian administration that was  not out for trouble with its new neighbours on the other half of their island. Upon their return in Hollandia they were thrown in jail and tortured. The first killings took place at the same time. It were the opening shots of a reign of terror that was to deepen in the years to come. 

Under these conditions the honest act of free choice , ‘in accordance with international practice’ as promised in the New York Agreement, became a foregone conclusion right from the start. That became clear when a delegation of the National Papua Congress led by Herman Wajoi arrived in Jakarta on 30 September for a first encounter with the new masters. They were welcomed by a number of cabinet members, including general Nasution and the minister of Foreign Affairs Subandrio  . The Papuas  brought with them a proposal for a plebiscite on self determination already in May 1963, when the Dutch had withdrawn completely. This proposal can be regarded as being in line more or less with the decision of the National Congress the week before.  Subandrio   flatly refused to discuss it, ‘since it might lower our prestige’. He explained his guests that the Indonesians had not fought for West Irian because they needed  it, but because for them it was a matter of principle. He further elaborated on ‘time bombs, left behind by the Dutch’. Now the Proclamation of 17 August 1945, the sacrosanct cornerstone of the Indonesian state, was prominent on the table again and the Papuas felt not in a position to press for a further discussion. Subandrio  ’s remark also made it clear to them that their transfer to Indonesia had nothing to do with themselves. During the rest of their stay in Indonesia Wajoi continued to act as the main spokesmen of the group, and his public statements were fully in line with what his hosts might have expected from them. It allways came down to the same: the UN better could go home at once, and there was no need for an act of free choice  either.  It must be noted that after their return to Hollandia (now Sukarnopura, later to become Jayapura) most  members of the delegation reported to their Dutch friends that they had been forced by the Indonesians to do so. 

Thus an anti-plebiscite campaign was started up with Herman Wajoi in the leading role.  It may be noted that from this time on the Australian embassy in Jakarta came to speak of him as ‘the leading sycophant‘.  Back in Hollandia he was joined by a few others. Most prominent among them were Frits Kirihio and Lukas Rumkorem, who now fully sided whith Indonesia which, after all, had been the first half of the decisions of the Papua Congress.  The other half, however, seemed easily forgotten. Early January, when the grip of Jakarta stiffened, on various places Papua demonstrations took place, asking for stopping the plebiscite and for an early retreat of the UN. All available evidence points towards the fact that these events took place under great pressure, and that no violence was shunned from the part of the soldiers. In Jakarta, Sukarno repeatedly lent his voice to the call as well. He was supported from a distance by his long term friend the US ambassador Howard Jones, who now was on his way back from his post in Jakarta. He did his best to echo these voices from the  various places he passed through during his trip home. In New York the Indonesian representative Nico Palar did the same in the UN.

These efforts had no immediate effect, since the other parties involved in the bringing about of the New York Agreement did not give in formally. Both the US and the Netherlands stuck to the position that Indonesia had to play the game according to the rules set in New York. Yet in the end it was not all in vain, seen from an Indonesian point of view. Their ruthless approach disheartened their former opponents, who now tended to give in on practical matters as much as possible to prevent further troubles. The term of the UN administration was taken as short as the agreement allowed for. It thus ended on 1 May 1963, the day that initially was thought to be the first day of a joint UN-Indonesian administration. When it came to that, the Indonesians were present in the field in full force already and could take over full responsibility at once. 
Things were different a bit with the follow up of the agreement on the plebiscite. It was not a thing to be decided at once, and neither the Dutch nor the US politicians lent support to Indonesian suggestions that there was no need for it any longer. However, in the mean time the Indonesians had earned themselves a reputation of stubbornness that was reckoned with them. So here too some leverage was given. In the greement it was decided that when the UNTEA had finished its job, a small group of UN officials had to stay behind in Papua to arrange for economic cooperation and to make preparations for the planned act of free choice . Here, however, the Indonesians did not cooperate either, and no implementation could be given as yet. It was accepted without much protest. For Indonesia, it was a silent message that there always was a second chance to get what they wanted. 

