Lawyers are challenging Indonesia’s incorporation of the volatile Papua region into its territory in 1969 with a judicial review at the country’s highest court.
A spokesman for a group of 15 Papuan lawyers, Agus Sumule, said Thursday the “Act of Free Choice” referendum violated Indonesia’s Constitution because it was conducted in a way that grossly violated the human rights of Papuans.
The 1969 referendum, supervised by the United Nations, was carried out in an atmosphere of heavy intimidation and only 1,026 hand-picked Papuans were allowed to vote on whether their region should be part of Indonesia. The vote was unanimous in favor.
The referendum was also backed by the United States, which in the Cold War era was eager to maintain warmer ties with Indonesia following massacres of communists and leftists in 1965 that shifted the country into the Western-allied fold.
Sumule said the process of developing the judicial review was started two years ago but was only submitted to the Constitutional Court on April 12 due to financial reasons such as the expense of traveling from the remote region to Jakarta.
“We talked to various circles of Papuan society before the lawsuit was submitted. They all supported this legal step,” Sumule said.
But the Constitutional Court case has revealed fault lines in the Papuan independence movement. The West Papua National Committee, which advocates independence from Indonesia, said in a statement that only a second referendum of indigenous Papuans held under genuine international oversight can decide whether they become a nation.
“The legal and political status of West Papua must be resolved through a peaceful, democratic and final referendum under international supervision,” said Victor Yeimo, a leading member of the group.
Indonesia restricts foreign media from reporting in its two easternmost provinces, West Papua and Papua, where an insurgency has simmered since Indonesia occupied the former Dutch colony in the early 1960s.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the Papua issue is “finished.”
“For us, Papua cannot be discussed anymore. Papua has been recognized internationally with the U.N.’s decision as part of Indonesia’s territory,” he said.
Reported by the Associated Press.