The Betrayal of West Papua and the Ongoing Cultural Genocide Part 1/2

The Betrayal of West Papua and the Ongoing Cultural Genocide Part 1/2

The Betrayal of West Papua and the Ongoing Cultural Genocide Part 1/2 Australia, Bolivia, Indonesia, Netherlands, News, West Papua
April 20, 2011

by Ben King
originally posted on
twitter @grimeandreason

This dissertation is based upon over 400 declassified documents as well as the limited historiography surrounding the subject. In light of the recent videos showing the continuation of the brutal repression by Indonesian soldiers, together with Barack Obama’s capitulation in not bringing up the issue on his recent visit,

I thought it was time for a new push to get people to read it and understand the history of the situation…


The scale of the Holocaust showed the world just how horrific state sponsored crimes against humanity could become if left unchecked.

Following Hitler’s downfall, the victorious allies helped create the United Nations, a multinational governing body whose focus was to ensure that the world would never repeat the mistakes and catastrophes of the previous half-century.

They introduced a raft of new international humanitarian laws and ideals such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which laid the framework for future international laws and state conduct, marking a significant step in the progression of theories of human rights.

With the establishment of the U.N, the international community had created the judicial structure needed to enshrine this new humanitarian declaration as a guiding principle for the world to uphold. After such discriminative inhumanity, the explicit recognition of basic freedom and rights to all of mankind was a significant milestone, possibly even vindicating Hegel’s idea of man’s teleological journey toward self-realisation.

At the time of the infamous Nuremberg Trials, Robert H. Jackson, America’s Chief Prosecutor, said in his opening statement that,

“We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”

With this statement in mind, I intend to focus on the case-study of Indonesia’s invasion of West Papua in 1962 and the subsequent ‘elections’ which saw them gain official sovereignty of the country in 1969. After leading the way with the introduction of equal rights for all mankind, have the western states kept to their word?

Geographical and Historical Background

The archipelago of Indonesia, consisting of over 2000 islands, spans 15% of the world’s landmass.

A Dutch colony from 1828 to 1961, West Papua (formally known as Irian Jaya) is located on the western half of the large island of New Guinea, 400 miles off the Northern Australian coast. Despite having just 0.1% of the world’s population, the primitive, tribal groups that live within its rainforest harbour some 15% of the worlds known languages.

The people of New Guinea are predominantly Christian (through missionaries dispatched to the Island after the tribes were discovered) and are Melanesian in race, compared to Indonesia which is mainly Muslim Javanese.

Indonesia carried out military operations in West Papua through 1961/62 after the UN had refused to recognise their territorial claims.

This resulted in the signing of the U.S brokered New York Agreement, a roadmap for the transition of power from the Dutch which required Indonesia to hold free elections (the Act of Free Choice as it was to become known) so as to uphold the West Papuans right to self-determination.

This right is enshrined in International Law established by the UN, an organization to which Indonesia, the Netherlands and the US were member states. Since the ‘Act of Free Choice’ (AFC) in 1969, West Papua has been widely recognized by the vast majority of world states legally to be a province of Indonesia.

West Papuan representatives voted to become incorporated into the newly independent and emerging power of South-East Asia. The UN oversaw and ratified the election, providing legitimacy that was recently endorsed in a letter sent to Robert Wilson MP by Meg Munn MP, UK Foreign Office with responsibility for the UK’s relations with Indonesia.

The Act of Free Choice took place in Papua in 1969.

A group of 1,000 Papuan representatives, who were given the responsibility to make the choice on behalf of the Papuan people, voted to remain part of Indonesia. The British Government of the day supported the Act of Free Choice, as did the United Nations and almost all members of the international community.

Current Historiography

This is the reigning official view presented to anyone who enquires about West Papua to the UK government.

The current literature dealing with this subject is somewhat sparse; at least within the mainstream press. There have been numerous Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Minority Rights International and Amnesty who have compiled reports on the situation in West Papua, but it seems that

East Timor’s conflict with Indonesia in 1975 and the realization of independence in 1999 has overshadowed West Papua’s case.

British Historian John Saltford has written on the Act of Free Choice, and others, such as Dr Kees Lagerberg, have highlighted aspects of Indonesian Imperialism and human rights abuses.

West Papuan authors are ‘censored under certain criteria set by the government or are banned entirely’.

The main reason, I think, that has contributed to the lack of literature regarding West Papua is the fact that since the AFC, West Papua has been regarded as an internal matter for Indonesia and as such has not received nearly the amount of attention as the invasion and occupation of East Timor (which never received UN support or ratification).

