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Now East Timor, Next West Papua

Article by Otto Ondawame, OPM
15 September 1999


By Otto Ondawame

East Timorese's unanimous vote for independence is the beginning of the road to freedom for indonesia's "colonies." The events of 30 August 1999 will undoubtedly inspire others struggling to disentangle themselves from the indonesian regime, in particular west papua (the western half of the island of new guinea which the indonesians call irian jaya). I know there are some who would prefer to call West Papua a "territory" rather than a "colony." But, whatever the semantics, one thing is obvious; Indonesia's annexation of West Papua in 1962 will increasingly be scrutinised by the international community in the near future.

It is also conspicuous that regardless of what Iakarta and the international community says, the balkanisastion of the Indonesian archipelago seems inevitable. The reasons are obvious. In many ways the nation-state of Indonesia is an artificial construction of the post world war era. Secondly, because of the oppression, exploitation and genocide propagated by a Javanese-dominated centralised power structure, civil society is bound to react. In a way, in the last fifty years, the Indonesian state has been digging its own grave.

On the issue of independence, despite the indifference of the international community, West Papua has always resisted against Indonesian rule. Unfortunately our struggle has been long ignored by the rest of the world because it serves their political, strategic and economic interest to do so. Indeed the people of West Papua have been victims of international political conspiracy dictated by the cold war era. Australia, the USA and their Western allies denied West Papuans' right of self-determination and independence because of their attempts to prevent the spread of communism through Indonesia and to Australia and the Pacific Islands. Consequently, West Papuans had to pay the price for the interests of Western countries. The underlying interests of these countries have been exposed in sbs's Date lLne program on 26 August 1999.

Because of pressures from Western countries (especially Australia and the USA) and with the knowledge of the United Nations, the Dutch government - the former colonial power in West Papua - was forced to transfer West Papua to Indonesia. This was made official by the New York Agreement of 15 August 1962, signed by the Dutch and the Indonesians and blessed by the USA and the UN. Six years later, West Papua's annexation was completed by the administration of the Act of Free Choice of 1969 - musyawarah (consultation) as it is referred to by the Indonesians. For West Papuans this was an act "free of choice" and a mockery of internationally accepted norms. Only 1,025 Indonesian-appointed "representatives" voted on behalf of a population of more than 800,000 Papuans. Administered under gun point, the participants in the act of free choice voted to be a part of Indonesia. Through this process West Papuans were denied their right to have one-person-one-vote as accepted by international practices. In effect, there was never a proper referendum to allow West Papuans to choose their political status.

But, despite the fact that the international community knew that musyawarah - a Javanese village tradition for consultation, not a referendum - was unlawful and violated the people's right to have one-person-one vote, they endorsed it because it served their political interests. Hence, the people of West Papua were never given the opportunity to vote for independence. Instead they were merely "consulted" about their integration with Indonesia. This means that the international community contributed to West Papua's forceful integration with Indonesia. This for West Papuans was the beginning of a new era of colonialism.

In today's world, colonialism, as a political tool, is out of place. East Timor has proven that in spite of Jakarta and the global community's propaganda, the struggle against Indonesian colonialism will end in victory for the colonised. East Timor's independence brings to an end one of the most painful, oppressive and exploitative colonial legacies of our region. Jakarta is defeated by the people at the ballot box. East Timorese in voting for independence have confirmed what the world has always known, but chosen to deny.

Now that you have seen east timor through the ballot box, give us, the people of West Papua, the same opportunity to determine our political status - a right denied to us in the 1960s. We want to be a people free from Indonesia's colonial grasp and enjoy peace, democracy, freedom and social progress. Our questions have to be answered: what can the international community, especially western countries, do to set right the wrongs done during the cold war era?; Has the political and strategic interests of the cold war now overtaken by economic interests manifested in western multinational companies' exploitation of our natural resources? Are we, as a people, of less importance to you than our minerals and forests? Is there any morality in today's globalised world? Are the lives of black Papuans of less value than that of white Europeans?

Answers to these questions are indeed not simple. The simple truth, however, is that the governments of Australia, the USA, Holland, and the UN have a moral responsibility to end the colonial subjugation of West Papua. They owe that to us. It is an issue they cannot continue to side step, ignore and pretend they did not have anything to do with it. We have been victims of a political pawn by the international community in the 1960s. That same international community has a responsibility to assist us. Canberra and its allies must apologise to the people of West Papua for the past mistakes and take moral accountability for their future.

Australia's commitment to bring peace and order to east timor is a good beginning. There is more to come. As a powerful member of the region, and torn between the South Pacific and Southeast Asia, Australia will not escape the obligations to bring peace to the region. It is in Australia's interest to do so. Dotted along its strategic buffer line are the issues of Guadalcanal in the Solomon islands, Bougainville in PNG, West Papua and East Timor. West Papua is equally important and will soon become a torn on Australia's side if it is not addressed quickly. It is an issue Canberra cannot afford to ignore. As Michelle Gratin wrote in the sydney morning herald of 14 september 1999, "Australia may be faced in a few years with questions of what attitude it should adopt to an East Timor situation in Irian Jaya." (refers to West Papua). The people of Australia must realise that Canberra has a moral obligation to help end Indonesian colonialism in West Papua. Today its East Timor, tomorrow it will be West Papua.

If the West Papuan cause and that of other colonised peoples in Indonesia are ignored, there will be serious strategic, political and economic problems for Australia in the near future. Australia and international community must recognise that the presences of Indonesia and the role of its armed forces in the region will be a cause for instability. It is therefore pertinent that the international community finds a mechanism to end Indonesian colonialism.

We, the people of West Papua, will not sit and watch. We will continue to fight against Indonesian colonialism. We will continue to struggle for our rights to determine our future and to be respected. For the best interest of all of us, Australia must respond now. Not tomorrow. We do not want to repeat in West Papua what occurred in east timor in the post referendum period.

Concerned with the escalation of conflict and violence in West Papua, i call the governments of Australia, the USA, the Dutch and the UN to pressure the Habibie government into starting a peaceful dialogue, organising referendum on special autonomy or independence for West Papua under the supervision of the un. Such a process must use a formula that satisfies the conflicting parties. Jakarta must also allow international independent humanitarian organisations, journalists and un observers into West Papua. Trade and military ties and assistance to indonesia must be stopped. Indonesian troops must also be withdrawn from West Papua. Members of the South Pacific Forum must address the issue of West Papua. And, most importantly, initiate to reopen the legal and political discussions on the act of free choice of 1969. The stability, security and progress of the region cannot be guaranteed unless these issues are dealt with.


AUTHOR NOTE: Otto Ondawame is International Spokesperson for the OPM who has been living in exile overseas for last twenty-two years. In 1978 he was given political asylum in Sweden because of his role in the Organisasi Papua Merdeka's (OPM)/Free Papua Movement. He is currently doing Ph-D studies at the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies in Canberra.

Contact Address: 61.2.625 705 87/62490181, fax :61.2.6249 5523,

Distributed by:

TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign
111 Northwood Road, Thornton Heath,
Surrey CR7 8HW, UK
Phone: 0181 771-2904 Fax: 0181 653-0322
Campaigning to expose human rights violations in
Indonesia, East Timor, West Papua and Aceh
25 years - and still going strong


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