The current humanitarian crises in West Papua, formally West New Guinea (“WNG”), has at its roots Western colonial greed and paranoia over Soviet influence in the region. WNG was and remains culturally, ethnically and economically separate from the rest of the Javanese Empire which replaced the Dutch East Indies Empire in the area that is currently known as Indonesia. WNG’s links lay naturally with the Australian New Guinea and the rest of Melanesia.
From 1950 until October 1961 WNG had been on the United Nations General Assembly (“UNGA”) list of non self-governing territories, having been inscribed on that list by the Dutch. Beginning in 1959 the Dutch started a programme of democratization in WNG with the introduction of elected regional councils. The Dutch had planned to establish an independent WNG by 1970. At the same time Britain and Australia, the colonial masters of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea were working behind the scenes with the Dutch to create a political association between the two halves of Papua New Guinea. On 6 November 1957, Australia issued a joint statement with the Dutch concerning the future development of the entire island. Because neither side wanted to antagonize Jakarta the policy needed to be pursued on a confidential basis and presented as co-operation rather than co-ordination.
However, WNG’s seemingly inexorable march to independence and democratization hit a major stumbling block in the form of Indonesian President Sukarno. Sukarno argued that Indonesia had sovereignty over all of the territory of the former Dutch East Indies Empire. The Dutch countered by arguing that WNG was only administered as part of the Dutch East Indies because their minimal presence in WNG did not warrant a separate colonial administration. More importantly the Dutch argued that the majority of the population of WNG were Melanesian and therefore of a different racial and cultural heritage from the rest of the Dutch East Indies.
In September 1961 as the Indonesians increased the pressure on the West, including the threat of war, the Dutch presented the “Luns” Plan to the UNGA in an effort to resolve the dispute. Pursuant to the terms of the Luns plan the Dutch proposed to hand the administration of WNG to the United Nations which would remain until it was deemed that the population of WNG were ready to exercise their right to self-determination. In the end only a little over 50% of the member states of the UNGA voted for the Luns plan. In failing to reach the required two-thirds majority, the Dutch plan failed.
The New York Agreement
With the failure of the Luns plan in the UNGA and with the Sukarno regime in receipt of massive arms shipments from the Soviet Union making their threat of war over WNG which by then had been renamed West Papua a realistic possibility and in the face of the refusal of Britain, Australia and the United States to offer military support to the Dutch, the Netherlands were left with no option other than to sign on to the New York Agreement (“NYA”).
While the NYA was ostensibly about West Papua, the West Papuan’s themselves were effectively excluded from the negotiation process, meaning their fate was yet again being decided by those whose only real interest in West Papua was economic exploitation. Like the failed “Luns” plan, the NYA agreement handed administration of the territory to the United Nations with the difference being that the United Nations could then transfer administrative responsibility/control to Jakarta before the West Papuan’s had a chance to enforce their right to self-determination.
Importantly, the Dutch capitulated on a key point of the NYA in the final days of its negotiation. As a result of this Dutch capitulation the NYA contained no mention of the words “plebiscite” or “referendum”; without the assurances of these processes the West Papuan’s were effectively left with no say in their own future. In effect, the NYA was nothing more than a face saving measure allowing the Dutch to surrender the territory to Jakarta with a minimum of humiliation.
The following quotes are from John Saltford’s The United Nations, West Papua and the Act of Free Choice: de-colonisation in action?
As one American official commented even before the talks began:
I can’t blame the Dutch for doubting that the Indonesians have any intention of allowing a genuine plebiscite 5 years or so from now. But the important thing is that some such Indonesian promise is an essential face-saving device the Dutch have been seeking – we must get them to take it as the best they can expect.
Indeed by March 1963 the Dutch were saying to the Australians that:
The Hague had little interest in arrangements for the act of self-determination and were only concerned that a facade of respectability be maintained.
So what were the Dutch interested in by March 1963? The answer is simple; they were only concerned with re-building relations with Jakarta so that it would be business as usual, with the only real losers in the relationship being the indigenous peoples of West Papua. It is this kind of hypocrisy and selfishness that passes as the ‘rule of law’ in the so called Western Democracies.
