West Papua: Finding a Way Forward


On the 16th of September, the UNAA Queensland Peace and Security Program hosted the online event, ‘West Papua: Finding a way forward’. As is often the case in the past two years, this event was disrupted by Covid, and what was meant to be an in-person discussion was conducted via Zoom. Our volunteer speakers were up to the challenge, and although faced with several technological hurdles on the night, what was presented was some great insight into current status of West Papua and what we, as an active civil society, could do in the face of significant challenges that are evident in the West Papua case. What follows is a brief overview of our four speakers’ presentations and some of the key points that emerged.

The first of our speakers was Julian McKinlay King, a  PhD candidate from the University of Wollongong. He is assisting the Free Papua Movement as Campaign Coordinator & Legal Advisor; and has formerly worked with the late Dr John Otto Ondawame on the West Papua Project at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. He began proceedings with an overview of some of the most prevalent issues in West Papua, particularly in regard to the legal issues. What he presented was an enthralling, somewhat tragic account of the current state of play in West Papua, stemming from what he argued to be illegitimate and underhanded dealings between governments, and indeed, the United Nations itself.

  • Papua is one of the largest islands in the world, made up of isolated tribes, living with indigenous lifestyles
  • It was colonised and carved up by the Dutch and the Germans.
  • It was given up by the Dutch during WWII. US presence was established in WWII to fight the Japanese, assisted by indigenous West Papuans.
  • After WWII, Dutch rule was re-established with Australia having control over the eastern side. In 1957, the Netherlands-Australian joint statement was signed- acknowledging the right of self-governance for West Papuans as the Dutch pursued decolonization
  • West Papua was transferred to UN custodianship in 1962, however between 1958-1962 there was recurring Indonesian military incursions
  • Indonesia was urged to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but declined, believing they did not have a solid case
  • In 1961, West Papua flag flew next to the Dutch flag with a national anthem
  • CIA intervened at the behest of the Rockefeller family who used their influence to ensure access to West Papuan gold deposits. This was negotiated with General Suharto.

On Agreements 6311 and 6312 and UN resolutions

  • UN Secretary, U Thant, was working closely with President Sukarno
  • Agreement 6311 concerning sovereignty over West Papua was agreed upon by Indonesia and the Netherlands and was not adopted by the General Assembly
  • UNGA Resolution 1752 on the agreement between Indonesia and the Netherland was not endorsed, just ‘taken note’ of by the UN General Assembly, which officially means neither approval nor disapproval
  • Pakistan troops were sent as peacekeepers without General Assembly or Security Council consent.
  • Agreement 6312 between the UN and Indonesia was released on very short notice prior to being signed in 1962, leaving little time for dissent or opposition to be rallied
  • During UN custodianship, Indonesia refused to hold a plebiscite, choosing to annex West Papua
  • In 1963, West Papua was removed from the non-self-governing territories, ceding it to Indonesia
  • UN, America and allies were aware of domestic dislike of Indonesian governance within West Papua
  • ‘Free Choice’ vote was conducted by 0.1% of the population under Indonesian military supervision, violating the ‘one person, one vote’ requirement established by international law.
  • Report to the UN after the ‘act of free choice’ by the Secretary General (2504) directed the General Assembly to ‘take note’, but did not adopt any resolution.

On Genocide

  • Biak Massacre Citizens Tribunal in 2013, reported mass killing in
  • Regular arrests 80 000 to 100 000 people internally displaced.
  • West Papuan children reported to have been flown to Java to be put in fundamentalist Islamist schools
  • Transmigration camps, supported by the World Bank has moved significant numbers of Javanese people to West Papua
  • The use of phosphorus bombs reported against West Papuans
  • Military presence in the area is key to Indonesia’s control of the area

On Responsibility

  • Australia selling military equipment and providing training to Indonesia
  • Other Western powers selling military equipment, including the US and the UK
  • UN GA res. 2621 recognises the right of colonised peoples for self-determination and that member states are to provide ‘moral and material assistance’, indicating obligations currently not upheld by Australia or the international community.
  • Article 4 provides the expectation that members adhere to the charter.
  • Article 55 affirms the obligation for member states to support self-determination.

Our second speaker, Claire Moore is the current president of the United Nations Association of Australia Queensland. Claire was an Australian Labor Party Senator for Queensland from 2002-2019, having been elected in the 2001 Federal Election. Claire was also the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Shadow Minister for Women, Shadow Minister for Carers, Shadow Minister for Communities and the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate. Claire has played an active role in community groups such as Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR). She is also the Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Group on Population Development. She spoke about her time in parliament and the efforts to get some movement regarding West Papua.

