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.
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.