Reflections on the 1962 New York agreement
In October 1962 Dutch rule in West Papua ended and was replaced by a temporary UN administration (UNTEA). This was established as part of the UN-brokered New York Agreement , signed between The Netherlands and Indonesia to resolve their dispute over the territory. For all its flaws, this agreement guaranteed the Papuans the right to self-determination in accordance with international practice, but this never happened. Indonesia took over from the UN seven months later and never left.
In October 2012 Indonesian security forces attacked peaceful political rallies in several West Papuan cities and intensified sweep operations in the Central Highlands forcing hundreds of villagers to flee . These were not isolated incidents. According to Amnesty International, fifty years after the New York Agreement, Indonesia continues to deny Papuans their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly . A good reason therefore to re-examine the origins of this agreement, its content and implementation.
With no genuine involvement by the population, the UN effectively stood by as Indonesia hand-picked, bribed and threatened 1,022 Papuans to take part in the 1969 "Act of Free Choice" - a series of theatrical ceremonies in which the selected Papuans stood up on command to indicate unanimous consent for integration with Indonesia.
In 1949 the Dutch ceded sovereignty of the Netherlands East Indies to the new Indonesian Republic but kept West Papua, not least because they reasoned that the Papuans were ethnically and culturally completely different to the Indonesians. Over the next thirteen years preparations for West Papuan independence progressed in the face of increasingly strong opposition from Jakarta which claimed the territory for itself.
But arguments over who should determine West Papua's future were superseded by the August 1962 signing of the New York Agreement, and its acknowledgement that it was for the Papuans, and no one else, to decide whether the territory should become an independent state or a province of Indonesia.
The transfer of administration from Dutch to UN control was the first stage of the agreement. But from the start, instead of safeguarding Papuan political and human rights, UNTEA's priority was simply to hand the territory over to Indonesia as quickly as possible. As one senior UN administrator privately reported:
"I have yet to meet any thinking, sober, generally responsible Papuan who sees any good in the coming link with Indonesia. Unwelcome as the anxiety and resistance of thinking Papuans maybe it is of course hardly surprising if one is not under pressure to close one's eyes to what is in fact happening to this people at the hands of the three parties to the Agreement."