Happy 40th anniversary
1 May 2003 was the 40th anniversary of the 1963 Indonesian takeover of West Papua, the former Dutch colony that makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea. If one is to believe Jakarta's version of history, then the takeover was a victorious liberation. But there was no joyful celebration this year, or any other year, because the reality is that the West Papuans have nothing to celebrate.
Instead, it was business as usual, particularly in the Central Highland region around the town of Wamena, where since April this year a military campaign against "separatists" has been on-going. This has reportedly resulted in at least 15 killings, torture, villages being burnt down and livestock and crops being destroyed.
In one incident on 14 or 15 April, a local man called Yapenas Murib was reported by Amnesty to have died in military custody as a result of torture. More recently, on 7 July, one man was shot dead and two others injured in Wamena when police opened fire on five Papuans who had raised the Morning Star flag, the symbol of independence for the territory.
As a result of the current campaign, several thousand people have fled the area, some possibly joining the estimated 13,000 refugees already living in squalor over the border in Papua New Guinea.
Explaining the reasons for this latest military assault, Senior Police Commander Sihombing declared that the operation was aimed at "improving the people's "nationalism and patriotism".
Such brutalities are, of course, nothing new. Under first Sukarno, then General Soeharto, Indonesia has abused and killed countless thousands of Papuan people, while systematically robbing them of their land and valuable natural resources. At the same time, a deliberate policy of transmigration has sought to make the indigenous people a minority in their own land by bringing in hundreds of thousands of settlers from other parts of the Republic.
For a brief period following Soeharto's downfall in 1998, there seemed to be the possibility that a new era of openness might emerge throughout Indonesia. But under the current President Megawati (Sukarno's daughter), Jakarta has returned to the familiar tactic of military repression and violence in its continuing efforts to stamp out all dissent.
In November 2001 Papuan Congress leader Theys Eluay was murdered by Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) troops. An advocate of non-violent Papuan nationalism, his killers were sentenced in April this year to a derisory 3 to 3 1/2 years in prison.
In response, the Indonesian Army Chief of Staff General Ryacudu commented; "I don't know, people say they did wrong, they broke the law. What law? Okay, we are a state based on the rule of law, so they have been punished. But for me, they are heroes because the person they killed was a rebel leader."
Last August in West Papua, two American teachers and an Indonesian were murdered in an ambush close to the huge Freeport copper and gold mine. The Indonesian army blamed Papuan rebels, but nearly a year on no one has been charged, and from the beginning local human rights groups, the local police and most commentators have suspected that elements of the military probably had a hand in the crime as part of an effort to extort more money from the Freeport mine.
Most recently on 18 July, Reuters reported that it saw US Congressional documents which stated that the incident "appears likely to have been perpetrated at least in part by members of the Indonesian military." Unsurprisingly, the issue threatens to damage US/Indonesian relations at a time when Washington wants to re-establish close ties with Jakarta's armed forces as part of its global campaign against Islamic terrorism.
Meanwhile in the restive province of Aceh, Jakarta has launched its largest military operation since the brutal invasion of East Timor in 1975 and many Papuans fear that they could be next.
As Human Rights Watch warned in its July 2003 report on Indonesia, "President Megawati is dismantling the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly... Instead of working to eliminate the discredited policies of Soeharto's New Order, Megawati's legacy may be their resurrection."
So how was this allowed to happen? Why has the western half of New Guinea ended up as little more than a colony of Indonesia instead of an independent state? The answer is one that the United Nations and many of its key members including the US, the Netherlands and Australia would like to forget.
In 1949, following their withdrawal from Indonesia, the Dutch remained in West Papua on the grounds that the Melanesian Papuans had little in common their predominantly Asian neighbours to the west.
Instead, the Dutch introduced measures, such as elected councils, to prepare the people for independence with a target date for this of 1970. Commenting on Papuan public opinion, a visiting Australian official reported back to Canberra in 1962 that the overwhelming desire of the people was for eventual independence - a conclusion also reflected in contemporary surveys carried out by the academic Paul Van der Veur.