So the UN gradually stumbled into a rather uncomfortable position. Its representatives in the field, UNTEA and the security force UNSFOR, handled the first big peace keeping operation in the history of the United Nations, and as such it was a testcase for the organisation. The prestige of the UN was at stake. Sure, the agreement had left many things in the dark, but at least it had formulated some standards of good governance, justice and safety of life and goods that were not met during their administration. The problems were many. The civil UN staff was small, consisting of a few hundred persons for the huge territory, assisted by 1500 poorly armed security forces (UNSFOR) that were hardly a threath to the well armed Indonesian troops. Moreover, they had only very few Malay speaking persons in their organisation, and with the Dutch in full retreat they were increasingly dependent upon Indonesians for their contact with the Papuas. For Djalal Abdoh, the chief administrator of UNTEA,  it was already clear soon after his arrival clear that things threathenend to slip from his fingers.  Yet he decided to make the best of it, not to spoil his further career by a complete disaster. Towards his immediate superior in New York, the assistant secretary general José Rolz-Bennett, he was quite frank about these difficulties, but in his broader reports written for the information of the General Assembly, he took care to play these down as much as possible. That was especially the case in his final report  from May 1963. There he stated that UNTEA had been a success, and that it had fulfilled its task of softening the transfer between the Dutch and the Indonesian administrations succesfully. 

That claim was not unjustified, but Abdoh kept silent on the fact that for the Papuas his administration had been a period of loss of safety, welfare and liberty, and of increasing desorientation. UNTEA had not guaranteed the human rights it had signed for.  It is difficult however to see how this could have been otherwise, seen the mindset of the new occupational forces. It had to become worse. The retreat of UNTEA inaugurated a period of isolation. Former Netherlands New Guinea now became the special Indonesian province Irian Barat, with a Papua governor indeed, but effectively under Indonesian control. The leading officer of the local military command, KODAM  XVII,  was the most powerful man in the country together with the representative of the Jakarta administration. They set themselves to the task of training the Papuas for a life within the guided democracy of Sukarno. From now on foreigners were forbidden to enter the territory and the information on internal affairs was in the hands and the Indonesian officials and the press agency Antara. These men tried to give a rosy picture of progress with expanding schools, a new university and Indonesian officers working hard for the best of the Papua’s. Sometimes they met with success. When the Australian scholars Herbert Feith and Jaspan visited the country in 1964, resp. 1965, they gave a rather positive picture that must have gladdened the heart of their Indonesian readers. For the rest, more sober reports incidentally slipped out written by a few  journalists or diplomats. More realistic information also filtered out through the Australian intelligence, based upon reports of Papuan fugitives that had crossed the borders.  The former Papuan leaders Nicolaas Jouwe and Marcus Kaisiepo, who now had sought refuge in the Netherlands, tapped from the same type of sources. In their summaries they gave at least a more credible picture of what was happening. They asked attention for the increasing Papuan resistance and the outright revolts in Manokwari in 1965 and following years, that were countered with strong violence by Indonesian troops and airforces. The number of victims now increased steeply and had to be counted by  the thousands. However, it did not seriously damage the Indonesian position. The most interested countries,  Australia, the US and the Netherlands, free at last from the long-continued conflict on west New Guinea, now completely focused upon Indonesia, and these reports could be set aside easily as giving a one sided picture only. The UN-officials closed their eyes too.  When the UN assistant secretary general Rolz-Bennett visited the country in 1965, he decidedly evaded all contact with prominent Papuas, former members of the New Guinea Council.  He deliberately refused to accept a compilation of information they had prepared for him, that in the end had to be smuggled to New York through the backdoor. Upon his return Rolz-Bennett simply told his colleagues that he had not met any problems in the country, and he showed himself rather enthousiastic by the fact that the Indonesian leaders, Subandrio   and Sukarno, had reserved a hour or so for some shoptalk with him while they were on the point of departing for China. Not all hope for a future act of free choice  had to be given up, thus his conclusion. That however was not what Sukarno had in mind. Shortly afterwards  he decided to withdraw from the United Nations, and he did not hide that the act of free choice  had to be removed from the agenda as well.

That changed in the last months of 1965, when in Indonesia the era of Sukarno ran to its end and a new administration took over under the lead of general Suharto. His rise to power went accompagnied with a great show of violence against small Javanese and Balinese farmers which disquieted the world. Yet, by the leaders of the Western bloc he was regarded as the best safeguard against the rising star of communism, and they were eager to support him. Suharto needed their help to restore the Indonesian economy that had fallen in ruins during the long years of the Sukarno administration, but it was clear to all concerned that the new government had to give a token  of goodwill and respect for the international order, if such help was to come off. Here the impending Act of free choice  offered a good chance for Suharto to distantiate himself from the preceding administration. It was in this mood that his foreign minister Adam Malik vistited the country in the middle of 1966, accompanied by a large group of journalists. The minister and his group were approached from all sides by malcontent Papuas who hastened themselves to inform him on the disastrous situation they had to live in and, even more amazing,  he took care to listen to them. In his speeches he delivered fierce attacks on the maladministration and plunder of Papua by the Javanese officials and military that welcomed him. The latter were flabbergasted by this unheard approach of an Indonesian minister. They had no other option than to accept it for while, but after his departure not much changed. Some shifts took place in the top echelons, but essentially things remained as they where. Indonesian attitudes hardened again with the coming of the Act of free choice . The initial steps were taken in the middle of 1968 with the appointment of the Bolivian diplomat Fernando Ortiz Sanz as representative of the secretary general to monitor the AFC that had to take place in the folowing year. Suharto declared that to be willing to organise the Act of free choice , but a the same time he made perfectly clear that he would accept no other outcome than one in favour of Indonesia. At the same time in Irian itself attempts were made by the Papuas to organize a campaign of their own. Much depended on what support they would get from the UN in the months to come .

