West Papua was occupied by Indonesia in May 1963. Since that time Indonesia has denied indigenous Papuans a genuine opportunity for self-determination.

West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea (the
eastern half is the independent state of Papua New Guinea). It is
situated just 250 kms to the north of Australia. In recent years the
territory has been variously known as Irian Jaya (the Indonesian term
for the territory), West Papua or simply as Papua. This Comment uses
the term West Papua. (For a further note on terminology, see the
Afterword on page 28.)
West Papua was occupied by Indonesia in May 1963. Since that
time Indonesia has denied indigenous Papuans a genuine
opportunity for self-determination. Papuans are now facing a real
threat to their survival in their own land, due to continued
subjugation and suppression by the Indonesian authorities, ongoing
crimes against humanity committed by the Indonesian military, and
the neglect of their socio-economic and cultural rights.
Despite these injustices, Papuans – supported by civil society
organisations at a national and international level – have been
working for lasting peace. Yet the efforts of the peace movement and
the continued injustices suffered by indigenous Papuans go largely
unreported in the western media.
This Comment intends to describe the injustices in West Papua.
The first part gives the historical background, examining in particular
the role of Indonesia, the Netherlands, the United States and the
United Nations in denying Papuans the right to self-determination in
the 1960s. The second part describes the threat to the continued
survival of indigenous Papuans. The third part reviews Indonesia’s
policies towards West Papua, while part four examines the
international community’s approach. Part five deals with peacebuilding
initiatives by civil society in West Papua. The Comment
concludes with recommendations for addressing the continued
injustices faced by indigenous Papuans in their own land.
This Comment is being published by CIIR to help raise awareness
of the situation in West Papua. It is followed by an Afterword which
outlines what CIIR is doing to promote peace in West Papua.
comment5 22/4/05 11:13 am Page 3
1: Historical background
Despite the diversity of ethnic groups on the island of New Guinea,
all the indigenous people belong to the Melanesian race and are
ethnographically distinct from the ethnic Malay people who
comprise the majority of the Indonesian population.
The indigenous people themselves never divided the island into
two parts as seen in the world map today. The border was drawn
down the middle of the island in 1883 by the Dutch who controlled
the western part of the island and the British and Germans who
controlled the eastern side.
Following world war two, the eastern part of the island came
under British and Australian administration until its transition to
independence as the nation of Papua New Guinea in 1975.
The western part of the island remained a province of the
Netherlands, despite the objections of the new Republic of Indonesia
which laid claim to all the territories of the former Dutch East Indies.
The Dutch, however, had always considered western New Guinea to
be a separate entity from the rest of their East Indies territories.
In the 1950s the Dutch government began to prepare the territory
for political independence by allowing the Papuans to establish
political parties. A parliamentary election was held in February 1961
and the West Papua Parliament was established. The parliament then
formed a Papuan people’s committee which held a Papuan National
Congress, resulting in four decisions: West Papua as the name of the
country, Papua as the name of the nation, the Morning Star flag as
the national flag, and Hai Tanahku Papua (Papua, my land) as the
national anthem. On 1 December 1961, the Morning Star flag was
officially raised alongside the Dutch flag in Jayapura, the capital of
the territory. From that point on, the Papuans turned their attention
towards the establishment of an independent state of West Papua.1
Indonesia opposed these plans. When the Morning Star flag was
raised in Jayapura, Indonesia responded by declaring the trikora (the
three people’s commands): to prevent the independence of West
Papua, to fly the Indonesian flag in the territory, and to launch a
general mobilisation of Indonesians to occupy the territory.
It was the height of the cold war period, and the United States had
strategic interests in supporting Indonesia’s claim to the territory of
western New Guinea. The US consequently proposed an agreement
that was signed by Indonesia and the Netherlands on 15 August

1962. The New York Agreement contained guiding principles for an
act of self-determination to settle the status of the territory – the socalled
Act of Free Choice.
In line with the agreement, the territory was handed over by the
Dutch to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority
(UNTEA). After the minimum period stipulated by the agreement,
UNTEA transferred the administration of the territory to Indonesia,
which would thenceforth take responsibility for arranging the Act of
Free Choice. On 1 May 1963 the Dutch and West Papua flags were
pulled down and the Indonesian flag was officially raised in the land
of Papua.

