Feb 26, 2004

West Papua: Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu calls on UN to act

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has urged the United Nations to review the discredited 1969 referendum in which the former Dutch colony of Papua was incorporated into Indonesia.

Statement by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

"For many years the people of South Africa suffered under the yoke of oppression and apartheid. Many people continue to suffer brutal oppression, where their fundamental dignity as human beings is denied. One such people is the people of West Papua.

The people of West Papua have been denied their basic human rights, including their right to self-determination. Their cry for justice and freedom has fallen largely on deaf ears.

An estimated 100,000 people have died in West Papua since Indonesia took control of the territory in 1963.

It is with deep concern I have learned about the United Nations’ role in the take-over of West Papua by Indonesia, and in the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice” of 1969. Instead of a proper referendum, where every adult male and female had the opportunity to vote by secret ballot on whether or not they wished to be part of Indonesia, just over 1,000 people were hand-picked and coerced into declaring for Indonesia in public in a climate of fear and repression.

The UN had just 16 observers to this Act for a country the size of Spain. The then Secretary-General’s Representative reported on the conduct of the Act to the UN General Assembly in 1969, which noted his report on 19 November of that year.

One of the senior UN officials at the time, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, has since called the process a “whitewash”.

A strong United Nations will be capable of, among other things, acknowledging and correcting its mistakes.

I would like to add my voice to growing international calls for the UN Secretary General to instigate a review of the UN’s conduct in relation to the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice”.

I will keep the people of West Papua in my prayers, and I would like to extend my best wishes and moral support to them in their hour of need."