The term of service of Ortiz Sanz was in many respects a repetition of the one of Djalal Abdoh. His first task was to get informed on the situation by reading the files available at UN headquarters in New York. There he was visited by Nicolaas Jouwe and Marcus  Kaisiepo, who provided him with much local information. There is every evidence that Ortiz Sanz appreciated this, and it must have dawned to him that his was no easy task. The path he had to go was full of pitfalls. Moreover he had only a small staff of at best a dozen men at his disposal because the Indonesians, who had to pay for half of the cost, stressed that they had not the means to finance a big show. The Dutch, who had to contribute the other half, hardly protested at all. So it was clear from the outset that he would become dependent upon Indonesia for all practical matters. Yet that did not prevent him from leaving for Jakarta in August 1968 in high spirits, telling at the State Department that he wanted to be sure that free elections be held. “He would rather resign than be directing a farce .” These pronouncements shocked the US diplomats, who felt that such ideas would give rise to an outright  confrontation with the Indonesians. His first meetings with the Indonesian top were rather uneasy indeed, and his relation with his Indonesian counterpart, Sudjarwo Tjondronegoro, was strained right from the start. Sudjarwo, a senior diplomat who had participated in the negations preceding the New York Agreement and later on had been the first Indonesian ambassador in The Hague after the resumption of the diplomatic relatons with the Netherlands, was a man not to be underestimated. He was full master of his trade and saw fit to build the traps needed to let his opponent stumble whenever he wished for. Adam Malik could have made no better choice.

Of course this is not the place to enter into the details of the act of free choice . I will only discuss a few main lines to give an idea. For a satisfactory fulfillment of his task it was important for Ortiz Sanz that in the end he should be able to inform the UN that the ‘plebiscite’ had been carried out in conformity with the New York agreement, that is to say without compulsion and with methods, compatible with international practice. Yet, he definitely was not the sole judge of these things. During his first meetings with Sudjarwo, the latter reminded him with emphasis that according to the terms of the agreement the organisation and carrying out of the AFC was excusively an Indonesian affair, and that the task of the UN representative was limited to advise, observe and participate in the making and carrying out of  such arrangements. Seen against the background of this history, his was an impossible task, but in the beginning he did not seem very much aware of it. At the time of his arrival a revolt in Manokwari was just being brought to an end, but there was any chance that new ones would flare up. The Papuas were in high spirits at the time and craving for action. For them, it was now or never, and they were fully aware of it. Yet, the Indonesians were on the alert too. To counter unwanted events, fresh troops were brought in, with the result that at the height of the operation some 16.000 troops were at the disposal of the army commander. This man, Sarwo Edhie, was a trusted friend of president Suharto and during earlier actions on Java and in Atheh he had earned himself a reputation of being a ruthless soldier. The police forces too were present in full strength, ready to take action at the first sign of revolt.

 Taken as a whole, the Indonesian civil and military authorities handled the security side of the AFC very effective. Care was taken to spread out the activities over many places to limit the danger of a mass rising in Jayapura. Such a thing threathened to happen nevertheless at the time of the arrival of the Indonesian officials that had to manage the event, on 11 April on the airfield of Jayapura. Thousands of Papuas flocked together to demonstrate for free elections and a real act of free choice . These were countered immediately and the ringleaders were carried off in army trucks. Another demonstration took place a few days later in front of the residency of Ortiz Sanz in Jayapura, which he cannot have missed to see. The most amazing thing is that he acted as if he had seen nothing at all and did not report on is to New York. Detailed information had to came from staff members of the delegation. 

