The following dissertation was written by Sussex University student Ben King, as part of his Cultural and Intellectual History degree. It is based upon over 400 declassified documents as well as the limited historiography surrounding the subject.

nb. The link at the bottom of this article will take you to a list of references, which are themselves linked to original documents where possible.


The scale of the Holocaust showed the world just how horrific state sponsored crimes against humanity could become if left unchecked. Following Hitler’s downfall, the victorious allies helped create the United Nations, a multinational governing body whose focus was to ensure that the world would never repeat the mistakes and catastrophes of the previous half-century. They introduced a raft of new international humanitarian laws and ideals such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which laid the framework for future international laws and state conduct, marking a significant step in the progression of theories of human rights. With the establishment of the U.N, the international community had created the judicial structure needed to enshrine this new humanitarian declaration as a guiding principle for the world to uphold. After such discriminative inhumanity, the explicit recognition of basic freedom and rights to all of mankind was a significant milestone, possibly even vindicating Hegel’s idea of man’s teleological journey toward self-realisation. At the time of the infamous Nuremberg Trials, Robert H. Jackson, America’s Chief Prosecutor, said in his opening statement that, “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”1 With this statement in mind, I intend to focus on the case-study of Indonesia’s invasion of West Papua in 1962 and the subsequent ‘elections’ which saw them gain official sovereignty of the country in 1969. After leading the way with the introduction of equal rights for all mankind, have the western states kept to their word?

Geographical and Historical Background

The archipelago of Indonesia, consisting of over 2000 islands, spans 15% of the world’s landmass2. A Dutch colony from 1828 to 1961, West Papua (formally known as Irian Jaya) is located on the western half of the large island of New Guinea, 400 miles off the Northern Australian coast. Despite having just 0.1% of the world’s population, the primitive, tribal groups that live within its rainforest harbour some 15% of the worlds known languages3. The people of New Guinea are predominantly Christian (through missionaries dispatched to the Island after the tribes were discovered) and are Melanesian in race, compared to Indonesia which is mainly Muslim Javanese.

Indonesia carried out military operations in West Papua through 1961/62 after the UN had refused to recognise their territorial claims.4 This resulted in the signing of the U.S brokered New York Agreement5, a roadmap for the transition of power from the Dutch which required Indonesia to hold free elections (the Act of Free Choice as it was to become known) so as to uphold the West Papuans right to self-determination. This right is enshrined in International Law established by the UN, an organisation to which Indonesia, the Netherlands and the US were member states. Since the ‘Act of Free Choice’ (AFC) in 1969, West Papua has been widely recognised by the vast majority of world states legally to be a province of Indonesia. West Papuan representatives voted to become incorporated into the newly independent and emerging power of South-East Asia. The UN oversaw and ratified the election, providing legitimacy that was recently endorsed in a letter sent to Robert Wilson MP by Meg Munn MP, UK Foreign Office with responsibility for the UK’s relations with Indonesia.

The Act of Free Choice took place in Papua in 1969. A group of 1,000 Papuan representatives, who were given the responsibility to make the choice on behalf of the Papuan people, voted to remain part of Indonesia. The British Government of the day supported the Act of Free Choice, as did the United Nations and almost all members of the international community.6

Current Historiography

This is the reigning official view presented to anyone who enquires about West Papua to the UK government7. The current literature dealing with this subject is somewhat sparse; at least within the mainstream press. There have been numerous Non-Governmental Organisations such as Minority Rights International and Amnesty who have compiled reports on the situation in West Papua, but it seems that East Timor’s conflict with Indonesia in 1975 and the realization of independence in 1999 has overshadowed West Papua’s case. British Historian John Saltford has written on the Act of Free Choice8, and others, such as Dr Kees Lagerberg, have highlighted aspects of Indonesian Imperialism and human rights abuses. West Papuan authors are ‘censored under certain criteria set by the government or are banned entirely’ 9. The main reason, I think, that has contributed to the lack of literature regarding West Papua is the fact that since the AFC, West Papua has been regarded as an internal matter for Indonesia and as such has not received nearly the amount of attention as the invasion and occupation of East Timor (which never received UN support or ratification). Many of those writing on this subject do so to highlight the plight of the West Papuan people. Dr John Saltford is one of the only people I could find to have written a book documenting the role of Britain and the United Nations in the AFC, though this represents a focus on the time of the AFC only. West Papua and Indonesia Since Suharto by Peter King and Reluctant Indonesians by Clinton Fernandez represent the sum total of English language books released on the subject in the last decade yet even those do not cover what it is I wish to explore: how the International Community attempted to fulfil their human rights obligations as member states of the UN.

