Papua Storyteller


Selasa, 17 Januari 2012

Reflections on the New York Agreement, the Act of Free Choice and developments since.

by John Saltford

Colonial history meant that an arbitrary line was drawn down the centre of New Guinea in the 19th Century. The eastern side, Papua New Guinea, eventually got its independence from Australia in 1975, but its western neighbour, West Papua, was to endure a very different fate. In this short paper I will examine what happened and look at some of the recent debates on the best way forward for West Papua.


To begin with we need to look at some history. There are of course arguments on both sides over whether West Papua should have gone to Indonesia in 1949. However, in one sense these arguments are irrelevant because the August 1962 UN-brokered New York Agreement, signed by Indonesia and the Netherlands, guaranteed the West Papuan people the right to self-determination. Specifically the agreement acknowledged that it was for the Papuans, and no one else, to decide whether West Papua was to become an independent state or a province of Indonesia.

The implementation of the agreement however was a different matter. Under Article 2, the Dutch handed over West Papua to a temporary UN authority (UNTEA) on Oct. 1, 1962. After seven months the UN then transferred control to Jakarta, prior to any act of self-determination.

To get a general idea of the UN’s record during its short administration of West Papua it is perhaps sufficient to quote just a couple of comments from the UN officials who were actually there. The first was made in a confidential letter by the UNTEA Divisional Commissioner for Merauke in December 1962:

"If the date (of our departure) is advanced or if the Agreement is changed doing away with a plebiscite, I do not expect widespread disturbances because we have sufficient forces to control the situation - a whiff of grapeshot can easily control the situation if that is what UNTEA wants."

The second remark was by the Merauke Commissioner's colleague in charge of Biak:

"I have yet to meet any thinking, sober, generally responsible Papuan who sees any good in the coming link with Indonesia. Unwelcome as the anxiety and resistance of thinking Papuans maybe it is of course hardly surprising if one is not under pressure to close one's eyes to what is in fact happening to this people at the hands of the three parties to the Agreement."

Whatever one makes of these comments, they hardly describe a situation that today's UN would want to use as a model for future operations.

But returning to the New York Agreement, in order to pass judgment on its implementation, we need to consider four key articles.

Under Article 16, a number of UN experts were to remain in the territory following the transfer of administrative responsibility to Indonesia. Their primary task was to advise and assist the Indonesians in their preparations for Papuan self-determination that was to take place before the end of 1969. But these experts were never deployed because Indonesia objected.

Under Article 22, the UN and Indonesia had to guarantee fully the rights, including the rights of free speech, freedom of movement and of assembly of the Papuans.

These rights were not upheld, even during the UN administration, and with no UN staff in the territory once Jakarta took over, Indonesia was free to act as it pleased. The official 1969 UN report actually admits that the article had not been fully implemented adding "the (Indonesian) Administration exercised at all times a tight political control over the population."

Under Article 17, one year prior to self-determination, the Secretary-General was to appoint a representative who would lead a team of UN officials, including those already stationed in the territory. Their task was to continue and build on the work outlined in Article 16 and remain until the act of self-determination was complete.

A Bolivian diplomat, Ortiz Sanz, was appointed but, as he made clear in his official report, the non-implementation of Article 16 meant that there was no experienced UN staff in the territory for him to lead. Instead he had to make do with a newly arrived team of 16 who were supposed to assist and observe an act of self-determination in a vast territory covering over 160,000 square miles.

Under Article 18, all adult Papuans had the right to participate in an act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice.

This central tenet of the agreement was never implemented. With no genuine involvement by the population, the UN effectively stood by as Indonesia carefully selected, bribed and threatened 1,022 West Papuans to vote publicly and unanimously in favor of integration with Indonesia. The final wording of the UN report says only that the procedure had been carried out in accordance with "Indonesian", and not "international" practice as specified in the article.

Of course one could argue that “International Practice” is such a vague term that it is difficult to judge whether or not the Act of Free Choice met the required criteria. But in fact, accepted international practice on this issue had been set out nine years earlier in UN General Assembly Resolution 1541 of December 1960. This laid out clearly the circumstances under which a non-self governing territory (which West Papua was) could integrate with an independent state.

Looking at the text of this resolution, it states clearly that integration should be on the basis of complete equality between peoples of the non-self governing territory and the independent state with which it is being integrated. Furthermore, Principle IX of the resolution says:

“the integrating territory should have attained an advanced stage of self-government with free political institutions so that the peoples would have the capacity to make a responsible choice through informed and democratic processes….The integration should be the result of the freely expressed wishes of the territory’s peoples acting with full knowledge of the change in their status, their wishes having been expressed through informed and democratic processes, impartially conducted and based upon universal adult suffrage.”

Regardless of Jakarta’s claims, the implementation of the Act of Free Choice did not even begin to fulfil any of the conditions set out in Resolution 1541.

Recent research and campaigning

In 2003 I wrote a book based upon de-classified documents from the UN and elsewhere. In it I concluded that the Act of Free Choice was a sham that had denied the Papuans their right to genuine self-determination.

Since then further significant resources have become available. In November 2005, a detailed Dutch Government-commissioned report was published with an English translation following in 2010. Written by distinguished historian Professor Pieter Drooglever, it makes full use of all the available evidence to show how the Act fundamentally denied the people their legitimate political and human rights. Elsewhere, de-classified US documents from the period are now also available.