An explanation for this curious behaviour might be that these events took place at a time that the representative of the UN already had lost the first battles and that by now, as Abdoh before, had opted for the policy of looking away, just not to have to tell nasty things in his report at a later stage, that might endanger not only the reputation of the United Nations, but that of himself too. This event stood not alone, and parallel developments are visible in ofther fields too.  During his first tours through New Guinea in the lasts months of 1968 he was enthousiastically welcomed by Papuas who felt that their days of sorrow were over at last. From all sides he was approached by individuals and comittees which handed him letters in which they explained their miseries in abundant detail and spoke themselves out in favour of the plebiscite on the basis of one men one vote, stressing that they wanted to be set free from Indonesia right now. Ortiz Sans had carefull bundled these, and sent them to New York. He also handed them over to Sudjarwo for a reaction. That came soon enough,  but it was not the one he might have hoped for. Sudjarwo felt insulted to the highest degree and made no secret of it. From then on he came to denounce him as a silly person who had no idea of what world he was living in. To counter the impression created, the Indonesians now started an anti-plebiscite campaign of their own making once again. Soon afterwards the UN representative was confronted with pro-Indonesian petitions which emphasized that the Papuas had already chosen for Indonesia on 17 August 1945 and had no need for an act of free choice  at all. These letters were mostly uniformly worded and bearing all marks of mass production. In the beginning Oriz Sanz protested, and he made clear to New York that these obviously were the result of Indonesian intervention. From February 1969 onwards he stopped doing so, and just reported that he had received letters pro and contra, but that only those of the  second category were neatly written. As Sudjarwo had suggested him before,  he underlined that these were written by students and the more educated classes in general, which added to their respectability.

So on the main points relevant for interpreting Papuan mood and Indonesian law and order policies,  his reporting was changing in the first months of 1969, and was he falling back on the tactics applied by Abdoh before.  The confrontation with Papuan reality and contact with his Indonesian counterparts must have learned him a lesson.  More important still was that in January Sudjarwo had informed the UN top officials in New York that their representative was out of touch with reality and had to be instructed better. This they did indeed, though in carefully worded terms. The further correspondence of Ortiz Sanz and his superiors was marked by a subtle bickering on the point who had to take the blame for a less perfect show. In the process, Ortiz Sanz played down his democratic aspirations considerably by conceding  that elections might not be possible in all places, but could be carried out at least in the greater cities – as had been done before in the elections for the New Guinea Council. In his discussions with his Indonesian partners he advised them to allow for an outcome of 30 % or so against inclusion in Indonesia, which would be enough to ensure an outcome in favour for Indonesia that at the same time would lend some credibility to the suggestion that democratic methods had been held up. That favour was not given to him. The Indonesian steered for no less than full control. 

The Act of free choice  that took place in June/August 1969 left no room for surprise.  It was just 100 % in favour of Indonesia. The voting was a decentralized affair, taking place in eight district capitals spread out over the country. The voters had been selected by regional committees, and were appointed more often than not without their knowing why. They had been brought together in their voting centres a month before and carefully instructed on what to do. It was made perfectly clear to them that no other vote than one in favour of Indonesia would be accepted. Short notes were distributed containing the words that were asked for. Journalists were kept out as much as possible. Along these lines the voting took place under the eyes of Ortiz Sanz and a limited group of foreign diplomats that had accepted the invitation to be present at the operation. Direct contact between the UN staff and individual Papuan voters was prevented effectively. The visiting party was marched in just from the airfield straight into the voting place. Theirs was only the task to wait and see. Actually, then and before the UN had played no role in the process at all. The Indonesians had proceeded just as they wished for, telling Ortiz Sanz that the term ‘to participate’ as laid down in the New York Agreement had no other meaning than ‘to be present’.  So in  sense Ortiz Sanz got what he wanted. He had not been ‘directing a farce’ indeed. He had ‘been present’  in the sidelines only.

When the voting was nearly done, the diplomats returned to Jakarta where they were called together at the embassy of the United States. There they felt free to speak out themselves openly. The most outspoken of them was the senior diplomat, the Thai ambasador Phinit Akson. Any sign of dignity, he said, had been utterly missing. His Dutch colleague Scheltema touched a different tune. In Wamena he had heard a critical voice. At that place, a Catholic delegate had expressed the hope that the Government would work for the people for a change and not the other way around. Scheltema added that if he were to be honest, he could not easily say anything else of a positive nature in his report to the Netherlands parliament. In the end he nevertheless managed to do so. Ortiz Sanz did the same in his report to the United Nations. After all, honesty was not the thing asked for.


Zoetermeer, 31 January 2011.

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