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…
Read Part 1 by clicking here
Post Act of ‘Free’ Choice: Attempted Genocide?
Other than a few NGO reports and papers written by (mainly Australian or Dutch) academics, there has been precious little written about the situation in West Papua.
The genocide committed by the Government of Indonesia (GOI) in East Timor received more attention though even that has not served as a catalyst for a re-visitation of the ‘Act of Free Choice’ (AFC).
A few academics, NGO’s and investigative journalists have attempted to raise the issue of Indonesian policy towards the inhabitants of West Papua, finding enough evidence to produce the occasional book, report or documentary. Although the current UK stance is that
“human rights abuses are hard to verify due to the remoteness of the area,”
this does not seem to have stopped others from finding evidence of such crimes (though it has taken a long time for people to take notice with much of the material being published only in the last 15 years.)
Dr. Kees Lagerberg, author of “West Irian and Jakarta Imperialism,” is one of the few western academics to have written on this topic.
He served the Dutch colonial administration for 11 years and travelled back to West Papua to document the post-ACF situation in West Papua. He claims that:
“it is impossible to explain away the disappearance of 150,000 Papuans without highlighting the considerable measure of neglect shown by the Indonesian authorities towards the Papuans”
Even before the AFC, it was clear the extent to which Indonesia was prepared to use force against a largely unarmed population:
Indonesia’s military command had already shown their capacity to commit mass murder.
Following Suharto’s accession to power in 1965, over 500,000 known or suspected communists were killed in one of the most bloody episodes in human history.
This was even celebrated in the U.S, where it formed another front-line in the ongoing fight against the spread of communism. This letter from the British embassy, dated April 1968, highlights the UK government’s knowledge of Indonesian tactics:
“The Indonesians have tried everything from bombing them… to shelling and mortaring them, but a continuous state of semi-rebellion persists. Brutalities are undoubtedly perpetrated from time to time in a fruitless attempt at repression.”
Having made its decision on the legality of the AFC, the UN had ensured that the matter remained an internal dispute, closing off any chance of justice for the West Papuan people through the correct, legal channels of the General Assembly. As an internal matter for the GOI to resolve, the plight of West Papua was no longer a matter for discussion within the International Community and the Media. The Hon. F.H. Faleomavaega called the U.N ratification “a truly pathetic episode”; unfortunately what was to follow turned a pathetic episode into the pre-curser for 40 years of repression and possible genocide.
‘Genocide in West Papua’ is the title of a 2005 report written by John Wing of Sydney University. He holds no punches in his assessment of Indonesia’s efforts to control the local guerrilla movement called the OPM. Here is an excerpt from that report:
“The current situation is referred to as a “silent genocide.”
Villages are destroyed by TNI (Indonesian forces) through arson, following “incidents” blamed on the OPM guerrilla movement, but the incidents themselves are staged and guerrillas (if any) are manipulated by the TNI.
Civilians are then forced to take refuge in areas away from their food gardens, where they perish from malnutrition and exposure.
Abigail Abrash from the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program has also written a paper entitled ‘Papua: Another East Timor?’. She highlights examples of racial and religious discrimination, including
‘extrajudicial killings, torture and rape… that amounted to an undeclared war against the indigenous population.’
What both reports have in common is there insistence that genocide is, whether as a matter of policy or not, at least a very real possibility for the people of West Papua.
Non-governmental organizations work hard at providing objective and accurate accounts of human rights abuses all over the world.
One such report by Minority Rights Group International highlights the effects of Indonesia’s transmigration policy in West Papua which, as well as dominating West Papua’s economy,
‘will also make the indigenous peoples a minority within their own country’
Amnesty International, in their latest statement regarding West Papua, conclude that
‘there were reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, excessive use of force during demonstrations and harassment of human rights defenders’.
‘promoting human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia’
who publish regular articles and reports relating to ongoing human rights issues.
More partisan websites like FreeWestPapua.org also work hard in bringing together the latest news and reports from various independent sources.
Together with unverifiable, though extensive and detailed, reports of human rights abuses, they also collate media reports, political developments and NGO and UN visits.
