July of 1969 was a big month. Whilst the ‘civilized’ world was focused on the deployment of three men to the moon, Indonesia was finalizing steps to wrest control of the territory of West Papua from the United Nations, the former Dutch protectorate. I do not say wrest lightly, for it was in the so-called Act of Free Choice that in fact the people of West Papua were robbed of their expected independence when 1,025 of their tribal leaders voted under extreme duress to cede sovereignty to the Indonesian nation.
The province of West Papua was handed over to the United Nations in 1962 under the terms of the New York Agreement, which had provided interim governance of the Western portion of the island of New Guinea. The Dutch had ceased preparing the colony for independence when Britain, the United States and Australia (which governed the eastern portion of the same island, later to become the independent state of Papua New Guinea in 1972) indicated they would not support the establishment of the Papuan nation. Left with no substantial military or political support, the Dutch ceded control of West Papua to the United Nations, administered by Indonesia, with a view to preparing the colony for a vote to determine whether they should become a part of Indonesia permanently or gain their independence. The discussions around the New York Agreement in actions reminiscent of the western propensity for paternalism, excluded the West Papuan people themselves. The subsequent vote in July-August of 1969 again subverted the so-called ‘free choice’ of the people and consigned the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to the circular file under the Secretary-General’s desk, to be carried out by the cleaner the next morning.
In the fifty years since Indonesia became West Papua’s new colonizers, the living conditions of its people have not improved. Rice, a crop poorly suited to the environment in the New Guinea highlands, has replaced sago or tuberous roots as readily grown staples for much of the indigenous population. Rice, subsidized by the Indonesian Government, can be bought more cheaply than can sago or tuberous roots, taking money out of the province and forcing a change in eating habits. Many who have earned an income growing the traditional foods can no longer earn their living from growing crops and more Non-Papuan owned corporations are developing in places such as Merauke to grow rice. The Papuans have become slaves in their own land, marching to the beat of an Indonesian drum and the international community with the tacit approval of the United Nations.
Today West Papua exists behind a virtual wall, where international media and non-government agencies are refused permission to enter. News of the ill treatment of indigenous Papuans at the hands of the Indonesian military (TNI) and the subsequent resistance by Organisasi Merdeka Papua (OPM) filter out through well protected contacts to a world that is only just removing it’s blinkers after five decades. People such as Herman Wainggai, Ronny Kareni and Benny Wenda have become the public faces for the fight for West Papuan independence. They underscore the mal-treatment they and their families have received at the hands of their Indonesian oppressors for the past half-century.
Upon hearing that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, will be attending The Jakarta International Defence Dialogue on 21 March 2012, West Papuan activists rallied in various cities to bring attention to the need for the United Nations to finally fulfill its responsibility to the people of West Papua in protecting and defending their human rights. I attended the rally in Melbourne and had the chance to speak briefly with Ronny Kareni. He and his countrymen are proud of their heritage; they all have family and friends still living in Papua. Ronny’s father was at the Third National Congress in October 2011 and beaten by his Indonesian captors when they broke up the government sanctioned event using intimidatory tactics, before being released without charge.
In September 2011, Ban Ki Moon responded to questions regarding West Papua with the following:
Question: [unclear] With regards to human rights – for more than forty two years, there’s a struggle in West Papua as people seeking their government in the province of West Papua. What is the United Nations stand on that?
BKM: This issue should also be discussed at the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly And when it comes again, whether you are an independent state or a non-self-governing territory or whatever, the human rights is inalienable and a fundamental principle of the United Nations.
We will do all to ensure that people in West Papua, their human rights will be respected.
Question: Does a human rights fact-finding mission has be dispatched to West Papua at some time?
BKM: That is the same answer [to a previous question on Fiji] that should be discussed at the Human Rights Council amongst the member states.[i]
Although these comments were later ‘window-dressed’ by a UN spokesperson, the point remained that the international body needed to look into the issue of human rights abuses in West Papua. This should be something the Secretary-General addresses with his current visit to Jakarta.
What occurred at the Third National Congress was an attempt to stifle the West Papuan voice, to intimidate and demoralize the indigenous people of the province by continuing to deny them the right to free speech and self determination. Ronny informed me that the Indonesian authorities had approved the Congress, provided it remained outside of Indonesian government areas. The five elected leaders of the Congress – Forkorus Yaboisembut (President), Edison Waromi (Prime Minister), August Makbrowen Senay, Dominikus Sorabut and Selpius Bobii – became the examples of Indonesian oppression as the Jayapura Five were charged with treason when they made a declaration of independence.[ii] Ronny explained that the Papuans are seeking United Nations acknowledgement and acceptance of this declaration and support for the release of all political prisoners. To this end the elected West Papuan leaders have submitted a statement to the UN Security Council, according to testimony given at the trial of the Jayapura Five:
At the latest hearing of the trial of Forkorus Yaboisembut, Forkorus announced that the proclamation of the Federal Republic of West Papua had been registered with the UN Security Council in order to receive international recognition. This happened on 26 February, said Edison Waromi, the prime minister of the Federal Republic of West Papua, in response to questions from the judge at the trial.
He also announced that they had received an acknowledgement from the secretariat of the UN. The registration of the Federal Republic at the UN has been recorded under No Rr.827567846 BT, he told the court.[iii]
Three years is a lengthy sentence for treason. It is seen as a subversive act by Indonesia and they attack anyone who promotes a separate Papuan identity. More interesting than the fact that the Jayapura Five were given jail terms however, was the duration of that sentence. For the ‘crime’ of raising the Morning Star Flag other activists have been sentenced to fifteen or twenty years in jail. That’s hardly proportionate justice.
I asked Ronny why the Jayapura Five suffered less severe sentences than their counterparts charged with raising the Morning Star Flag. He indicated that the international outcry about the events at the Papuan Congress had most likely had an effect. I note that Caritas New Zealand is one such organization, whilst Human Rights Watch have called for an independent investigation into the violence meted out on the day by Indonesian forces.
Whatever the reason, the fact that West Papuans are denied open communication with the international community and have been excluded from all forms of discussion about their own futures at all levels, means that they are being denied one of their most basic human rights – the right to self determination. The many players complicit in this abuse of power include the United Nations itself, which drafted an agreement and subsequent resolution that failed to adhere to the tenets in other United Nations Resolutions that should have taken precedence.[iv] What’s more, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Indonesia has a responsibility as a member state to protect and respect the people of West Papua and to work toward a peaceful resolution, a responsibility to which they merely thumb their noses.
And we, one of West Papua’s nearest neighbours have a responsibility to speak up for the preservation of human rights and to denounce the destruction of culture. Unlike when the European settlers arrived in the late eighteenth century when the ‘black savage’ was believed to be in need of the wisdom and care of the white man, eugenics has no place in the contemporary era. The basic concept that each person is vested with equal ability and rights is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the responsibility of each person and nation to support the West Papuans in their pursuit of freedom and if that must be as an independent nation, because their colonial masters have failed them through an abuse of power, then so shall it be. No man or woman should have to live in fear of their government, of the military and police that are supposed to act in their service.
[iii] Federal Republic of West Papua is registered at the UN. West Papua Action Network, 2 March 2012.
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