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Parliamentary support for West Papua review

2 July 2002

The Right Hon. Kofi Annan,
Secretary-General of the United Nations,
UN Secretariat,
New York,
United States of America.

Dear Secretary-General,

Request for a review of the UN's conduct in relation to the Act of Free Choice 1968-69 in Irian Jaya/Papua.

We write in our capacity as Officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, a group of backbench Parliamentarians from the United Kingdom who raise international human rights issues with their Parliamentary colleagues, governments, and international officials, to request a review of the United Nation s conduct in relation to the Act of Free Choice 1968-69 in Irian Jaya/Papua. We understand that this matter is one of grave and pressing importance to the people of Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), with the fraudulence of the Act having been a constant source of unrest there, and believe such a review by the UN would greatly assist in redressing an injustice done to the people of West Papua.

As you know, in August 1969, the Indonesian authorities conducted an exercise in West New Guinea (West Irian, later Irian Jaya, and now Papua) to determine the future status of the territory. The United Nations had the task of advising and assisting the Indonesians in the conduct of that exercise. The so-called Act of Free Choice involved the convening of eight councils, totaling 1,022 persons, which met under pressure from the Indonesian authorities to adopt a decision that would confirm the territory's integration into the Republic of Indonesia. The result was a unanimous decision in favour of integration. The decision was later confirmed in a resolution of the UN General Assembly on 19 November 1969 which 'took note of' the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Thereafter, the issue of Irian Jaya/Papua was removed from the UN s agenda.

During the past 32 years, there have been many attempts by Papuans and by NGOs around the world to draw attention to the fraudulent nature of the Act of Free Choice. After the downfall of President Suharto in May 1998, the issue was raised with renewed vigour in Papua, and has become the basic theme of protests, leading in a number of cases to violent clampdowns by the security forces and acts of violence with many casualties.

In June 2000, a widely supported Grand Papuan Congress was held in Jayapura and led to the creation of a body called the Papuan Presidium Council. One of the latter s main demands is for the history of Papua to be 'rectified ', meaning that the events surrounding the Act should be reconsidered. Since the Council was established, there have been further acts of protest. Repeated violence against the Council and its members in many parts of the territory reached a climax on 10-11 November last year with the abduction and assassination of the chairperson of the Council, the highly-respected tribal leader, Theys Hiyo Eluay. The murder investigations may well lead to further injustice given that they are to be conducted by the military, the very force that many people fear may have been responsible for the crime.

As for the involvement of the United Nations in helping to organise and legitimise the outcome of the Act of Free Choice, Mr. Chakravarthy Narasimhan, a UN Under Secretary General at the time of the Act and closely involved in overseeing the work of the UN mission that was present in Papua at the time, told the press, on 22 November last year, when asked about the Act: 'It was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible. Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who had their fundamental rights trampled on.' He also said: 'Suharto was a terrible dictator. How could anyone have seriously believed that all voters unanimously decided to join his regime. Unanimity like that is unknown in democracies.' Former UN Under Secretary General Brian Urquhart was also quoted as saying in the same press report: 'It wasn't our most glorious hour.' [AP, 22 November 2001]

We understand that in the past few years an academic, John Saltford, has undertaken a careful investigation of the UN's behaviour before and during the Act. His investigations, for the purposes of which he was given access to hitherto classified documents at the UN Secretariat in New York, drew attention to a number of decisions made by the UN which served to advance the efforts of the Indonesian authorities to secure a unanimous declaration for the integration of the territory.

Further to the above, we would be grateful if you could undertake a review of the UN's conduct in relation to the Act of Free Choice 1968-69. We believe that the matter cannot be allowed to rest, particularly now that the people of Papua, and the rest of the world, have seen how a popular consultation, properly conducted by the UN in East Timor in August 1999, had a quite different and easily predictable result. We would also hope that by acknowledging its part in the betrayal of the people of Papua, the UN could then help in fostering a climate of confidence in which concerns relating to justice and stability can be properly addressed.

We look forward to your response to this request.

Yours sincerely,
Ann Clwyd MP Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (Britain); Jeremy Corbyn MP Jnt. Vice-Chair; Lord Avebury Jnt. Vice- Chair; Robert Walter MP Jnt. Vice- Chair; Mark Oaten MP Treasurer; Julie Morgan MP - Secretary

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