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