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Act now for West Papua

Ongoing campaign

Although this alert was published on 1 December 2003, the campaign calling for a review of the conduct of the United Nations in 1969 and of the Act of ‘Free’ Choice is ongoing. Please scroll down the page for information on how you can help to progress it.

Today is West Papua Independence Day, the 42nd anniversary of the 1961 West Papuan Declaration of Independence from Dutch colonial rule. In West Papua people mark the day in a variety of ways, including raising the ‘Morning Star’ (the West Papuan flag). In previous years the Indonesian military and police have responded to this with increased violent oppression - arresting and killing those they perceive as ‘pro-independence’ activists.

This year the West Papuan people have been told again that they must not mark the day, and it is likely that when they do, the Indonesian authorities will react with extreme violence. "We will take stern action against those who commemorate (the so-called anniversary). The move is against the law, therefore, it is proper if we take stern measures," (Police Senior Commander Daud Sihombing, reported in the The Jakarta Post, 30 November 2003).

Last Thursday, 42 people were arrested in Manokwari for raising ‘Morning Star’ flags - seven are being charged with treason, while the remaining 35 were released but are required to report to police regularly.

This alert is to provide information for you to act to support the people of West Papua, the forgotten Pacific country. It has three sections: 1) background information; 2) what you can do; and 3) where you can get more information.

  • Background information
  • Since 1963, the people of West Papua have been subject to brutal occupation by the Indonesian armed forces. In 1969, instead of organising a full referendum so that the West Papuans could vote on their future, the United Nations supervised the Act of Free Choice (aka the Act of No Choice) -1,025 handpicked Papuans were intimidated, bribed or forced to vote at gun point for West Papua to be integrated into Indonesia. West Papuans have always insisted that the act was neither fair nor representative. Their viewpoint was given further legitimacy when retired UN Under-Secretary General Chakravarthy Narasimhan said in November 2001:

    "It was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible," said Chakravarthy Narasimhan, a retired UN undersecretary-general who handled the takeover. "Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who had their fundamental human rights trampled." (‘Historic Papua vote a whitewash, says former UN official’, The Age, 24 November 24, 2001).

    "The 1969 referendum has long been criticised by pro-independence campaigners, but never by as reputable a neutral source as the most senior UN official in Irian Jaya [West Papua] at the time. Mr Narasimhan has no power to challenge retrospectively the referendum's form or result, but his comments could erode the legitimacy upon which Jakarta's right to control Irian Jaya is based. He says the 1025 tribal ‘representatives’ who were permitted to vote in 1969 were handpicked because they were certain to unanimously support Jakarta which they then did despite widespread opposition to Indonesian rule." (‘Papua history lesson’, Sydney Morning Herald, 26 November 2001).

    As a result of the Act of ‘Free’ Choice, West Papua was removed from the United Nations List of Non Self-Governing Territories and the people abandoned to Indonesian military occupation.

    Since then, the people of West Papua have been subjected to gross human rights violations including rape, torture, murder and massacre, and cultural genocide. West Papua’s natural resources have been exploited to an extraordinary degree by multi-national corporations in cahoots with the Indonesian authorities for their own profit. This has resulted in massive social dislocation and destruction of the environment. As but one example, the Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine has decapitated and destroyed Namakjawin (the mountain sacred to the people of the area); devastated the rain forests and polluted the streams and rivers throughout the region and on the coast on which the local people are defendant for food and water - the tailings from the Freeport McMoRan mine cover an area of more than 121 square kilometres.

    Since 1963 more than 100,000 West Papuans have been killed; more than 15,000 West Papuans are currently living in authorised or unauthorised camps in Papua New Guinea; and others are forced to live in exile around the world as it is not safe for them to return to West Papua. The Indonesian government’s transmigration programme has resulted in around 850,000 non-Papuan transmigrants being moved to West Papua.

    While the Indonesian authorities have spoken in recent years of ‘special autonomy’ status for West Papua, the West Papuans do not support this. The Indonesian administration is currently in the process of dividing West Papua into three provinces, which indicates the ‘special autonomy’ proposal is essentially meaningless.

    Since April of this year, the situation has worsened considerably with the deployment to West Papua of Indonesian special forces (Kopassus) and other army units. A widespread military operation in the central highland town of Wamena has resulted in the arbitrary detention and arrest of many Papuans, rape, mutilation and torture, civilian deaths, and the destruction of homes, schools and crops. Around 1,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and gardens, and hide in the forests where they are vulnerable to extreme conditions and starvation. The Indonesian military are refusing to allow church, humanitarian and human rights workers any access to the area.

    In September 2003 an additional 2,000 Indonesian troops were deployed to West Papua - this was described by the Associated Press as ... "the latest sign of Indonesia's readiness to use military force to stifle political dissent". (4 September 2003).

    On 5 November 2003 ten West Papuans, including Yustinus Murib (respected Free West Papua Movement leader), were shot in execution-style killings in a military pre-dawn raid in the Baliem Valley area, and their bodies were later put on public display. Mr Murib had been recorded on film just days earlier appealing for an opportunity to take part in peaceful dialogue.

    As well as the direct violent repression by Indonesian armed forces, they are now creating armed militias, similar to what they did in East Timor.

    Everyone knows the outcome of the lack of action by the world community for the people of East Timor, the final wanton terror and destruction by the Indonesian armed forces and their militias in 1999. It is the responsibility of the NZ government to act now to ensure that the people of West Papua do not have the same fate inflicted on them.

    In 1968, a British official 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 peoples."

    It is time for the international community to move beyond the venal, racist attitude that supported the Indonesian occupation of West Papua - and to instead support the call from the people of West Papua for dialogue with the Indonesian authorities to turn their country into a ‘Zone of Peace’.

  • What you can do
  • The most useful action you can take at this time is to contact NZ government politicians and urge them:

    a) to condemn the ongoing Indonesian military operations in West Papua, the loss of life and the gross violations of human rights; and

    b) to call on Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, to order a review of the conduct of the United Nations in 1969 and the Act of ‘Free’ Choice. This is simple action the NZ government could take which would have a tremendous impact on the chance of a peaceful future for the people of West Papua.

    Contact details: Helen Clark, Prime Minister, email or fax (04) 473 3579; Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Minister of Pacific Islands Affairs, email or fax (04) 495 8444; Taito Phillip Field, Associate Minister of Pacific Islands Affairs, email or fax (04) 472 8063. Letter/s should be addressed to the relevant politician/s and posted to Parliament Buildings, Wellington (no stamp required).

    It is very helpful if you can send a copy of any message, fax, or letter you send (and of any replies you receive) to: Peace Movement Aotearoa, PO Box 9314, Wellington; fax (04) 382 8173; email

  • Where you can get more information about West Papua
  • There are alerts and articles, as well as links to other web sites, on the West Papua index page; details of the campaign calling for a review of the Act of ‘Free’ Choice, together with background information as to why it is necessary; and a very detailed background briefing on the Act of ‘Free’ Choice.

    A useful summary of issues and concerns about West Papua is in the Statement from the Fourth International Solidarity Meeting for West Papua (Southern Hemisphere Component), held in Auckland in August 2003.

    West Papua index page

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