ETAN Calls for UN Review of Papua Act of "Free Choice"
13 November 2002
The Honorable Kofi Annan
New York, NY 10017
fax: (212) 963-4879
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
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.
East Timor Action Network