Under heavy observation from Indonesian officials, Williams travelled deep into the jungle to meet with guerrilla soldiers including many students who have fled urban areas following protests which left them vulnerable to arrest or “disappearance”.
They tell the film crew of their grievances with the Indonesians, such as the threat of 15 years imprisonment for raising the ‘Morning Star’ flag of West Papua,
the immense environmental damage and exploitation of natural resources by US mining company Freeport McMoran and the fact that the local West Papuans see no benefits from the enormous profits being generated there. More worryingly still, Evan Williams visits medical clinics which, although short of almost every type of medicine and drug, seem to have ample supplies of contraceptive injections which, the medical staff there tell Williams, they are advised to give to Melanesian women without their consent or knowledge.
Any way you look at the situation, it is clear that the indigenous people of West Papua have not benefited from Indonesian rule. As for the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, it would be considerably easier to refer to those clauses that have been applied than to those that have been ignored.
Now that it is clear that the AFC was neither representative of nor beneficial to the people of West Papua, I wish to look at what the response of the International community was in upholding their obligations of universal human rights and how this response contributed to the contemporary historical development of the region.
The International Communities Response
Diplomatic and Strategic support for Indonesia post-AFC
It is very clear from U.S and U.K government documents from 1968/69 that there was an almost universal feeling of ‘understanding’ for Indonesia’s situation and indifference to the problems faced by the West Papuans.
I.J.M Sutherland, writing to London from the British embassy in Jakarta, summed up this feeling when he said,
“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 people.”
It seems that individually, western states did not feel compelled to adhere to International Law and chose instead to foster good economic and political relations with Indonesia.
Since that time there has not been a single General Assembly or Security Council resolution regarding Indonesia’s actions in West Papua.
Whilst some countries, such as Australia and the Netherlands, chose to merely acquiesce to Indonesia, others chose to actively support them.
The U.S government, in their ideological struggle against the spread of communism, saw Indonesia in the 1960’s as an important ally in a region where the U.S was fighting in Vietnam and Indochina.
Since 1965, the U.S and President Suharto have been close allies, with Suharto having met with successive US Presidents until his forced resignation in 1998.
Every meeting was recorded and the minutes have since been released on the National Security Archive. These minutes provide an illuminating account of the ‘excellent relations’ between the two nations in a joint struggle against the spread of communism; a threat that Suharto emphasizes time and again in an attempt to secure arms deals.
In the year following the AFC, Suharto came to Washington where, having been briefed by Henry Kissinger, President Nixon pledged $15million of military aid, including C-47’s transports ‘which can be turned into ‘gun-ship’ versions’.
In the minutes for that very meeting, commenting on Nixon’s questions regarding the communist threat, Suharto claims outright that
‘strategically their strength can be said to have been nullified… tens of thousand have been interrogated and placed in detention…[as for the students] they have received indoctrination concerning the ideas of the New Order’.
The bluntness of Suharto’s claims was almost a match for the hypocrisy shown in Nixon’s concluding remarks to Suharto. Barely six months since West Papua’s forced capitulation to Indonesian sovereignty, Nixon spoken of Vietnam that:
“Our interest is solely to help create those conditions which permit these countries to freely choose their own way, not determined by any outside influence. This is a fundamental principle. We would like to cooperate with all nations which share this fundamental principle.”
– President Nixon to President Suharto, 1970
Genocide in East Timor
Despite extensive knowledge of Indonesia’s violation of Human Rights both in West Papua and Indonesia itself, even the invasion of East Timor on December 6th, 1975 failed to cajole any major western state to officially condemn Indonesia’s actions.
After a civil war which left the leftist, nationalist Fretilin party in control, there was a general acquiescence to Indonesia’s takeover before it had commenced. As early as March 1975, it was clear to the British Foreign and Commonwealth office that
“East Timor’s eventual integration with Indonesia is probably the right answer.”
It was given the green light by the US who actually asked for the invasion to be delayed by one day so as not to coincide with the visit of President Ford and Henry Kissinger.
