anti-plebiscite campaigns in West Papua: Before and after 1969

For reasons of opportunity and principle, the decolonisation-policies of the
Netherlands since 1945 went under the aegis of self-determination.
At the transfer of sovereignty in 1949 to the newly created Federal Republic of
Indonesia, the Dutch refused to hand over the residency of New Guinea as well.
According to the Dutch, the Papuan population as a whole was not developed up
to the point where it could determine affairs for itself as yet, and there were
plenty of indications that the leading layers of Papuan society agreed with this
argument. So the operation of self-determination was postponed for an as yet
undefined period. The ensuing conflict raged on for years and caused much
damage to the relations between The Netherlands and its former colony. It was
only terminated on 15 May 1962 with the signing by both parties of the New York
Agreement that had been brought about under strong international pressure. The
territory was to be handed over to a UN interim administration, to be followed by
an Indonesian take over later on. By then full administrative responsibility would
be with Indonesia. The only concessions to the Dutch were some UN guarantees
for the quality of the administration in the interim period and an Indonesian
commitment to organise an opportunity for self determination, called the ‘Act of
Free Choice’, at a proper time but not later than 1969, which would enable the
Papuans to decide what future they had in mind for their country.

At face value the agreement offered a solution acceptable to all concerned. Yet,
for Papuans and Dutch alike, it was less than acceptable in reality. It was still
unclear to what degree the UN and Indonesia would be able and willing to live up
to their promises. The idea of self determination by means of a plebiscite was
contrary to all that the Republic of Indonesia had stood for during the conflict. Its
leaders had argued that the sovereignty of the whole of the former Netherlands
Indies had been theirs since their proclamation of independence on 17 August,
1945. For them, it was understood that the Papuans had decided to integrate
with Indonesia on that fateful day already. During the negotiations in New York,
the term ‘sovereignty’ had been carefully avoideds by all parties, and for the
Indonesians the agreement had been acceptable only because the plebiscite had
been weakly worded, giving them every opportunity to have it their way. The
word ‘plebiscite’ itself, as laid down in the initial UN proposal, had been replaced
by the not well established expression ‘Act of Free Choice ’, while the task of
carrying out the operation had been fully entrusted to the Indonesians. Sure, at
the time of the operation there had to be a representative of the secretary
general of the United Nations in the field, but his limited job description was to
‘advise, assist and participate in arrangements which are the responsibilities of
Indonesia for the Act of Free Choice ’. So in the end Indonesia had full leverage
to handle the matter according to its own preferences. That being the cases, it
was up to the secretary general to report to the General Assembly of the United
Nations. That body was asked only to ‘take note’ of the outcome of the Act. That
formula still enabled the Assembly to lay down its opinion in a resolution, but it
was not explicitly asked to do so.
Under the terms of the agreement, there was nothing left for the Dutch but to
organise their own phasing out on short notice and pay half of the costs of the
UN administration and the envisaged Act of Free Choice. The Papuans had no
say at all about the agreement, and had to wait for the future. The prospect of
being transferred lock stock and barrel through the intermediary of a United
Nations Temporary Administration (UNTEA) to Indonesia came as a shock after a period of happily accepted preparations for self determination under the aegis
of the Dutch, which had led them to envisage a future as part of an independent
Melanesian commonwealth together with their neighbours from the Territory of
Papua and New Guinea (TPNG), then still under Australian administration. It all
went up in smoke in a moment in the last weeks of August 1962, which caused
widely felt consternation. Papuans’ only solace was the prospect of self
determination in due time, and the Dutch encouraged them in that belief.
The matter was fiercely discussed within the bosom of the main Papuan
representative councils and institutions. There was serious talk about declaring
their own independence right away, but it came to nothing because the Dutch
were not willing to lend a hand, and their own forces were not sufficient to resist
the Indonesians. Then they called together a special meeting of about a hundred
prominent Papuans from all parts of the country in the third week of September
1962. It was the National Papua Congress, where they decided to accept the
consequences of the New York Agreement and to cooperate fully with the
successive interim administrations of the United Nations and Indonesia.
