The issue of Papua reached its peak in 2019 after the racial-based incident which directed at Papuans happened in Surabaya last August. This heartbreaking incident is followed by such unrest which did not only occur in Papua Province, but also in West Papua Province. As it always happens in most of the conflicts, it is the civilians who suffer most of all – and in this case are the non-Papuan who resided in Papua. Government buildings, public facilities, and a lot of vehicles are damaged – causing a destructive impact and loss to everyone.
In addition, the wave of protests also demand Papua independence as those protesters claimed that their grievances remain unaddressed by the government. Referendum issue is therefore used as the reason to seek for self-determination. They argued that referendum is indeed necessary due to the failure in the practice of 1969 Act of Free Choice. Despite the UN supervision, there were only 1025 Papuan representing 700.000 – 800.000 Papuan in the voting process which they considered, did not represent the voices of the whole Papuan. If “one man, one vote” was applied, 1025 is not equally representating all Papuan.
Background of new york agreement and referendum
First thing first, we need to better understand the background of referendum which took place in 1969 and all of the stories behind it. Referendum was actually the result of New York Agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Kingdom of the Nethrelands in August 15, 1962 which emphasized on the transfer of authority for the territory of West Papua from Netherland to Indonesia. This time also marked the history that the Dutch would leave West Papua following many other islands that were officially recognized by the Dutch in 1949 – and it showed their commitment to meet the demands of Indonesia since 1949 as written in Konferensi Meja Bundar whose one of the agreements was the transfer of authority of West Papua to Indonesia.
The Dutch refused to commit to the transfer of authority as they believe West Papuan’s ethnic groups is different with most of Indonesian. In fact, the demand was based on the historical linkages of the social and cultural interactions of Indonesian there. Likewise, it is also based on Uti Possidetis Juris or international law regulating the boundaries of former colonies. However, the discussion of West Papua issue was deferred until one year after the signing of Konferensi Meja Bundar in 1949.
The demands to release Papua and transfer its authority to Indonesia continued to raise as the continuation of demands in Konferensi Meja Bundar. In response to this, the United States (US) facilitated the agreement between Indonesian government and the Dutch focusing on the discussion about West Papua.
The clause regarding the need for referendum in New York Agreement was a new but anomaly clause. The referendum was not originally coming from Papuan in the New York Agreement since they are not represented by the Dutch in this case, and the Dutch represented their own government. While Indonesia who demanded for the free Papua from Dutch colony into the province of Indonesia had been consistently fighting for mutual independence since 1949.
So, when the agreement was reached, Indonesian government at the time indirectly also represented the people of Papua. When the clause of referendum was included into one of the points in New York Agreement, Indonesia firmly considered it as anomaly or “under no basis” case if we compared it to the continuation of the transfer of authority and sovereignty in Konferensi Meja Bundar. To this end, Indonesia continued to put a lot of effort to the succeed of this transfer of power through various bilateral and multilateral diplomacies.
The anomaly clause at the negotiation with the Dutch is not merely a new thing. If we take a look on the result of Konferensi Meja Bundar carefully, the Dutch agreed to surrender their sovereignty to Indonesia under the condition that Indonesia must pay the losses which the Dutch bear due to the foreign and domestic debts when they occupied the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) nearly 4.300.000.000 gulden or US$ 1.130.000.000 at that time. This pre-requisite was indeed considered anomaly and seemed to be unbearable by Indonesia as the newly formed country who had suffered under Japan occupation and wars with the Dutch and British.
In a book written by George McTurnan Kahin “Nationalism and Revolutions in Indonesia” (1952), it was noted that most of the public opinion in the Netherland during occupation era preferred West Papua to be under Indonesian authority since that under-developed area needed government cost for nearly 10.000.000 gulden every year, meanwhile the Dutch prodits from the oil mines elsewhere could not reach this number.
The desire to defend West Papua was later enacted by two Dutch Parliamentary Council based on the reason that Dutch nationalism dynamics projected to still have a power in Asia. Later, there was also a plan to accommodate those Dutch citizens who had lived in other part of Indonesia yet were deported by Indonesian government who was angry as the West Papuan isssue remain unsolved for years.
