The Role of the UN Secretary-General’s Representative in Resolving the Dispute over West Papua (Part 2)
The chosen policy was widespread intimidation, threats and terror. The difficult economic situation was a fertile ground for propaganda, indoctrination and agitation. Despite provocations, the authorities pursued a policy of restraint and moderation in combating insurrection and armed confrontation and adopted a policy of clemency and leniency Accordingly, scores of political detainees were released in order to create an atmosphere conducive for the exercise of the act of free choice. The same lenient policy was also evident towards the question of the return of exiles who could then participate in this exercise. In sum, contrary to the assertions of the UN Representative, the rights and freedoms of West Papuas were upheld, there was freedom of speech, and political and other organizations were allowed to function in accordance with the laws of the country.
Another issue on which divergent positions were taken was the UN Representative’s proposal for a one-man-one-vote to be used in the urban areas where communications and transportation were comparatively better, while advanced cultural level of the population and the availability of administrative apparatus would facilitate such a process. This was to be complemented by collective consultations in the less accessible and less advanced areas of the interior, It was claimed that such a “mixed system” would be the best possible modality considering the geographic terrain and human realities which called for “ a realistic criteria.”
The inapplicability of one-man-one-vote was based on the reality that with the exception of the tribal chiefs and other community leaders whose contacts with the missionaries and local authorities have made them prone to express their views on political issues but the population were illiterate and not interested in these issues. Furthermore, Indonesia has consistently opposed the right of self-determination on the ground that it would challenge the struggle for, and the Proclamation of Indonesia’s Independence which already constituted the exercise of such a right for all the people of Indonesia. In effect, the people of West Papua could not be separated from their historical background and Indonesia’s struggle for freedom and their feeling of oneness with the rest of the country to achieve this objective.
A compromise was found to resolve these differing approaches: an act of self-determination or an act of free choice. The latter modality was chosen whereby the wishes of the people would be ascertained. In Indonesian terminology and practice, this is called musjawarah, i.e., consultations towards consensos to secure their approval for implementing the act of free choice through the regional councils which would be enlarged to form consultative assemblies. These assemblies would not reach a decision through voting but through musjawarah which is a decision-making procedure based on discussion, understanding and knowledge of the problem. The results of the musjawarah in the assemblies constituted the final result of the act of free choice for the whole province.
The validity of the Government’s position has to be seen in the imperative need to conform to the specific geographical, social and human realities which existed in West Papua and which unavoidably conditioned the method to be adopted for the act of free choice. Still, in a spirit of compromise and cooperation, Indonesia agreed with the UN Representative for three pre-requisites to be fulfilled both prior to and during election of members to the consultative assemblies: sufficiently large membership, the representation of all sectors of the society and new members to be elected by the people.
It can be seen from the foregoing that the Government of Indonesia accepted many but not all proposals and recommendations of the UN Representative for the implementation in a democratic manner the provisions of the New York Agreement. The letter and spirit of that document was clear. It was more a political than a juridical document. This is because the implementation of the act of free choice was from the outset a political proposition and as conceded by the UN Representative, only Indonesia had the political authority to take decisions concerning the act of free choice. Consequently, the role of the UN Representative was limited and devoid of any political function. Hence, the task of devising a simple and practical method of carrying out the act of free choice became Indonesia’s responsibility and was submitted to the representatives of the people of West Papua who were capable of understanding the complexities involved and who represented all segments of the people in the territory The requirements of democracy was also taken into account, albeit adapted to the specific socio-cultural conditions that prevailed in the territory
Barring the lapses and indiscretions noted above, the role of the UN Representative was professional, indeed exemplary, in implementing the provisions of the New York Agreement and in fulfilling his responsibilities on behalf of the Secretary-General. Yet, there have been allegations that the UN was utilized by Indonesia as a cover to carry out the disputed act of free choice as Jakarta was determined never to offer an opportunity for Papuans to separate from the Republic. Such a dubious claim was based on the assertion that the reduction of UN staff from the original number of 50 to a token 16 was not sufficient to monitor and supervise the act of free choice for the large area of West Papua; the UN never had any intention of pressing Jakarta to hold a genuine act of self-determination; and, in fact, the UN leadership was in collusion with Indonesia to legitimize their take over and annexation of the territory. All of these taken together have violated the terms of the New York Agreement which has become null and void.
On closer examination, however, these allegations are without foundation, and hence, warrant summary dismissal. To transplant Western democratic methods and practices would not only be erroneous but also unrealistic in the context of the realities in West Papua. This is due to the specific conditions, the internal social dynamics and tradition of society, the level of advancement and the philosophy of life of Indonesians – all of which differ from those prevailing in Western countries. The Dutch did not challenge the veracity or outcome of the act of free choice. Any derogation or significant departures from the Agreement might have provoked criticism or even condemnation by the General Assembly In fact, the General Assembly did not discuss or pass judgement; it only “took note” of the Secretary-General’s Report. For, the act of free choice was in conformity with the generally accepted norms of political representation in some parts of the world where representatives were elected or selected by their respective communities, thus given an opportunity to the general population to be involved in that process. This was the litmus test about the fairness and validity of the act of free choice and constituted the ultimate solution to the question of West Papua.