However, they also decided to prepare themselves right from the start as best
they could for the forthcoming Act of Free Choice. Though even at that time
many observers felt that they would have hardly a chance to be allowed to speak
out freely when the time came, the Papua leadership firmly stuck to that position
for lack of better alternatives.
The test came soon enough with the transfer of western New Guinea to the
United Nations Temporary Administration on 1 October 1962, soon followed by
an influx of Indonesian officials and military. Things went much faster than
planned. The contacts with a first, carefully selected batch of Indonesian
administrators were not bad at all, and were accompanied with kind promises
from President Sukarno and his Minister of Foreign Affairs Subandrio about
autonomy and a happy future together in the Indonesian homeland. Yet, as soon
as the troops flowed in en masse, the mood rapidly changed.

The soldiers  entered the territory as conquerors out for loot, and as their number grew theIndonesian officials gladly joined them. That was to get worse in the years to come. The result was that the Papuans were thrown back into a state of misery unknown before. Jobs were taken over, medical care crumbled away, the
educational system lost its drive, economic possibilities vanished in the air,
representative councils were disbanded, political parties dissolved and the liberty
of speech and expression was taken away. The riches of the country were
dragged off in shiploads for very little in return. The Papuans just had to obey the
rules of the authoritarian Indonesian state, and manifestations of having a
national identity of their own were forbidden right away.
The first lethal incidents took place in early December, when Papuan leaders
wanted to celebrate the first anniversary of the hoisting of their own flag a year
before. They not only were confronted with a veto from the United Nations
Administration, but also with strong reactions from the Indonesian military. As a
result, about 50 students took refuge in TPNG, but they were sent back at once
by the Australian administration that was not out for trouble with its new
neighbours on the western half of the island. Upon their return to Hollandia they
were thrown in jail and tortured. It was the opening shot of a reign of terror that
was to deepen in the years to come.
Under these conditions the honest Act of Free Choice ‘in accordance with
international practice’, as promised in the New York Agreement, was unlikely
right from the start. That became clear when a delegation of the National Papua
Congress led by Herman Wajoi arrived in Jakarta on 30 September for a first
encounter with the new masters. They were welcomed by a number of cabinet
members, including General Nasution and Minister Subandrio. The Papuans
brought with them a proposal for a plebiscite on self determination to be held in
May 1963, when the Dutch would have withdrawn completely. This proposal can
be regarded as being in line more or less with the decision of the National
Congress the week before. Subandrio flatly refused to discuss it, ‘since it might  lower our prestige’. He explained to his guests that the Indonesians had not
fought for West Irian – as the country was to be called – because they needed it,
but because for them it was a matter of principle. He further elaborated on ‘time
bombs, left behind by the Dutch’. Now the Proclamation of 17 August 1945, the
sacrosanct cornerstone of the Indonesian state, was prominent on the table
again and the delegates from Papua felt in no position to press for further
discussion. The remark of Subandrio also made it clear to them that the transfer
of Papua to Indonesia had nothing to do with Papuans. During the rest of their
stay in Indonesia Wajoi continued to act as the main spokesmen of the group,
but his public statements were fully in line with what his hosts might have
expected from him. It always came down to the same thing: the United Nations
should go home at once, and there was no need for an Act of Free Choice either.
It must be noted that after their return to Hollandia (which at this point was known as Sukarnopura, later to become Jayapura) most members of the delegation reported to their Dutch friends that they had been forced by the Indonesians to make such statements.
Thus an anti-plebiscite campaign was started up with Herman Wajoi in the
leading role. From this time on the Australian embassy in Jakarta came to speak
of him as ‘the leading sycophant‘. Back in Hollandia he was joined by a few
others. Most prominent among them were Frits Kirihio and Lukas Rumkorem,
who now fully sided with Indonesia, a postition which after all reflected the first
half of the decisions made by the Papua Congress. The other half, however,
seemed easily forgotten. In early January, as the grip of Jakarta strengthened,
demonstrations took place in various parts of Papua, calling for cancellation of
the plebiscite and an early withdrawal by the UN troops and administration.