Based on such considerations, it is understandable that the decision to hold referendum in New York Agreement did not have any historical-based reason from the process that took place since the negotiation in Konferensi Meja Bundar in 1949. As the decision clearly stated that Dutch must surrender their claims over West Papua and recognize the sovereignty of Indonesia, there was no single point stating the recommendation to do referendum to be independent nor to be under Dutch colony.
Therefore, when the Dutch already agreed to hand over the administration of West Papua to Indonesia, there should had been no more referendum as agreed on Konferensi Meja Bundar. Even if the decision has to be in accordance with Konferensi Meja Bundar, there should have been a discussion on the compensation cost spent by the Dutch government when they were in Indonesia, just like when Indonesia paid fees and debts to the Dutch government when Indonesia was under their occupation as agreed in Konferensi Meja Bundar.
So why was there a referendum for Papua in 1969? This decision seemed to give a positive point to the Dutch’s diplomacy efforts in the negotiation so that they did not feel defeated in their colonies from Indonesia. This is a new anomaly since it was not connected with the other results of Konferensi Meja Bundar as discussed in the aforementioned views, moreover, referendum would potentially protect the Dutch image from any loss resulted from Indonesian concistent diplomacy in Konferensi Meja Bundar 1949.
Today’s referendum demand and the potential solutions
Now, the fact that many Papuan demand for another referendum has motivated them to lobby the Pacifics countries and other Non-Governmental Oganizations (NGO) to support their idea. They argue that the 1969 referendum did not represent the voices of the whole Papua since it did not apply the “one man, one vote” mechanism. They believe that it was the manipulation allowing Indonesia to annex Papua and further exploited their natural resources. Those Papuan also consider Indonesia inherited the Dutch’s colonialism system in their land.
Papuan should better understand the idea of another referendum comprehensively. First, government must be able to explain the history of Indonesian independence in 1945 until the recognition of its independence by the Dutch in 1949 since this struggle was also for Papua. In that period of time, some part of Indonesian were under the administration of the Dutch, just like West Papua. The struggle at Konferensi Meja Bundar including Papua as the critical discussion proved Indonesian commitment, more specifically the founding father, to fight for the rights of Papuan regardless the ethnics, culture, religion, and skin color. It also showed Indonesian commitment to be an independent nation free from any form of colonialism and never aim to be a new colonialist country.
New York Agreement in 1962 must be explained as the continuation of struggle in Konferensi Meja Bundar which still left the unfinished work of freeing West Papua from the Dutch collonies, just like other parts of Indonesia. All forms of outcomes in New York Agreement must be considered as a strategy which aimed to fight for the rights of Papua from the Dutch colony to be united with Indonesia as discussed in Konferensi Meja Bundar. Having said that, 1969 referendum was not the foundation of lessening commitment for the return of Papua as the region that is free from colonialization since it was the result of Indonesian struggle since 1949.
Referendum is not a solution for every problem in Papua. Moreover, the ethnic issue globally should no longer consider whether or not some regions should be independent, and racial-based discrimination is no longer exist in the world. A civilized country respects and guarantees the existence of various ethnicities without discrimination, and Indonesia has proven that.
Indonesia, through the principle of Pancasila which upholds the principle of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or Unity in Diversity emphasizes the commitment to maintain unity without uniformity, and diversity without fragmentation. Besides, Indonesian Law number 21/2001 on Special Autonomy of Papua reiterated the right of Papuan to preserve their cultural value, religious value; and the recognition of democracy, people representation, and right to natural resources managed by the locals. Any obstacle which occurs toward the objective of socio-economic changes as written in Indonesian Law number 21/2001 on Special Autonomy of Papua requires the robust cooperation among the national government, regional government, all Indonesian, and Papuan themselves. As such, any regional policy initiatives should be in line with the national government policies.
This special autonomy law should become the starting point for Papua to be resilient and developed which means they are free from any kinds of violence, enjoy the rights to welfare, prosperity, and justice, and possess an ability to develop the quality of the human resources, including cultural development. And these goals definitely cannot be achieved through referendum, since it does bring more harm than good for everyone. (*)