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Peace Building in Papua



Land, People, and Historical Perspective
The Origins of the Papua Question
The Question of Indonesia in the Security Council
The Round Table Conference of 194: Leaving Papua Unresolved
Indonesia’s Quest for a Peaceful Solution
In Search of a Bilateral Solution
The Question of Papua in the UN General Assembly
The slogan of “self-determination”


General Background of Papua

Land, People, and Historical Perspective

Papua, which is located in New Guinea, the second largest island in the world after Greenland, constitutes almost a quarter of the entire landmass of the archipelago of Indonesia. It consists of tropical forests, swamplands and highlands, and is situated between 140 degrees east longitude in the north and 141 degrees east longitude in the south. This easternmost province of Indonesia borders the Moluccas islands and the chain of islands that form the East Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia

The records trace the Indonesian archipelago back to the period of the Kingdom of Sriwijaya in South Sumatra, which ruled over many parts of the archipelago from the 7th century. The Kingdom of Majapahit (1229-1521) ruled over East Java. During this period, Papua was called Djanggi. In all the records dating from that period onwards, Djanggi was a part of Indonesia, known as Nusantara. In a 1365 book by Prime Minister Gajah Mada on the history of Majapahit, Indonesia is recorded as having been divided into west and east. The eastern part included the present-day Papua.

In the 17th century, prior to the arrival of the Dutch, the Indonesian islands constituted a theatre of competition between two other colonial powers, Portugal and Spain. As a compromise, those two nations reached an agreement under which Indonesia was partitioned into two. The western half belonged to the Portuguese; and the eastern half, which included Papua, to the Spanish. Historically, the island of Papua was founded by a Portuguese sailor Don Jorge de Meneses and named it as Ilha de Papoia. Then another Spanish sailor Alvaro de Saavedra called the island as Isla del Oro. The Netherlands later named it as New Guinea.

In 1660 a treaty was concluded between the Tidore and Ternate, under the auspices of the Dutch East Indies Company, which stated that the Papuans, and all of their islands, belonged to the King of Tidore. The Dutch took no interest in New Guniea itself, and continued to support the claims of Tidore over Papua. This practice of indirect rule was also followed by the Dutch state, which took over the Dutch East Indies Company at the end of the eighteenth century. After unsuccessful attempts at setting a Netherlands administrative post in 1828, permanent posts were finally established at Fakfak and Manokwari in 1898.

The governing practices under the Dutch East Indies administration, before World War II, are also instructive. Papua and its people were included in the Province of the Moluccas, with the city of Ambon as the seat of the Governor. This province was sub-divided into two residencies, the residency of Ambon, to which belonged the southern part of Papua, and the residency of Ternate, to which belonged the northern part of Papua. This point is made clear in a 1931 map of the Government of the Netherlands, which shows that Dutch Territory extended from Sumatra in the west to Papua in the east. Thus Papua was never mentioned as being separate from the Netherlands East Indies. Consequently, it is also a part of Indonesia.

While the province is home to more than 250 different languages, Papua is also sparsely populated. However, so distinct were their languages that for a long time they could barely communicate among themselves. Some scientists conclude that those languages belong to the same group (the Austronesian group) as the language spoken in other parts of Indonesia. They have, among other points of similarity, the same prefixes, suffixes, and numbers. As a result, the use of “Bahasa Indonesia” as their lingua franca evolved naturally.

The present population of Papua is approximately 2.3 million people, dispersed in widely-scattered small groups in terrains that are sometimes barely accessible. To mention a few Amberbokem, Amungme, Arfak, Asmat, Ausyu, Dani, Ekari, Karabra, Kebar, Mey Brat, Moi, Nimboran, Sarmi, Segel, Sentani, Tobati, Waropen, and Yali.

It is obviously that the history of Papua is closely related to that of the rest of Indonesia; it formed an integral part of the territory of Indonesia and was not just a construct or invention of any colonial power. Indonesia itself consists of a large number of different ethnic groups of which Papuans are only one. This diversity is reinforced by a number of official statements. As stated by a representative of the Netherlands before the Security Council in 1948:

“The population of Indonesia consists of about 17 main ethnical and linguistic groups which, in their turn, contain a still greater number of sub-groups. The unity of Indonesia is a product of common Netherlands sovereignty … Common existence under the Netherlands Crown has created a sense of nationality and the will towards an Indonesian state.”

