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International Court of Justice should be asked to rule on West Papuan sovereignty

By Andrew Johnson - posted Monday, 25 October 2010

A video of Malay Indonesians torturing people in West Papua has surfaced this week. A few months ago another video showed Indonesian troops taunting Yawan Wayeni as he died from having his belly sliced open. A Human Rights Commission has recently reported Airport security killed and shot two others on 4 October 2010 when they asked for the return of their money which the officers had seized that morning. The Indonesian Police did not arrest the airport security, but did arrest some of the surviving Papuan victims. And last month BRIMOB officers shot Reverend Kuan and his family killing the Reverend and his son.

These things would be typical in a colony under a brutal military; but this is West Papua under the rule of General Yudhoyono the smiling President. Indonesia and Australia will again say these are "domestic" matters, but are they?

If Australia wishes to train the Indonesian militia who are complicit in torturing people inside Indonesia, those are domestic matters for Australia and Indonesia. but if West Papua is a colony, then it is an international matter for the UN General Assembly.


Geographically West Papua is part of the Australian continent which our indigenous people settled tens of thousands of years ago, but in 1962 Washington forced the Netherlands to trade the people of West Papua without their consent to Indonesian rule. To quote the US Department of State records they believed "annexation by Indonesia would simply trade white for brown colonialism", and that the "underlying reason that the Kennedy administration pressed the Netherlands to accept this agreement was that it believed that Cold War considerations of preventing Indonesia from going Communist overrode the Dutch case."

It is not legal to sell people. It is not legal to trade a colony of people. But it was the Cold-war and the US was in fear of the Soviet Union. Kennedy did not know about the Papuan Gold & Copper which had been secretly discovered and concealed from the Dutch government since 1936. Kennedy did not know that the Freeport corporation wanted the world's largest gold mine, Grasberg. So Kennedy accepted the advice of Freeport director Robert Lovett to appoint Lovett's friend McGeorge Bundy as the US National Security Adviser; and it was Bundy who directed the NSC to lobby Kennedy for the trade in human beings.

Four weeks after the death of UN General Secretary Dag Hammarskjold, the recently elected New Guinea Council heard of the US plan to have them traded via the UN to Indonesian rule and that night the Council urgently wrote its manifesto, designed symbols of nationhood including their Morning Star flag, and declared their nation would be known as "West Papua". The Dutch Governor congratulated the Council and the Dutch raised the Morning Star flag on the 1st December 1961.

Under his brother's instructions, Robert Kennedy wrote the New York Agreement so as to involve the United Nations as a passive observer unable to influence Indonesian colonisation if that was the Indonesian wish. And the new temporary Secretary General U Thant wanting to accept a US offer to sponsor a $200m UN bond scheme, irrespective of his obligations as UN Secretary General, forwarded an agenda item to the General Assembly which became UN General Assembly Resolution 1752 (XVII).

Resolution 1752 (XVII) implements only one action, "Authorizes the Secretary-General" to sign into being the New York Agreement trading West Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia. The UN became the colonial administrator from October 1962 until it gave the administration to Indonesia in May 1963, and Indonesia in September 1963 declared West Papua was a "quarantined zone" requiring foreigners to have special permission for entry. For 48 years UN members including Australia have ignored reports of colonial abuse in West Papua rather than admit they made a mistake by allowing UN General Assembly Resolution 1752 (XVII).

Even after the US Department of State in 1995 admitted the motive, "The underlying reason that the Kennedy administration pressed the Netherlands to accept this agreement was that it believed that Cold War considerations of preventing Indonesia from going Communist overrode the Dutch case."


The United Nations is silent because in 1969 it sanctioned today's colonial rule and other human rights abuses in West Papua: it did this in UN General Assembly Resolution 2504 (XXIV). The UN distanced itself from the Indonesian actions with the words "arrangements for the act of free choice were the responsibility of Indonesia", the United Nations did not say the "act of free choice" was a referendum or was self-determination, and the United Nations did not say who had West Papua's sovereignty.

The people of West Papua have never granted their sovereignty to Indonesia. For 48 years our governments have put their ego ahead of regional & global interests. The Australian and Indonesian governments know their support of Resolution 1752 (XVII) was in violation of the UN charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and UN Resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV).

The only question now is, should Australia sponsor a motion at the UN General Assembly asking the members to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give its independent opinion on the sovereignty of West Papua?

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About the Author

Andrew Johnson is a human rights advocate for West Papua. He has been researching West Papua's history and those exploiting it for the last several years.

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West Papua Information Kit

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