Nor did Australia seem prepared to publicly condemn Indonesia.
Despite receiving instruction to ‘deliver a clear message to the Indonesians that Australia could not countenance Indonesian interference in the affairs of Timor”, Australian Ambassador Woolcott described how he had spoke as “softly” to Indonesian foreign minister Malik on October 18th 1975. This suggests that Australian Officials had decided as a matter of policy not to oppose Indonesia’s pending invasion.
After Indonesian troops killed five British and Australian journalists in 1975, the UK government lied about having information on the event and refused to even raise the matter with Indonesia, suggesting to Australia that
‘it is pointless to go on demanding information.”
The UK Government even went as far as blocking a parliamentary debate on East Timor, called for by 105 MP’s, fearing that
“widespread publicity… [might] have an unfortunate effect on our overall relationship with the Indonesians”.
Despite knowledge of the “rampage of looting and killing” by Indonesian forces in Dili, the official UK government line was to be a lie:
“If asked to comment on any stories of atrocities I suggest we say that we have no information.”
However, unlike West Papua, the UN were not prepared to ratify Indonesia’s sovereignty and refused to monitor or recognize any vote Indonesia may conduct.
On December 12th, the General Assembly called for the recognition of Resolution 1514 (XV) and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor. Two Security Council resolutions were also passed but to no effect.
On December 1st 1976, almost one year later and having seen no improvement, the General Assembly again passed a Resolution calling for an end to the ‘critical situation in East Timor’ and refusing to accept Indonesia’s claims of sovereignty.
Despite Indonesia’s refusal to withdraw and their eventual occupation of East Timor, this was the last time a resolution was passed by the UN regarding East Timor until intervention was required over 30 years later to halt what is now widely accepted as genocide.
In the first 12 months alone, church sources estimated that in excess of 100,000 (or 1 in 7) East Timorese were killed. The role of the UN was even purposefully undermined by US diplomatic efforts, as Ambassador Moynihan admitted in the book A Dangerous Place:
… the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success
Arms Sales securing Indonesia’s military superiority over East Timor and West Papua
Throughout the 1970’s, America was supplying some 90% of all of Indonesia’s arms. On the eve of the invasion of East Timor, Kissinger said to Suharto that that the use of US arms could ‘create problems’ before adding,
“It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self defence or a foreign operation”.
Following questions raised by the US senate on the issue, Kissinger met with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll, legal advisor Monroe Leigh and others to discuss the issue of US arms being used in the invasion. Kissinger is angry that his deputies had sent him a cable shortly before he was due to return. His aides wished to clarify his position on the continuation of arms sales to General Suharto, leading Kissinger to assess how many people may have seen it and declaring that, “Everything on paper will be used against me.” Here is an excerpt from that meeting:
Kissinger: No one has complained that it was aggression.
Leigh: The Indonesians were violating an agreement with us.
Kissinger: The Israelis’, when they go into Lebanon – when was the last time we protested that?
Leigh: That’s a different situation.
(Under-secretary) Maw: It is self-defense.
Kissinger: And we can’t construe a Communist government in the middle of Indonesia as self-defense?
Later on in the meeting, Kissinger states that,
“On the Timor thing, that will leak in three months and it will come out that Kissinger overruled his pristine bureaucrats and violated the law…”
Despite congress raising questions regarding the legality of selling arms to Indonesia at that time, Kissinger had given orders that he wanted to “to stop the shipments quietly”, but that they were secretly to “start again” the following month.
As the genocide unfolded, U.S. Arms shipments doubled.
As Noam Chomsky later testified to the UN,
“the flow of arms was uninterrupted, including attack helicopters and other equipment required to wipe hundreds of villages off the face of the earth, destroy crops, and herd the remnants of the population into internment centers”
The UK also tried to make use of the situation. The briefing paper for Sir Michael Palliser’s visit to Indonesia in October 1975 includes one objective being
“to benefit from such defense sales as might be in our interest”.