I intend to examine the historical account of the AFC to see whether and how the international community complied with UN resolution 1514 (XV): Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples10 Using declassified communications between the U.S embassy in Djakarta and the State Department 1968-69, I will trace the story of the U.N supervisor for the AFC, Fernando Ortiz-Sanz, to show how these elections were rigged in Indonesia’s favour, despite the known possibility of repression and persecution.

Having established the illegitimacy of the AFC and Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua, I will go on to show that since the handover of power in 1969 there have been widespread occurrences of human rights abuses as a matter of government policy. In assessing Kees Lagerberg’s claim that ‘between 100’000 and 200’000 West Papuans have died or simply vanished at the hands of the Indonesian military”11, this section contextualizes the International Communities’ response in the years after the AFC. The lack of English language historiography regarding this matter requires I use NGO reports and investigative journalist materials in my research.

1969 and the Act of Free Choice is highly significant given that it’s illegitimacy makes all future repression an International crime with the international support for Indonesia’s illegal actions directly undermining the UN charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I intend to evaluate to what extent they complied with Ortiz-Sanz’ warning that “the international community cannot renounce its responsibility for assisting them (Irianese) in years to come”12. Member nations of the U.N have a clear obligation under the UN Charter to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth… without distinction of any kind”.13 From over 200 pages of recently declassified documents stretching over 30 years from British, U.S and other governments it is possible to analyse in depth the geo-political, commercial and ideological forces at play in the highest levels of office for the continuing support for Indonesia actions. The result is an insight rarely seen into how it was possible that such violations of international law could be perpetrated, apparently without recourse, despite having the framework in place designed to avoid such situations.

The Act of “Free” Choice, West Papua, 1969.

Under the Dutch plan for self-determination in 1961, West Papuans completed a ‘territory wide vote for representatives to the newly established New Guinea Council… which ratified the adoption of the national Papuan Morning Star flag, the national anthem and a new name for the territory: West Papua14’. When the UN refused to support Indonesia’s territorial claims, the Government of Indonesia (GOI) invaded West Papua leading to the establishment of the New York Agreement in 196215. When the New York Agreement was signed, it was stipulated that free elections were to be held (again) to establish the West Papuan people’s right to self-determination. This had to be done in order to bring the transition into line with the 1960 UN Resolution 1514 (XV). The UN says that, “while the Charter of the United Nations treated self-determination as a principle, rather than a right, the Declaration marked a turning point by stating that “all peoples have the right to self-determination”16. Its first article states that ‘The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights’17. Bolivian Fernando Ortiz-Sanz was sent to Indonesia to oversee the preparations for and the implementation of the AFC, a subject of numerous in-depth communications between the U.S embassy in Djakarta and the Secretary of State from July 1968 until the AFC took place in September 1969.

It was clear to Ortiz-Sanz from the very beginning that the forthcoming elections would not satisfy international law, namely Resolution 1514 (XV). As early as the summer of 1968, the U.S embassy was warning that “he [Ortiz-Sanz] will resign rather than preside over a farce”18. What concerned Ortiz-Sanz was that Indonesia had no interest in holding a free election and that since the New York Agreement left Indonesia responsible for its implementation, it rendered his role “useless”19. In August, having recognized that if such views became public it would “be most embarrassing”, the U.S resolved to do “anything we can to make him aware of the political realities”20. Following conversations with Ortiz-Sanz, the US mission of the UN in New York informed Washington that they were “convinced Ortiz [is] fully aware of [the] difficult situation in which GOI finds itself and has no intention of making [a] difficult situation worse”21. The ‘difficult situation’ which faced GOI was the risk of domestic upheaval should West Papua be lost to Indonesia; there was a ‘widespread belief in the military and other circles… that West Irian is [already] a sovereign part of Indonesia’22.