As soon as Indonesia took over the administration, it treated the
territory as an Indonesian province. It deployed thousands of
military personnel, established nine regencies, set up governmental
offices, and applied Indonesian laws and regulations. It dismissed
immediately the West Papua Parliament that had been elected in
1961. In its place an Indonesian-appointed regional assembly, which
included none of the elected Papuan parliament members, was

Despite the guarantee in the New York Agreement to freedom of
speech, movement and assembly, the Indonesian government
deliberately prohibited Papuans from undertaking any political
activity. Presidential decree number 11/1963, designed by the
Indonesian government to crack down on subversion, was also
applied. Any Papuan political or cultural activity was considered to
represent the Papuan aspiration for independence and therefore to be

Organised Papuan resistance to the Indonesian occupation began
in 1965 with the establishment of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka
(OPM – the Free Papua Movement). The primary objective was to end
the Indonesian occupation and then to establish a democratic state
of West Papua. The OPM was poorly organised and, armed mainly
with the traditional bow and arrow, was no match for the Indonesian
military. However, although few Papuans joined the OPM in the
jungle, its political ideology was – and continues to be – widely
supported by a majority of Papuans.
The Indonesian government sought to suppress Papuan resistance
through military operations such as Operasi Sadar (Operation
Consciousness) in 1965 and Operasi Brathayudha in 1967. In early
West Papua 1969, some months before the Act of Free Choice (AFC) was
scheduled to take place, a third military operation called Operasi
Wibawa (Operation Authority) was conducted. This aimed to
eradicate the Papuan resistance, tighten security, and consolidate
Indonesian administrative authority throughout the territory. As the
AFC drew closer, more Papuans were killed, intimidated and
terrorised by the Indonesian military. The journalist Brian May wrote:
‘Indonesian troops and officials were waging a widespread campaign
of intimidation to force the Act of Free Choice in favour of the

Throughout this process, Indonesia received the tacit support of
the United States.4 In 1968, the US ambassador in Jakarta (the capital
of Indonesia) reported that 85 to 90 per cent of Papuans supported
independence, and that Indonesian military operations, which had
already killed thousands of civilians, had stimulated fears and
rumours of intended genocide among the Papuans. However, the US
embassy also took the view that the loss of West Papua through the
AFC would undermine and unseat Indonesian president Suharto’s
government. The US was keen to support Suharto because of his
strong anti-communist stance. The embassy reported that a free and
direct vote for the ‘stone age’ Papuans was, in any case, unrealistic.
Washington was reminded to educate Ortiz Sanz, the head of the UN
observer delegation for the AFC, about ‘political realities’ before he
left New York for western New Guinea.
The Dutch also kept quiet about the process. They had little
enthusiasm for any continuing involvement in the issue and did not
want to see West Papua’s self-determination become a stumbling
block in the way of establishing genuine Netherlands-Indonesia
cooperation. For the Dutch, maintaining a good relationship with
Indonesia was more important than defending the fundamental right
to self-determination of the Papuans.
The Act of Free Choice
The New York Agreement clearly stated that all adults from the
territory were eligible to participate in the act of self-determination
and that this should be ‘carried out in accordance with international
practice’.5 However, the Indonesian government was intent on
applying its own method of musyawarah (a process of collective
decision-making). With this method, only a few people were selected
comment5 22/4/05 11:13 am Page 6
as representatives, while the majority of Papuans were excluded.
From the more than 800,000 Papuans at that time, the Indonesian
authorities – not the Papuans – picked only 1,026 people as
representatives to exercise the AFC, which was to take place in July
and August of 1969. Of these, 931 were selected without the presence
of UN observers. In fact, the UN team provided only a token
presence during the exercise of the AFC. The team, headed by Ortiz
Sanz, a Bolivian diplomat, comprised just 16 staff including
administrative personnel. In comparison, the UN presence for the
referendum in East Timor in 1999 totalled more than 1,000 staff.
There was no possibility of even these few hand-picked
representatives exercising freedom of choice. They were taken out to
a highly guarded boarding house for several weeks before the day of
the AFC, totally isolated from the rest of the community and under
pressure and intimidation from the Indonesian military. They were
given exact written instructions about what to say and were forced
by the government to rehearse their speeches. They were warned of
the risk if they decided to separate from Indonesia.
What happened in the town of Merauke gives a picture of how the
AFC was conducted by Indonesia. The government picked some 175
people as the ‘representatives’ of the Papuans in Merauke regency.
On the day the AFC was conducted, the government selected only 20
people out of these 175 ‘representatives’ to stand up and express one
after the other the declaration provided by the government. Their
statements were almost identical. They proclaimed that they were
part of Indonesia since 1945, and recognised only one country, one
constitution, one flag, and one government, that of Indonesia. After
that the chairman of the AFC in Merauke, who was an Indonesian
official, told the other 155 members to stand up if they agreed with
the declaration of their colleagues. All then stood up, meaning all
This was the way the Indonesian government held the Act of Free
Choice. The same method was applied in the other seven towns. It is
not surprising, then, that the result was a unanimous declaration to
join Indonesia.
The role of the United Nations
Indonesia claimed that the AFC had been conducted democratically
and transparently, with the involvement of the Papuans in deciding
West Papua 7
the methods of voting and the participation, consultation and
assistance of the United Nations.6 Having colluded in the conduct of
the act, the UN representative Ortiz Sanz declared, in his report to
the UN in November 1969, that ‘an act of free choice has taken