Available evidence shows that these events took place under great pressure and
that no violence was spared on the part of the soldiers. In Jakarta, Sukarno
repeatedly lent his voice to the call as well. He was supported from a distance by
his long term friend the US ambassador, Howard Jones, who now was on his
way back from his post in Jakarta. He did his best to echo these voices from the  various places he passed through during his trip home. In New York the
Indonesian representative Nico Palar did the same in the United Nations.
These efforts had no immediate effect, since the other parties involved in the
bringing about of the New York Agreement did not give in formally. Both the US
and the Netherlands stuck to the position that Indonesia had to play the game
according to the rules set in New York. Yet in the end it was not all in vain, seen
from an Indonesian point of view. Their ruthless approach disheartened their
former opponents, who now tended to give in on practical matters as much as
possible to prevent further troubles. The term of the UN administration was made
as short as the agreement allowed for. It thus ended on 1 May 1963, the day that
initially was thought to be the first day of a joint UN-Indonesian administration.
When it came to that, the Indonesians were present in the field in full force
already and were allowed to take over full responsibility at once.
Things were a bit different with the follow up of the agreement on the plebiscite. It
was not a thing to be decided at once, but neither the Dutch nor the US
politicians lent support to Indonesian suggestions that there was no need for it
any longer. However, in the meantime the Indonesians had earned themselves a
reputation of stubbornness that had to be reckoned with, gaining leverage. In the
agreement it was decided that, when the UNTEA had finished its job, a small
group of UN officials had to stay behind in Papua to arrange for economic
cooperation and to make preparations for the planned Act of Free Choice. Here
the Indonesians did not cooperate either, and so no implementation could be
claimed as yet. This was accepted without much protest. For the Indonesians, it
was a silent message that for them there was always a second chance to get
what they wanted.
So with the creation of UNTEA on 1 October 1962 the United Nations gradually
stumbled into a rather uncomfortable position. Its representatives in the field
handled the first big peace keeping operation in the history of the United Nations

and as such it was a test case for the world organisation. Its prestige was at
stake. Sure, the agreement had left many things in the dark, but at least it had
formulated some standards of good governance, justice and safety of life and
goods that were not met during the UN administration. The problems were many.
The civil UN staff was small, consisting of a few hundred officials for the huge
territory, assisted by 1500 poorly armed security forces that were hardly a threat
to the well armed and motivated Indonesian troops. Moreover, UNTEA had only
very few Malay speaking persons in the organisation, and with the Dutch in full
retreat they were increasingly dependent upon Indonesians for their contact with
the Papuans. For Djalal Abdoh, the chief administrator of UNTEA, soon after his
arrival it was clear that things were threatening to slip between his fingers. Yet
he decided to make the best of it, not to spoil his future career by a complete
disaster. Towards his immediate superior in New York, the assistant secretary
general José Rolz-Bennett, he was quite frank about these difficulties, but in his
broader reports, written for the information of the General Assembly, he took care
to play these down as much as possible. That was especially the case in his final
report in May 1963. There he stated that UNTEA had been a success, and that it
had capably fulfilled its task of softening the transfer between the Dutch and the
Indonesian administrations..
That claim was not unjustified, but Abdoh kept silent on the fact that for the
Papuans his administration had been a period of loss of safety, welfare and
liberty, and of increasing disorientation. UNTEA had not guaranteed the human
rights it had signed up for. It is difficult however to see how this could have been
otherwise, given the mindset of the new occupational forces. It was to become
worse. The retreat of UNTEA in 1 May 1963 inaugurated a period of isolation.
Former Netherlands New Guinea now became the special Indonesian province
of Irian Barat, with a Papuan governor indeed, but effectively under full
Indonesian control. The leading officer of the local military command was the
most powerful man in the country, together with the civil representative of the
Jakarta administration. They set themselves to the task of training the Papuans
for a life within the guided democracy of Sukarno. From now on foreigners were
forbidden to enter the territory and information on internal affairs was in the
hands of the Indonesian officials and the government press agency Antara.
These tried to give a rosy picture of progress with expanding schools, a new
university and Indonesian officers working hard for the best for the Papuans.