Having been made aware of the ‘political realities’ involved, Ortiz-Sanz strove to win the best possible deal for the West Papuan people as he could. He was “deeply moved by his contacts with the primitive Irianese”23 and tried to urge the GOI to accept a ‘one man-one vote’ system in coastal cities24. Despite his efforts, Ortiz-Sanz clearly felt the AFC to be below the required standards laid out in Resolution 1514 (XV), telling the First Secretary Robert Slutz that he ‘would make no conclusions regarding the elections in his report and that each member state of the UN would have to decide for itself whether the act were acceptable under the NY Agreement’25. “On the positive side…” wrote Djakarta Embassy to Washington regarding this meeting, “…the ambassador concluded that there is little doubt that the Act will be decided in favour of West Irian’s continued inclusion in the Indonesian Republic”26.
How could it be that in May of 1969, months before the election took place, the result could be in ‘little doubt’? Ortiz-Sanz makes clear after the election that ‘despite his efforts, art XXII of NY Agreement relating to Freedom of speech, Freedom of movement and assembly “was not fully implemented and the administration exercised at all times a tight political control over the population.”27

It was known well in advance to the UK, US and Australian governments that only one outcome of the AFC would be deemed acceptable by both Indonesia and the western powers. The British Embassy in Djakarta, commenting on Ortiz-Sanz role when he entered the country in December 1968, said, “Tactically his aim is to contrive a formula whereby the AFC will result in a positive affirmation of Indonesia’s sovereignty but will also represent a fair reflection of the peoples wishes… clearly no easy task”28. The following month they clarified this comment, stating that ‘most independent observers are convinced that, given a free choice, the majority of the local inhabitants would not vote for continued incorporation in Indonesia.”29. This fact was widely known to all parties at the time, with one journalist telling the British embassy that of all the people he met (300-400) none were in favour of integration. Indeed, he said that he felt ‘the Papuans loath the Indonesians, perhaps in the same degree and as a direct consequence of the way which Indonesians have despised and belittled the Papuans’30. The U.S embassy in Djakarta summed up the situation rather beautifully in a telegram dated September 1969, just before the ‘vote’ took place, which said, “the Act of Free Choice in West Irian is unfolding like a Greek Tragedy, the conclusion pre-ordained… it long known that the outcome of AFC is predictable… separation is unthinkable”31. This was clearly not the wish of ‘99% of the Papuan population32’ and directly contravenes article two of Resolution 1514 (XV): All peoples have the right to self-determination33.

As early as October 1967 the U.S already knew that there was little hope for a fair election. ‘The reality is grim…’ reads an air-gram to the Department of State, ‘Now there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of movement, and forceful oppression is the rule’34. In the end, the GOI hand-picked 1025 representatives: these included bribed tribal chiefs and family members and friends of Indonesian administration officials35 which, together with the ‘great efforts of indoctrination… [and] Indon (sic) repression caused by fear of separatism’36, combined to create a unanimous vote for continued inclusion in Indonesia37.

Had the U.S, U.K and others thought that the result of this election would lead to development, economic growth and a better life for the people of West Papua, one could possibly understand the reason why international law was ignored when the UN ratified Indonesia’s sovereignty. However, in reality this was not the case, as this air-gram to the Secretary of State in August 1969 shows:

It is difficult to predict whether the GOI will (be prepared to) take harsh repressive measures or seek to establish good government and further economic progress in the region. The outcome is likely to be mixed or uneven38.

Interestingly, the ‘be prepared to’ was crossed out on the document but is still discernable underneath39. It goes on to say that ‘Overraction (sic) and brutal repression would have an undesirable effect on International opinion but, then, the Indonesians have been known to ignore these consequences in quashing other revolts in the past’. As a member state of the UN, it seems a shame that the focus of this ‘undesirable effect’ is not on the West Papuan people themselves, rather than world opinion.

The justification given for supporting this rigged election appears two fold. One is that the U.S was ‘determined not to lose Indonesia to Communist influence’40, either through a coup or increased Soviet influence. The other often quoted reason was that a democratic election was impossible due to the nature of the ‘stone-age, illiterate tribal groups whose horizons are strictly limited and who would be unable to grasp alternatives involved in free plebiscite…free election among groups such as this would be much more of a farce than any rigged mechanism Indonesia could devise41’. Despite independent observers noting the understanding of overwhelming numbers of people with regard to their wanting Independence, article 3 of Resolution 1514 (XV) was ignored: ‘Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence’42.

Post Act of Free Choice: Attempted genocide?

Other than a few NGO reports and papers written by (mainly Australian or Dutch) academics, there has been precious little written about the situation in West Papua. The genocide committed by the GOI in East Timor received more attention though even that has not served as a catalyst for a re-visitation of the AFC. A few academics, NGO’s and investigative journalists have attempted to raise the issue of Indonesian policy towards the inhabitants of West Papua, finding enough evidence to produce the occasional book, report or documentary. Although the current UK stance is that ‘human rights abuses are hard to verify due to the remoteness of the area’43, this does not seem to have stopped others from finding evidence of such crimes (though it has taken a long time for people to take notice with much of the material being published only in the last 15 years.)

