Latest News


ILWP statement in advance of 1st December commemorations in West Papua


International Lawyers for West Papua

This Thursday, 1 December 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of West Papua’s declaration of independence from the Dutch and the first raising of the West Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag.  Rather than celebrating 50 years of independence, West Papuans will be protesting their continued occupation by Indonesia. Thousands of West Papuans will take to the streets to engage in peaceful protests and flag raising ceremonies to commemorate the events of 1 December 1961 and to call for Indonesia and the international community to respect their right to self-determination under international law.

The political situation in West Papua is tense following the recent excessive and lethal force by Indonesian security forces at the Third Papuan Congress, a peaceful assembly at which Papuans exercised their right to freedom of speech and assembly to meet and to voice their desire for self-determination. The attacks resulted in at least 3 protestors being killed, 90 persons being injured and approximately 300 persons arrested. At least five prominent protesters remain in detention for peacefully expressing their opinions.

International Lawyers for West Papua expresses its concern that 1 December 2011 will see a repeat of the recent violence and human rights abuse in Papua.

International Lawyers for West Papua respectfully calls upon the Indonesian authorities to:

  • Ensure that the people of West Papua are able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, in accordance with Indonesia’s international obligations and the Indonesian Constitution, to participate in peaceful demonstrations and flag-raisings;

  • Ensure against the unnecessary use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions by security forces on and around 1 December 2011;

  • Immediately release all prisoners of conscience currently being held in arbitrary detention for peacefully protesting for self-determination, including Filip Karma;

  • Repeal all laws which criminalise the peaceful expression of opinions and, in particular, the peaceful expression of West Papuans’ desire for self-determination.

International Lawyers for West Papua respectfully calls upon governments to:

  • Deploy embassy staff to Papua to monitor and observe events on 1 December given the lack of international observers as the result of current restrictions on access for journalists and international organisations;

  • Urge the Indonesian government to ensure full and free access of journalists and international human rights organisations to Papua;

  • Call for an immediate, full and impartial investigation into the deaths and injuries arising from the Third Papuan Congress on 19 October and accountability for those involved;

  • Reiterate support for the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association and condemnation of excessive use of force and the suppression of peaceful protest in Papua;

  • Urge Indonesia to release all persons detained in Papua for the peaceful expression of their political views; and

  • Urge Indonesia to repeal all criminal laws, such as the makar or treason provisions, which are being used to criminalise dissent and the exercise of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.

Legal Background and Significance of 1 December for West Papuans

On 1 December 1961, West Papuans raised their flag, the Morning Star, and sang their national anthem as they formally announced their independence from the Dutch. Today, raising that same flag attracts prison sentences of up to 15 years in Indonesian courts. The importance of 1 December for West Papuans and the annual peaceful flag raisings held to commemorate this day is only properly understood in the historical context of West Papua’s ongoing struggle for self-determination.

West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea. The other, better-known half of the island is the independent state of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Melanesian peoples of West Papua and PNG share similar ethnicities, cultures and religions: only their different colonial past sets them apart.  West Papua was colonised by the Dutch and formed part of the Dutch East Indies. When Indonesia was granted independence after WWII, West Papua remained under Dutch control. Distinct from Indonesians in ethnicity, culture, history and religion, West Papuans were to be given independence.

Successive UN General Assembly resolutions recognised the independent state of Indonesia but noted specifically that West New Guinea was not part of Indonesia. Listed as a UN Non-Self Governing Territory, the Dutch held the territory of West New Guinea in “sacred trust” until such time the Papuans right to self-determination could be implemented through self-government and the creation of an independent West Papuan state. In 1961 the West Papuan national parliament was elected and officials from Australia, Britain, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and members of the South Pacific Commission attended the inauguration. With the flag and anthem recognised by the Dutch, Parliament voted for independence and it came into effect on 1 December 1961. On that day, the Morning Star flag was raised for the first time.

Then Indonesia invaded. To protect the West Papuans, the Netherlands and their ally in the region, Australia, prepared for war. The US – concerned about losing Indonesia to the Russians and keen to secure lucrative mining contracts – intervened. Facing US pressure and continued Indonesian military incursions, the Dutch agreed to a UN and US-brokered settlement: the 1962 New York Agreement.  West Papuans, unanimous in their demand for independence, were not consulted.

Under the Agreement, West Papua administration was transferred from the Netherlands to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) and to UN-supervised Indonesian administration in 1963, pending a vote for self-determination which would determine West Papua’s fate.