In addition, a Dutch report to the United Nations in 1949 stated that:

“Racially, the indigenous peoples may be broadly divided into Malays in the West and Papuans in the east. As these races have a considerably extent intermixed, they are not separated by clearly defined boundaries.”

Thus, it is apparent that the Papuans do not constitute a homogenous group. Even if they were, racial homogeneity cannot be used to define political unity because the proposition that different races should not live together in one state defies normal human relationships, as we know them

The general history of Papua confirms its inseparable historical context within that of the nation of Indonesia. It is important for commentators and historians to understand the evolution of the peoples of the archipelago as a basis for a fuller and firmer understanding of the dispute that arose between Indonesia and the Netherlands.

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The Origins of the Papua Question



The Dutch, determined to seize advantage of the retreating Japanese at the end of World War II, ignored Indonesia’s declaration of independence and sought instead, to re-occupy the country. As a result, a period of intense diplomatic activity and armed conflict followed. With hostilities erupting, the situation was considered a threat to international peace and security, thus making it eligible to be brought to the United Nation’s Security Council. This took place on January 21, 1946, under the sponsorship of Ukraine. In introducing the question, Ukraine’s delegate called attention to the point that “the principles and rights established by our Charter should be applied to the people of Indonesia, particularly the principle recognizing the right of every people to determine its own fate and to choose its own government.”

Despite all this, the Papua question had not been considered a politically critical issue until the end of 1949, when Indonesia received recognition for its independence from the Netherlands without gaining control over Papua. In fact, in 1946, the Dutch held conferences with a number of the Indonesian delegations, but in none of those contacts was the possibility of Papua having a separate existence outside of Indonesia federation even mentioned as an issue. The only political question being discussed during that time was the relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia. It was during that period that the Dutch Lieutenant Governor-General, H. J. van Mook made his famous declaration: “it is decidedly not the intention of the Government to exclude New Guinea from Indonesia (the solution is to keep the territory within the framework of the United States of Indonesia)”.

A number of international initiatives were undertaken to resolve the dispute following Indonesia’s declaration of independence. On March 25, 1947, a breakthrough was achieved under the aegis of the British, when the Linggadjati Agreement was concluded. Coming on heels of Linggadjati, the Renville Agreement was also concluded, providing that “sovereignty throughout the Netherlands Indies is and shall remain with the Netherlands Kingdom until after a stated interval the Kingdom of the Netherlands transfers its sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia.” By concluding the Linggadjati and the Renville Agreement, The Kingdom of the Netherlands acknowledged the establishment of an independent and sovereign Indonesia and would transfer its sovereignty to Indonesia.

The Renville Agreement provided for a transitional period lasting up to 1 January 1949, when the Dutch government would transfer power to an independent Indonesian government. Indonesia, however, charged that the presence of Dutch troops in its territory amounted to aggression, and also disputed the authority of The Hague to set the terms for a transfer of power.

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The Question of Indonesia in the Security Council



In a clear breach of its commitment in the Renville Agreement, the government of the Netherlands authorized a broad military offensive against Indonesia in July 1947. In response to this attack, the Security Council adopted resolution 27 (1947), demanding the cessation of hostilities and a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Historically, that resolution was significant for Indonesia because, apart from the substance of the ceasefire order, the very intervention of the Security Council changed the character of the conflict, transforming it from bilateral into an international one.

The resolution further called on the parties to keep the Security Council informed about the progress of the settlement.

Instead of keeping the Security Council informed, the Netherlands launched a second attack on 18 December 1948. In response to that attack, the Security Council held a session to discuss the issue. In that connection, speaking at a debate in the Security Council on 22 December 1948, four days after the Dutch armed forces had attacked Indonesia for the second time, Mr. Lambertus N. Palar, representing Indonesia, condemned the military action and noted that the Netherlands was purposely violating the Renville Agreement. He stressed that the policy of the Netherlands has been to strangle Indonesia economically and politically and to finish the job by a second military action.

During that debate, however, the Dutch representative, Dr. J. H. van Roijen, made one of those reassuring Dutch statements concerning the true position of the Netherlands on the question of Indonesia. He told the Council: “As I explained at the outset, this dispute is not about the question of whether or not Indonesia will become independent. All parties agree that what used to be the Netherlands Indies should become an independent state as soon as possible.”

