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Papuan self-determination - Historical roots V

Webdiarist Arie Brand continues this excellent background history on the West Papuan self-determination cause. So far we have had:

Part I Economically "worthless"?
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'
Part III Strategic Considerations
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement

by Arie Brand

The Round Table Conference

In these circumstances the Agreement of Linggajati had to be piloted through Dutch parliament. There was little hope for it to be accepted without it being 'dressed up' in amendments. In these amendments the decision concerning Papua was to allot the region a special position because of the supposed inability of the population there to participate at short notice in a meaningful act of self-determination and thus to make use in a proper way of the right contained in Article 3 of the Agreement.

Labour was involved in the formulation of the amendments with the argument that otherwise the parliamentary members of the Catholic People's Party, then the biggest party in parliament, would not vote for the ratification of the Agreement.

Thus the concern with self-determination for Papua was not a ploy dreamt up in the late fifties in order to protect Dutch interests and to keep Indonesia out of the region.

To quote Arend Lijphart again:

Another objection to the self-determination argument of the Dutch was the claim that the Dutch invented the argument as recently as 1954, when they had to construct a defence for their policy before the forum of the United Nations. It is an indubitable fact that this argument gradually became the central justification of Dutch policy toward New Guinea especially after 1954. The objection overlooks the fact that the Dutch have been emphasising the right of self-determination ever since 1946. Articles 3 and 4 of the Linggadjati-Agreement are clear examples of this preoccupation (Lijphart A, 1966, The trauma of decolonisation - the Dutch and West New Guinea, Yale UP p29).

In March 1947 the Linggajati Agreement was ratified by both Indonesia and the Netherlands without the parties having reached agreement on Papua. Soon the Agreement became a dead letter anyway.

In the following two years the relation between Indonesia and the Dutch deteriorated. They were mainly characterised by two short full scale military actions from the Dutch side, called 'police actions' by them and 'military aggression' by the Indonesians, and guerrilla action from the Indonesian side.

Nevertheless, as far as Papua was concerned, when the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, DU Stikker, had on 5th November 1948 a personal, informal conversation with Hatta, who was then Vice President and Premier of the 'core' Republic, he was assured by this co-signatory of the Indonesian declaration of independence that he was not interested in Papua which in his view did not belong to Indonesia.(Van Oerle JECM, (nd), Nieuw Guinea - Van kwestieus tot kwestie - New Guinea - from being questionable to being an issue, p5). It is worth noting here that Hatta knew Papua from personal experience albeit a painful one. He had, before the war, been imprisoned in Upper Digul (where, however, he had his own small bungalow with space for his books - see Rudolf Mrazek (1996), "Sjahrir at Boven Digoel: reflections on exile in the Dutch East Indies," in Daniel S Lev and Ruth McVey (eds), Making Indonesia, Cornell).

The Dutch took perhaps this statement, in which Hatta voiced after all a personal opinion that was certainly not widely shared, least of all by Sukarno, for weightier than it was. This became clear pretty soon.

When the Dutch government approached the final stage of negotiations with Indonesia concerning the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia it was in a double bind. It feared that without maintaining its stance on the exceptional position of Papua it would not get the two third majority in parliament required for the constitutional change involved in this transfer. On the other hand Indonesia too remained adamant on this point.

The mood in the biggest party, the Catholic People's Party (KVP) was somewhat uncertain. One other party, with the improbable name Christian Historical Union (CHU), was deadset against any concession on Papua. The largest uncertain factor was the position of the conservative liberals (VVD). Its parliamentary leader, Mr PJ Oud, made on the 17th of August 1949 an end to this uncertainty with the following statement:

It is either one or the other. Either the population of New Guinea can determine its own fate and then it should be given the opportunity to do so or it is not able to do this and then Dutch sovereignty should be maintained until it is. Under no circumstances should New Guinea become an object of negotiations between the Netherlands and Indonesia because that would merely mean a transition from one colonial status to another... (Van Oerle JECM (nd), p11)

Prophetic words indeed!

It was now certain that the transfer of sovereignty would in Dutch parliament not get the two third majority required if Papua was not, somehow, excepted from this transfer. The question Papua was therefore put last on the agenda for final negotiations with Indonesia and it almost wrecked the outcome of this so-called Round Table Conference. Both parties decided finally that the status of this region would be decided within a year in further negotiations. For the time being it remained under Dutch sovereignty. The Dutch had however not been able to obtain self-determination for some other regions.

Duynstee recalls the mood in which this particular topic was discussed in Dutch parliament:

In the parliamentary dealings with the draft bill concerning the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia the exceedingly weak arrangements for the right of self determination were in the centre of a critical and emotive interest. One felt with great bitterness that the Netherlands had been forced, by the way things had developed since that spring, to betray the many Indonesians who had loyally supported Dutch policies, often in the face of violent threats from the Republican side. On the principle of self determination the concern was especially with Ambon and the Minahasa, which were eligible for external self determination, and the regions of Djambi, Tapanoeli, Bengkoelen, the Lampongdistricts, Minangkabau and others in Sumatra that had requested an autonomous status outside the Republic, but within the Federation. It had not been possible to accommodate these wishes (Duynstee FJFM (1961), Nieuw Guinea als schakel tussen Nederland en Indonesie - New Guinea as link between the Netherlands and Indonesia, pp103-104).

Duynstee also quotes in this context the words spoken in parliament, on the fifth of December 1949, by Professor Romme, then the parliamentary leader of the biggest party in parliament, the KVP (Catholic People’s Party):

“But I believe that in one respect our people are sincerely touched, that in many circles people feel wounded and ashamed, because promises which have been made time and again by the Dutch government... are not redeemed. This concerns the arrangement for the right of self determination.”

Romme called this arrangement the 'black page of the conference'. The responsibility for this was, in his view, partly with UNCI (the United Nations Committee for Indonesia - AB), which 'was strongly inclined to the Indonesian point of view' (Romme meant of course the view of the particular Indonesian delegation at the Round Table Conference - AB). Romme was, however, also of the opinion that insisting, at this point, on the exercise of the right to self-determination would entail a delay in the transfer of sovereignty and cause chaos in large parts of Indonesia. Thus, insisting on this right, would amount to an application of the principle 'vivat justitia, pereat mundus’ (Duynstee, 1961, p105 - my translation AB).

To be continued

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