Future prospects for West Papua – speech 1 July 2022

On 1 July 2022, a conference to celebrate the independence declaration of West Papua of 1 July 1971 was held in The Hague, Mr. Jeroen Zandberg made the following speech at this event. The original speech was in Dutch and can be read here.

It is a pleasure to be here.

Today is July 1, the day that the Papuans proclaimed their unilateral independence, 51 years ago on July 1, 1971. In six weeks there will be another milestone in the history of West Papua, it will be sixty years ago that the New York Agreement was signed. This Agreement placed authority over West Papua in the hands of an interim United Nations administration, the implementation of which fell to Indonesia, who thus became master of the fate of West Papua and the Papuans. This Agreement was signed on August 15, 1962, under great pressure from the Americans, during the height of the Cold War. The Americans tried to get Indonesia within their sphere of influence and to limit the influence of the Soviet Union. To this end, the right to self-determination of the Papuans was set aside and replaced by the right of the powerful.

On May 1, 1963, Indonesia annexed West Papua. However, as part of the New York Agreement, the people of West Papua had to be given the opportunity to determine their future in a referendum. This referendum was held in 1969 under the title ‘Act of Free Choice’, but was far from free, because only a select group of Papuans, appointed by the Indonesian government, could decide the fate of the Papuans. The outcome was therefore predictable and West Papua remained part of Indonesia. Many Papuans obviously did not agree with this imposed outcome and a rebel group declared the independence of West Papua on 1 July 1971. The struggle for recognition and self-determination continues to this day.

The history of West Papua was largely written by the various colonial powers, first by the Netherlands, then by the Americans and then by Indonesia. I especially want to look at where the Papuans are now and what future prospects they have.

Besides a unique culture, West Papua also has an impressive nature with tropical rainforest, high mountain plateaus and extensive beaches and coral reefs. This nature is under severe pressure due to the mining of gold, copper, nickel and other precious metals. Sadly, the area’s natural resources are a curse rather than a blessing for many. For example, mineral extraction creates an economic exploitation structure that mainly benefits large international companies and whereby nature suffers from pollution and destruction. The future of West Papua is linked to that of the Papuans and of nature. It is therefore very important to ensure that the natural environment is protected as much as possible and that the economic structures are brought under the control, and in the interest of, the Papuans in West Papua.

Indonesia has great ambitions and wants to play an important role in the world. It is, of course, also one of the largest countries with a population dwarfed only by the US, India and China. However, a great country with even greater ambitions cannot become great unless it is held accountable for its past actions. The injustice done to the Papuans is a stain on Indonesia’s reputation. It is a stain that will be magnified, emphasized and used by Indonesia’s adversaries on the world stage. After all, lying always ensures that the desired greatness will remain out of reach. It is therefore also a challenge for Indonesia, as it is for the Papuans, to find a just solution for the situation in West Papua.

What will the future identity of the western part of the island of New Guinea look like? Will it still be West Papua? And what does West Papua actually mean, now and in the future? This future identity has roots in the past, but which past? Is that the past that Indonesia promotes or the past that the Papuans who stand behind the declaration of independence are propagating? Who will decide about this identity now and in the future? These questions deserve an answer. Above all, they deserve a dialogue. A dialogue between independent, equal parties striving for a new reality for West Papua. A clash of words, ideas and visions that does not lead to an accident, but to the formation of a unique view that offers a solution to the problems of West Papua. This political dialogue will largely determine the future identity of West Papua and I have every confidence that this dialogue will bring Papuan leaders in West Papua and beyond, closer together and thereby represent the interests of the Papuans to the fullest.

The identity of West Papua is also under pressure as a result of migration. This migration to West Papua has been part of Indonesian government policy for decades to move inhabitants from densely populated to less populated islands. This transmigration policy has resulted in the indigenous Papuan population becoming a minority in many areas and thus facing the many problems that minorities around the world face. In addition to the struggle for self-determination, the struggle against discrimination against the Papuan population is an urgent and important struggle waged by a few, but supported by many. The anti-discrimination campaigns of international human rights organizations are of great importance to protect the rights of the Papuans. Subsequently, it is also up to the Papuans themselves to protect, maintain and promote their own identity, despite the great pressure and minority status in many areas. After all, migration is a phenomenon of all times and only the population groups that were able to maintain their unity and to protect and promote their identity survived. I have full confidence that the Papuans will be among these survivors.

On July 1, 1971, 51 years ago, a rebel group declared West Papua’s independence and raised the Morning Star flag as a symbol of West Papua and the Papuans. Many fighters have since raised the flag, while also carrying it in their hearts. However, we are not all politicians, but we are all rebels. Not with firearms, but by other legitimate means. I want to give some examples of that. An inspiring example is the cultural song-and-dance group that travels across town and country to keep the Papuan culture alive and show it to others in a positive way. The performances by the song-and-dance group of the West Papua Association, which have been performing since 1996, are a source of inspiration that keeps the culture of the Papuans alive.

Another example is the West Papua national football team. In 2017, the Football Association West Papua was established to represent West Papua on the international football stage. This association is a member of CONIFA, which brings together national football associations of countries not affiliated to FIFA. Since June 2017, the West Papua national football team has played against a range of unrecognized countries such as Kurdistan, Tamil Eelam, Katanga and East Turkestan. At such international football matches, the flag is raised and the national anthem is sung by today’s rebels, giving new impetus to the dreams of the Papuan people. I look forward to the presentation of the new football team kit that will make the players shine on the pitch and inspire the spectators and supporters.

I am also looking forward to the many activities planned for the coming year. The political dialogue, the human rights campaign, the protection of nature and natural resources, the cultural activities and finally the international sports activities. This full agenda indicates that the identity of West Papua is very much alive, which we are working on together with good courage.

Thanks for the attention and I wish everyone a good afternoon.

Jeroen Zandberg