Dr Kees Lagerberg, author of West Irian and Jakarta Imperialism, is one of the few western academics to have written on this topic. He served the Dutch colonial administration for 11 years and travelled back to West Papua to document the post-ACF situation in West Papua. He claims that ‘it is impossible to explain away the disappearance of 150’000 Papuans without highlighting the considerable measure of neglect shown by the Indonesian authorities towards the Papuans44′ He uses population and migration statistics to conclude these statistics although he does not appear to have considered the possibility of inaccurate census data. Over the following chapter, I will contextualize the international communities’ response by highlighting occurrences which could help account for Lagerberg’s claim.
Even before the AFC, it was clear the extent to which Indonesia was prepared to use force against a largely unarmed population: Indonesia’s military command had already shown their capacity to commit mass murder. Following Suharto’s accession to power in 1965, over 500’000 known or suspected communists were killed in one of the most bloody episodes in human history45. This was even celebrated in the U.S, where it formed another front-line in the ongoing fight against the spread of communism46. This letter from the British embassy, dated April 1968, highlights the UK government’s knowledge of Indonesian tactics: “The Indonesians have tried everything from bombing them with B.26′s [sic]. to shelling and mortaring them, but a continuous state of semi-rebellion persists. Brutalities are undoubtedly perpetrated from time to time in a fruitless attempt at repression”47.

Having made its decision on the legality of the AFC, the UN had ensured that the matter remained an internal dispute, closing off any chance of justice for the West Papuan people through the correct, legal channels of the General Assembly. As an internal matter for the GOI to resolve, the plight of West Papua was no longer a matter for discussion within the International Community and the Media. The Hon. F.H. Faleomavaega called the U.N ratification “a truly pathetic episode”48; unfortunately what was to follow turned a pathetic episode into the pre-curser for 40 years of repression and possible genocide.

‘Genocide in West Papua’ is the title of a 2005 report written by John Wing of Sydney University. He holds no punches in his assessment of Indonesia’s efforts to control the local guerrilla movement called the OPM. Here is an excerpt from that report:

the current situation is referred to as a “silent genocide”. Villages are destroyed by TNI (Indonesian forces) through arson, following “incidents” blamed on the OPM guerrilla movement, but the incidents themselves are staged and guerrillas (if any) are manipulated by the TNI. Civilians are then forced to take refuge in areas away from their food gardens, where they perish from malnutrition and exposure49.

Abigail Abrash from the Harvard Law School Human Rights Program has also written a paper entitled ‘Papua: Another East Timor?50’. She highlights examples of racial and religious discrimination, including ‘extrajudicial killings, torture and rape… that amounted to an undeclared war against the indigenous population51. What both reports have in common is there insistence that genocide is, whether as a matter of policy or not, at least a very real possibility for the people of West Papua.

Non-governmental organizations work hard at providing objective and accurate accounts of human rights abuses all over the world. One such report by Minority Rights Group International highlights the effects of Indonesia’s transmigration policy in West Papua which, as well as dominating West Papua’s economy, ‘will also make the indigenous peoples a minority within their own country’52 Amnesty International, in their latest statement regarding West Papua, conclude that ‘there were reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment, excessive use of force during demonstrations and harassment of human rights defenders’53. Others include Tapol, meaning political prisoner in Indonesian, a website ‘promoting human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia’ who publish regular articles and reports relating to ongoing human rights issues. More partisan websites like also work hard in bringing together the latest news and reports from various independent sources. Together with unverifiable, though extensive and detailed, reports of human rights abuses, they also collate media reports, political developments and NGO and UN visits.

Australian investigative journalist Evan Williams travelled to West Papua in 2006 for a Channel Four documentary entitled ‘Rainforest Warriors’54. Under heavy observation from Indonesian officials, Williams travelled deep into the jungle to meet with guerrilla soldiers including many students who have fled urban areas following protests which left them vulnerable to arrest or “disappearance”55. They tell the film crew of their grievances with the Indonesians, such as the threat of 15 years imprisonment for raising the ‘Morning Star’ flag of West Papua, the immense environmental damage and exploitation of natural resources by US mining company Freeport McMoran and the fact that the local West Papuans see no benefits from the enormous profits being generated there. More worryingly still, Evan Williams visits medical clinics which, although short of almost every type of medicine and drug, seem to have ample supplies of contraceptive injections which, the medical staff there tell Williams, they are advised to give to Melanesian women without their consent or knowledge.

