Constitutional court reviews law on the formation of Papua Province

A team of 15 lawyers (see intro image) representing the ‘Coalition for Advocacy and Justice of the Papuan People’ has filed a judicial review of Law 12/1969 regarding the formation of the ‘Autonomy Province of Irian Barat’. The law is the legal foundation for the acknowledgment of the 1996 Act of Free Choice and the subsequent integration of West Papua into the Indonesian Republic – at that time still referred to as Irian Barat. The coalition claims that multiple formulations in the law are representing a false view of Papuan history because they contradict historic facts regarding the implementation of the Act of Free Choice. Various international historic researches on the integration of West Papua into Indonesia came to the result that the act of free choice was not implemented in accordance with the ‘New York Agreement’ of August 1962.

At that time, Indonesia was mandated to administer an UN-supervised referendum on the future of the territory in 1969, the so-called 'Act of Free Choice'. Instead of organizing a one-men, one-vote referendum, Indonesia handpicked a council of 1,025 tribal leaders from a population of more than 800,000, who would decide on behalf of the Papuan people whether the territory would integrate with Indonesia or opt for independence. Faced with coercion and intimidation, the council returned a unanimous decision in favor of Papua's integration into Indonesia.

The coalition regards the review as part of the peace process with the goal to find a common understanding towards the historic integration of West Papua into Indonesia. The clarification of Papuan history was actually part of the mandate of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ (KKR), which was supposed to be established as part of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law. However, the Commission was never formed.

In a next step, the government and the Indonesian parliament will be given time to present their views on the implementation of the ‘Act of Free Choice’ and Law 12/1969.

Historic Background

In the 1950s the Dutch government began preparing the territory for independence through a process of decolonization. However, the path to independence was intercepted when the government of the new Republic of Indonesia launched a military operation in December 1961 for the 'return' of Papua (then known by Indonesia as West Irian). Coming at a time of intense Cold War politics, Indonesia's military expansionism attracted international attention. The historical record also shows that US investors had recently secured a stake in Papua's natural wealth. The United States stepped in to broker a deal. It pressured the Dutch to allow Indonesia to administer Papua while the United Nations oversaw negotiations about its future.

Papuans describe the 1969 consultation as an 'Act of No Choice'. The legitimacy of the process has also been questioned by the few international observers present at that time, human rights activists and legal experts in Indonesia and internationally. Yet at the time, the UN merely 'took note' of the undemocratic process of the Act. This amounted to recognition of Indonesian sovereignty (unlike East Timor, whose forced integration into Indonesia was never recognized by the UN). From the outset, the majority of Papuans opposed Indonesian rule and they resented the way they had been denied their right to govern themselves. In response to this opposition - both from armed groups and the general population - the Indonesian government resorted to violence and oppression. This is the background to the colonization by Indonesians that threatens the existence of indigenous Papuans - and the root of the conflict that continues until today.