Having signed concession agreements with US mining company Freeport for the exploitation of West Papua’s natural resources in 1967, Indonesia had no intention of allowing West Papuan independence in 1969. With the acquiescence of the UN and the international community, Indonesia conducted a violent military campaign against the Papuan leadership and Papuan people.

Between 1962 and 1969 in the lead up to the vote, the Indonesian military is estimated to have killed 30,000 West Papuans. Frank Galbraith, US Ambassador to Indonesia at the time, warned that Indonesian military operations and abuses “had stimulated fears… of intended genocide among the [Papuans].” An Australian journalist, Hugh Lunn, reported that West Papuans protesting for a democratic vote were arrested by the Indonesian military. Others were killed.

In 1969 and under UN supervision, Indonesia held the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice”, popularly known as the “Act of ‘NO’ Choice”. A handpicked group of 1,022 West Papuans (of an estimated population of 800,000) were coerced into voting unanimously for integration with Indonesia under threat of violence.

UN officials admitted in private that 95% of Papuans supported independence. British diplomatic correspondence noted that the UN wanted quick resolution of the matter, but “[p]rivately…we recognise that the people of West [Papua] have no desire to be ruled by the Indonesians…and that that process of consultation did not allow a genuinely free choice to be made.” Former United Nations Under-Secretary General Chakravarthy Narasimhan, who handled the Indonesian takeover, has since admitted that the process was a “whitewash”. Distinguished international jurists have dismissed the 1969 vote as a “spurious exercise”, amounting to a substantive betrayal of the principle of self-determination.

But as UN Representative Sanz told Australian journalist Hugh Lunn, “West [Papua] is like a cancerous growth on the side of the UN and my job is to surgically remove it”. In November 1969, the UN approved the outcome of the sham vote and West Papua became a province of Indonesia.

The West Papuan parliament’s declaration of independence on 1 December 1961 was ignored, along with their right to self-determination under international law. West Papuans were sacrificed in the name of Cold War politics and natural resources.

This year marks 50 years since the West Papuans declaration of independence from the Dutch. But instead of celebrating 50 years of independence and the end of colonial rule, West Papuans will be protesting their continued occupation by Indonesia and peacefully demanding their right to self-determination. Had the UN – and the Dutch – properly discharged their sacred trust under the UN Charter, West Papuans would this week be celebrating 50 years of independence, rather than 48 years of oppression under Indonesian rule.


Since that time Indonesia has committed crimes against humanity against the West Papuan people. Both Yale and Sydney Universities have reported the situation is approaching genocide. In 2006 a West Papuan delegate to the UN Economic and Social Council Working Group on Indigenous Rights reported alarming figures:

‘At the end of 1960…the West Papuan population amounted to 800,000 – more than the 600,000 people of their brother and sisters in Papua New Guinea (PNG)… in 2004 [West Papuan] indigenous people amounted to only 1.5 million, whereas the PNG indigenous population had grown to 6 million. We fear that corrupt business interests have wanted to deny West Papuan self determination until foreign nationals outnumber our indigenous population, making us a minority in our own land.’

These crimes against humanity continue today. Earlier this month, Indonesian security forces used excessive and lethal force against the Papuans gathered at the Third Papuan Congress, a peaceful assembly at which Papuans exercised their right to freedom of speech and assembly to meet and to voice their desire for self-determination. Indeed, the Third Congress once again declared independence from Indonesia. The response was violent retaliation by Indonesian police and military. The attacks resulted in at least 3 protestors being killed, 90 persons being injured and approximately 300 persons arrested. At least five prominent protesters remain in detention for peacefully expressing their opinions.

West Papuans insist that their right to self-determination was denied and call for a new “one person one vote” referendum. A growing list of international parliamentarians and lawyers are calling on the UN Secretary General to initiate a review of the UN’s conduct in West Papua and for a fresh referendum. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a supporter of West Papua’s campaign for UN review, has asserted “[a] strong United Nations will be capable of, among other things, acknowledging and correcting its mistakes”.

In 1999 most observers hailed the success of the UN administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the conduct of the vote for self-determination and East Timor’s transition to independence from Indonesia.  But few people are aware of the UN’s failure in its first – and disastrous – attempt at administration in the nearby Indonesian province of West Papua more than 40 years earlier. East Timor got a democratic vote. West Papua got a sham vote. East Timor got independence. West Papua became part of Indonesia.

For West Papuans, 1 December is their independence day and they continue to recognise it each year with symbolic flag raisings to assert their right to self-determination. As a matter of international law, 1 December should properly be recognised as their independence day.