Papua’s long betrayal: 60 years of repression
02 December 2021
CANBERRA – Yesterday, 1 December, marked 60 years since the State of Papua came into being.
In the centuries preceding 1961, Ortiz de Rates, a Spanish explorer, renamed the island ‘Nueva Guinea’ (New Guinea)’ on 20 June 1545 and, hearing of his alleged discovery, other Europeans followed.
Some stayed briefly, some stayed long enough to alter the fate of the island's inhabitants. In the west, the Netherlands planted a flag in 1660 but didn’t do much until 1872, the Germans saw commercial opportunities in the north-east in 1884 and the British reluctantly took over the south-east in 1988.
The Australians took over the two eastern possessions which became an independent Papua New Guinea in 1975, and after World War II the Dutch refused to hand over Netherlands New Guinea to the new Indonesian Republic.
In the face of aggression from Indonesia and disapproval from just about everyone else, the Dutch prepared the region for independence as a separate country, belatedly seeking to instil a sense of West Papuan national identity including the creation of a national flag, the Morning Star, a national anthem and a coat of arms
When the West Papua state was founded on 1 December 1961, despite the encompassing turbulence, Papuans felt they were on their way to independence.
A New Guinea Council was inaugurated in April 1961 with 28 members, 16 of them elected. A manifesto along with the Morning Star flag and other national symbols were adopted in October 1961.
Indonesia was infuriated by this expression of Papua’s national identity and the position of the Dutch became intolerable.
On 1 October 1962, the Dutch, under enormous pressure, handed West New Guinea to the United Nations which then ceded the territory to Indonesian administration on 1 May 1963, stipulating that a plebiscite would be held in 1969 to determine whether Papuans would choose to remain in Indonesia or seek self-determination.
The young Papuan state had not survived long. It happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong people.
The guaranteed Act of Free Choice in 1969 was a charade. A manipulated vote by 1,025 frightened Papuans handpicked by Indonesia and flown to Jakarta for the final betrayal.
West Papua’s national identity had been skewered by other interests, political, commercial and strategic.
This initial violation of Papuan rights set the precedent for all that followed in the next 60 years.
They still take place - and no one really cares. The Papuan people today live under Indonesia's settler colonial system.
This is the most destructive form of colonialism based on the logic of eradicating the original population by replacing it with a new population.
Unless the world grows a conscience and rectifies what happened in the 1960s, Papuans will become extinct within a few decades.
By November that year, the United Nations rubberstamped this so-called ‘free act’ just by ‘noting’ it in front of the Australian and Dutch delegations who said nothing and did nothing.
A number of African delegates held a stormy meeting and refused to meet Indonesia's diplomats but greater powers had already decided the case was closed.
Two prominent Papuan leaders, Willem Zonggonau and Clemens Runawery, had fled to Papua New Guinea en route to New York to tell the United Nations the Act of Free Choice was corrupt.
They never left Port Moresby. The Australian government stopped them.
And so, for Papuans and our many supporters, West Papua remains the UN’s unfinished business. And it does not lack support in international law
International human rights lawyer Melinda Janki's ground breaking article of 2010, ‘West Papua and the Right to Self-determination under International Law’, revealed that West Papua remains a non-self-governing territory.
“States should therefore recognise that West Papua is an Indonesian colony with a separate and distinct status and act to ensure that the egregious violations of human rights are brought to an end,” Janki wrote.
The findings of Andrew Johnson and Julian King in their paper, ‘West Papua Exposed: An Abandoned Non-Self-Governing or TrustTerritory’ exposed these betrayals and cover-ups and strongly argued that West Papua remains the UN's unfinished business.
“As a Non-Self-Governing Territory or a Trust Territory,” they write, “the legal rights of the people of West Papua have been denied with every UN Member responsible and legally bound to uphold the Charter in order to correct this breach of international law” (authors’ emphasis).
In addition to these important documents, there is much literature and discourse about the continuing tragedy that is West Papua. Link here to discover more about the history of betrayal.
Every year when 1 December rolls around, Papuans are returned to a time they were closest to independence and the assertion of their national identity.
It is a precious time they long to return to, akin in its significance to the Jewish Passover, marking a people’s overcoming all odds despite those who had sought to eradicate them.
The 60th anniversary, yesterday, was really a day of Papuan Resurrection – a day to reflect upon reclaiming what has been stolen from us and how we might decide our fate according to our own terms.
It is a day when we retell and record stories and pass our forebears’ wisdom and knowledge to the next generations.
We write our own stories, speak our own languages and reinforce our consciousness of the poisonous colonial propaganda invented to make us forget who we are and where we have come from.
It's also a day that reminds us that this ferocious war isn't over. Stormy days still lie ahead. But the sounds of guns, bombs, jets and tanks will not prevent us from remembering what happened 60 years ago and blind us from what the Indonesians still do today.
In the end, Papua's case will be made public one day, exposing the identities of those involved and evidence of the betrayal and torture.