Following that meeting, in a landmark resolution 67 (1949) dated 28 January 1949, the Council recommended that negotiations be undertaken by the parties, with the assistance of the United Nations Commission for Indonesia, towards the establishment of an independent and sovereign Indonesia at the earliest possible date, also that the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia by the Government of the Netherlands should take place no later than 1 July 1950.

It must be pointed out that from the time that the Council became involved in the matter in 1946 right up to the adoption of the Charter of Sovereignty in 1949, all negotiations and agreements between Indonesia and the Netherlands not only pointed to the eventual independence of Indonesia, but increasingly also to the clarification that the territory of Indonesia would encompass Papua.

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Leaving Papua Unresolved



Resolution 67(1949) eventually led to the Round Table Conference at which, finally, the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to an independent Indonesia after the latter was forced to change the Republic of Indonesia into the Republic of the United States of Indonesia. During the preparations for the Round Table conference, a preliminary agreement was signed between the parties on 7 May 1949. Sometimes referred to as the Roem – Van Roijen Agreement, it stated: “the discussions will take place as to the way in which to accelerate the unconditional transfer of real and complete sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia in accordance with the Renville Agreements. “The same viewpoint was reaffirmed in a letter by the Netherlands representative to the United Nations on 2 March 1949, in which he stated: “the Netherlands Government has reached the conclusion that the best solution of the pending problem is to be found in an accelerated transfer of sovereignty over Indonesia to an Indonesian federal government which will be fully representative of the whole Indonesia.

The Round Table Conference was held in The Hague from 23 August to 2 November 1949 and was attended by the United Nations Commission for Indonesia, the Dutch delegation and two Indonesian delegations representing the Republic of Indonesia and the Federalists. This conference resulted in the signing of the Charter of Transfer of Sovereignty.

In Article 1, the Charter of Transfer of Sovereignty stated:

“The Kingdom of the Netherlands unconditionally and irrevocably transfers complete sovereignty over Indonesia to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia and hereby recognizes said Republic of the United States of Indonesia as an independent and sovereign State.”

It was on Article 2, which dealt with the subject of Papua, that agreement could not be reached, and only a compromise text, which postponed the resolution of the issue, was negotiated. The compromise Article provided that:

“In view of the fact that it has not been possible to reconcile the views of the parties on New Guinea, which remain, therefore, in dispute.

In view of the dedication of the parties to the principle of resolving by peaceful and reasonable means any differences that may hereafter arise between them.

That the status quo of the residency of New Guinea shall be maintained with the stipulation that within a year from the date of transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of the United of Indonesia, the question of the political status of New Guinea be determined through negotiations between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.”

While the Dutch were of the view that the subject of negotiations within a year after the transfer of sovereignty was whether sovereignty over Papua should be transferred to Indonesia, Indonesia insisted that sovereignty over Papua had already been transferred to Indonesia under the terms of Article 1, and that the issue was only how the administration of Papua would be transferred. In the minds of most observers, although that article seemed open to subjective interpretation by either side, there was no doubt that Indonesia had the stronger case concerning its claim to Papua as part of the former Netherlands East Indies.

This point was further solidified by the Covering Resolution of the Round Table Conference itself, which stated that the purpose of the Conference was “to transfer real, complete and unconditional sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia in accordance with the Renville Principles,” while the Draft Charter of Transfer of Sovereignty provided for “complete sovereignty over Indonesia” being transferred “unconditionally and irrevocably” to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia.

It is important to understand the background to the Dutch reluctance to leave unhindered the national aspirations of Indonesia, and in particular, to keep control of Papua. This regrettable situation arose from two basic economic concerns, the first having its roots in the Indonesian territory itself: in Java, in particular, in the period preceding World War II, Eurasians had begun to suffer mounting white-collar unemployment. Efforts by the political organizations of the Eurasians to redress this problem were aimed at turning their jobless into independent entrepreneurs, a development that came in conflict with the bourgeoning rural proletariat. The quest for an alternative area that was suitable for Eurasian immigration ended in Papua; although it was largely unexplored, it was also thinly populated.