The fall of Sukarno and the beginning of genocide
The following is taken from Professor Peter Dale Scott’s 1985 article titled The United States and the Overthrow of Sukarno, 1965-1967. Not only did the downfall of Sukarno usher in the deaths of perhaps 500,000 Indonesians, it paved the way for the unfolding genocide that we are currently witnessing in West Papua.
The simple (yet untold) story of Sukarno’s overthrow is that in the fall of 1965 Yani and his inner circle of generals were murdered, paving the way for a seizure of power by right-wing anti-Yani forces allied to Suharto. The key to this was the so-called Gestapu coup attempt which, in the name of supporting Sukarno, in fact targeted very precisely the leading members of the army’s most loyal faction, the Yani group. An army unity meeting in January 1965, between “Yani’s inner circle” and those (including Suharto) who “had grievances of one sort or another against Yani,” lined up the victims of September 30 against those who came to power after their murder.
Not one anti-Sukarno general was targeted by Gestapu, with the obvious exception of General Nasution. But by 1961 the CIA operatives had become disillusioned with Nasution as a reliable asset, because of his “consistent record of yielding to Sukarno on several major counts.” Relations between Suharto and Nasution were also cool, since Nasution, after investigating Suharto on corruption charges in 1959, had transferred him from his command.
The duplicitous distortions of reality, first by Lt. Colonel Untung’s statements for Gestapu, and then by Suharto in “putting down” Gestapu, are mutually supporting lies. Untung, on October 1, announced ambiguously that Sukarno was under Gestapu’s “protection” (he was not); also, that a CIA-backed Council of Generals had planned a coup for before October 5, and had for this purpose brought “troops from East, Central, and West Java” to Jakarta. Troops from these areas had indeed been brought to Jakarta for an Armed Forces Day parade on October 5th. Untung did not mention, however, that “he himself had been involved in the planning for the Armed Forces Day parade and in selecting the units to participate in it;” nor that these units (which included his own former battalion, the 454th) supplied most of the allies for his new battalion’s Gestapu activities in Jakarta.
Suharto’s first two broadcasts reaffirmed the army’s constant loyalty to “Bung Karno the Great Leader,” and also blamed the deaths of six generals on PKI youth and women, plus “elements of the Air Force” — on no other evidence than the site of the well where the corpses were found. At this time he knew very well that the killings had in fact been carried out by the very army elements Untung referred to, elements under Suharto’s own command.
Thus, whatever the motivation of individuals such as Untung in the Gestapu putsch, Gestapu as such was duplicitous. Both its rhetoric and above all its actions were not simply inept; they were carefully designed to prepare for Suharto’s equally duplicitous response. For example, Gestapu’s decision to guard all sides of the downtown Merdeka Square in Jakarta, except that on which Suharto’s KOSTRAD [Army Strategic Reserve Command] headquarters were situated, is consistent with Gestapu’s decision to target the only army generals who might have challenged Suharto’s assumption of power. Again, Gestapu’s announced transfer of power to a totally fictitious “Revolutionary Council,” from which Sukarno had been excluded, allowed Suharto in turn to masquerade as Sukarno’s defender while in fact preventing him from resuming control. More importantly, Gestapu’s gratuitous murder of the generals near the air force base where PKI youth had been trained allowed Suharto, in a Goebbels-like manoeuvre, to transfer the blame for the killings from the troops under his own command (whom he knew had carried out the kidnappings) to air force and PKI personnel who where ignorant of them.
The biggest part of this task was of course the elimination of the PKI and its supporters, in a bloodbath which, as some Suharto allies now concede, may have taken more than a half-million lives.