Meanwhile an international campaign calling on the UN to conduct a review of its conduct during the Act continues with support from NGOs, academics, politicians and respeced figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In October 2008 the “International Parliamentarians for West Papua” was launched at the UK House of Commons. In support, rallies and demonstrations took place in West Papua and elsewhere including a peaceful gathering of several thousand in Jayapura. As a result a number of participants were arrested and beaten. One of the organizers, Yosias Syet, was found murdered shortly afterwards while another, Bucthar Tabuni, was put on trial. He avoided a conviction for treason, but his peaceful call for a referendum could, according to the trial judge “harm the sense of national unity and the unitary state of Indonesia, hamper development, defy laws and disturb peace among the heterogeneous peoples of Papua,”” In July 2009 he was sentenced to three years in jail.

Critics of the “pro-Papua” lobby

Supporters of the “pro-Papua” lobby campaign against environmental exploitation and political and human rights abuses in West Papua. But an important issue for them remains the denial of the Papuans’ right to self-determination in the sham Act of Free Choice. In response Jakarta officials continue to defend the Act and warn that any questioning of it would undermine the new democratic Indonesia.

In Australia, the arrival of 43 West Papuan asylum seekers in early 2006 prompted a crisis of sorts between Canberra and Jakarta, complete with tense exchanges, a re-called ambassador and even a few eyebrow-raising cartoons. Later that year the academic Rodd McGibbon argued in his Lowry Institute paper, “Pitfalls of Papua,” that the “pro-Papua” lobby’s case was based upon seven myths and that the abuses, killings and denial of political freedoms were not nearly as serious as some would claim.

McGibbon’s paper then condemned the “myth” (number six on his list) that the recently de-classified documents on the Act of Free Choice revealed anything new. This, he explained, is because the Act was merely “an open act of real-politik” which was understood and accepted by the main actors at the time. As the collator of some of these documents, I fully agree that there is no need to sift through piles of 40 year old papers to realize that the Act of Free Choice was a crudely orchestrated charade. A quick read of the UN’s own publicly available report on the Act will tell you that. However as an academic, McGibbon may appreciate that, in the face of stubborn denials by Jakarta and general international ignorance on the issue, the collation of a comprehensive body of evidence is nonetheless necessary to demolish Indonesia’s own particular myths of what took place.

In summary, McGibbon warned against “the utopian thinking, dangerous demands and misguided analysis that have emerged in recent public debates regarding Papua”. The thrust of this argument seems to be that to challenge too closely Indonesia’s shameful record in West Papua would only damage Australian-Indonesian relations while making the situation in West Papua worse by raising false hopes among the people. Better therefore to keep quiet.

The same year Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone even appeared to label the Papuans as bigots for not welcoming the Indonesian occupation. In a frankly bizarre attack she asserted:

“so-called Papuan nationalism in Indonesia is based on nothing more than hostility to people from other parts of Indonesia. Such racist sentiment should be condemned, not encouraged. Let’s not support separatism.” 

Is Special Autonomy the answer? 

Turning to the possible solutions, Special Autonomy is often paraded as the “only show in town”. But less than two years after the 2001 Special Autonomy (Otsus) bill was passed, its future was undermined by a Presidential Instruction (Inpres) dividing the territory into three provinces. By July 2003 a meeting of officials concluded that only 10% of the Special Autonomy provisions had been implemented. In recent years the Papuan Traditional Council, the Papuan Governor, the Papua People Assembly Chairman and Yusak Yaluwo, who led President Yodhoyono’s July 2009 election campaign team in Papua, have all concluded that Special Autonomy has failed. The same year the US Embassy in Jakarta was privately saying much the same thing. Cables now available on Wikileaks reported:
''Most money transferred to the province remains unspent a|though some has gone into ill-conceived projects or disappeared into the pockets of corrupt officials….Many central government ministries have been reluctant to cede power to the province. As a result, implementation of the Special Autonomy law has lagged and Papuans increasingly view the law as a failure,''

Meanwhile, thousands have marched in numerous demonstrations rejecting Special Autonomy and, in many cases, calling for a referendum on independence. In recent weeks Papuan students in Jakarta have called for Special Autonomy to be cancelled with one representative, Agus Kosay, describing it as a “new form of colonialism”.

But despite overwhelming evidence that Special Autonomy is not delivering, many international commentators have continued over the years to see it as the practical solution. One example is Timo Kivimaki who was involved in the 2005 Aceh peace talks. His 2006 paper “Initiating a Peace Process in Papua” advocates “proper” implementation of Special Autonomy leading to a fairer economic deal for Papuans. This would also result in greater political freedoms, a curtailing of human rights abuses and some limitation of transmigration. In other words Jakarta would be expected to do no more than observe the minimum standards expected of a modern state. But in return the Papuans would have to abandon any hope of independence.

Kivimaki describes such a solution as one in which both sides can “win the peace.” But it might better be described as an acceptable starting point for negotiations rather than a conclusion.

Special Autonomy is certainly one possible answer, but Papuans can legitimately point to other examples of conflict resolution where fundamental compromises have been made by both sides, not just one. For example, the 2001 peace deal for Bougainville agreed to significant autonomy from PNG for the territory and a referendum on independence currently envisaged for sometime after 2015. A similar deal agreed by the Sudanese government and Southern rebels in 2005 allowed for autonomy for Southern Sudan and a referendum on independence. As we know this has just taken place with a huge vote in favour.

Finally, supporters of West Papuan independence should also take note of a July 2010 ruling by the International Court of Justice on Kosovo in which it ruled that the territory’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia did not violate int_rnational law. Interestingly, in a submission to the Court, the Dutch Government explained their support for Kosovan independence by stating:

“The people of Kosovo had the right to self-determination and secession from Serbia because the Belgrade authorities systematically violated civil and human rights of Albanians for years. International law thus allows the proclamation of Kosovo's independence.”
To conclude, proper resolution of the West Papuan conflict requires genuine negotiations without any pre-conditions from either side. And this would undoubtedly be helped by Indonesia’s abandonment of its distorted version of history that can only further distort current efforts to solve the issue peacefully.

Feb 2011

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