West Papua

The western part of the island of New Guinea had been a part of the Dutch East Indies. When this became independent as Indonesia, in the late 1940s, Netherlands New Guinea remained in Dutch hands.

While Indonesia laid claim to the territory, the Dutch instead envisaged giving it eventual independence. However, in the face of mounting pressure from Indonesia, in 1962 the Dutch government agreed to hand it over to UN administration with an understanding that this would pave the way for it to be passed to Indonesian rule pending a referendum on its future.

In 1965, following the handover to Indonesia, the Free Papuan Movement was established to secure the territory’s independence. Then, four years later, in 1969, the referendum that had been promised was held.

But rather than allow a popular vote, Indonesia instead hand-picked over a thousand elders, who decided unanimously to keep the territory as part of Indonesia. In the decades since then, the conflict in West Papua has continued.

However, very little is known about the actual situation on the ground as Indonesia forbids foreign journalists from entering the territory. That said, there have been allegations of large numbers of deaths and widespread human rights abuses.

Moreover, there also appears to have been an escalation in fighting in the past few years. Although West Papua has been regularly raised at the UN General Assembly by various Pacific states, Indonesia insists that its sovereignty is not up for debate.

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