Sometimes they met with success. When the Australian scholars Herbert Feith
and M.A. Jaspan visited the country in 1964 they gave a rather positive picture
that must have gladdened the heart of their Indonesian readers. For the rest,
more sober reports incidentally slipped out written by a few tradesmen,
journalists or diplomats. More realistic information also filtered out through
Australian intelligence, based upon reports of Papuan fugitives that had crossed
the borders. The Papuan leaders from the Dutch period, Nicolaas Jouwe and
Marcus Kaisiepo, who had sought refuge in the Netherlands, tapped from the
same types of sources. In their summaries they provided at least a more credible
picture of what was happening. They asked for attention for the increasing
Papuan resistance and the outright revolts in Manokwari in 1965 and following
years that were countered with strong violence by Indonesian troops and the
airforce. The number of victims now increased steeply and had to be counted by
the thousands. However, it did not seriously damage the Indonesian position.
The most interested countries, Australia, the US and the Netherlands, free at last
from the long-continued conflict on west New Guinea, now completely focused
upon Indonesia, and the alarming reports could be set aside easily as
constituting a one sided picture. The UN officials closed their eyes too. When the
UN assistant secretary general Rolz-Bennett visited the country in 1965, he
determinedly evaded all contact with prominent Papuans. He deliberately refused
to accept a compilation of information they had prepared for him by the former
member of the New Guinea Council, Baldus Mofu, that in the end had to be
smuggled to New York through the back door. Upon his return Rolz-Bennett
simply told his colleagues that he had not met any problems in the country, and
he showed himself rather enthusiastic about the fact that the Indonesian leaders
Subandrio and Sukarno had reserved an hour or so for some shop talk with him
whilst they were on the point of departing for a visit to China. Not all hope for a
future Act of Free Choice had to be given up; this was his conclusion. That
however was not what Sukarno had in mind. Shortly afterwards he decided to
withdraw from the United Nations, and he did not overlook that the Act of Free
Choice could now be removed from the agenda as well.
That changed in the last months of 1965 when, in Indonesia, the era of Sukarno
came to an end and a new administration took over under the leadership of
General Suharto. His rise to power was accompanied with a great show of
political violence against small Javanese and Balinese farmers which disquieted
the world. Yet, by the leaders of the Western bloc he was regarded as the best
safeguard against the rising star of communism in Asia, and they were eager to
support him. Suharto needed their help to restore the Indonesian economy which
had fallen into disarray during the long years of the Sukarno administration, but it was clear to all concerned that the new government had to show a token of
goodwill and respect for the international order if such help was to be
forthcoming. Here the impending Act of Free Choice offered a good chance for
Suharto to distance himself from the preceding administration. It was in this
mood that his foreign minister Adam Malik visited the province of Papua in the
middle of 1966, accompanied by a large group of journalists. They were
approached from all sides by discontented Papuans who hastened to inform
them of the disastrous situation they were living in. Amazingly, Malik took care to
listen to them. In his speeches he delivered fierce attacks on the
maladministration and plunder of the territory by the Javanese officials and
military, that is to say the same people that welcomed him to Papua. The latter
were flabbergasted by this approach, unheard of for an Indonesian minister.
They had no other option than to accept it for a while, but after his departure not
much changed. Some shifts took place in the top echelons, but essentially things
remained as they were. Indonesian attitudes hardened again with the coming of
the Act of Free Choice. The initial steps were taken in the middle of 1968 with the
appointment of the Bolivian diplomat Fernando Ortiz Sanz as representative of the secretary general to monitor the event that had to take place in the following
year. Suharto declared himself willing to organise the Act of Free Choice, but at
the same time he made perfectly clear that he would accept no other outcome
than one in favour of Indonesia. In Papua itself attempts were made by the
inhabitants to organise a campaign of their own. Much depended on what
support they would get from the United Nations and the world at large in the
months to come.