In April 1978, after the slaughter in East Timor should have been apparent, British Aerospace announced its first sale of Bae Hawk ‘trainer’ warplanes to Indonesia; these planes, ‘which are suitable for ground attack’, were delivered in 1983.
Summary of International Communities response and contraventions of International Law
This widespread knowledge of Indonesia’s actions in East Timor and the condemnation by the UN did nothing to stop the flow of arms from the UK and US and neither did it encourage a re-visitation of the AFC or even a fact-finding mission to West Papua.
The main difference is that, despite glaring similarities between West Papua and East Timor, one is considered legal and the other has always, in name at least, been considered illegal, respectively.
From supporting acts of aggression with arms and logistical support to providing diplomatic and legal legitimacy for Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua, the historical narrative patently shows at best an attitude of reluctant pragmatism with regard to the Melanesian people’s right to universal human rights, such as self-determination and freedom from subjugation. At its worst, the evidence points to an understanding that there will be little in the way of objection from the International Community, that repression and brutalities were likely and were to be supported and that this was deemed a price worth paying for the economic, ideological and geo-political benefits reaped by states far removed from the area in question. Clearly the International Community chose pragmatic policy over principles, as this excerpt from the Honourable Mr. Faleomavaega highlights:
“Mr Speaker, in other words, it was our national policy to sacrifice the lives and future of some 800,000 West Papuan New Guineans to the Indonesian military in exchange, supposedly, for Sukarno and later Suharto to become our friends, who would organize the most repressive military regimes in the history of Indonesia.”
Pragmatism over Principles: Economic Benefits in Supporting Oppression
The almost universal ‘understanding’ shown by the International Community towards Indonesia’s actions needs explaining if we are to retain any faith in these Governments willingness to fulfill their obligations as member states of the UN.
Is Faleomavaega right in saying that the US ‘sacrificed’ all those lives just so that, ‘Suharto would be our friend?’.
Certainly the International Community did not go along with Indonesia’s invasion of West Papua so as to become enemies, but such an explanation is over-simplistic. It is the value of what this friendship entails which motivates the breaking of International Law; that, and the lack of consequences incurred when those who are denied their Human Rights are both primitive, poor and on the other-side of the world. Although ideological reasons were raised at the time of the Act of Free Choice with regard to the spread of Communism, the same argument could not be applied today. Whatever has caused the International Community to disregard Human Rights is still relevant today; how else can we explain the current antipathy from the UK government?
For many centuries now, representative democracies have attempted to maximize the wealth and security of their own population, fulfilling their duties according to the social contract theory. There was a time when this took the form of colonialism, where the human rights of the colonized country came a distant second to ensuring large wealth for the colonizer. The signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 1514 (XV) were designed to put an end to such exploitation yet the practice continues in all but name.
The concept of ensuring benefits for ones own population at the expense of other nations is now called pragmatism, as this secret cable sent by Ambassador Woolcott to the Australian government sent in August 1975 shows:
I wonder whether the Department has ascertained the interest of the Minister of the Department of Minerals and Energy in the Timor Situation… The present gap in the agreed sea border… could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia… than with Portugal or an independent Portuguese Timor. I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about.
What did the International community hope to gain which could begin to justify the ongoing support for Indonesia, the crime of military support for an act of aggression in East Timor and the rigging of an election and (therefore) occupation in West Papua contravening Resolution 1514 (XV)?
Energy and resources are a powerful influence in the zeitgeist of world trade and capitalization.
Shortly before Australia sent in troops to East Timor, Australia signed an agreement with Indonesia resulting in the two nations sharing the gas fields off the coast of Timor, to be piped to refineries built on Australia’s northern coast. East Timor’s greatest natural resource and its best chance at fulfilling a stable and viable independent state were signed away. Yet perhaps this is actually a blessing? With nothing left to gain from occupation, Indonesia no longer had anything to lose in relinquishing control. Ironically, West Papua is not so fortunate. The country has incredible natural resources of Gas, Gold and Copper, with large investment by Western companies such as BP and RioTinto.
Henry Kissinger, having clandestinely supported Indonesia’s expansionist policy, is now a board member of RioTinto who operate the world’s largest copper and gold mine called Grasberg in West Papua.
