Betrayal and resurrection: Marking the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Papuan state

December 9, 2021
Celebrating the 1st of December returns Papuans to a time where they were closest to independence and national identity.

December 1, 2021, marks 60 years since the state of Papua came into being. In a few centuries, one of the well-known figures who helped shape the identity of this new state was Ortiz de Rates, a Spanish explorer who renamed the island “New Guinea” between 1500 and 1550. Other Europeans followed suit after hearing of his alleged discovery; A few stayed only briefly, while others stayed long enough to permanently alter the fate of the island's inhabitants.

Birth of the Papuan state

After a few more centuries, the British, Germans and Dutch decided to carve up the island like Christmas cake among themselves, somewhere in Europe in the mid 1800s. As a result, British Papua and German New Guinea emerged on the eastern half (now independent Papua New Guinea), while the Dutch took over the western half (now West Papua).

During the First and Second World Wars, preceding the heyday of decolonisation, this colonial arbitrary border came into sharp focus as former colonial masters repositioned themselves to take advantage of the shift in global power dynamics.

When the West Papuan state was founded on December 1, 1961, Papuans were well on their way to independence. Tragically, the newly born state was passed around from country to country until the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) sold it to Indonesia on May 1, 1963. Papua New Guinea was not even independent yet until 1975.

The betrayal

The Dutch assisted Papua in gaining its national identity after decades of neglect at the fringe of their empire, leading to the formation of the New Guinea Council (which was formally inaugurated on April 5, 1961, with 28 members, 16 of whom had been elected during January, 1961 elections). The manifesto of the First Papuan People's Congress along with the Morning Star flag and other national symbols were officially adopted on October 19, 1961.

Indonesia was infuriated by this development of Papua’s national identity. The Netherlands and Indonesia had a series of bitter skirmishes prior to 1961, when they wanted to continue doing business as they had done more than 300 years ago – when the world was rapidly changing in a way that was not advantageous to The Netherlands.

Sukarno and his nationalist militia, who formed the new Indonesian state at this time, might have already been angry after trying to persuade the Dutch and the world via the mechanisms of the UN that West Papua belonged to them. After another failed attempt to obtain the UN’s majority vote to claim West Papua in the 1960s, Sukarno’s anger began building as he sought direct military action to recolonise West Papua with the help of Soviet military hardware.

The 1960s were among the most dangerous decades in the history of the world, with rumours of war breaking out between big ideological powers, revolutions and decolonisation. It was an age where if you happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong people, you would be left out of the conversation and stripped of both choice and voice.

Tragically, West Papua was among the unfortunate ones who happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people.

Despite all these obstacles, the Dutch established a state in Papua to guarantee the survival of Papuan cultural identities. Unfortunately, this young Papuan state did not survive long. Soon after the identity was created, the state was transported to New York, where her fate was to be discussed and negotiated, unaware that it would be her last journey before being sold back to Indonesia during the controversial agreement, known as the "New York Agreement” in 1962.

Articles 22 and 18 of the Agreement especially, state that the UNTEA and Indonesia must guarantee the full rights of Papuans to freely express what they desire according to the accepted international practice of "one man, one vote" for all Papuan adults during the so-called "Act of Free Choice".

All of these rights, privileges, and self-determination words and phrases were never practised by the men who wrote those laws. West Papua, as a non-self-governing territory, was supposed to be a Sacred Trust at the hands of its former colony and the UNTEA.

But it turned out after the final betrayal was performed during the “Act of Free Choice” of 1969 that those words meant nothing for Papuans – nothing but empty promises delivered yet again to those whose national identity has been at the mercy of international trade.

This initial violation of these Papuans rights set the precedent for all other violations that followed in the next 60 years. It seems what Jakarta says and does in West Papua contradicts that which they write about in the global media. To date, these violations are still taking place in West Papua, and no one really cares about it. West Papua and its people have been sold to the highest, and cruellest, bidder.

The United States essentially told the Dutch to trust their newly created sacred Papuan state to the hands of the UNTEA and exit West Papua, knowing fully what this meant for Papuans. It was like a premeditated murder - knowing fully what would happen if West Papua was given to Indonesia but went ahead and did it.

