The realities behind the 1969 “referendum”
On 15th August 1962, the Netherlands, then colonizer of the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Dutch New Guinea (West Papua), entered into an agreement with the newly-liberated nation of Indonesia to set forth the terms of the transfer of administration over West Papua. This agreement, overseen by the US, is called the New York Agreement.
While Indonesia’s move to include West Papua in its independent state had supposedly anti-imperialist intent, the Sukarno administration failed to recognize the West Papuans’ right to self-determination. The former succeeded the Dutch as a colonizing force that trampled on the people’s economic, political, and cultural rights.
The new Indonesian state sought to legitimize its hold on West Papua through a referendum, the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” (PEPERA). The voting process was marked by heavy manipulation, deception, and coercion. Worse, the historical revisionism continues at present as the following administrations constantly used the bogus 1969 “referendum” to justify its territorial control over West Papua.
The realities of the present occupation
The anniversary of the New York Agreement is only a few days apart from the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. It is timely to again raise the question of self-determination in West Papua – a long-standing demand by the nation’s Indigenous Peoples and the same right that has been violated in this New York Agreement which purposely left out the West Papuans.
In a few days, Indonesia will also be celebrating its Independence Day. Two years ago, Papuan youth were harassed and assaulted by state forces on false accusations of disrespecting the Indonesian red and white flag. Weeks of massive protests followed to denounce the racism and decades of abuse under Indonesian occupation. These protests were met with even more violence from the Indonesian police and military. Activists and prominent leaders of the people’s movement were criminalized and put behind bars on charges of treason. Even Indonesians supportive of the West Papuan cause are hunted down and vilified.
One of the most recent arrests is that of Komite Nasional Papua Barat international spokesperson Victor Yeimo who is to be tried in court in a week’s time despite deteriorating health while under detention.
More than 50 years since the annexation of West Papua to Indonesia, the root of the conflict remains unaddressed by the Indonesian Government and by the UN itself which supposedly facilitated the entire process of transfer of administration in the 60s – from the agreement to the referendum.
Unite to win West Papua’s self-determination!
For this year’s IP Day, the UN called for a new social contract that will serve the interest of the Indigenous Peoples. With this, we pose the challenge to the member states of the UN to not turn a blind eye on the plight of West Papua’s and to be active in exacting accountability from all parties that have contributed to the ongoing genocide. We also reiterate the call for a UN High Commissioner on Human Rights visit to West Papua and the immediate release of all Papuan political prisoners.
The Indonesian Government has much to say on the concept of self-determination, especially for West Papua, but these are narratives from the perspective of a fascist state wrestling to maintain power over a resisting nation. Be it Palestine, Kanaky, Bougainville, or West Papua, the right to self-determination belongs only to the oppressed peoples, and the choice to determine their fate as a people and nation ultimately lies with the latter.
To our fellow human rights advocates, we must listen to the voices on the ground and stand against all forms of historical revisionism. Moreover, Indigenous Peoples must not only unite among themselves but also with their non-Indigenous counterparts who also experience oppression under the same colonial and fascist state. This unity and solidarity is needed in order to win West Papua’s struggle for self-determination and its people’s liberation.