Any way you look at the situation, it is clear that the indigenous people of West Papua have not benefitted from Indonesian rule. As for the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, it would be considerably easier to refer to those clauses that have been applied than to those that have been ignored56. Yet because this is now regarded as an internal matter for Indonesia there has not been a single Security Council resolution asking for a cessation of repressive measures undertaken by this member state. Now that it is clear that the AFC was neither representative of nor beneficial to the people of West Papua, I wish to look at what the response of the International community was in upholding their obligations of universal human rights and how this response contributed to the contemporary historical development of the region.

The International Communities Response

Diplomatic and Strategic support for Indonesia post-AFC
It is very clear from U.S and U.K government documents from 1968/69 that there was an almost universal feeling of ‘understanding’ for Indonesia’s situation and indifference to the problems faced by the West Papuans57. I.J.M Sutherland, writing to London from the British embassy in Djakarta, summed up this feeling when he said, “I cannot imagine the US, Japanese, Dutch or Australian Governments putting at risk their economic and political relations with Indonesia on a matter of principle involving a relatively small number of very primitive people.”58

Even the former colonial rulers of West Papua and their nearest neighbour provided no official objections, as this quote from a US State Department telegram from 1969 shows: “Dutch government, despite its historic interest and Australia as neighbour appear disinclined to become involved and have indicated their acquiescence in GOI method and result of AFC”59. It seems that individually, western states did not feel compelled to adhere to International Law and chose instead to foster good economic and political relations with Indonesia.

What about the United Nations itself? Having ratified the AFC, did they not, in the words of Ortiz-Sanz, have an obligation not to ‘renounce its responsibility for helping them in years to come’? It is clear that, in this situation, the will of individual states triumphed over the principles of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 1514 (XV). The British government recognizes this when it concluded in November 1969 that the AFC had led “[Impartial Observers to] feel that the United Nations part has done nothing to enhance its standing”60 Since that time there has not been a single General Assembly or Security Council resolution regarding Indonesia’s actions in West Papua.

Whilst some countries, such as Australia and the Netherlands, chose to merely acquiesce to Indonesia, others chose to actively support them. The U.S government, in their ideological struggle against the spread of communism, saw Indonesia in the 1960’s as an important ally in a region where the U.S was fighting in Vietnam and Indochina61. Since 1965, the U.S and President Suharto have been close allies, with Suharto having met with successive US Presidents until his forced resignation in 1998. Every meeting was recorded and the minutes have since been released on the National Security Archive. These minutes provide an illuminating account of the ‘excellent relations’ between the two nations in a joint struggle against the spread of communism; a threat that Suharto emphasizes time and again in an attempt to secure arms deals62 (a topic I shall come back to shortly).

In the year following the AFC, Suharto came to Washington where, having been briefed by Henry Kissinger, President Nixon pledged $15million of military aid, including C-47’s transports ‘which can be turned into ‘gun-ship’ versions’63. In the minutes for that very meeting, commenting on Nixon’s questions regarding the communist threat, Suharto claims outright that ‘strategically their strength can be said to have been nullified… tens of thousand have been interrogated and placed in detention…[as for the students] they have received indoctrination concerning the ideas of the New Order’64. The bluntness of Suharto’s claims was almost a match for the hypocrisy shown in Nixon’s concluding remarks to Suharto. Barely six months since West Papua’s forced capitulation to Indonesian sovereignty, Nixon spoken of Vietnam that:

Our interest is solely to help create those conditions which permit these countries to freely choose their own way, not determined by any outside influence. This is a fundamental principle. We would like to cooperate with all nations which share this fundamental principle65
President Nixon to President Suharto, 1970

Genocide in East Timor

Despite extensive knowledge of Indonesia’s violation of Human Rights both in West Papua and Indonesia itself, even the invasion of East Timor on December 6th, 1975 failed to cajole any major western state to officially condemn Indonesia’s actions. After a civil war which left the leftist, nationalist Fretilin party in control, there was a general acquiescence to Indonesia’s takeover before it had commenced. As early as March 1975, it was clear to the British Foreign and Commonwealth office that “East Timor’s eventual integration with Indonesia is probably the right answer.”66 It was given the green light by the US who actually asked for the invasion to be delayed by one day so as not to coincide with the visit of President Ford and Henry Kissinger67.