The second basis for the Dutch determination to keep control of Papua is that in the Netherlands itself, propaganda had arisen, out of the Papua movement, to use Papua as the ideal location to resettle thousands of unemployed rural Dutch.

Until the Netherlands gave its formal recognition of Indonesia’s independence following the Transfer of Sovereignty on the historic night of December 27, 1949, the Indonesian question had constituted the most important issue in the broad spectrum of Dutch politics. As has been noted, the Papua issue was a minor part of this question, but it grew in importance over the period, and eventually assumed the role of a major issue months before the actual transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia.

It is important to observe that at no time in the arguments employed by the Netherlands was a strong case made for its ownership of Papua. On the contrary, several Dutch government official and spokesmen routinely expressed the view that the territory was understood to be a part of Indonesia.

Indeed, it may be said that those statements and assurances offered legal backing to Indonesia’s position that Indonesia was the constitutional successor to the former Netherlands East Indies, a legal territory that included Papua. It is interesting to consider that despite that background in the period leading up to the Transfer of Sovereignty, the crisis took so long to resolve. This is attributable to ambiguities and contradictions in the policy objectives of the Dutch Government.

The immediate implication of the deadlock over Article 2 at the Hague Conference is that even as Indonesia’s independence was no longer in any kind of dispute, a part of its territory remained in the hands of the Netherlands. Indonesia accepted this position at the time out of a sense of convenience and realism. In the course of trying to resolve the issue of Indonesia’s independence rested the seeds of the resolution of the accompanying issue of Papua, and doing so by peaceful means. Indonesia remained secure and confident that Papua would remain an integral part of Indonesia.

Overall, the intervention of the Security Council on the issue of Indonesia was outstanding not only because it forced the Netherlands to abandon its position leading to its recognition of Indonesia’s independence and sovereignty, but also because its decisions and resolutions clearly acknowledged the true nature of the question of Indonesia and the inseparability of Papua from the young republic. This role of the Security Council in resolving the conflict is one that some revisionist commentators have tried to discount, but it is not possible to do this without putting into question the very basis of international law. The resolutions of the Council cannot be revoked, nor can the facts on the ground on which they were based.

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Indonesia's Quest for a Peaceful Solution

The previous chapter explained the path that Indonesia took to secure international recognition for its independence. The final transfer of sovereignty took place in Amsterdam on December 29, 1949, under the provisions of the Round Table Conference. Nine months later, on September 28, 1950, Indonesia was admitted to membership of the United Nations.

In that process, Indonesia became the first country in the history of the United Nations to use the Charter of the United Nations in its fight against colonialism, and largely through it, gain international recognition for its sovereignty and independence. In addition, the Security Council had been the principal link between the struggling republic and the outside world. As a result, it seems clear that it was international pressure, largely through the Council, that eventually compelled the Netherlands to accede to Indonesia’s wishes.

Indonesia had always believed that Papua was an integral part of its territory and territorial integrity. Indeed, Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno once declared that Indonesia was incomplete without Papua. In his words: “West Irian must, can, and certainly will return to the Indonesian fold so long as West Irian is not back in our fold, our national aspirations will not have been fulfilled.” He further emphasized that: “according to our Constitution, Irian is also Indonesian territory… not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow, but now at this very moment. The Dutch de facto authority over Irian is recognized for this year only.”

It was clear that Indonesia considered that the struggle for Indonesia’s independence did not end in 1945 or even in 1949, but would wait until the whole territory of former Dutch colony returned into the realm of the Republic of Indonesia. Reinforcing that conviction, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Subandrio declared: “Let us not forget that the West Irian issue is not a territorial dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands but a struggle for freedom against colonialism.” In addition, authoritative observers of the time thought that on the historical-legal question, the Indonesian case was considered much stronger.

When one seeks to define Indonesia, one must also look at the national and political connotations as they were used during the national struggle for independence and the efforts to interpret the term, “the Netherlands Indies”. In 1922, the Constitution of the Netherlands contained a reference to “Indonesia” identified as the Netherlands East Indies. Article 1 of that Constitution provided that “the Kingdom of the Netherlands consisted of the territories of the Netherlands, Indonesia, Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles.” Such a clear demarcation was also contained in the Constitution of Indonesia in 1945 and 1950, signifying that the separation of Indonesia from Papua was only a temporary measure pending negotiations between the concerned parties. Papua was thus never mentioned apart from its being an integral part of the Netherlands East Indies.