The term of service of Ortiz Sanz was in many respects a repetition of the one of
Djalal Abdoh. His first task was to get informed about the situation in West Papua
by reading the files available at UN headquarters in New York. There he was
visited by Nicolaas Jouwe and Marcus Kaisiepo, who provided him with much
local information. There is abundant evidence that Ortiz Sanz appreciated this,
and it must have dawned on him that his was no easy task. The path he had to
travel was full of pitfalls. Moreover he had only a small staff at his disposal of at
best a dozen officials because the Indonesians, who had to pay for half of the
costs, stressed that they did not have the means to finance a big show. The
Dutch, who had to contribute the other half, hardly protested. So it was clear from
the outset that the representative of the UN would become dependent upon
Indonesia for all practical matters. Yet that did not prevent him from leaving for
Jakarta in August 1968 in high spirits, recounting at the State Department that he
wanted to be sure that free elections were held. “He would rather resign than be
directing a farce”. These statements shocked the US diplomats, who felt that
such ideas would give rise to an outright confrontation with the Indonesians.
His first meetings with the Indonesian top leadership were rather uneasy indeed,
and his relations with his Indonesian counterpart, Sudjarwo Tjondronegoro, were
strained right from the start. Sudjarwo, a senior diplomat who had participated in
the negotiations preceding the New York Agreement and had been the first
Indonesian ambassador in The Hague after the resumption of diplomatic
relations with the Netherlands, was a man not to be underestimated. He was fully
a master of his trade and in his future contacts with Ortiz Sanz he saw fit to build
the traps needed to make his opponent stumble whenever he wished him to.
Adam Malik could have made no better choice.
Of course this is not the place to enter into the details of the Act of Free Choice,
but I will discuss a few essentials at least. For the satisfactory fulfilment of his
task it was important for Ortiz Sanz to be able to inform the UN headquarters that
the ‘plebiscite’ had been carried out in conformity with the New York Agreement,
that is to say, without compulsion and with methods compatible with international
practice. Yet, he definitely was not the sole judge of these things. He had to
reckon with Sudjarwo, who took every opportunity to remind him of the fact that
according to the terms of the agreement the carrying out of the Act of Free
Choice was exclusively an Indonesian affair, and that the task of the UN
representative was merely to ‘advise, observe and participate’ in the making and
carrying out of any arrangements. Seen against the background of this history,
Sanz’ was an impossible task, and after his arrival things did not get better.
Although by then a revolt in Manokwari was just being brought to an end, there
was a good chance that new ones would flare up. The Papuans were in high
spirits and craving action. For them, it was now or never, and they were fully
aware of that. Yet, the Indonesians were on the alert too. To counter unwanted
events fresh troops were brought in, with the result that at the height of the
operation some 16,000 troops were at the disposal of the army commander,
Sarwo Edhie. This officer was a trusted friend of president Suharto and during
earlier operations in Java and in Aceh he had earned himself a reputation of
being a ruthless soldier. The police forces too were present in full strength, ready
to take action at the first sign of revolt.
Taken as a whole, the Indonesian civil and military authorities handled the
security side of the Act of Free Choice very effectively in terms of their own
interest. Care was taken to spread out the activities over many places to limit the
danger of a mass uprising in Jayapura. Nevertheless, such a thing was
threatened at the time of the arrival at the airport of Jayapura around 11 April
1969 of the Indonesian top officials who had to manage the forthcoming event.
Large groups of Papuans flocked together to demonstrate for free elections on
the basis of one man, one vote. This was countered immediately and at least a
hundred of the ringleaders were carried off in army trucks. New demonstrations
took place a few days later in front of the residency of Ortiz Sanz in Jayapura,
which he could not have failed to see. The most amazing thing is that he acted
as if he had seen nothing at all and did not report on it to New York. More
detailed information had to come from staff members of the delegation.
An explanation for this curious behaviour might be that these events took place
at a time when the representative of the United Nations had already lost the first
battles and that by then, as Abdoh before him, he had opted for a policy of
looking away, just so as not to have to relate unsavoury stories in his report at a
later stage which might endanger not only the reputation of the United Nations,
but that of himself too. This event did not stand alone. During his first tours
through New Guinea in the last months of 1968 he was enthusiastically
welcomed by many Papuans who felt that their days of sorrow were over at last.