Nor did Australia seem prepared to publicly condemn Indonesia. Despite receiving instruction to ‘deliver a clear message to the Indonesians that Australia could not countenance Indonesian interference in the affairs of Timor”, Australian Ambassador Woolcott described how he had persuaded Canberra to modify these instructions and of how he spoke as “softly” as his new instructions permitted to Indonesian foreign minister Malik on October 18th 197568. This suggests that Australian Officials had decided as a matter of policy not to oppose Indonesia’s pending invasion.

After Indonesian troops killed five British and Australian journalists in 1975, the UK government lied about having information on the event and refused to even raise the matter with Indonesia, suggesting to Australia that ‘it is pointless to go on demanding information.69”. The UK Government even went as far as blocking a parliamentary debate on East Timor, called for by 105 MP’s, fearing that “widespread publicity… [might] have an unfortunate effect on our overall relationship with the Indonesians”.70 Despite knowledge of the “rampage of looting and killing” by Indonesian forces in Dili, the official UK government line was to be a lie: “If asked to comment on any stories of atrocities I suggest we say that we have no information.” 71

However, unlike West Papua, the UN were not prepared to ratify Indonesia’s sovereignty and refused to monitor or recognise any vote Indonesia may conduct. On December 12th, the General Assembly called for the recognition of Resolution 1514 (XV) and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from East Timor72. Two Security Council resolutions were also passed but to no effect73. On December 1st 1976, almost one year later and having seen no improvement, the General Assembly again passed a Resolution calling for an end to the ‘critical situation in East Timor’ and refusing to accept Indonesia’s claims of sovereignty74. Despite Indonesia’s refusal to withdraw and their eventual occupation of East Timor, this was the last time a resolution was passed by the UN regarding East Timor until intervention was required over 30 years later to halt what is now widely accepted as genocide. In the first 12 months alone, church sources estimated that in excess of 100’000 (or 1 in 7) East Timorese were killed.75 The role of the UN was even purposefully undermined by US diplomatic efforts, as Ambassador Moynihan admitted in the book A Dangerous Place:

… the United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success76

Arms Sales securing Indonesia’s military superiority over East Timor and West Papua

Throughout the 1970′s, America was supplying some 90% of all of Indonesia’s arms77. On the eve of the invasion of East Timor, Kissinger said to Suharto that that the use of US arms could ‘create problems’ before adding, “It depends on how we construe it (my italics); whether it is in self defence or a foreign operation”78. Following questions raised by the US senate on the issue, Kissinger met with Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll, legal advisor Monroe Leigh and others to discuss the issue of US arms being used in the invasion. Kissinger is angry that his deputies had sent him a cable shortly before he was due to return. His aides wished to clarify his position on the continuation of arms sales to General Suharto, leading Kissinger to assess how many people may have seen it and declaring that, “Everything on paper will be used against me79.” Here is an excerpt from that meeting:

Kissinger: No one has complained that it was aggression.
Leigh: The Indonesians were violating an agreement with us.
Kissinger: The Israelis’, when they go into Lebanon – when was the last time we protested that?
Leigh: That’s a different situation.
(Under-secretary) Maw: It is self-defence.
Kissinger: And we can’t construe a Communist government in the middle of Indonesia as self-defence?
Leigh: Well… 80

Later on in the meeting, Kissinger states that, “On the Timor thing, that will leak in three months and it will come out that Kissinger overruled his pristine bureaucrats and violated the law…” Despite congress raising questions regarding the legality of selling arms to Indonesia at that time, Kissinger had given orders that he wanted to “to stop the shipments quietly”, but that they were secretly to “start again” the following month. In fact, as the genocide unfolded, U.S. Arms shipments doubled81. As Noam Chomsky later testified to the UN, “the flow of arms was uninterrupted, including attack helicopters and other equipment required to wipe hundreds of villages off the face of the earth, destroy crops, and herd the remnants of the population into internment centres”82

The UK also tried to make use of the situation. The briefing paper for Sir Michael Palliser’s visit to Indonesia in October 1975 includes one objective being “to benefit from such defence sales as might be in our interest”. In April 1978, after the slaughter in East Timor should have been apparent, British Aerospace announced its first sale of Bae Hawk ‘trainer’ warplanes to Indonesia; these planes, ‘which are suitable for ground attack’, were delivered in 198383.

