History of West Papua

Brief History

West Papua was previously part of the Dutch Empire when it was known as Dutch New Guinea. In 1949 when the Netherlands recognised Indonesian sovereignty over the Dutch East Indies they excluded Dutch New Guinea in order to start a decolonisation process. West Papua stayed under Dutch control while they prepared the territory to be an independent state through investment, education and the formation of a National Parliament which was elected in 1961.

However, Indonesia still claimed that Dutch New Guinea should be part of Indonesia and in 1961 they launched military operations to ‘take back’ Papua. At this point in order to avoid a long drawn out conflict the Dutch agreed to US mediation. This resulted in the signing of the New York agreement in 1962.

Under this agreement the Netherlands agreed to transfer the administration of what was then called West New Guinea to Indonesia under an UN temporary executive Authority (UNTEA) on the condition that an “act of self-determination” was carried out within 7 years. The “act of Free choice” took place on 2 August 1969 where 1025 West Papuans were hand-picked and coerced – including being threatened by gunpoint to vote in favour of Indonesia.

The Act of Free Choice has been criticised by Papuans as the Act of No Choice and its legitimacy has been questioned by Independent Observers including UN officials who were present as well as legal experts both nationally and internationally. However, the Indonesian Government maintains that the two provinces that make up West Papua are an integral and indivisible part of Indonesia. Most Papuans regard Indonesian control as illegitimate and this continues to be contested via a low-level armed insurance and a growing non-violent civil resistance movement.

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