Many of those writing on this subject do so to highlight the plight of the West Papuan people. Dr John Saltford is one of the only people I could find to have written a book documenting the role of Britain and the United Nations in the AFC, though this represents a focus on the time of the AFC only.

‘West Papua and Indonesia Since Suharto’ by Peter King and ‘Reluctant Indonesians’ by Clinton Fernandes represent the sum total of English language books released on the subject in the last decade yet even those do not cover what it is I wish to explore: how the International Community attempted to fulfill their human rights obligations as member states of the UN.

I intend to examine the historical account of the AFC to see whether and how the international community complied with UN resolution 1514 (XV): Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples Using declassified communications between the U.S embassy in Djakarta and the State Department 1968-69, I will trace the story of the U.N supervisor for the AFC, Fernando Ortiz-Sanz, to show how these elections were rigged in Indonesia’s favor, despite the known possibility of repression and persecution.

Having established the illegitimacy of the AFC and Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua, I will go on to show that since the handover of power in 1969


there have been widespread occurrences of human rights abuses as a matter of government policy.

In assessing Kees Lagerberg’s claim that

‘between 100,000-200,000 West Papuans have died or simply vanished at the hands of the Indonesian military”,

this section contextualizes the International Communities’ response in the years after the AFC. The lack of English language historiography regarding this matter requires I use NGO reports and investigative journalist materials in my research.

1969 and the Act of Free Choice is highly significant given that it’s illegitimacy makes all future repression an International crime with the international support for Indonesia’s illegal actions directly undermining the UN charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I intend to evaluate to what extent they complied with Ortiz-Sanz’ warning that

“the international community cannot renounce its responsibility for assisting them (Irianese) in years to come”.

Member nations of the U.N have a clear obligation under the UN Charter to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which

“everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth… without distinction of any kind”.

From over 200 pages of recently declassified documents stretching over 30 years from British, U.S and other governments it is possible to analyze in depth the geo-political, commercial and ideological forces at play in the highest levels of office for the continuing support for Indonesia actions. The result is an insight rarely seen into how it was possible that such violations of international law could be perpetrated, apparently without recourse, despite having the framework in place designed to avoid such situations.

Under the Dutch plan for self-determination in 1961, West Papuans completed a ‘territory wide vote for representatives to the newly established New Guinea Council… which ratified the adoption of the national Papuan Morning Star flag, the national anthem and a new name for the territory: West Papua’.

When the UN refused to support Indonesia’s territorial claims, the Government of Indonesia (GOI) invaded West Papua leading to the establishment of the New York Agreement in 196215. When the New York Agreement was signed, it was stipulated that free elections were to be held (again) to establish the West Papuan people’s right to self-determination.

This had to be done in order to bring the transition into line with the 1960 UN Resolution 1514 (XV). The UN says that,

“while the Charter of the United Nations treated self-determination as a principle, rather than a right, the Declaration marked a turning point by stating that “all peoples have the right to self-determination”.

Its first article states that

‘The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights’.

Bolivian Fernando Ortiz-Sanz was sent to Indonesia to oversee the preparations for and the implementation of the AFC, a subject of numerous in-depth communications between the U.S embassy in Jakarta and the Secretary of State from July 1968 until the AFC took place in September 1969.

It was clear to Ortiz-Sanz from the very beginning that the forthcoming elections would not satisfy international law, namely Resolution 1514 (XV).

As early as the summer of 1968, the U.S embassy was warning that

“he [Ortiz-Sanz] will resign rather than preside over a farce”.

What concerned Ortiz-Sanz was that Indonesia had no interest in holding a free election and that since the New York Agreement left Indonesia responsible for its implementation, it rendered his role “useless”.

In August, having recognized that if such views became public it would “be most embarrassing”,

the U.S resolved to do “anything we can to make him aware of the political realities”.

Following conversations with Ortiz-Sanz, the US mission of the UN in New York informed Washington that they were

“convinced Ortiz [is] fully aware of [the] difficult situation in which GOI finds itself and has no intention of making [a] difficult situation worse”.

The ‘difficult situation’ which faced GOI was the risk of domestic upheaval should West Papua be lost to Indonesia;

there was a ‘widespread belief in the military and other circles… that West Irian is [already] a sovereign part of Indonesia’.