But in the end, while neighbouring Australian New Guinea became the independent state of Papua New Guinea in 1975, the West Papuans were to endure a very different fate.
Angered at West Papua's moves towards independence and claiming the territory as his, Indonesian President Sukarno turned to the Soviets for arms and threatened to invade. In 1962, under pressure from the US, who wished to appease the President and keep him away from Moscow's influence, the Dutch gave in.
They agreed to sign the New York Agreement with Jakarta handing West Papua over to a temporary UN administration (UNTEA). But Article 18 made clear that this was only on condition that all adult Papuans had the right to participate in an act of self-determination to be carried out "in accordance with international practice,"
Another key part of the Agreement was Article 22, which stipulated "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."
In the event, the UN pulled out seven months later and transferred the territory to Jakarta, despite being fully aware of overwhelming Papuan opposition to this. As one senior UNTEA official commented in 1962: "I have yet to meet any thinking, sober, generally responsible Papuan who sees any good in the coming link with Indonesia."
In contrast Sukarno made clear that he saw no need for a Papuan vote since they were all obviously loyal to Indonesia.
Nonetheless, when Sukarno was replaced by the pro-Western General Soeharto, Jakarta announced that an act of self-determination would be permitted. In response, a small UN team returned in 1968 to help Indonesia prepare. By this time however the Papuans had already experienced five years of Jakarta's rule. A visiting American diplomat noted privately that the Indonesians had "tried everything from bombing to shelling and mortaring, but a continuous state of semi-rebellion persists."
As a US Embassy report from 1969 noted, UN staff on the ground believed that, given the chance, 95 per cent of Papuans would support independence. Elsewhere, contemporary British and Australian documents echo this conclusion.
Aware of its deep unpopularity, Jakarta declared in January 1969 that a referendum on self-determination was impractical because the people were too "primitive." Instead, they selected 1,022 Papuans to act as representatives for the whole population. Rather than protest, the UN chose to collaborate and privately urged Indonesia to gain assurances from the Dutch that they would not question the inevitable result.
As a consequence, in July and August 1969, eight assemblies were organised in which the hand-picked Papuans were paraded in front of a selection of diplomats, UN officials and journalists before voting unanimously to reject independence and declare instead their love and loyalty to Indonesia. Many of those chosen to vote have since alleged that they were subjected to threats and bribes by the military to cooperate fully.
Leaving one such voting session, Hugh Lunn, one of only a handful of journalists present, witnessed peaceful demonstrators outside being arrested and thrown into the backs of trucks by Indonesians who also threatened him with a gun. When Lunn went inside to tell Ortiz Sanz his response was "our job is to see what happens inside".
Looking back now, it is hard to imagine how such a crudely orchestrated spectacle escaped universal ridicule and condemnation. But at the time there was little international interest. Writing in 1968 one British official commented: "I cannot imagine the US, Japanese, Dutch, or Australian governments putting at risk their economic and political relations with Indonesia on a matter of principle involving a relatively small number of very primitive peoples."
Another New York-based British diplomat reported: "the [UN] Secretariat, whose influence could be important, appear only too anxious to get shot of the problem as quickly and smoothly as possible."
In the end, despite protests from some African states led by Ghana, the UN General Assembly simply voted in November 1969 to "take note" of the Papuan "vote" and with that the UN washed its hands of the whole business.
Thirty years later the man who oversaw the UN's involvement, retired Under Secretary-General Narasimhan, finally admitted that the Papuan vote was indeed a complete sham. Meanwhile an international campaign is underway to lobby UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to conduct a review of the UN's actions at the time (see: www.westpapuaaction.buz.org).
As this 40th anniversary comes and goes, Jakarta's apparent regression back to ever worsening repression does not bode well for Papuans or Indonesians. Current thinking within the regime was publicly expressed by Minister of Defence Matori on 8 July when he declared "the Unitary State of Indonesia is more important than human rights... conditions differ, the application of human rights in Indonesia cannot be the same as their application in western countries."
It can only be hoped therefore that the UN, and those states with a particular responsibility, will finally turn their attention to finding a genuine and just solution to the tragedy and betrayal of the West Papuan people.