“Discovered” on June 20, 1545 by the Spaniard Inigo Ortiz de Retes, the territory was known by many names – Dutch New Guinea, Irian Barat, Irian Jaya, West Papua, Papua, just to mention a few examples. Retes himself named the world’s second largest island ‘Nueva Guinea’. As of January 1, 2001 the official name of this Indonesian province is ‘Papua’. The question remains however, how a territory ends up being oppressed by its neighbor for over 45 years – a question with no readily available answer.
Our quest for the answer on above question starts in 1714 with the Dutch colonial administration of the former Dutch East Indies, which lasted over three centuries. In 1848 the Dutch and the British, by then permanently present on the island, decided to solve a boundary dispute in a simple way and agreed to a boundary line along the 141st meridian dividing the island into two parts. However, not the Dutch or the British, but the Papua has been paying a heavy price ever since for this fatal misstep. Previously one country and one people had then been separated – the Papua on the right side of the line, in Papua New Guinea, became independent in 1975. For the Papua on the other side of the line however, the seeds of an ongoing struggle for independence had been sown.
A Tug of War
On August 17, 1945 Sukarno and Hatta declared the Indies independent under the name Indonesia. While recognising this independence, the Dutch kept control over the territory of New Guinea. Tough initially not showing much interest in New Guinea, in 1951 Indonesia suddenly demanded the territory claiming sovereignty over New Guinea as it had been part of the former Dutch colony, which resulted in deteriorating relations between the two governments during the period of 1951 to 1962. In the meanwhile, the Dutch began preparing the Papuan leadership for independence. From January to March 1961 parliamentary elections were held over the entire territory of Dutch New Guinea. On April 5, 1961 the New Guinea Council, the first ever (elected) parliament of West Papua, was installed. West Papua’s new flag and the Papua anthem ‘Hai Tanakhu Papua’ were officially inaugurated on December 1, 1961 resulting in President Sukarno of Indonesia threatening with a military intervention. Pressure on the Dutch to resolve its conflict with Indonesia was intensified by the US. Attempts by the then minister of Foreign Affairs, Luns, to hold on to New Guinea gradually lost support. With Indonesia’s military infiltration in New Guinea through an air strike, the Soviet Union’s intervention in the conflict as well as loosing support from Australia and England the Dutch had no choice but to give in. Under American pressure, by the Kennedy brothers in particular, the Dutch agreed to a new plan – Plan Bunker. The Papua, arguably the most important party to the negotiations, were not consulted.
New The New York Agreement
The first phase of Plan Bunker entailed transferring administration by the Dutch to the UN on October 1, 1962. Following less than a year of UN administration the territory was transferred to the Indonesian authorities on May 1, 1963. The second phase provided for the people of West Papua the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice by way of a referendum choosing between integration and independence. Plan Bunker was confirmed in the New York Agreement of August 15, 1962, marking the starting point of the Papua’s bloody struggle for independence. The Indonesian rule over the territory of then Irian Barat intensified. In an attempt to intimidate the Papuans into voting for integration, a series of violent military campaigns targeting the Papuan population were conducted.
“The day on which all Papua cried”
The promised act of the so-called freedom of choice took place on August 4, 1969. The referendum, carefully organised by the Indonesian government, resulted in a farce. Despite the fact that under the relevant provisions of the New York Agreement the UN was to assume a controlling, supervising and advisory role on the implementation of the Agreement, the UN failed to discharge its mandate in West Papua. Instead of a ‘one man/woman – one vote’ system according to international standards, the Indonesian version of the “Musyawarah” was introduced, amounting to a flagrant violation of Article 18 of the Agreement which provided for an act of self-determination in accordance with “international standards”. A group of 1,022 electors ware carefully handpicked to represent a population of 800,000. The electors were isolated, brainwashed, intimidated or, quite the opposite, overwhelmed with presents, whatever it took to reach ‘consensus’. Indonesia made it perfectly clear not to accept any other result but integration. Not surprisingly, this carefully selected and manipulated group of electors delivered an unopposed verdict in favour of joining Indonesia. In an interview with the Dutch newspaper ‘Algemeen Dagblad’ in December 1998, ds. Ori Hokojoku, one of the electors in 1969, described that day as “The day on which all Papua cried.”.
From the very beginning, the Papua had resisted the integration with Indonesia. The majority of the Papua have never accepted the results of the ‘Act of Free Choice’. Evidently, Indonesia was determined to oppress any independence movements of the Papua. As stated by Sukarno: “All inhabitants of Indonesia, from Sabang to Merauke, engaged in active politics contrary to the ideology and politics of the Republic of Indonesia will be sentenced to death.”¹
The name of Irian Barat has by then changed into ‘Irian Jaya’, that is ‘Glorious Irian’. After the disastrous referendum, the road was cleared for multinationals to West Papua’s glorious mineral wealth. Exploitation of the Copper Mountain and the Grass Mountain, still ongoing since 1967, together amounting to the world’s largest ore supplies, by the American mining tycoon Freeport McMoRan serves as the “best” example. This gigantic mine is worth of a minimum of 40 billion American dollars in copper and gold as well as 300,000 tons of toxic waste per day. Twenty-five years later an additional 2,5 million hectare of land concession was granted by the Indonesian government to Freeport – a land of a size of the Benelux in which five Papuan tribes live. Facing extreme poverty, Indonesia has a great interest in Freeport’s presence in the country – the company represents Indonesia’s biggest source of tax income. Since 1970 Freeport was followed by many others engaging extensively in petroleum exploitation, tropical wood harvest and fishery. Of West Papua’s 41,5 million hectare of rain forrest over 27,6 million hectare has been allocated for exploitation, mostly without giving due attention to the habitat of the Papua living in that region.
