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About ILWP

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Founded in 2009, the International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP) is a network of legal professionals who recognise that the indigenous peoples of West Papua have a fundamental right to self-determination under international law.

Background

The western part of the island of New Guinea (now known as West Papua), used to be held by the Netherlands.  It was known as the Dutch East Indies (DEI)

After World War II Indonesia claimed the DEI. The Netherlands disputed Indonesia’s claim. One of Indonesia’s reasons for doing so was that the people of the DEI were Melanesians who were ethnically and culturally very different from the people of the Indonesian archipelago.

Indonesia invaded the DEI. The US, alarmed at this development, got the Indonesians and the Dutch to the negotiating table. The result was the New York Agreement, which was signed in August 1962 and adopted as United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1752 (XVII). By this, Indonesia agreed to hold a plebiscite in the DEI whereby the people there would decide freely whether or not they wanted to become part of Indonesia. Indonesia agreed to abide by the result of the plebiscite. The United Nations was the guarantor of this agreement.

The Act of Free Choice

In 1969 the Indonesians compelled about 1000 West Papuans out of a population of nearly 1 million, to participate in a wholly bogus plebiscite. The West Papuans were threatened with violence if they did not vote for union with Indonesia. Coerced, they voted for union. The result was the ironically named ‘Act of Free Choice’.

Ever since 1969 West Papuans have sought what they were guaranteed under the New York Agreement – the right to choose by whom they are ruled. This right arises not only under the New York Agreement, but also under the general rules of public international law.

There is no respectable body of international lawyers who believe that the ‘Act of Free Choice’ fulfils Indonesia’s (or the United Nations’) obligations under the New York Agreement.

Legal position

(a)       Indonesia is obliged under the New York Agreement and the general rules of public international law to facilitate a free plebiscite by which the inhabitants of the western part of New Guinea indicate by whom they wish to be ruled.

(b)       The United Nations has an obligation under its Resolution 1752 (XVII) to ensure that the terms of the New York Agreement are carried into effect and that a free plebiscite is conducted. It has an identical obligation under the general rules of international law.

(c)        Indonesia’s occupation of the western part of the island of New Guinea is unlawful. Its exploitation of the natural resources is simple theft.

Indonesia is responsible for many gross violations of human rights. There is no effective machinery for calling to account the Indonesians responsible.

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