The Dutch, along with a few other countries, proposed a
resolution to approve the result of the fraudulent AFC. Several
African countries condemned the conduct of the AFC as
undemocratic, and proposed an amendment calling for a proper vote
of self-determination to be held in 1975. This amendment was
defeated. The UN General Assembly then voted, with 30 abstentions,
simply to ‘take note’ of the official report on the AFC by the then UN
secretary general U Thant. Although this fell short of formally
approving the AFC, it gave the UN’s imprimatur to the sham.
The UN secretariat’s position was to ensure that the territory of
western New Guinea became a recognised part of Indonesia with the
minimum of controversy and disruption. Hence U Thant and Ortiz
Sanz collaborated with Jakarta to prevent any international criticism
of the AFC emerging. Sharing the position of the Dutch, the US, and
other countries such as Australia and Japan, the UN secretariat
considered that direct voting in the territory was unnecessary, and
therefore supported the Indonesian method of exercising the AFC.
The UN tolerated Indonesian interference and intimidation against
the Papuans and made no effort to press Jakarta to properly
implement the terms of the New York Agreement.
Under the New York Agreement, the Dutch, Indonesia and the UN
had an obligation to protect the political rights and freedom of the
Papuans, and to ensure that the AFC took place freely in accordance
with international practice. But the three parties failed to do this,
and they did so deliberately because genuine self-determination was
never considered as a serious option by any of them. The Papuans’
political and human rights were effectively discarded by Indonesia
with the support of the Dutch, the US, and the UN. Chakravarthy
Narashiman, the UN under-secretary general at the time, has
subsequently admitted (in 2001) that the so-called Act of Free Choice
was a ‘sham’ and a ‘whitewash’.8

2: Papuans under threat

Following its annexation of West Papua through the Act of Free
Choice, Indonesia gave Indonesian citizenship to the Papuans. The
territory was re-named Irian Jaya, meaning ‘victorious Irian’ (Irian
stands for ‘Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti-Nederland’ or ‘join the
Indonesian republic against the Netherlands’). Henceforth in this
Comment, however, I will refer to the territory as West Papua.
The Indonesian government immediately declared West Papua a
military operation zone, and over the years has conducted a series of
military operations designed to eradicate Papuan separatism. The
territory was heavily controlled by the Indonesian military (in so far
as the geography and lack of development of the country permitted:
many communities are virtually isolated from external contact).
Some regions were completely closed to visitors: anyone who wanted
to visit these regions was obliged first to get a permit from the
security forces. For many Papuans, living under Indonesian control
was like living life in prison.
Human rights violations

For some Papuans, the experience was much worse. There are no
reliable figures for the numbers of Papuans killed over the years by
Indonesian security forces, either directly or as a result of the
consequences of military operations. However, local and
international human rights groups have estimated the figure to be
many thousands. Many stories too are recounted by Papuans.
Whether or not these have been independently verified or
documented, they all add to the collective trauma of the Papuan
people. Even if it is not possible to give definitive totals for human
rights violations, the nature of some individual incidents gives a
sense of the degree of terror that all Papuans are aware of, and that
some Papuans have to endure.

The alleged methods of killing are horrific. Some Papuans were
killed by having their bodies slashed with razors.9 Others died after a
hot iron bar was inserted into their anus.10 A killed Papuan man had
his flesh made into a barbeque, and his wife was forced to eat her
husband, and his children to eat their father.11 In Dila village,
Indonesian troops killed Nalogoban Kibak, a tribal leader; filled a
bucket with his blood; then forced other tribal leaders, teachers, and
pastors of the area, at gunpoint, to drink the blood.12 In another
West Papua 9

village, Indonesian troops captured 30 Papuan men, forced them into
boats, tied stones around their necks, and threw them overboard.13
Papuan women have also been killed in barbaric ways. In
Kuyawage village, the army used bayonets to tear pregnant women
open to the chest and then cut their unborn babies into halves. In
Biak, the soldiers shot dead Maria Bonsapia, a pregnant Papuan
woman, before a crowd of 80 women and children, cut the foetus
out of her body, and dissected the baby.14
Whole communities have been terrorised by Indonesian soldiers.
The soldiers have assaulted villagers, burned houses and church
buildings, destroyed food gardens and shot the villagers’ pigs and
chickens. Many villagers take refuge in the jungle where many have
died of sicknesses and shortage of food.

