A short introduction to the current struggle of West Papua for improved self-determination and an end to human rights violations

The following is an excerpt from the formal legal complaint, submitted to the UN, June 2016. You may read or download the formal complaint in its entirety here.

In February 1961, the Netherlands managed to organize elections for the West New Guinea Council, a representative body intended to encourage the establishment of a Papuan political elite that would eventually govern the region following the inevitable Dutch withdrawal.

When the council was officially installed on 5 April 1961, ‘representatives of the governments of England, France, Australia, and the Netherlands, as well as the governor of Australian New Guinea, were in attendance’. With this self-governing body in place, the Dutch government formally proposed the so-called Luns Plan to the General Assembly. The plan called for the termination of Dutch sovereignty followed by an interim UN administration that would, among other things, organize a plebiscite to determine the territory’s final status.

On 19 October 1961, ‘a date that would resonate 50 years later, an emergency meeting of 72 members of the Papuan legislature was called and a national committee elected’. On 1 December 1961, the Dutch government acknowledged Papuan demands for an independent state and the Papuan symbols of nationalism were formally unveiled. […] The name Papua Barat (West Papua) was agreed upon and the Morning Star was adopted as the national flag.

Although there was never an official declaration of independence, many Papuans believe this date marks the beginning of West Papua as an independent sovereign state. In response, the Indonesian government launched a military assault on West Papua, and the Indonesian and Dutch navies engaged each other off West Papuan shores. Sukarno, ‘in a bid to strengthen Indonesian unity, […] issued the Trikora commands for the liberation of West Irian’. mong other things, the new president vowed to ‘destroy the Dutch created Puppet State of West Papua’. He would make good on that promise in short order.

With outright war an imminent threat, US President John Kennedy took on the role of negotiating a peace accord between the Dutch and the Indonesians: The impasse was broken when the determination of the Indonesian government, the weariness of the Dutch, and the self-interest of international onlookers—notably the United States and Australia—led to what became known as the New York Agreement.

The agreement was brokered by the Kennedy administration and signed on 15 August 1962 by Indonesia and the Netherlands under the auspices of the United Nations, pursuant to the aims of the United Nations Charter. Under the New York Agreement, all parties—the United Nations, the Netherlands, and Indonesia—agreed to guarantee Papuan rights to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of movement in order to resolve West Papua’s political status […]. However, despite the existence of the West New Guinea Council, Papuans themselves were completely shut out of this international political process.

On 15 August 1962, the parties signed the Agreement Between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands Concerning West New Guinea (West Irian) (the ‘New York Agreement’).

Not a single West Papuan participated in the agreement. By its terms, the Netherlands was to transfer its authority to an interim administration, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (the ‘UNTEA’) on 1 October 1962, which would then hand over the territory to Indonesia on or after 1 May 1963.

The agreement further provided for a UN-supervised election—to take place sometime after the official hand-over—in order to allow Papuans to decide whether to remain a part of Indonesia. UNTEA took control of West Papua in October 1962. And, as scheduled, the transfer of authority took place on 1 May 1963. The former West New Guinea was now officially a province of Indonesia known as Irian Barat (West Irian). ‘From this date—1 May 1963—Indonesian nationalists felt that their mission to liberate West Irian was finally complete.’

The transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to Indonesia ‘occurred under highly contested circumstances that included widespread allegations of manipulation, intimidation, and human rights violations’.

And—the second—since that time, Papuans have been brutally dispossessed of their land, natural resources, and cultural heritage while simultaneously enduring a systematic government-sanctioned campaign of unspeakable depravity and brutality. ‘Conflict and violence continues to the present day in varying degrees of intensity. […] It is a conflict that many Papuans argue is threatening their very survival as a people.’

Political independence and recognition of basic rights

In spite of this, Papuans have continued to demand political independence and recognition of their basic rights. In October 2011, 20,000 people came from the seven regions of West Papua to Jayapura and participated in the Third Papuan People’s Congress. Forkorus Yaboisembut from Sentani, head of the West Papua National Authority (the ‘WPNA’), was named as president of the National Federal Republic of West Papua (Negara Republik Federal Papua Barat) (the ‘NRFPB’) and proclaimed its independence and sovereignty. On the final day of the conference, the Indonesian military staged a brutal raid:

[O]n October 19, police and military units violently dispersed participants in the Third Papua People’s Congress […]. Activists displayed banned separatist symbols and read out a Declaration of Independence for the ‘Republic of West Papua’ on the final day of the gathering. Police fired into the air and detained hundreds of persons, all but six of whom were released the following day. Three persons were found shot and killed in the area. Police spokesmen claimed that the police were equipped only with rubber bullets and other non-lethal ammunition. Police beat many of those detained, and dozens were injured.

Source: US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Country Reports on HumanRights Practices for 2011.

West Papuan People's Congress 3, after one hour Declaration Congress was attacked by Indonesian military and police forces Source:

For a more exhaustive history of our cause, we kindly refer you to the legal complaint submitted to the UN, which thoroughly details the varying human rights violations of the past 50 years, while also providing the necessary historical context.