Maire Leadbeater: West Papuans' long fight for freedom

Waitangi Day controversies are minor compared to this battle for identity and self-determination.

Maire Leadbeater: West Papuans' long fight for freedom..

A protester holds the banned Morning Star flag during a rally in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo / Getty Images
A protester holds the banned Morning Star flag during a rally in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo / Getty Images

Waitangi Day, New Zealand's national day, comes with controversy, robust historical debate and challenges to do more to address the grievances of the past.
It is sometimes a painful day but compared with the situation in West Papua we have it made.
West Papuans celebrated their national day freely just once, on December 1, 1961.
The roots of the problem go back to the days of Empire and the Dutch East Indies. Indonesia's nationalist rulers waged a long and costly struggle before they finally won freedom from their colonial rulers in 1949. The Dutch did not want to relinquish their New Guinea territory and Indonesia's new leaders agreed reluctantly to leave the question aside in the short-term.
Meanwhile the Dutch encouraged the formation of a Papuan elite and began to prepare the colony for independence. In the 1950s New Zealand weighed in on the side of the Dutch when the issue came up for debate in the UN.
In April 1961 a New Guinea Council was inaugurated consisting of a majority of elected members, most of whom were Papuan. A New Zealand delegation headed by the Minister of Island Territories, Leon Gotz, attended the ceremony as did Samoan and PNG representatives.
The council was intended to run for 10 years, by which time the people could choose full independence. But Indonesian attacks were escalating from verbal threats to armed infiltration so in October the council called together a Peoples' Congress. A manifesto - West Papua's freedom charter - affirmed the universal right to self-determination and the right of the Papuan people to their own land.
In 1962 the West New Guinea dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands descended further into open military conflict. A UN administration, UNTEA, was put in charge from October 1962 until May 1963. Whereas the December 1, 1961 event was largely an elite urban affair, the growth of a guerrilla struggle in the jungle from 1965 changed the dynamic. Indonesia was forced to bring in troop reinforcements to deal with the widening revolt.
In 1969 Indonesia cemented its hold on West Papua, then West Irian, by holding a phony act of self-determination called an Act of Free Choice, a plebiscite in which only a little over 1000 press-ganged men participated. Declassified Ministry of Foreign Affairs papers reveal that our ambassador was present for part of the process. Memos comment on the "questionable morality of the entire process". But when the matter came up before the UN we stayed quiet and our vote went for Indonesia.
New Zealand continues to frame any expression of concern for human rights in West Papua in the context of its support for the "territorial integrity" of Indonesia.
If the first 1961 Papuan Congress was a modest affair, that cannot be said for the second Congress which took place in 2000 during the more liberal regime of Indonesian President Wahid. About 3000 Papuans from every branch of society, including tribal people in traditional dress, affirmed their desire to separate from Indonesia and to establish their own sovereign state. The Third Papuan Congress, held in 2011, was even larger but it was broken up in a hail of police bullets, and five of its newly elected leaders were jailed.
In Auckland, Oceania Interrupted, a wonderful collective of Maori and Pacific women will hold a flag-raising performance event at Mission Bay beach at 5pm on Monday. They understand the enduring force of the desire for self-determination. Does our Government?
Maire Leadbeater is a member of West Papua Action Auckland.




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