Decolonisation in the Pacific- the case for West Papua

At a recent event organised by the United Nations Assoc.
NZ (Canterbury) in association with Canterbury University
& West Papua Action Canterbury, the plight of the
indigenous peoples of West Papua was the subject of a
Presentation and Forum Panel at the University of Canterbury.

The first of the three Presenters, Matt Stent, delivered
a detailed account of his research into the history of
the conflict between the Dutch, the original colonisers, the
Indonesians who claim the terrority today and the indigenous
peoples of West Papua who are engaged in a struggle,
for self determination.

The Indonesian Republic was formed in 1949 from the former Dutch colonies of the East Indies, but excluding Netherlands New Guinea. The Dutch authorities began preparing the people for independence throughout the 1950’s and in 1961 they established the West New Guinea Council and submitted a plan to the United Nations proposing the relinquishing of Dutch sovereignty with a United Nations administration to assume control. It failed to gain support.

Notwithstanding, the Council pressed ahead by choosing
the name ‘West Papua’ for their land and on 1 December
that year, first raised the Morning Star flag and declared
independence. For political reasons the US Government in
1962 convinced the Dutch and Indonesian Governments
to sign ‘the New York Agreement’ which ceded the territory
to a United Nations Trust Executive until 1963 when the
Indonesian authorities assumed administrative control on
behalf of the U.N. This had the proviso that all adult Papuans
be given the opportunity to decide their future either to
remain as part of Indonesia or to sever their ties and seek
self determination. In July and August of 1969, after six
years of repression the Indonesian authorities arbitarily selected
1026 Papuans from a total of I million to participate
in this decision. This ‘Act of Free Choice’ allowed the Papuan
people neither freedom nor choice. Under a regime
of brutality, coercion and death threats the result was a
foregone conclusion. Since then it has been estimated that
500,000 lives have been lost, and in an effort to subdue
opposition, the Indonesian authorities have introduced policies
of mass Indonesian migration and slow motion genocide.

Kerry R Wendanak a West Papuan Masters Student,
spoke of the present history of his native land and outlined
the continual persecution of his people with programmes
of forced sterilisation, mass transmigration policies and
slow motion genocide. The COVID-19 virus remains a
challenge, as 33 locals have succumbed to the virus to
date, with 3,087 others hospitalised.

Dr Emalani Case, Hawaian activist & Professsor of Victoria
University broadened the topic by outlining present day
colonisation in the Pacific and the part New Zealand plays
in its tacit support of the Indonesian Government. She
maintained that the participation of the New Zealand military,
together with nine other countries in the bi-annual
War Games conducted by RIMPAC in Hawaii, is a concern
with the Pacific Community. Their increasing solidarity
against the continuance of the exercises raises hope for
the future. She concludes, ‘ A Radical Hope, we must
have even when we have no answers’