Having been made aware of the ‘political realities’ involved, Ortiz-Sanz strove to win the best possible deal for the West Papuan people as he could. He was “deeply moved by his contacts with the primitive Irianese” and tried to urge the GOI to accept a ‘one man-one vote’ system in coastal cities. Despite his efforts, Ortiz-Sanz clearly felt the AFC to be below the required standards laid out in Resolution 1514 (XV), telling the First Secretary Robert Slutz that he ‘would make no conclusions regarding the elections in his report and that each member state of the UN would have to decide for itself whether the act were acceptable under the NY Agreement’.

“On the positive side…” wrote Jakarta Embassy to Washington regarding this meeting, “…the ambassador concluded that there is little doubt that the Act will be decided in favour of West Irian’s continued inclusion in the Indonesian Republic”

How could it be that in May of 1969, months before the election took place, the result could be in ‘little doubt’? Ortiz-Sanz makes clear after the election that

‘despite his efforts, articles XXII of NY Agreement relating to Freedom of speech, Freedom of movement and assembly “was not fully implemented and the administration exercised at all times a tight political control over the population.”

It was known well in advance to the UK, US and Australian governments that only one outcome of the AFC would be deemed acceptable by both Indonesia and the western powers.

The British Embassy in Jakarta, commenting on Ortiz-Sanz role when he entered the country in December 1968, said,

“Tactically his aim is to contrive a formula whereby the AFC will result in a positive affirmation of Indonesia’s sovereignty but will also represent a fair reflection of the peoples wishes… clearly no easy task”.

The following month they clarified this comment, stating that

‘most independent observers are convinced that, given a free choice, the majority of the local inhabitants would not vote for continued incorporation in Indonesia”.

This fact was widely known to all parties at the time, with one journalist telling the British embassy that of all the people he met (300-400) none were in favor of integration. Indeed, he said that he felt

‘the Papuans loath the Indonesians, perhaps in the same degree and as a direct consequence of the way which Indonesians have despised and belittled the Papuans’.

The U.S embassy in Jakarta summed up the situation rather beautifully in a telegram dated September 1969, just before the ‘vote’ took place, which said,

“the Act of Free Choice in West Irian is unfolding like a Greek Tragedy, the conclusion pre-ordained… it long known that the outcome of AFC is predictable… separation is unthinkable”.

This was clearly not the wish of ‘99% of the Papuan population’ and directly contravenes article two of Resolution 1514 (XV): All peoples have the right to self-determination.

US Secretary of State January 1969 – September 1973 William P. Rogers (note: he was succeeded by Henry Kissinger)

As early as October 1967 the U.S already knew that there was little hope for a fair election.

‘The reality is grim…’ reads an air-gram to the Department of State, ‘Now there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of movement, and forceful oppression is the rule’.

In the end, the GOI hand-picked 1025 representatives: these included bribed tribal chiefs and family members and friends of Indonesian administration officials which, together with the ‘great efforts of indoctrination… [and] Indon (sic) repression caused by fear of separatism’, combined to create a unanimous vote for continued inclusion in Indonesia.

Had the U.S, U.K and others thought that the result of this election would lead to development, economic growth and a better life for the people of West Papua, one could possibly understand the reason why international law was ignored when the UN ratified Indonesia’s sovereignty.

In reality this was not the case, as this air-gram to the Secretary of State in August 1969 shows:

It is difficult to predict whether the GOI will (be prepared to) take harsh repressive measures or seek to establish good government and further economic progress in the region. The outcome is likely to be mixed or uneven.

Interestingly, the ‘be prepared to’ was crossed out on the document but is still discernable underneath. It goes on to say that

‘Overreaction (sic) and brutal repression would have an undesirable effect on International opinion but, then, the Indonesians have been known to ignore these consequences in quashing other revolts in the past’.

As a member state of the UN, it seems a shame that the focus of this ‘undesirable effect’ is not on the West Papuan people themselves, rather than world opinion.

The justification given for supporting this rigged election appears two-fold.

One is that the U.S was ‘determined not to lose Indonesia to Communist influence’, either through a coup or increased Soviet influence.

The other often quoted reason was that a democratic election was impossible due to

the nature of the ‘stone-age, illiterate tribal groups whose horizons are strictly limited and who would be unable to grasp alternatives involved in free plebiscite…free election among groups such as this would be much more of a farce than any rigged mechanism Indonesia could devise’.

Despite independent observers noting the understanding of overwhelming numbers of people with regard to their wanting Independence, article 3 of Resolution 1514 (XV) was ignored:

‘Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence’.


for references click here


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