From all sides he was approached by individuals and committees who handed
over letters in which they explained their miseries in abundant detail and spoke
out in favour of a plebiscite on the basis of ‘one man, one vote’, stressing that
they wanted to be set free from Indonesia right now. Ortiz Sanz had carefully
bundled these and sent them to New York. He also handed them over to
Sudjarwo for a reaction. That came soon enough, but it was not the one he might
have hoped for. Sudjarwo felt insulted to the highest degree and made no secret
of it. From then on he began to denounce his UN colleague as a silly person who
had no idea about what kind of a world he was living in. As a check to the
impression created the Indonesians now started an anti-plebiscite campaign
again. As had happened before in the days of Djalal Abdoh, the UN
representative was confronted with pro-Indonesian petitions which emphasized
that the Papuans had already chosen Indonesian rule on 17 August 1945 and
had no need for an Act of Free Choice at all. These letters were mostly uniformly
worded, bearing all the marks of mass production. In the beginning Ortiz Sanz
protested and he made clear to New York that this paper flood was obviously the
result of Indonesian intervention. From February 1969 onwards he stopped
protesting and just reported that he had received letters pro and contra, but that
only those of the second category were neatly written. As Sudjarwo had
suggested to him before, he emphasized that these letters were written by
students and the more educated classes in general, which added to their
So with regard to the main points relevant for interpreting the Papuan mood and
the Indonesian law and order policies, Sanz’ reporting was changing in the first
months of 1969. He was taking refuge in the tactics applied by Abdoh before.
The confrontation with Papuan reality and his contacts with his Indonesian
counterparts must have taught him a lesson. More important still was that in
January Sudjarwo had informed the top UN officials in New York that their
representative was out of touch with reality and had to be instructed better. They
picked up the message indeed and returned it to their representative in the field,
though in more carefully worded terms. The gist of it was that while according to
the terms of the agreement the plebiscite had to be held according to
international practice, nevertheless one had to respect local customs too. In
Indonesia ‘musyawara’ was the system of consultation and therefore just as good
as any other approach. Further correspondence between Ortiz Sanz and his
superiors was marked by subtle bickering on the point of who should take the
blame for a less than perfect show. In the process, Ortiz Sanz played down his
democratic aspirations considerably by conceding that elections might not be
possible in all places, but could be carried out at least in the greater cities – as
had been done before in the elections under the Dutch for the New Guinea
Council. In discussions with his Indonesian partners he advised them to allow for
an outcome of 30 % or so against inclusion in Indonesia, which would be enough
to ensure an outcome in favour for Indonesia that at the same time would lend
some credibility to the suggestion that democratic methods had been upheld.
That favour was not given to him. The Indonesians manoeuvered for no less than
full control of the outcome.
The Act of Free Choice started on 15 July in Merauke and ended on 2 August
1969 with a meeting in Jayapura. The result left no room for surprise. It was
100% in favour of Indonesia. The voting was a decentralized affair, taking place
in eight district capitals spread out over the country. The voters had been
selected by regional committees and were appointed more often than not without
even knowing why. They had been brought together in their voting centres a
month before and carefully instructed what to do. It was made perfectly clear to
them that no other vote than one in favour of Indonesia would be accepted. Short
notes were distributed containing the words that were asked for. Journalists were
kept out as much as possible. Along these lines the voting took place under the
eyes of Ortiz Sanz and a limited group of foreign diplomats who had accepted
the invitation to be present at the operation. Direct contacts between the UN staff
and individual Papuan voters were effectively prevented. The visiting party was
marched straight in from the airfield to the voting place. Their only task was to
wait and see. Actually, then and before, the UN had played no role in the process
at all. The Indonesians had proceeded just as they wished, telling Ortiz Sanz that
the term ‘to participate’ as laid down in the New York Agreement had no other
meaning than ‘to be present’. So in a sense Ortiz Sanz got what he wanted. He
was not ‘directing’ a farce or anything else, indeed; his role was much less
conspicuous. He was tolerated on the sidelines only.
When the voting was nearly done the diplomats returned to Jakarta where they
were called together at the embassy of the United States. There they felt free to
speak openly between themselves. The most outspoken of the lot was the senior
diplomat Phinit Akson, the ambasador of Thailand. His comment was bitter. The
military had their nose in everything, he said, and people who might be expected
to sound a deviant note were forced to speak under the military’s watchful eye.