Supporting its argument, Prof. A. Teeuw, a distinguished Dutch scholar on Indonesia, once stated that he could not understand why people could deny the fact that West Guinea is part of Indonesia’s territory. He said that, the argument of historical continuity is there the first relevant. He further argued that the Netherlands should have been proud to deliver to the world and world history about it.

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In Search of a Bilateral Solution

Indonesia’s approach was to remain faithful to the principle of The Hague Agreement. Its delegates particularly emphasized Article 2, which stated that, “within a year from the date of the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic of United States of Indonesia, the question of the political status of New Guinea (would) be determined through negotiations between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” With regard to the prevailing conviction that the territory would eventually be Indonesia’s, the representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations stated the following in his report of 1949:

“Indonesia consists of a series of island groups in the region of the equator extending from the mainland of Asia to Australia. The principal groups are the Greater Sunda Islands, the Moluccas and New Guinea, west of 141 degrees east longitude.”

In March 1950, it was agreed that the two countries would set up a Commission to visit the territory. Contrary to a different interpretation of the point by the Netherlands, Indonesia’s delegation insisted that the central subject of the negotiations concerned the manner by which the administration of Papua would be transferred to Indonesia, since the sovereignty over the territory had already been decided in the first article of the Charter.

In the years that followed, progress on the Papua question remained slow and tenuous. A Ministerial meeting held in The Hague on December 27, 1950 also failed to find an agreement. At that meeting, Indonesia proposed that the Dutch without delay recognize its de jure sovereignty over Papua, and that the transfer of the Netherlands Administration be implemented through mutual arrangements by the middle of the following year. In addition, the Dutch were to be guaranteed their rights and interests in the territory and the implementation of the autonomy proposal.

However, in a significant departure from its previous position, a counter-proposal by the Netherlands offered the transfer of sovereignty over Papua to the Netherlands-Indonesian Union and the retention by the Dutch of the administration of the territory, with the Indonesian members participating on a parity basis in a Papua Council. These proposals were totally unacceptable to Indonesia, since they saw them as a means to perpetuate colonial domination and practices in the territory.

From Indonesia’s perspective, there was little or no indication that the Netherlands was willing to solve the dispute through negotiation. In December 1951, Indonesia flatly turned down a Dutch proposal to submit the dispute to litigation before the International Court of Justice on the grounds that the question was political, and not juridical. Subsequent efforts by Indonesia to resume the negotiations were rebuffed by the Netherlands. The Dutch seemed unwilling to comply with the spirit and principle of The Hague Agreement and the Security Council’s resolution on the question of Indonesia, both of which recognized that Indonesia comprised the whole territory of the Netherlands East Indies.

At that point in time, the Dutch had virtually closed the doors on further negotiations. This was evidenced when a constitutional amendment in 1952 declared Papua included in the official geographic definition of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. By that amendment, the Netherlands categorically made it illegal for any government to negotiate the political status of Papua.

Indonesia considered this a “unilateral annexation” of the disputed territory, and a breach of faith.

Obviously, this amendment ran counter to the various pledges, statements and agreements that had been made by the Dutch prior to 1950, and seriously jeopardized the cause of compromise. In 1954, the Dutch further backtracked by sending an official letter to the Indonesian Government declaring that the Netherlands Government no longer was interested in discussing this issue.

This development, more than any other, caused Indonesians to seriously question the good intentions of the Netherlands concerning how to find a peaceful solution to the problem. This reassessment was evident in a statement by the Indonesian Government in response to the 1952 of the Dutch Constitution:

“The failure of the discussion does not automatically mean that the colonial status of West Irian should be the same as before the transfer of sovereignty. Otherwise, the provision of the agreement for a discussion between Indonesia and the Netherlands on the political status quo would mean nothing. At the very least, after the deadlock of negotiations, the status quo of the territory about which there is a dispute should remain unresolved.”

Against the background of the hopes of the United Nations General Assembly resolution 385 (VII) that further talks would be fruitful, Indonesia and the Netherlands met in The Hague and Geneva in late 1955 and early 1956 to discuss a number of pending bilateral issues. At both meetings, Indonesia’s delegation, consistent with its previous positions, requested the resumption of negotiations on Papua. Indonesia also indicated its willingness to accept the establishment of an ad hoc arbitration commission that would deal with any disputes that might arise.

