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West Papua - History

Papua land of peace banner.

West Papua was first colonised by the Netherlands, and remained under Dutch control when the Republic of Indonesia became an independent nation state in 1949.

In 1961, the Dutch government started to prepare the indigenous Papuan territory for independence. On 5th April 1961, an elected Nieuw Guinea Raad (national parliament) became the first Papuan parliament. It chose the name West Papua, a national anthem and national flag.

The Act of Free Choice

In 1962, following pressure from Indonesia and the United States of America, the Dutch government transferred authority in West Papua first to the United Nations, then to Indonesia, on the understanding that an act of self-determination would be held. A controversial Act of Free Choice was held in 1969. A group of 1,022 West Papuans, chosen by the Indonesian government and representing less than 1% of the population, signed over control of West Papua to Indonesia. Most Papuans reject this Act, which fell short of being a free and fair act of self-determination, and led to the disbanding of the New Guinea Council.

Special Autonomy

In 2001, the Indonesian Government declared Special Autonomy for West Papua to resolve the issue of governance. For the West Papuan people, Special Autonomy offered the hope of realising social, economic and cultural rights, as well as widening the space for more democratic governance of the region. The international community supported Special Autonomy as it was believed that it would help the West Papuan people.

However, Special Autonomy has not worked. Problems continue such as disregard for land rights, environmental destruction from logging and mining, health crises, human rights abuses, a heavy military presence, and the impact of large numbers of Indonesian migrants.

'Papua, Land of Peace'

In 2000, religious leaders of the Christian (Catholic and Protestant), Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, concerned at the level of systematic violence in West Papua, joined together to campaign for peace under the banner 'Papua, Land of Peace'.

This interfaith collaboration is based on respect for human dignity. The religious leaders believe that those who hold different political and philosophical positions need the opportunity to constructively debate those positions.

Caritas has joined the Faith-based Network on West Papua, founded in 2003. This network represents national and international concerned, faith-based non-government organisations and religious communities seeking to promote the 'Papua: Land of Peace' initiative, and aims for a peaceful resolution to the problems that face the province.

The Papuan Peace Network was established in 2010 to further develop and promote the 'Papua Land of Peace' concept. The Network organised a Papua Peace Conference in Jayapura in July 2011, including Indonesian government representatives. At this conference, 500 representatives from Papuan customary groups, church groups, non-government organisations, academic and student groups elected five exiled Papuans to represent the Papuan people in future negotiations with the Indonesian government.  They also submitted the Papuan Peace Declaration 'to all the People of Papua, to the Indonesian Government and to all people who are concerned about efforts to achieve peace in Papua'.

Caritas does not campaign for an independent West Papua - this a matter for West Papuan people themselves to determine.




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