Summary of International Communities response and contraventions of International Law

This widespread knowledge of Indonesia’s actions in East Timor and the condemnation by the UN did nothing to stop the flow of arms from the UK and US and neither did it encourage a re-visitation of the AFC or even a fact-finding mission to West Papua. The main difference is that, despite glaring similarities between West Papua and East Timor, one is considered legal and the other has always, in name at least, been considered illegal, respectively. From supporting acts of aggression with arms and logistical support to providing diplomatic and legal legitimacy for Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua, the historical narrative patently shows at best an attitude of reluctant pragmatism with regard to the Melanesian people’s right to universal human rights, such as self-determination and freedom from subjugation. At its worst, the evidence points to an understanding that there will be little in the way of objection from the International Community, that repression and brutalities were likely and were to be supported and that this was deemed a price worth paying for the economic, ideological and geo-political benefits reaped by states far removed from the area in question. Clearly the International Community chose pragmatic policy over principles, as this excerpt from the Honourable Mr. Faleomavaega highlights:

Mr Speaker, in other words, it was our national policy to sacrifice the lives and future of some 800’000 West Papuan New Guineans to the Indonesian military in exchange, supposedly, for Sukarno and later Suharto to become our friends, who would organise the most repressive military regimes in the history of Indonesia.84

So far I have detailed how, despite an extensive framework of International Law and Judicial system provided by the UN, the International Community contrived to support Indonesia at the expense of the Melanesian people. It has been shown that the US, UK and Australian governments both knew and accepted that the AFC was rigged despite knowing that the West Papuans almost unanimously desiring independence, emphatically contravening UN resolution 1514 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite knowledge of and support for the Indonesian communist purge in 1965, the West armed Suharto and left West Papua, and later East Timor, to the extensive brutalities which were known to be a distinct possibility. As a recognised province of Indonesia, the situation in West Papua is but a domestic issue in the eyes of International Law (at least until there is a re-visitation of the Act of Free Choice). However, West Papuans clearly did not have a chance to express their desire for independence to the satisfaction of UN Resolution 1514 (XV). It certainly is not an election through which you could morally legitimise Indonesian Sovereignty.

In the concluding chapter I wish to highlight the reasons as to why this failure to enforce International Law was allowed to happen. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a direct response to the realisation of what state-sponsored repression could achieve. It has failed in its objectives for 40 years in West Papua and it is vital that the reasons given by the International Community are fully disclosed and understood. To say that a Government broke International Law is not enough; one must give a fair hearing in these matters and so I will now outline the US, UK and Australian motivations behind ignoring Resolution 1514 (XV), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Charter.

Pragmatism over Principles: Economic Benefits in Supporting Oppression

The almost universal ‘understanding’ shown by the International Community towards Indonesia’s actions needs explaining if we are to retain any faith in these Governments willingness to fulfil their obligations as member states of the UN. Is Faleomavaega right in saying that the US ‘sacrificed’ all those lives just so that, ‘Suharto would be our friend?85’. Certainly the International Community did not go along with Indonesia’s invasion of West Papua so as to become enemies, but such an explanation is over-simplistic. It is the value of what this friendship entails which motivates the breaking of International Law; that, and the lack of consequences incurred when those who are denied their Human Rights are both primitive, poor and on the other-side of the world. Although ideological reasons were raised at the time of the Act of Free Choice with regard to the spread of Communism, the same argument could not be applied today. Whatever has caused the International Community to disregard Human Rights is still relevant today; how else can we explain the current antipathy from the UK government?

For many centuries now, representative democracies have attempted to maximise the wealth and security of their own population, fulfilling their duties according to the social contract theory. There was a time when this took the form of colonialism, where the human rights of the colonised country came a distant second to ensuring large wealth for the coloniser. The signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Resolution 1514 (XV) were designed to put an end to such exploitation yet the practice continues in all but name. The concept of ensuring benefits for ones own population at the expense of other nations is now called pragmatism, as this secret cable sent by Ambassador Woolcott to the Australian government sent in August 1975 shows:

I wonder whether the Department has ascertained the interest of the Minister of the Department of Minerals and Energy in the Timor Situation… The present gap in the agreed sea border… could be much more readily negotiated with Indonesia… than with Portugal or an independent Portuguese Timor. I know I am recommending a pragmatic rather than a principled stand but that is what national interest and foreign policy is all about (my italics)86

What did the International community hope to gain which could begin to justify the ongoing support for Indonesia, the crime of military support for an act of aggression in East Timor and the rigging of an election and (therefore) occupation in West Papua contravening Resolution 1514 (XV)?