The Netherlands’ delegation rebuffed these offers. In connection with the arbitration idea, the Dutch were uncomfortable about the matter being brought before an arbitration commission of foreign countries, which would, in effect, internationalise it. In the view of Indonesia, the resumption of negotiations over Papua would have restored the spirit of Article II of the Transfer of Sovereignty, which, Indonesia felt, had been violated by the uncompromising approach of the Dutch, and lessened tensions between the two countries.

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The Question of Papua in the UN General Assembly

Disappointed and frustrated by these developments, Indonesia turned to the United Nations, in accordance with Article 35 of the United Nations Charter, in the hope that the international body would again respond to Indonesia’s desire to be free of colonialism. From Indonesia’s point of view, it was appropriate to request the General Assembly to get the parties to resume negotiations, on the basis of relevant agreements and the spirit of the UN Charter. Article 35 (1) states:

“Any Member of the United Nations may bring any dispute, or any situation of the nature referred to in Article 34, to the attention of the Security Council or of the General Assembly.”

This change of strategy was also informed by the conviction that the United Nations was one of the most effective and important channels through which Member States could resolve disputes in a peaceful manner.

On 17 August 1954, Indonesia’s representative to the United Nations, Mr. Sudjarwo Tjondronegoro, submitted a request to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that “The Question of West Irian (West New Guinea) be included in the provisional agenda of the ninth regular session of the UN General Assembly”. Subsequently, the General Committee reached a decision to recommend the inclusion of the question on 22 September 1954 as an agenda item in the First Committee.

During that session, the First Committee adopted a resolution by a vote of 34 to 14, with 10 abstentions, but the General Assembly failed to adopt the draft, which had only called for further negotiations between the parties on the Papua issue (A/C.1/760).

The Indonesian Government and people, including many other Member States of the United Nations, expressed deep regret with the failure of the General Assembly to adopt that draft, which was seen by Indonesia as a further step in the peaceful pursuit of a solution through dialogue. Voices were raised in Indonesia for stronger action against the Netherlands to force a resolution of the dispute, but moderate counsel prevailed.

In the meantime, support for Indonesia’s position continued to grow in the international community, particularly with the new converts that included Burma, Ceylon, India and Pakistan. At this time also, Indonesia’s claim to Papua received the powerful endorsement of the Afro-Asian Conference, which met in Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955. The Conference, which was attended by countries representing nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, gave serious consideration to the question of Papua and, within the context of its opposition to colonialism, supported Indonesia on the basis of agreements between Indonesia and the Netherlands.

In addition, the Conference urged the Government of the Netherlands to reopen negotiations as soon as possible to implement their obligations under the relevant agreements, and expressed the hope that the United Nations would assist the parties in finding a peaceful solution to the dispute.

Following the Bandung Conference, the 1955 session of the General Assembly coincided with the preparations for the Dutch-Indonesian negotiations of late 1955 and early 1956 in The Hague and Geneva. It was in view of that impending discussion, bolstered by the support of the Afro-Asian Governments, that the General Assembly adopted resolution 915 (X) on Papua, to which reference has already been made, in which it unanimously expressed ‘the hope that the negotiations referred to in the said joint statement will be fruitful’. Unfortunately, those negotiations once again ended in failure, the stumbling block this time being the categorical refusal of the Dutch delegation to discuss the issue of Papua.

During the 1956 and 1957 sessions of the General Assembly, the Papua question was once again on the agenda. In view of the fact that the negotiations of 1955 had failed to produce progress, Indonesia considered it necessary to bring the question to the attention of the General Assembly yet again. The large influx of new members to the United Nations, which especially increased the voting power of the Afro-Asian voting bloc, presented a propitious opportunity, during the sessions in 1956 and 1957, for the adoption of the resolution being sponsored by Indonesia and its supporters. Despite that opportunity, the General Assembly was again unable to adopt the draft, by which it would have authorized its President to appoint a Good Offices Commission to assist in the bilateral negotiations. The operative paragraphs of the draft resolution (A/C.1/L.173), had been formulated in a conciliatory manner for the purpose of obtaining adoption and facilitating further negotiations.