Any sign of dignity, he said, had been utterly missing. The Dutch ambassador
Scheltema tried to touch a lighter string by remarking that in Wamena at least
one of the voters had expressed the hope that the government would work with
the people for change in the future. However, ‘if he were to be honest’, he could
not easily say anything else of a positive nature in his report to the Netherlands
parliament. His way out was to limit himself to saying what he had wanted to see
himself, leaving out all he knew from different sources. Ortiz Sanz did the same
in his report to the United Nations. His report was an avalanche of irrelevant
details from which he saw fit to draw the conclusion that in Papua an act of Free
Choice had been held, not bothering himself with the question of what it actually
meant. The General Assembly of the United Nations did the same. As mentioned
before, it only took note of the event, which, after all, was the only thing it had
been asked to do.
With this sordid Act of Free Choice the future of the Papuans was settled till the
present day. For them it was the end of an illusion and the Indonesian
administration continued as it had started in 1962. Many of the elements
mentioned in this chapter are still relevant for life in Papua today. Even now it is
still a territory with a strong military presence, much mismanagement and very
limited possibilities for the Papuans to develop and to have their voice heard.
The dogma of 17 August still holds. Sure, things have changed somewhat during
the last decade. More leeway has been given to them indeed, but not to the point
that they can feel like normal human beings, having a real say on their own
future. For Papuans, the options they see open to them still seem to waver
between direct confrontation with Indonesia – a dangerous course which puts the
scant possibilities for progress and even physical survival of the population at risk
– and cooperation with Indonesia in one way or another. These certainly are the
options that have to be discussed , So these are my thoughts, but I have something else to say. In June 2000, when all was fluid in Indonesia and everything seemed possible, in Jayapura thousands of Papuans came together for a Second National Congress.

There they voted for a couple of resolutions that were to embody the leading principles for the times to come. One of these was Menelurusi Sejarah, the putting straight of history. It was a way of saying that history had gone wrong in 1962 and
consequently had to be replayed from then on. Apparently it included a reenactement of the Act of Free Choice, but this time as a real plebiscite. One of
those present was Viktor Kaisiepo, son of the leader Marcus Kaisiepo, who had
been one the outstanding Papua representatives of the Dutch period. They had
all lived in exile since 1962. Marcus senior, in the year 2000, was still alive in the
city of Delft, and had forbidden his sons to go back to Papua as long as the
Indonesians were in power there. Viktor however had come to think otherwise.
During the preceding years he had been active in many NGOs and the Russell
Tribunal. His work was appreciated by the new Papuan leadership that presented
itself in the spring of 2000, and he was invited to participate in their Second
National Congress. There he told his audience that Papuans were not the only
isolated minorities in a changing world, and that they had much to gain by
international cooperation. His presentation made a great impact on his audience,
and he was invited to join the presidium as their agent for international affairs. He did so over the following decade with enthusiasm and conviction. His position as a formal representative of the Papuan world added to his authority in the
corridors of the United Nations. There his most cherished project was to work for
acceptance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which he
regarded as the best thing that could happen to the Papuans. The position of
indigenous peoples was recognised by the international community, including the
Indonesian state, as one within the jurisdiction of international law. Apart from
that, for the Papuans there were still other assets to be utilised. These included
the fact that the presidents Habibie, Abdurrahman Wahid and Yudhoyono had
repeatedly recognised that the problems of Papua had to be taken seriously. It
was now the task of the Papuan leadership to keep the Indonesians to these
commitments, especially in the case of special autonomy. After all, it was a
formal regulation of the Indonesian state, ready at hand not only in internal
politics but for international discussion as well.
Of course it was clear to Viktor that Indonesia would not give in easily, especially
when so many Papuans at home and abroad stuck to a practice of small scale
demonstrations, flag waving processions and demands for ‘one man, one vote’
immediately. For him, and I think for many others too, the first thing to do now
was to work for the survival of the Papuans, and to prepare for a better life for the
upcoming generations. Of course this must include the formulation and
implementation of political rights. Yet, for the first decades at least one has to
stick to attainable policies and not burden the agenda with demands that have no
relevance for the present day except to throw a spanner in the works of a better


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s