About two months ago, I was invited to attend a special reception hosted by the New Zealand Embassy in Washington DC for several prominent members of the New Zealand business community. Among those attending was probably the only woman of the delegation but even more special was the fact that she represented the business/management division of Auckland University Technology (AUT). I believe she was also the only Polynesian Maori in the group and, of course, we bonded and did the “hongi” while everyone watched and wondered what all that was about. If it had not been for Ms. Vivien Bridgewater of AUT, I would not be here and I want to publicly thank her for this opportunity to be with you.
I shared with Ms. Bridgewater that months before I had been invited to speak at a conference in Wellington sponsored by the NZ Ministry of Social Development and I was curious if AUT also sponsored public forums where speakers are invited to present papers on issues that are of concern to our Pacific region. Having collaborated with a fellow AUT leader, Mr. Michael Jones, the Director of Pasifika Advancement, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him and honored that he invited me to present this paper today. I have admired and respected Mr. Jones for years as he is one of the best rugby players in the world. In his own modest way, he admitted to me that he is that same Mr. Jones of rugby fame and is also known as High Chief La’auli in Samoa.
Again, I thank Mr. Jones for inviting me to be with you today. For seventeen years now, I have served as American Samoa’s Congressional Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. As a senior member of the House Committee on International Relations, I serve as the Ranking or top Democrat on the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. As a counterpart to our U.S. State Department, our Subcommittee is composed of 13 Members of Congress and has broad jurisdiction and oversight for all U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific region including China, Japan, India, Pakistan, other South and Southeast Asia regions, and our own Pacific region or Oceania.
Today, I have prepared a paper on a subject that is of great importance to me and entitled “West Papua New Guinea’s Colonial Status: An Issue Pacific Forum Nations Cannot Ignore”. There is a consensus among many that the Island of New Guinea was settled by a people from West Africa. In 1883, the Island of New Guinea came under colonial rule and was partitioned by three western powers. The Dutch claimed the western half while the British and the Germans divided the eastern half.
In 1949, the Dutch granted independence to the colonies of the former Dutch East Indies, including the Republic of Indonesia, but the Dutch retained West Papua New Guinea and in 1950 prepared the territory for independence. Indonesia, however, upon achieving independence, demanded all former territories of the Dutch East Indies and Portuguese Colonial Empires, including West Papua and East Timor and, under the leadership of military Dictator Sukarno, sent troops to militarily occupy both slaughtering and murdering some 100,000 West Papuans and over 200,000 East Timorese.
In 1962, the United States mediated an agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands in which the Dutch were to leave West Papua, transfer sovereignty to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) for a period of six years, after which time a national election was to be held to determine West Papua’s political status.
However, after this agreement was reached, Indonesia violated the terms of transfer and took over the administration of West Papua from the UNTEA. In 1969, Indonesia orchestrated an election that many regarded as a brutal military operation. Known as the “Act of Choice,” 1,022 elders under heavy military surveillance were selected to vote for 809,327 Papuans on the territory's political status.
Despite the opposition of fifteen countries and the cries for help from the Papuans themselves, the United Nations (UN) sanctioned Indonesia’s act and, on September 10, 1969, West Papua became a province of Indonesian rule. Since 1969, the Papuans have suffered blatant human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions, imprisonment, torture and, according to Afrim Djonbalic's 1998 statement to the UN, “environmental degradation, natural resource exploitation, and commercial dominance of immigrant communities.”
The Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale University recently found, in the available evidence, “a strong indication that the Indonesian government has committed genocide against the Papuans.” West Papua New Guineans differ racially from the majority of Indonesians. West Papuans are Melanesian and believed to be of African descent. In 1990, Nelson Mandela reminded the United Nations that when “it first discussed the South African question in 1946, it was discussing the issue of racism.” I also believe the question of West Papua is an issue of racism.
Furthermore, I believe this is an issue of commercial exploitation. West Papua New Guinea is renowned for its mineral wealth including vast reserves of gold, copper, nickel, oil and gas. The Indonesian government contracted with Freeport Mining, a company based in Louisiana, to extract West Papua’s minerals. In 1995, Freeport’s ore-mountain in West Papua was estimated to be worth more than $54 billion. Yet little or no compensation has been made to local communities and new provisions in the law fall well short of West Papuan demands for independence.