Upon the defeat of the draft General Assembly resolution, anti-Dutch sentiments increased significantly in Indonesia. With subsequent bilateral and multilateral initiatives to find a solution also being unsuccessful, the stalemate remained from 1950 through 1957. Those repeated failures to achieve a breakthrough resulted in a further deterioration of relations between the two countries. This downturn reached its peak in August 1960, when Indonesia severed diplomatic relations with the Netherlands.

Finally, on September 26, 1961, the Netherlands proposed a United Nations administration for the territory to prepare the process of self-determination. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, J.M. Luns, told the General Assembly of his country’s readiness to accept an Assembly decision to institute such an authority. He further stated that the Netherlands would be willing to transfer authority to the United Nations, and would continue its financial contributions to Papua. This was seen by Indonesia as a skilfully crafted proposal designed by the Netherlands to enable them to relinquish control of Papua to the United Nations without the danger that the territory would eventually be passed on to Indonesia. Indonesia considered this a last-ditch effort to prevent it from legitimately taking over the territory. Pressing ahead, the Dutch submitted a draft resolution towards achieving their objective, but India proposed a counter-resolution at the same time, calling for a resumption of the Dutch-Indonesia talks contained in previous resolutions. As it would turn out, neither proposal won the required support in the General Assembly.

Thus, from 1954 to 1957, Indonesia continued to place the question of Papua on the agenda of the General Assembly, its objective being the adoption of a resolution that would open the doors to further negotiations. In response, the Dutch strongly opposed such initiatives. The even contested the competence of the United Nations to address the question, conveniently preferring to consider it to be of internal jurisdiction. As a result, many observers questioned the motives of the sudden change on the part of the Dutch: from strenuously obstructing any United Nations role in the dispute up to that time, to finally embracing its involvement.


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The slogan of "self-determination"

For more than ten years after the signing of The Hague agreement in 1949, the Netherlands had continued to change its approach to enable it to extend its presence in Indonesia. The first of these policy shifts, as we have seen, pointed towards relinquishing exclusive Dutch control over Papua, but without any concessions to Indonesia.

The second departure, a more important and radical one, was the increased emphasis of the right of the Papuan people to self-determination. This was seen by Indonesia as a rather ingenuous device by the Dutch to enable them to maintain their presence in the territory. Nevertheless, Papua continued to be ruled in a purely colonial structure until 1960. Virtually, all legislative and executive powers were vested in a governor who was appointed by, and was responsible to, the Dutch Crown.

Lijphart contends: “Although the Papuans were promised an independent choice in the future, the Dutch were conditioning them in an anti-Indonesian atmosphere. The introduction of Dutch as the official language of New Guinea and the education of the future New Guinean political elite in Holland had the effect of prejudicing the exercise of self-determination.”

The counter position argued that if Papua had to be executed from Indonesia in 1949 in order to safeguard the right to self-determination, which the Papuans were not yet able to exercise, the same decision should have been taken with regards to Borneo and other distinct islands within the Indonesian archipelago. That the Papua case could have been settled in 1949 was also well-argued by a Dutch independent weekly, Vrij Nederland. On December 8, 1951, it wrote: “We believe that a generous transfer of new Guinea to Indonesia, executed by a resolute government in a quick and unequivocal manner, will open unprecedented possibilities for cooperation with Indonesia.”

Indonesia saw these policy changes by the Netherlands as vigorous pretexts towards avoiding a genuine settlement, the same context in which the term “self-determination” was also introduced by the Netherlands into the Papua equation. Yet, as Indonesia pointed out, denying Papua as a sovereign part of the Republic of Indonesia on these grounds could equally have been applied to a number of other Indonesian islands including Ambon and Celebes. Indonesia pointed out that the Papuans were not a nation in and of themselves, but a rather an ethnic member of the greater Indonesian family and people. In the practice of international law, self-determination is not considered a right that people possess, but a principle. In any case, especially in the years after 1954, self-determination of the Papuan people became an increasingly prominent policy of the Dutch in addressing the Papua question. To that extent, argued Indonesia, the right of self-determination could not be objectively applied, and had no basis in international law.