The 1969 Vote of Free Choice
It was this murderous Suharto regime that conducted and presented to a paranoid West as a fait accompli the so called Act of Free Choice (Indonesian: Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, PEPERA), an event in July to August 1969 by which Indonesia asserts that the WNG population decided to relinquish their sovereignty in favor of Indonesian citizenship. The Act of Free Choice was a vote by 1025 men selected by the Indonesian military, the same military that had recently been involved in the murder of up to 500,000 of their fellow citizens, an event which heralded the rise of Suharto. The WNG were asked whether they wished to raise their hands in a display for United Nations observers. The event was noted by the United Nations in General Assembly resolution 2504 (XXIV) without qualification as to whether it complied with the authorizing New York Agreement, and without qualification as to whether it was an act of “self determination” as referred to and described in United Nations General Assembly resolutions 1514 and 1541 (XV) respectively.
Unsurprisingly, given that the vote was overseen by the Indonesian Military, the 1025 voted unanimously to relinquish self determination in favour of Indonesian citizenship. An outcome acquiesced to by a West more concerned about the Cold War and countering the perceived Soviet threat to the so called Western Democracies than with a few “stone-aged” tribesmen living in a remote corner of the world.
The current role of Australia in the on-going genocide of the indigenous West Papuan’s
The main document by which Australia has relieved itself of the necessity of speaking out against the genocide in West Papua is the Lombok Treaty. The Lombok Treaty is an Agreement between Australia and the Republic of Indonesia on the Framework for Security Cooperation (Lombok Treaty) that was signed by Foreign Ministers in Lombok on 13 November 2006. On 7 February 2008, former Foreign Ministers, Mr Smith and Dr Wirajuda, exchanged notes, bringing the treaty into force. At the 9th Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum in November 2008, Australian and Indonesian Ministers agreed on a Plan of Action to implement the Lombok Treaty. The Plan of Action noted a number of priority areas of bilateral security cooperation agreed between the two governments.
Article 2, clause 2 of the Lombok Treaty stipulates that Australia and Indonesia must mutually respect and support each other’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, national unity, political independence and non-interference of domestic affairs.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (“NSWCCL”) made the following submissions to the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties’ Inquiry into the ‘Lombok Treaty’ in February 2007:
The most disturbing flaw in the Lombok Treaty is that it contains no recognition of individual rights or express human rights safeguards. Mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties have human rights safeguards. Without these safeguards, there is no mechanism in the Lombok Treaty to ensure that Australia does not participate, or become complicit, in Indonesian human rights abuses
The Committee should also be mindful of recent police-to-police cooperation between the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian National Police that have led to questionable human rights outcomes and allegations of Australian complicity in human rights abuses. NSWCCL points particularly to the Bali Nine case, in which several Australians have been sentenced to death, and the ‘disruption’ of people smuggling in Indonesia, which is alleged to have included the sabotage of boats and other activities risking human life.
NSWCCL is disappointed that the Treaty misses a valuable opportunity to provide a treaty-based guarantee that no one will be tortured as a result of cooperation under the Treaty. Such a provision does no more than expressly acknowledge that both Indonesia and Australia have ratified the Convention against Torture.
Clearly with West Papua in mind, Indonesia won an important concession in the Lombok treaty which stipulates that Australia would not support or foster separatist movements in Indonesian territory. It is worth noting on this point that the Australian Foreign Minister at the time the Lombok treaty was negotiated, Mr Alexander Downer noted in his remarks that this measure would not obstruct freedom of speech or other freedoms recognised in Australia. I’m unclear as to how Downer’s assurances to the Indonesians and his comments regarding freedoms recognised in Australia stand together with respect to the plight of the West Papuan’s. Surely Australian activism against the Javanese genocide of the West Papuans has the potential, no matter how it is expressed, to infringe on Article 2, clause 2 of the Lombok treaty?
The Lombok treaty represents the second time since the early 1960s that Australia has placed its selfish commercial interests above the legitimate interests of one of our near neighbours, the West Papuans. The West Papuans, who were in peaceful occupation of the western half of the island of Papua New Guinea for perhaps 40,000 years before the white man arrived. Following the arrival of the white man in the form of Dutch commercial exploiters in the sixteenth century, the indigenous peoples of West Papua have been subjected to economic exploitation, conversion and now genocide. And what good Christian folk the people of Western Europe and North America purport to be!