Energy and resources are a powerful influence in the zeitgeist of world trade and capitalization. Shortly before Australia sent in troops to East Timor, Australia signed an agreement with Indonesia resulting in the two nations sharing the gas fields off the coast of Timor, to be piped to refineries built on Australia’s northern coast. East Timor’s greatest natural resource and its best chance at fulfilling a stable and viable independent state were signed away. Yet perhaps this is actually a blessing? With nothing left to gain from occupation, Indonesia no longer had anything to lose in relinquishing control. Ironically, West Papua is not so fortunate. The country has incredible natural resources of Gas, Gold and Copper, with large investment by Western companies such as BP and RioTinto.
Henry Kissinger, having clandestinely supported Indonesia’s expansionist policy, is now a board member of RioTinto who operate the world’s largest copper and gold mine called Grasberg in West Papua. When asked whether he could use the lobbying power of RioTinto to persuade Indonesia to change its policy and support self-determination for the people of East Timor, he said, “As a private American corporation engaged in private business in an area far removed from Timor, but in Indonesia (West Papua), I do not believe it is their job to get itself involved in that issue.”87. The response is significant in two ways. Firstly, as a matter of ‘private business’, it assumes that economic activity by a private business is not bound by matters of ethics or principle when it comes to making money. Secondly, it shows that even someone who was deeply involved in Indonesia’s expansionist aims and with insider knowledge of the rigged elections can dismiss West Papua as part of Indonesia, thereby legitimising actions agreed with the GOI at the expense of West Papuans Human Rights.

Kissinger’s claim that it is not RioTinto’ job to get involved in the East Timor issue may have some validity. After all, it is indeed far removed from the area in question and RioTinto are not themselves involved beyond paying tax to Indonesia. What Kissinger must be aware of however is the similarities between East Timor and West Papua, where the Grasberg mine is located. The history of the Grasberg mine is one of confrontation between RioTinto and the indigenous people. RioTinto bought vast swaths of indigenous peoples land from Indonesia before the implementation of the AFC, signing a 30 year deal with Indonesia in 196788. Since then, the mine has had such a devastating environmental impact through the dumping of 40m tonnes of waste rock into the river system every year that in 1995, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation revoked Freeport’s insurance policy for environmental violations of a sort that would not be allowed in the US89. Alongside the repression from the military authorities, the RioTinto Grasberg Mine is a fundamental bone of contention for West Papuans who see little improvement in living standards and a lot of environmental damage to the mountain and river systems below. The security for the mine is provided by the Indonesian military, which stand accused of faking attacks on the mine in order to increase the amount of money being paid for protection straight into army officer’s bank accounts90. In this instance it is hard to make sense of Kissinger’s words. Having been responsible for much of the US policy with regard to Indonesia in his role as US Secretary of State and now profiting from Indonesian occupation of West Papua, perhaps it is not a stretch to suggest it is his job to get involved in that issue?

Britain and Australia also benefit greatly from Indonesia’s expansionism. British Petroleum has signed a deal to extract Gas from the extensive fields located in Beru-Bintuni Bay, West Papua, due to start production in 200891. Although they have vowed not to use the Indonesian military as security, there are concerns that the social and environmental cost could lead to another situation like that at the Grasberg mine. Australia, as already mentioned, has signed agreements with Indonesia, sharing the Gas fields located off the coast of East Timor.

The nature and extent of the wealth generated by natural resources cannot be understated: they are finite materials which will never drop in value and which by their nature are fixed and immobile. They provide massive amounts of wealth, most of which goes to the companies themselves and the GOI. Unfortunately this means that in giving West Papua its Independence, UK, U.S and Australian governments would be sacrificing the business opportunities for large domestic companies (It is highly unlikely that RioTinto would be allowed to continue at the Grasberg mine were Indonesia to relinquish sovereignty).

The story of West Papua’s forced capitulation to the military regime of Indonesia is little known outside of South-East Asia. Despite the US, UK and Australian governments supporting the invasion, the rigged elections and the brutal repression of the Melanesian people, the general public of these ‘civilised’ states have scant knowledge of their own governments’ actions. No-one has yet been brought to account and the AFC still stands as a legal and binding declaration of West Papuans wish to integrate with their oppressors. The UN was made obsolete by the very countries that helped create it for no purpose other than pragmatic economic and geo-political gains. That there has never been genocide without pragmatic economic and political aims does not seem to have occurred to those involved. It is enough it seems to know that our pragmatic aims are justified, whatever the historical facts may say. Indonesia may be the ones that are directly responsible, but the International community was, and continues to be, fundamental to its continuation. Until the UN ratify this situation and re-visit the AFC fairly the plight of the West Papuans will remain a matter for Indonesia alone to deal with, as they see fit.