In Minority in Own Country
The overwhelming presence of multinationals in West Papua has consequently attracted the Indonesian population to the territory. Additionally, Indonesian policy in West Papua entails subsidizing transmigration, as the Indonesian government aims to transfer West Papua into a ‘real’ Indonesian province. At this moment, extensive presence of Indonesian transmigrants in West Papua outnumbers the native Papua population. In 1952 only 2% of the Papua population was non-native, whereas this number has gradually increased in 2000 to 35% and in 2005 to 41%. Following the same trend, in 2011 the Papua became a minority in their own country.²
Transmigration, commercial wood harvest and mining industry are just a few examples of Indonesia’s devastating politics in West Papua. Jakarta’s interests are of paramount importance and the Papua’s (land)rights are being severely repressed. Moreover, the presence of multinationals is accompanied with military surveillance often leading to violent actions against peacefully protesting Papua. Since 1962, the Indonesian military has been responsible for the forced disappearance of over a 100,000 Papua, approximately 10% of the population(!).
Since the fall of former dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia have witnessed turbulent developments and drastic changes. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected for a second term of presidency in 2009 setting the first steps towards a more democratic Indonesia. Increasing transparency and respect for freedom of speech is be seen in West Papua as well. On January 1, 2001 West Papua was granted a special autonomous status (Otsus) according to which Papua – as Irian Jaya now being called – is officially a self-governing province of Indonesia. This new autonomous status intended to realize a redistribution of Papua’s mineral wealth – 80% of the income from wood harvest and fishery, as well as 70% of the income from the mining industry is for Papua itself. However, Papua’s autonomous status has never been fully implemented. As only a select group of administering officials seem to profit from the new system, its implementation is rather a failure than bringing about real changes, causing huge disappointment among the population. As a result, the majority of the Papua population is still in favour of separation from Indonesia. In December 2001, the international solidarity movement for West Papua (world-wide human rights organisations committed to uphold the right to self-determination of the Papua) has started an international campaign advocating for the revision of the 1969 UN decision on West Papua, as the UN’s failure to ensure a valid referendum in 1969 has lead to decades of suffering. Additionally, student movements, as well as cultural and religious organizations in West Papua and outside has called on the UN to rectify one of the darkest pages of it’s history.
By now, the new democratic Indonesia have realized that oppression can in no way lead to a situation in which Papua would assent to being part of the Republic of Indonesia. There are voices in Papua pleading for a dialogue with Indonesia in the course of which the Indonesian government would acknowledge human rights violations in Papua, Papua’s history as well as military oppression by Indonesia, persons responsible for the crimes committed would be duly prosecuted as well as a Truth Commission for West Papua would be established. Such a dialogue however seems unrealistic, as Papua’s approach is independence, whereas Indonesia’s is territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia.
Despite Indonesia’s desperate attempts to “Javaneese” Papua, the people of West Papua cannot possibly identify themselves with Indonesia. As pointed out by the late Papua leader, murdered in 2001, Theys Eluay: “What kind of nation kills it’s own people? Only a barbarian nation!”. Notwithstanding the fact that Papua by now became a minority in their own country, the call for independence remains. The introduction of the special autonomy (Otsus) could not stop massive demonstrations, which are common in West Papua, demanding a valid referendum as an exercise of the right to self-determination. Quite the contrary, the Otsus has only led to more frustration, as the financial means have stuck within bureaucracy, newly introduced commissions, additional administrators (not necessarily Papua) and corruption. As a consequence, after extensive consultation among NGOs, religious and cultural, as well as adat-groups (?) the special autonomy was declared to be a failure and was given back to Jakarta. The hastily established special commission UP4B by Jakarta wasn’t any more successful either. As stated by Saul Bomay, political prisoner, during a meeting with government officials in Jayapura: “Papua has rejected the Special Autonomous Status. Now they come with the UP4B. What is that in God’s name? We the Papua reject UP4B as well. We want a referendum.”
The situation is rather complex. Ever since democratisation of Indonesia has commenced, the Papua were able to use the democratic space as well. However, there’s significant disappointment when the Otsus proved in practice a complete failure, human rights violations still endure and West Papua is continued being robbed of it’s natural resources. Indonesia’s new president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, installed on October 20, 2014, has promised improvement and acknowledged that the situation in West Papua needs special attention. In particular, the areas of education, health care and infrastructure were named by him, hoping for independent aspirations by the Papua to gradually vanish.
1 Malay Times, Kuala Lumpur, 23 oktober 1963
2 The Jakarta Post, 25 oktober 2009, Carmel Budiardjo