The westernmost part of the island of Papua is home to the Indonesian province of West Papua. Manokwari serves as its capital. In 1999, West Papua stood alone as an autonomous region. Looking at the brief history of West Papua to join Indonesia is instructive. It reveals the efforts of various groups to preserve national cohesion.
A few key moments stand out when trying to piece together West Papua’s history leading up to its incorporation into Indonesia. Those significant events include:
The Dutch-Indonesian Round Table Conference
On December 27, 1949, the Dutch and Indonesians met at the Round Table Conference to lay the groundwork for what would later become West Papua. In fact, this was a pivotal moment in the process that ultimately led to Papua becoming a part of Indonesia.
The Dutch Republic of Indonesia and the Federal Consultative Assembly established an agreement. It led to many papers, including a Charter of Transfer of Sovereignty. However, the status of Western New Guinea was a source of serious contention.
The Indonesian delegates felt that the country was fitting to annex all of the Dutch East Indies colony. On the other hand, the Dutch were unyielding. The Kingdom of Netherlands maintained that Western New Guinea had no cultural links to the rest of the country.
After much discussion, on December 21, 1949, the Dutch parliament approved the pact. The Central Indonesian National Committee, Indonesia’s legislature, accepted the deal on December 14 despite objections, especially over the status of Western New Guinea.
The New York Agreement
To govern Western New Guinea, the Netherlands and Indonesia signed the New York Agreement. The agreement, negotiated at sessions sponsored by the United States, was effective from August 15, 1962.
Resolution 1752 of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which authorized the United Nations’ occupation and administration of Western New Guinea, was passed as a direct result of the agreement being put on the 1962 UNGA agenda.
In the final form of the agreement, Article XVIII outlined the following guidelines for the “act of free choice:”
- The consultation councils (Indonesian: musyawarah) would be given guidelines on conducting the popular will assessment.
- The official implementation of the act would be finished before 1969.
- Depending on their answer to the act’s question, residents would be free to select whether or not to remain a part of Indonesia.
- Anyone above the age of 18 might take part in the act of free choice.
After years of struggle, the New York Agreement finally realized the “Republic of Indonesia from Sabang to Merauke,” which had been a desire of early Indonesian nationalists. Additionally, it symbolized victorious opposition to a division based on race or religion.
The Act of Free of Choice
A referendum called the Act of Free Choice was conducted in Western New Guinea between July 14 and August 2, 1969, with 1,025 residents handpicked by the Indonesian military. The New York Agreement detailed the process for holding the referendum.
The voting took place over three weeks in eight different regencies.
Diplomatic documents at the time revealed that American officials had suspicions that Indonesia’s victory was not legitimate. Diplomats believed the vote was unlawful. However, they discounted the matter since it was a predictable decision of little importance to American interests.
On the other hand, United Nations delegate Fernando Ortiz-Sanz mentioned that a voluntary act had occurred, as is customary in Indonesia. Thus, the outcome showed that everyone agreed that Western New Guinea should become a part of the Republic of Indonesia.
History teaches us how the past influenced global, national, and local interactions between cultures and individuals. Therefore, studying the brief history of West Papua to join Indonesia may give a helpful lens through which to examine and ultimately address the issues of now and tomorrow.