Finally in December 1961, President Sukarno, after years of being obstructed from all avenues to a peaceful solution of the problem, issued his historic Trikora (Tri Komando Rakyat) or People’s Triple Command. This was to demonstrate his Government’s determination:
(a) to thwart the formation of a puppet state of Papua by the colonial power;
(b) to raise the Indonesian Red and White flag in Papua; and
(c) to prepare a general mobilization to defend national independence and unity.
That pronouncement demonstrated beyond any doubt that a military confrontation between Indonesia and the Netherlands was inevitable.

It was because of such a prospect that the United States Government intervened to bring the two sides to the negotiating table. The Acting Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. U Thant, also weighed in with an appeal to both countries to return to negotiations. In its response, the Dutch Government informed the United States Government of its preparedness to negotiate with Indonesia, but only on the basis of the principle of Papuan self-determination. The Dutch further disclosed their preference for United Nations involvement in such negotiations. External pressure, in the form of United States intervention and the threat of an Indonesian military offensive, had created the ‘force majeure’ that was finally bringing the Netherlands back to the negotiating table, more than a decade after The Hague Conference.

In their effort to rationalize their Papua policy, the Dutch tried to refer the issue to General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960 concerning the right of decolonisation. As a co-sponsor and ardent supporter of the historic landmark resolution on decolonisation, Indonesia objected to the attempt by the Government of the Netherlands to invoke the decolonisation resolution, not to complete the independence of the Indonesian nation, but to partition its territory. Likewise, Indonesia stated that resolution 1514 (XV) had no relevance to the case of Papua, in view of the fact that paragraph 6 of that resolution declared that partial or total disruption of national unity and the territorial integrity of a country was incompatible with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Although Indonesia continued to cooperate, in the hope of being able to resolve the dispute peacefully, it made clear that it would not hesitate to use force to defend its territory.

The Government of Indonesia also took strong exception to what they saw as a blatant attempt by the Netherlands to confuse the meaning of Article 73 of the United Nations Charter and General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV). In that connection, Indonesia pointed out that Article 73 did not apply to Papua, which formed an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia and was being occupied by force by the colonial authorities. It further maintained that if the United Nations were sincere about resolving the issue, it would eradicate Dutch colonialism and return Papua to the fold of the Republic of Indonesia. To permit the dispute to be interpreted under Article 73, argued Indonesia, negated the letter and spirit of the Round Table Conference and was contrary to the purposes of the United Nations Charter and, in essence, to Article 73 itself.

The weak case of the Dutch for maintaining its control of Papua was only one aspect of the question. Much more serious was its insistence on granting the right of self-determination to the Papuans in spite of their obvious inability in the long run to carry out their policies. If the Dutch had agreed to an early withdrawal from Papua, as well as from the rest of their East Indies Empire, they would have performed a greater service to the Papuans as well as enhanced Dutch-Indonesian relations.

The argument against the Dutch policy of promoting “self-determination” for Papua grew stronger with time. It must be remembered that while the Netherlands focused on that policy in Papua, it was still in possession of Surinam and Curacao in the West Indies. If they were sincere about their latter-day shift of faith to self-determination, questioned critics, would it not have been logical first to apply the same medication to those ailments? Professor Gerretson, a member of Dutch parliament, put it plainly in 1955 when he stated:

“Viewed apart from the quarrel with Indonesia, the conferring of a so-called right of self-determination was astonishing in so far that one conferred upon the Papuans of Stone Age that which one denied to the Surinams in 1953, although the Papuans – and I repeat – the Papuans did not ask for anything whereas the Surinams emphatically claimed that right.”

It has been demonstrated that decolonisation of Indonesia in its entirety was made far more protracted and difficult by the painful and reluctant withdrawal of the Netherlands. It did not recognize Indonesia’s independence until four years of bitter and needless conflict. A further twelve and a half years was spent by the Netherlands to try to hold onto Papua, the last remnant of its colonial empire. The repeated obstacles in the path of complete decolonisation of Indonesia can only be understood in terms of the deep emotional investment that the Netherlands attached to keeping its colonial possessions. This was clearly manifested, it has been argued by Lijphart, by pathological feelings of self-righteousness, resentment, and pseudo-moral conviction. He asserts that “Holland’s insistence on keeping exclusive responsibility for the Papuans revealed how the Dutch concern for the territory was overlaid with selfish motives; a tangible demonstration of this was the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of the Netherlands from the scene following the loss of New Guinea.

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(c) 2005, The Indonesian Embassy