HOW THE UN FAILED WEST PAPUA.
Decolonization once defined the United Nation’s very existence. When the UN was first conceived in 1945, a third of the world’s population still lived under colonial rule and many of those territories were agitating for autonomy. Under the heat of global anti-imperial movements, colonial territories disintegrated to form independent states, and the UN’s membership doubled in size in just 20 years.
In 1960, the UN General Assembly adopted United Nations Resolution 1514, which declared the “necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations.” A year later, the Special Committee of Decolonization formed to carry out the UN’s mandate and help colonized nations achieve autonomy.
But this help came at a price. The UN’s decolonization mandate was often brought in and out of play by its two largest powerbrokers—the United States and the Soviet Union—so they could extend their influence in the post-colonial world. As a result, the UN’s decolonization efforts did not always make the autonomy of colonized peoples its first priority.
West Papuans became one of the first causalities of the UN’s perfidious promise of self-determination. In 1968, under the watch of UN observers and U.S. diplomats, Indonesia was handed control over West Papua when its military hand-picked a fraction of West Papua’s population, and ordered them to vote in favor of Indonesian annexation in the UN-supervised “Act of Free Choice.” A 2004 report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School explains that “Indonesian military leaders began making public threats against Papuan leaders… vowing to shoot them on the spot if they did not vote for Indonesian control.” The United States, acting both independently and through the UN, tacitly allowed West Papua’s annexation to ensure Indonesia would not fall to communism.
For West Papua, where instances of state oppression by Indonesian authorities harken back to more overt forms of colonialism, the UN has still failed to support its independence. The world body does not even recognize West Papua as a colonized territory, thus effectively depriving West Papuans of UN resources to fuel their struggle for self-determination.
The result of this omission is calamitous. There is strong evidence of gross human rights violations in Indonesian-held West Papua, yet the UN is has not yet intervened in this territory. The counterterrorism squad, Detachment 88, which was developed in 2003 by funding through the United States government, is accused of being especially violent toward indigenous West Papuans.
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