Every drop of Papuan blood leaves a trail leading to the perpetrators, the crime scenes and, eventually, to Papuan statehood.
Let us resurrect a state in every Papuan and make every Papuan a state.
See also: 'Why West Papuans are raising a banned independence flag across Australia' by Stefan Armbruster
Even a common house fly struggles free from a spider web, so I believe the The Morning Star will fly freely one day. If we can take the cue's from nature and history, Papua will be free. I am sure of that. We have no cultural ties with our neighbors to the north.
The indigenous people did not invite these foreign powers to come here and divide us into bits and pieces to leave us fighting for freedom. How cruel and savage is that?
Hitler massacred 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. But there is a prosperous Jewish State now. West Papua will have a free state one day too. But for now, let the world watch the rivers turn red with Melanesian blood leaving 6 million West Papuans dead, until that day comes when the Morning Star will fly high in victory.
Posted by: Daniel Kumbon | 03 December 2021 at 07:33 AM
Diplomacy is and possibly has always been Janus or two-faced.
Sometimes the practitioners of its particular dark art can accept the break up of Yugoslavia into small states some with crazy tripartite governance or the island of Eire into two - the largest area the Republic of Ireland and six small counties remaining part of Great Britain.
Yet they condemn Russia holding a referendum in Autonomous Republic of Crimea where 97% voted in an 835 turnout to allowing the large Russian language population to become a federal unit of Russia.
Here in the South West Pacific the tiny population of Bougainville was allowed a referendum and one day soon seems it will eventually get their independence with the same 97% voting for the breakaway.
Yet no member of the UN seems to care a damn about PNG's conjoined neighbour West Papua longing to be independent.
Sadly the major nations ignore the continued ethnic cleansing that has being visited on New Guinea's western half since 1969.
The Security Council and General Assembly of UN jump up and down about Burma's ethnic cleansing of Rohingya but not of such treatment in Arab areas of Israel.
Glasgow's COP-26 had all sorts of meetings, debates on the environment yet I didn't hear or read anything about the filthy effluent from the Grasberg three mine group.
Though Indonesia stood tall and smiled as it signed the 'Green State Vision’ of COP26. Yet it knows the reality truth is written elsewhere:
The concentrator's tailings, generated at a rate of 700,000 tonnes per day, are the subject of considerable environmental concern, as they wash into the Aikwa riverine system and Arafura Sea.
Some 130 square kilometres (eventually 230 square kilometres of lowland areas along the Aikwa River, are covered by braided sedimentary channels indicative of high sediment load (similar to glacial runoff).
Native fish have nearly disappeared from now-turbid waters of the Aikwa River, which are unsuitable for aquatic life.
The overburden (700 kt/d) remains in the highlands, up to 480 m deep and covering 8 square kilometres. Its acidic runoff, dissolved copper, and the finer material gets washed into the headwaters of the Wanagon River. It settles out along the river course and then into the ocean, and will continue to do so indefinitely.
Freeport's official response is that overburden is placed in the highlands as part of its Overburden Management Plan, at "sites capped with limestone and constantly monitored. Tailings are transported to the lowlands in a designated river system.
Once reaching the lowlands, they are captured in an engineered system of levees built for that purpose."
An Indonesian Environment Ministry's field report in 2004, found levels of sediment 37,500 milligrams per litre as the river entered the lowlands and 7,500 milligrams as the river entered the Arafura Sea, while the maximum under Indonesian law is not to exceed 400 milligrams per litre.
I have only seen one major article in the Western media about this environmental horror possibly because journalists are the last persons that Indonesia wants to allow into West Papua to report on almost anything.
Do the cop-out nations worry about this intolerable blight on the waters of the Arafura Sea. I never read or see them in the media discussing it.
Australia shares that ocean area with it northern neighbour but apparently is just happy to get a lion's share of the oil and gas in the Timor Gap while not caring about the degradation on the surface.
I guess resource rich but poor PNG cannot afford to rock the diplomatic canoe it uses with its giant neighbour and so can only afford to play at even monitoring the military events that happen along its porous border.
Posted by: Arthur Williams | 02 December 2021 at 11:02 PM
Betrayal indeed! Painful to contemplate and difficult to write about.
The utter travesty of the Act of Free Choice. One of the greatest stains imaginable on the free world that conveniently averted its gaze to 'lukawe' when it mattered most.
Australia fell in behind the United States, nothing to see here. The important action was taking place to the north in Bien Hoa and Hue city in Vietnam.
According to the then US secretary of defence McNamara, Indonesia was a dependable domino, best not rock the boat.
This festering pox that sits on the face of the United Nations, but above all on Lady Liberty, will only grow more putrid as the years pass.
The Papuans will not be cowed into submission and the fate of West Papuans resonates deeply throughout all Melanesia.
May they always raise the Morning Star. In the worlds of another great freedom fighter. “It seems impossible until it’s done.”
Posted by: Stephen Charteris | 02 December 2021 at 10:43 AM
It was wrong.
I was wrought.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 02 December 2021 at 07:52 AM