When asked whether he could use the lobbying power of RioTinto to persuade Indonesia to change its policy and support self-determination for the people of East Timor, he said,
“As a private American corporation engaged in private business in an area far removed from Timor, but in Indonesia (West Papua), I do not believe it is their job to get itself involved in that issue.”
The response is significant in two ways. Firstly, as a matter of ‘private business’, it assumes that economic activity by a private business is not bound by matters of ethics or principle when it comes to making money. Secondly, it shows that even someone who was deeply involved in Indonesia’s expansionist aims and with insider knowledge of the rigged elections can dismiss West Papua as part of Indonesia, thereby legitimising actions agreed with the GOI at the expense of West Papuans Human Rights.
Kissinger’s claim that it is not RioTinto’ job to get involved in the East Timor issue may have some validity. After all, it is indeed far removed from the area in question and RioTinto are not themselves involved beyond paying tax to Indonesia. What Kissinger must be aware of however is the similarities between East Timor and West Papua, where the Grasberg mine is located.
The history of the Grasberg mine is one of confrontation between Rio Tinto and the indigenous people.
Rio Tinto bought vast swaths of indigenous peoples land from Indonesia before the implementation of the AFC, signing a 30 year deal with Indonesia in 1967.
Since then, the mine has had such a devastating environmental impact through the dumping of 40m tonnes of waste rock into the river system every year that in 1995, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation revoked Freeport’s insurance policy for environmental violations of a sort that would not be allowed in the US.
Alongside the repression from the military authorities, the Rio Tinto Grasberg Mine is a fundamental bone of contention for West Papuans who see little improvement in living standards and a lot of environmental damage to the mountain and river systems below. The security for the mine is provided by the Indonesian military, which stand accused of faking attacks on the mine in order to increase the amount of money being paid for protection straight into army officer’s bank accounts.
In this instance it is hard to make sense of Kissinger’s words. Having been responsible for much of the US policy with regard to Indonesia in his role as US Secretary of State and now profiting from Indonesian occupation of West Papua, perhaps it is not a stretch to suggest it is his job to get involved in that issue?
Britain and Australia also benefit greatly from Indonesia’s expansionism.
British Petroleum has signed a deal to extract Gas from the extensive fields located in Beru-Bintuni Bay, West Papua, due to start production in 2008. Although they have vowed not to use the Indonesian military as security, there are concerns that the social and environmental cost could lead to another situation like that at the Grasberg mine. Australia, as already mentioned, has signed agreements with Indonesia, sharing the Gas fields located off the coast of East Timor.
The nature and extent of the wealth generated by natural resources cannot be understated: they are finite materials which will never drop in value and which by their nature are fixed and immobile. They provide massive amounts of wealth, most of which goes to the companies themselves and the GOI. Unfortunately this means that in giving West Papua its Independence, UK, U.S and Australian governments would be sacrificing the business opportunities for large domestic companies (It is highly unlikely that Rio Tinto would be allowed to continue at the Grasberg mine were Indonesia to relinquish sovereignty).
The story of West Papua’s forced capitulation to the military regime of Indonesia is little known outside of South-East Asia.
Despite the US, UK and Australian governments supporting the invasion, the rigged elections and the brutal repression of the Melanesian people, the general public of these ‘civilized’ states have scant knowledge of their own governments’ actions. No-one has yet been brought to account and the AFC still stands as a legal and binding declaration of West Papuans wish to integrate with their oppressors.
The UN was made obsolete by the very countries that helped create it for no purpose other than pragmatic economic and geo-political gains.
That there has never been genocide without pragmatic economic and political aims does not seem to have occurred to those involved. It is enough it seems to know that our pragmatic aims are justified, whatever the historical facts may say. Indonesia may be the ones that are directly responsible, but the International community was, and continues to be, fundamental to its continuation. Until the UN ratify this situation and re-visit the AFC fairly the plight of the West Papuans will remain a matter for Indonesia alone to deal with, as they see fit.
for references click here