The Papuan people today live under Indonesia's settler colonial system. This is the most destructive form of colonialism based on the logic of eradicating the original population, then replacing it with a new population.

The UNTEA or any other country with conscience must rectify what happened during the 1960s. If not, Papuans will become extinct within the next few decades.

The whole tragedy was played out as if written by Euripides himself, and all other great tragedians: all the world powers came together at the right time for plotting, negotiation, murder, and covering up their heinous crimes against Papuans.

On December 1, 1961, the Papuan state was born. The following year, August 15, 1962, the New York Agreement was convened (the agreement which ultimately decided the fate of the newborn Papuan state). On October 1, 1962, West Papua’s fate was at the mercy of UNTEA. On May 1,1963, UNTEA gave West Papua to Indonesia and, mid-1969, Indonesia handpicked 1025 Papuans and forced them to vote to remain with Indonesia at gunpoint. Papuans’ fate was then sealed in November that year, when the UN General Assembly (UNGA) rubberstamped this reprehensible act just by "noting" it that it did happen.

The UN delegations, the Australian and Dutch delegations were all there at the crime scene – Hollandia (West Papua), the birthplace of Papuan state, but they all said nothing and did nothing.

A number of African delegates hold a stormy meeting over the Act and refuse to meet with Indonesia's permanent representative. But, at this point, the case had pretty much been closed, and what was happening at the UNGA was simply a show for the final coverup.

Two prominent Papuan leaders, Willem Zonggonau and Clemens Runawery, fled West Papua to Papua New Guinea to fly to New York to inform the UN that the Act of Free Choice was corrupt, but they were halted by the Australian government.

Unfinished business

It is now 60 years since these heinous crimes took place, but the case remains unresolved.

International Lawyer Melinda Jenki's ground-breaking 2010 article, West Papua and the Right to Self-determination under International Law, revealed that West Papua remains a non-self-governing territory, meaning it is still under the control of the UNTEA, and at this time, Indonesia illegally occupies West Papua. The findings by Andrew Johnson and Julian King, in their 2019 paper, West Papua Exposed: An Abandoned Non-Self-Governing Territories, exposed these betrayals and cover-ups and strongly argued that "West Papua" remains the UN's unfinished business.

In addition to these two important documents, there is much literature and discourse about this tragedy. Please follow this link if you are interested in finding out more about the history of this betrayal:

Papuan resurrection

Every year, celebrating the 1st of December is returning Papuans to a time where they were closest to independence and national identity – a precious time that they long to return to. In a way, it is akin to the Jewish Passover, when Egypt's tyrant Pharaoh tried to wipe them out, but somehow, they overcame all odds and remained powerful through the ages and generations despite those who had sought to eradicate them. In a sense, West Papua shares a similar story to that of the Jews – always caught between the competing empires of East and West.

The 60th anniversary is really a day of Papuan Resurrection – reclaiming what is stolen from us and deciding our fate according to our own terms. It is a day we retell and record stories of ancestors and passing their wisdom and knowledge onto the next generations. We write our own stories, speak our own languages, and bring back our children who have been taken away and held captive in colonial institutions. It is where we regain our consciousness from the poisonous substances of the colonial propaganda invented to make us forget who we are and where we come from.

It's also a day that reminds us that this ferocious war isn't over. Those long rainy stormy days still lie ahead. By the sounds of their guns, bombs, jets, and tanks, Indonesia will try whatever it takes to prevent us from remembering what happened 60 years ago and blind us from what they are doing today. Tyrant rulers in Jakarta will entice us to forget "our state" — Papua — by causing us to go into a collective coma, so that we become complicit in our own destruction, making them look innocent, allowing them to escape their punishment.

In the end, Papua's case will be made public one day, exposing the identities of those involved and the evidence of these betrayals and tortures that have been concealed in imperial offices around the world.

Every drop of Papuan blood leaves a trail, leading us to the perpetrators, crime scenes, and eventually to Papuan statehood. Let us resurrect a state in every Papuan and make every Papuan a state.

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