The United Nations in Papua
Bernard J. Firestone: The success of the United Nations in Papua was extraordinary because, under the provisions of the New York Agreement and the subsequent General Assembly resolution, UNTEA was the first case of the Organization’s direct administration of a territory. Another notable feature of that exercise was that its funding was provided by the parties to the conflict.
Source: Bernard J. Firestone. The United Nations under U Thant, 1961 – 1971. Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001, p.26.
Transfer of administration to Indonesia
In accordance with article XII of the agreement, the UNTEA Administrator transferred full administrative control to the representative of the Indonesian Government, Mr. Tjondronegoro, on 1 May 1963. The ceremony was performed in the presence of the Chef de Cabinet as the Secretary-General’s personal representative for the occasion, and the Indonesian Foreign Minister. At that time, the United Nations flag was taken down.
On the completion of UNTEA, the Secretary-General declared that it had been a unique experience, which had once again proved the capacity of the United Nations to undertake a variety of functions, provided that it received adequate support from its Member States. He also announced that, in consultation with Indonesia, he had decided in principle to designate a few United Nations experts, serving at Headquarters and elsewhere, to perform the functions envisaged in article XVII of the agreement, in so far as the article required that the Secretary-General advise, assist and participate in arrangements which were the responsibility of Indonesia for the act of free choice. Those experts would visit West Irian as often as necessary and spend as much time as would enable them to report fully to him, until he appointed a United Nations representative to preside over them as a staff.
Looking to the future, the Secretary-General stated that he was confident that Indonesia would scrupulously observe the terms of the 1962 agreement, and would ensure the exercise by the territory’s population of their right to express their wishes as to their future.
Implementation of the 1962 agreement
In accordance with the Indonesia-Netherlands agreement, the Secretary-General on 1 April 1968 appointed a representative, Mr. Fernando Ortiz-Sanz, to advise, assist and participate in arrangements which were the responsibility of Indonesia for the act of free choice, on retaining or severing ties with Indonesia.
In a report submitted to the Secretary-General, the Government of Indonesia stated that between 14 July and 2 August 1969, the enlarged representative councils (consultative assemblies) of West New Guinea (West Irian), which included 1,026 members, were asked to pronounce themselves, on behalf of the people of the territory, as to whether they wished to remain with Indonesia or sever their ties with it. All those councils chose the first alternative without dissent.
The representative of the Secretary-General reported that within “the limitations imposed by the geographical characteristics of the territory and the general political situation in the area, an act of free choice has taken place in West Irian in accordance with Indonesian practice, in which the representatives of the population have expressed their wish to remain with Indonesia”.
Those reports were transmitted by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly, which, by resolution 2504 (XXIV) of 19 November 1969, acknowledged with appreciation the fulfilment by the Secretary-General and his representatives of the task entrusted to them under the 1962 agreement.
A former Dutch colony, West Papua was formally incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after an undisputed vote of about 1,025 representative tribal leaders. The result of the plebiscite was overseen and endorsed by the United Nations.
Since the democratization in 1998, especially since 2007, democracy by mean of elections has been introduced to increase political participation in the two provinces. The fact that the leaders of Papua and West Papua provinces are democratically elected by the people has strengthened the legality of the region as a province of Indonesia.