In a statement dated February 24, 2004 (attached), Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa called on the UN to act on West Papua. In his statement, he said:
For years the people of South Africa suffered under the yoke of oppression and apartheid. Many people continue to suffer brutal oppression, where their fundamental dignity as human beings is denied. One such people is the people of West Papua.
The people of West Papua have been denied their basic human rights, including their right to self-determination. Their cry for justice and freedom has fallen largely on deaf ears.
An estimated 100,000 people have died in West Papua since Indonesia took control of the territory in 1963.
It is with deep concern I have learned about the United Nations’ role in the take-over of West Papua by Indonesia, and in the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice” of 1969. Instead of a proper referendum, where every adult male and female had the opportunity to vote by secret ballot on whether or not they wished to be part of Indonesia, just over 1,000 people were hand-picked and coerced into declaring for Indonesia in public in a climate of fear and repression.
The UN had just 16 observers to this Act for a country the size of Spain. The then Secretary-General’s Representative reported on the conduct of the Act to the UN General Assembly in 1969, which noted his report on 19 November of that year.
One of the senior UN officials at the time, Chakravarthy Narairnhan, has since called the process a “whitewash.”
A strong United Nations will be capable of, among other things, acknowledging and correcting its mistakes.
I would like to add my voice to growing international calls for the UN Secretary General to instigate a review of the UN’s conduct in relation to the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice.”
I will keep the people of West Papua in my prayers, and I would like to extend my best wishes and moral support to them in their hour of need.
More than 174 parliamentarians and 80 nongovernmental agencies from around the world have also written to Secretary General Kofi Annan asking that a review of West Papua’s status be initiated. In the interim, Indonesian military operations in the highlands of West Papua have been ongoing since August 2004 and there are indications that this operation is spreading to other regions of West Papua forcing thousands of villagers into the forests where they lack adequate food, shelter and medicine. Indications are that this operation is spreading and intensifying.
As of today, there are now about 50,000 Indonesian military troops occupying West Papua and, in the past four months, some 15,000 additional Indonesian troops have been sent to West Papua where they have burned villages, killed civilians, and raped women. Sadly, the world media has not reported these atrocities and the Indonesian military has forbidden international observers and journalists to visit West Papua.
Given these circumstances, I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s statement before the UN Special Committee against Apartheid in which he said:
“It will forever remain an indelible blight on human history that the apartheid crime ever occurred. Future generations will surely ask -- what error was made that this system established itself in the wake of the adoption of a Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say enough is enough.”
On the question of West Papua, I feel similarly and I believe it is time
to say enough is enough. On March 14, 2005, more than 37 Members of the
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) joined with me in urging U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to support West Papua’s right to self-determination. I believe it is now time for the Pacific Island nations to also call upon the UN to review the question of West Papua and act immediately.
It is my understanding that Australia does not want to “balkanize” Indonesia and cause instability in the region. But I take issue with Australia’s position. In fact, I believe it is the height of hypocrisy for Australia, an influential member of the Pacific Forum, to send troops half way around the world to promote and enhance democracy and fight terrorism in Iraq yet deny the people of West Papua New Guinea the right to live in freedom, not as slaves.
West Papua has a population of well over 2 million, and of these, almost 1 million are Christians. Yet Muslim extremists are working with the Indonesian military to commit documented atrocities and acts of terrorism against the people of West Papua. For Australia to turn a blind eye to this violence and yet support East Timor’s right to self-determination is, in my opinion, a double-standard. Frankly, I am disappointed that Australia is pressuring Melanesian countries like Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to not actively engage the UN in granting West Papua the right to self-determination.
The question of West Papua is not an internal matter for Indonesia to resolve, as Australia suggests. Instead, it is a challenge to all men and women of conscience and Pacific Island nations cannot and should not ignore the question of West Papua. As Gandhi said, “To deprive a man of his natural liberty and to deny him the ordinary amenities of life is worse than starving the body; it is starvation of the soul.”
This said, I am hopeful that Pacific Forum Nations will lead the way in demanding justice and freedom for West Papua. Simply stated, I am hopeful that we will stand together to say enough is enough and therein bring an end to violence, racism and commercial exploitation in West Papua.