Indonesian officials commonly subjected Papuan political
prisoners to torture, including electric shocks, beating, pistolwhipping,
deprivation of toilet facilities, and water torture, in which
the prisoners were placed in a bunker filled with water.15
Despite investigations by Komnas Ham (the abbreviated name for
Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia – the Indonesian Commission on
Human Rights), the army continues to operate with apparent
impunity. For example, in April 2003 it launched a massive military
operation in and around Wamena, following the theft of weapons
from an army weapons store. Without any critical or objective
investigation of the stealing of the weapons, the army immediately
blamed ‘Papuan separatists’ and launched the military operation.
Komnas Ham reported that nine people were killed, another 38 were
tortured and 15 others were arbitrarily arrested. The military
operation displaced some 7,000 Papuans from 25 villages and at least
42 Papuans later died in refugee camps in the jungle. As many as 168
members of the military have been named as suspects, but as yet no
action has been taken against them.16
In August 2004, the Indonesian army launched a fresh military
operation in Puncak Jaya district. Indonesian troops destroyed
villagers’ homes and food gardens, and burned down some churches.
Church leaders and human rights groups in West Papua reported that
at least 6,000 Papuans had been left homeless and faced starvation in
the refugee camps.17 Since the region was closed off to aid workers
and church leaders by the Indonesian military, it was difficult to
provide food and medical supplies to the refugees. The refugees

feared returning to their homes because any Papuan emerging from
the forest is accused of being a separatist by Indonesian forces.
Human rights groups in West Papua and Jakarta, as well as church
leaders, said the military orchestrated the incident by using local
Papuans as militias.18

The available evidence strongly suggests that the Indonesian
military has engaged in widespread violence and extra-judicial
killings, subjected Papuan men and women to acts of torture,
disappearance, rape, and sexual violence, and by its actions caused
the displacement of many Papuans from their homes. Many of these
acts, individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against
humanity under international law.19 It is likely that crimes against
humanity in West Papua will continue in the future, until such time
as the perpetrators feel they can no longer act with impunity.
Denial of Papuan culture

Almost any cultural expression by the Papuans has for many years
been considered by the Indonesian government to be a manifestation
of the separatist movement. Papuans who sang in their local
language could be beaten, tortured, detained or even killed by the
Indonesian security forces in the name of eradicating separatism.
Papuan traditional cultures were also treated as uncivilised and
primitive by many Indonesians. The government sought to make
Papuans feel ashamed of their traditional ways and to undermine
these in the name of modernisation and development – or, more
accurately, ‘Indonesianisation’. Papuans were not allowed by the
government to identify themselves as Papuans or Melanesians:
instead, the government taught the Papuans to call themselves
‘Indonesians from Irian Jaya province’.

A significant example of the undermining of Papuan culture is the
way that Papuans have been separated from their land. In former
days, the Papuans were the owners of the forest under customary
adat (traditional law). The forest had both an economic and a
religious meaning for the Papuans. It was considered a source of
food, a shelter in time of tribal war, and a place to communicate
with ancestral spirits. To the Papuans, the meaning of the forest is
embodied in their saying: ‘the forest is our mother’.
However, under Indonesian rule, Papuans were no longer
considered as the owners of ancestral lands. Their lands were
West Papua 11

plundered on the pretext of national development, and their forests
expropriated and exploited. Companies with their head offices in
Jakarta have divided the forests in West Papua among themselves.
Government authorities and business people, who are mostly nonPapuans,
have become the putative owners of the forests and land (at
least for as long as it takes them to extract its resources). The
Papuans, the true owners of the land, have become mere guardians
of the forests, which are now considered to belong to other people.20
Once a private company has begun its forestry exploitation activity,
the Papuans are not allowed to enter into the claimed forest, not
even to collect firewood.

The interests of most of these private companies are protected and
safeguarded by the Indonesian security forces. When the Papuans
demand their rights to ownership of the forest, they are accused of
being separatists, the label that gives justification to the security
forces to use violence against them.21 Many abuses have arisen from a
military and police presence aimed at protecting mining firms, forest
concessions and timber estates exploiting natural resources. In
addition, the illegal logging business is thriving in West Papua. Often
this takes place with the protection – and even the direct
involvement – of the security forces. Indeed, the military’s extensive
business interests are an important factor behind their presence in
West Papua.
The Papuans are powerless in the face of this collaboration
between the government, the military, and the private companies
who grab their land. As recognised by the Papuans of the Amungme
tribe, ‘by using the label of separatist, and gun-pointing against us,
the government, private companies and the Indonesians easily rob
our land without consulting us.’22

* Poverty
West Papua’s economy is dominated by the exploitation of natural
resources – yet few economic benefits have flowed back to West
Papua from this resource exploitation. Most significant to the
resource economy is the copper and gold mining operation by
Freeport Indonesia, which has been the source of over half of West
Papua’s gross domestic product.23 Yet in 1997, for example, less than
12 per cent (US$28 million) of total taxes paid by Freeport Indonesia
was disbursed to West Papua.


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