UNESCO and the West Papuan Hostage Crisis
In this section of the subject we have an interview with Emeritus Professor Stephen Hill, AM from the University of Wollongong and former Regional Director, Asia and Pacific and Ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Stephen was Regional Director when 24 people were taken hostage by the West Papuan independence movement called Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) led in the area by Kelly Kwalik on 8 January 1996. All but 11 of the hostages were quickly released; the remaining group included five seven Westerners, two members of whom were Stephen’s staff. The interview tells us more about what happened but before you watch it, here is a little background on West Papua’s independence movement.
West Papua is the western half of the island of New Guinea, which is part of Indonesia, the other half is the state of Papua New Guinea. The Melanesian population have been there for around 50,000 years. The mountainous and rough terrain produced extraordinary cultural diversity – around 270 languages are spoken in West Papua.
West Papua was nominally absorbed into the Dutch East Indies in 1660 but the Dutch didn’t claim formal possession until 1828 and even then there wasn’t much Dutch activity in the area as they didn’t think it had useful resources. Indeed, the colonial presence only intensified in the 1920s.
In 1949, the Netherlands had to allow independence to the rest of Indonesia but they retained control of West New Guinea arguing that it was ethnically distinct from the rest of Asian Indonesia, and undoubtedly hoping to be able to exploit the resources of this final vestige of their colonial empire. However, the fiercely anti-colonial Indonesia government then headed by President Sukarno, laid claim to the region. They even invaded West Papua in 1961. Even Although the Indonesians were defeated, the Dutch were forced to withdraw in 1962 leaving West Papua in the hands of a temporary UN administration until mid-1963 when the Indonesians took over under an Agreement struck between the Netherlands, Indonesia and the United Nations Secretariat. Indigenous Papuans were not included. Part of the UN conditions for the handover to the Indonesians was that the West Papuans should have the opportunity to exercise their will to determine whether they remain in Indonesia or not. This vague wording and acceptance of Indonesia’s control over preparations saw Indonesia conduct an “Act of Free Choice” in 1969. Indonesia selected 1,026 ‘community leaders’ to vote by verbal expression in groups, not individually or secretly, for incorporation while subject to bribes and stark coercion. The UN, within an international political context that welcomed the new anti-communist Indonesian President Soeharto, minimally supervised and ingloriously accepted this vote.
That the West Papuans did not accept Indonesia rule was clear even before the Act of Free Choice – there were large-scale uprisings in the mid-1960s. In the 1970s, the failure of the mass protests saw protest become more clandestine and focused in more remote areas where the OPM operated. Occasional large uprisings did occur – in 1984, over 100 West Papuan members of the Indonesian army attempted to defect. The army had been forewarned and they stopped the mutiny and cracked down on the mutineers.
Even non-violent protests were, and continue to be dealt with severely. In 1988 Dr Thomas Wainggai was sentenced to 20 years gaol for flying the independence flag – the West Papuan Morning Star. The flag remains a symbol of resistance and flying it is still a crime unless it is raised with the Indonesian flag.
The resistance to Indonesian rule in the central highlands, where the hostage crisis occurred, is also strongly connected to the opposition to the Freeport copper and gold mine, which has a land concession of 25,000 km2 out of West Papua’s total land area of 414,000 km2 and which has caused significant environmental destruction destroying the livelihoods of the local Amungme and Kamoroo peoples with no compensation.
Just over a year before the hostages were taken, in late 1994, a pastor and members of his congregation were killed by the Indonesian military. They were pursuing OPM groups who had been conducting a series of flag raisings in the area around the Freeport mine. The publicity generated from these murders and the hostage taking bought the West Papuan situation to the world’s attention for a period though attention has again waned.
One of Indonesia’s main tactics to increase their control in West Papua is through migration of mostly Javanese to the region. Now, although the ‘Transmigrasi’ program was formally terminated in 2000, about half of the 2.4 million inhabitants of West Papua in 2010 were born in Java. By 2020 it is estimated that non-Papuans will constitute over 71% of West Papua’s population, further extinguishing the indigenous voice and voting strength in decisions about Papuan rights and future. Despite this program and military repression both military and non-violence resistance to Indonesia’s rule continues to this day.
West Papua stands between Australia and the rest of Asia. It is rich with resources, has an increasingly Islamic rather than indigenous population and is subject of new interest from China. Meanwhile the indigenous people in one of the closest territories to Australia are amongst the most persecuted and repressed people in the world.
So far, Australia has paid little attention to what lies on our doorstep.
The Bougainville Peace Process
Professor Ted Wolfers on the Bougainville Peace Process
Edward (Ted) Wolfers is an Honorary Professorial Fellow here at the University of Wollongong. He was the Foundation Professor of Politics at the UOW and has been a key adviser to the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) on a range of issues. During the crisis in the Bougainville Autonomous Province the PNG government requested that he assist them and he worked with the government during a number of the phases of the conflict, which went from 1988 and 2002 and resulted in thousands of deaths. Today Ted is speaking to Susan about the causes of the crisis, the key factors in the settlement and the future prospects.