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ETAN Calls for UN Review of Papua Act of "Free Choice"

13 November 2002

The Honorable Kofi Annan 
United Nations 
UN Plaza 
New York, NY 10017 
fax: (212) 963-4879

Dear Secretary-General:

We are writing to request a thorough review of the UN’s conduct in relation to the 1968-1969 Act of Free Choice in Irian Jaya/Papua. This is a matter of grave and pressing importance to the people of Papua. Such an inquiry will contribute to peace and security in Papua.

As you know, the Indonesian authorities conducted this so-called Act of Free Choice in West New Guinea (West Irian, later Irian Jaya, and now Papua) to determine the future status of the territory. The Act consisted of the convening of a total of 1,022 persons in eight councils. Meeting under intense pressure from the Indonesian authorities to adopt a decision favoring the territory’s incorporation into the Republic of Indonesia, they came to a unanimous decision in support of integration. This decision was later confirmed in a resolution of the UN General Assembly on November 19, 1969, which merely “took note of” the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. Thereafter, the issue of Irian Jaya/Papua was removed from the agenda of the United Nations.

During the past 32 years, Papuans and NGOs around the world have made many attempts to draw attention to the fraudulent nature of this Act. After the fall of President Suharto in May 1998, the issue was raised with renewed vigor in Papua and has become the basic theme of protests, leading in a number of cases to violent clampdowns by the security forces and acts of violence with many casualties.

Events in Papua over the past three years have shown that the people’s deep sense of betrayal and injustice, done with the apparent acquiescence of the UN, continue to be a source of continual unrest. The matter cannot be allowed to rest, particularly as the people of Papua have also seen how a popular consultation, properly conducted by the UN in East Timor in August 1999, had a quite different and easily predictable result. This only adds to their sense of betrayal.

Mr. Chakravarthy Narasimhan, the Under Secretary General closely involved in overseeing the work of the UN mission in Papua at the time of the Act, last November confirmed that the Act “was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible. Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who had their fundamental rights trampled on…Suharto was a terrible dictator. How could anyone have seriously believed that all voters unanimously decided to join his regime. Unanimity like that is unknown in democracies.”

Former UN Under Secretary General Brian Urquhart was also quoted in the same press report saying, “It wasn't our most glorious hour.”

Two member states of the UN, Nauru and Vanuatu, spoke out at the UN General Assembly in 2000 in favor of reconsideration of the Act, and the matter was also raised the same year at the annual meeting of the South Pacific Forum.

The fraudulence of the Act has been a constant source of unrest in Papua. In June 2000, a widely supported Grand Papuan Congress was held in Jayapura and set up a body called the Papuan Presidium Council. One of this organization’s main demands is for the history of Papua to be “rectified,” meaning that the events surrounding the Act should be reconsidered. Since the Council was established, there have been numerous acts of protest, aimed primarily at affirming Papua’s identity and often taking the form of raising the Papuan flag.

Countless acts of violence against the Council and its members in many parts of the territory reached a climax on November 10/11 last year with the abduction and assassination of the chairperson of the Council, the highly-respected tribal leader Theys Hiyo Eluay. There is deep disquiet in Papua about the fact that the murder investigations have been placed in the hands of the military, the very force that many people fear may have been responsible for the crime.

In recent years, researcher Dr. John Saltford has undertaken a careful investigation of the UN’s behavior before and during the Act when it had the task of advising and assisting the Indonesians in the conduct of the Act. Given access to previously classified documents at the Secretariat in New York, Dr. Saltford drew attention to an alarming list of decisions demonstrating UN collusion with the Indonesian authorities in their efforts to secure a unanimous declaration in the territory.

We thank you for your serious consideration of our request and look forward to your response.


Karen Orenstein 
Washington Coordinator 
East Timor Action Network

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