  • Lobbying in government to raise the issues of West Papua has not been successful.
  • ‘Friends of West Papua’ was not able to gain traction
  • In 2013, there was some movement, but required over 20 members which was never reached (never more than 5-6 signatories)
  • People were unprepared to speak out because of the perceived role of Australian allies, including the US and their stance on Indonesia, as well as Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.
  • There is a legacy left behind from the events of East Timor and existing tensions with Indonesia due to the role played by Australia
  • Human rights allows for continued discussion, despite the current lack of support- this can manifest as questions in Senate Estimates and continued lobbying of ministers concerning human rights.
  • Still no “Friends of West Papua” in parliament, though there is still some interest.
  • Questions should be raised in regards to recent visits by Marise Payne and Peter Dutton to Indonesia- was West Papua considered?
  • We need to follow up with local federal members.
  • Questions should be directed to foreign minister Marise Pain and shadow minister Penny Wong – is West Papua still being considered in Australian politics?
  • Australia is not prominent in the region in regard to pressing questions
  • Despite the lack of coverage, there seems to be some interest in media, but not in parliament
  • Hansard indicates that West Papua is not featured in parliamentary discussion.

Our third speaker was Amatus who, in 2006, was one of the 43 West Papuans who travelled by sailing in a canoe to Australia to seek asylum. Since then, he has gained a Bachelor of International community Development at Victoria University in 2015. As one of the exiled West Papuan Leaders, he is currently the chairman of the Diplomatic Council for Free Papua Movement (TPNPB OPM) based in Brisbane. He was launching a very specific agenda of United Nations Security Council Intervention in response to the ongoing silent armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in West Papua.

For more than 10 years he has been advocating for the rights of self-determination for West Papuan people and travelled overseas in Asia and pacific countries lobbying and seeking foreign government support including attending international and regional forums.

Here are some of the key points he made about engaging with grass-roots movements in West Papua.

  • West Papuans believe West Papua is a nation in waiting
  • Indonesian history does not have a shared history with West Papua
  • Having not been able to gain independence by official means, there is growing consensus that West Papua needs independence in a different way, including insurgency
  • Indonesia military occupation central to Indonesia’s policy toward West Papua
  • West Papua believe the UN resolution ‘taking note’ of the agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands is an illegitimate UN resolution
  • Humanitarian crisis is manifesting now with a huge internal displacement of West Papuans
  • Indonesian forces often use public buildings to hide.
  • International community see the conflict as an internal conflict, not as a struggle for independence and self-determination- lobbying efforts are trying to shift international opinion on this
  • Space for grass roots movement suppressed by Indonesia, so the efforts now are to try and continue the grass roots movement through advocates and diaspora, appealing to overseas audiences.
Photograph: Bagus Indahono/EPA. No copyright infringement intended.

Our fourth speaker, Dr Donnell Davis, is the immediate past president of the United Nations Association of Australia Queensland and specialises in the Asia-Pacific region. Donnell has nearly 30 years of experience in international policy, practices, UN treaties and culturally appropriate techniques to honour international laws.

However, the role of civil society is powerful in how it can push for reforms. There are responsibilities and rights of citizens and indigenous peoples that can dissolve conflict and build new relationships for a common peaceful future.

  • Civil society is not just ‘bleeding hearts’ but includes professional bodies, lawyers, banks, mining companies, faith-based organizations and indigenous communities.
  • People who care must obey the rule of law, and then ask the hard questions to those in power.
  • Inspiration from Jennifer Robinson and her TED Talk- courage is contagious.
  • If we do nothing, we are condoning bad behaviour.
  • We need to hold politicians accountable, and demand oversight and transparency
  • We need to learn lessons from East Timor and other Pacific Islands
  • New innovations inspire hope of engaging with the international community and international law.
  • We need to also look at transnational companies to be held accountable and also provide positive influences.
  • Independence alone will not be enough- West Papua needs support before and after any independence movement- we need to think long term.
  • The role of indigenous rights and the International Court of Justice may provide hope for progress.
  • Other illegal activities may be easier to pursue that may lead to little wins that can support West Papua in the long run.
  • We should learn from Pacific Islands that are making inroads in regard to indigenous rights.

Question Time

Following the speeches were several questions. For example, on the question of ‘Who do we have to convince on the world stage to take this issue seriously?”, each of the speakers had an answer. The ICJ could play a pivotal role in making progress, however the issue would have to be raised by an existing UN member, not any delegate from West Papua. A Pacific nation, such as those who have advocated in past for West Papuan representation in regional talks could bring it before the ICJ, though so far this has not happened. Donnell raised the idea of transnational corporations with interests in the area playing a role in advocating for the respect of human rights and Clair urged people to keep trying, urging our government to engage with regional partners and keep domestic politicians invested in the issues.

There was a general pessimism from the speakers when questioned about Australia’s reluctance to act on the issue due to the perceived tensions and importance of our relationship with Indonesia. History indicates that Australia will not move unless they are absolutely forced to, possibly at the behest of Australia’s most important military ally, the US.


We would like to thank all of our speakers, organizers and participants for their involvement during the presentation. There is not doubt the West Papua will continue to be an area of great concern for many, but the stark reality is that not enough Australian’s are aware of the nature and extent of the civil strife that plagues the region. It is complex and politically difficult to build support, even more so now when the world and state governments are consumed with Covid-19 and increasing great-power tensions. In commenting on the event and the issues at hand, Peter Arndt from Catholic Justice and Peace Commission advocated that first and foremost is the need for human rights to be respected and this most likely will come from UN oversight and that we need to be wary of any incite to violence and bloodshed. When we can all acknowledge that we are all people with rights and voices to be heard, then perhaps we can break down a complex issue into a series of simple ones.