Multilateral Development Assistance Destabilizes West Irian


In February 1984, a steady stream of Irianese villagers began crossing the border from Indonesian-controlled West Irian into Papua New Guinea in the east. By the end of 1984, an estimated 11,000 Irianese "voted with their feet" and left their ancestral lands located in territory that has been under Indonesian control since the early 1960s, when the Dutch finally relinquished their claims. Today, two years later, most of these refugees - one percent of West Irian's population - remain in the bleak refugee camps of Blackwater and Vanimo, which the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government reluctantly set up. In the last quarter of 1985, the PNG government began to repatriate some of the refugees despite reports that the most politically articulate were being killed as they arrived in West Irian. At about the same time, the first Irianese refugees arrived by boat at Thursday Island, making it impossible for Australia to continue insisting that the refugees are a bilateral problem concerning only Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, its two northern neighbors. Meanwhile, while being fed and sheltered in the PNG camps at the cost of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and the PNG government, the refugees' homelands have been resettled by Javanese immigrants under the mammoth Indonesian Transmigration Program funded by a multilateral consortium headed by the World Bank, a United Nations agency. This program has also displaced some of the remaining indigenous inhabitants and further contributed to the destabilization of the Melanesian peoples of West Irian.

Indonesia Manipulates PNG

Since the official incorporation of West Irian into Indonesia after a much-criticized "act of choice" in 1969, Papua New Guinea has been very careful not to be seen to be supporting the Irianese independence movement, the OPM (Organisasi Papua Movement or Free Papua Movement). Especially after seeing what happened in East Timor 10 years ago, when Indonesia was prepared to invade, and did, in order to suppress the independence movement, Fretilin, Papua New Guinea has not been willing to "shake the tiger's tail." Yet after 10 years of its own independence, which was achieved in 1975 when Australia's trusteeship terminated, Papua New Guinea has gained sufficient self-confidence to become a leading defender of Melanesian nationalism in the Pacific. But while it has defended such claims as the Kanaks' for independence of New Caledonia from France, Papua New Guinea has also found it difficult to be as principled about Melanesian rights in its own backyard.

Manipulated by Indonesia, Papua New Guinea remains in a highly uncomfortable dilemma about the West Irianese border crossers, whose exodus is alleged to have started because of Indonesian responses to an OPM flag-raising ceremony in February 1984. The 11,000 refugees, however, are not all OPM sympathisers. Many claim they left their villages and gardens because of disturbances caused by Indonesian military (there are an estimated 3,000 Indonesian troops in West Irian) who were supposed to be flushing out subversive OPM members and sympathisers.

It seems likely that the Indonesians are using the existence of small numbers of OPM activists to legitimize the military dislocation of indigenous inhabitants on the western side of the border. Javanese immigrants resettling on the indigenous inhabitants' lands under the Transmigration Program are protected from an increasingly hostile Irianese population by a growing contingent of Indonesian troops. Firmly entrenched just inside the western side of the border, these troops are poised just as they were in West Timor in the months before the invasion of East Timor a decade ago. First destabilize, then militarize, then cry "destabilization" as a pretext for possible invasion - that was the strategy over two years after the fall of the Caetano Government in East Timor; in Papua New Guinea, a far greater resource-base than East Timor, it may be a two-decade strategy.

PNG Violates Non-refoulement Requirements

While calling for self-determination- for the Kanak, the Papua New Guinea government at the same time has been quietly repatriating nearly a thousand of the Irianese refugees. Most of them accepted voluntary repatriation after 20 months in the miserable camps. A handful, who were sent back involuntarily, were reportedly killed by injections upon their return to West Irian.

In October 1985, six men, whose lawyer described them as "among the intellectuals, former military personnel and academics who were actively opposed to Indonesian rule and had fled to PNG because of well-founded fears of persecution or danger" (Papua New Guinea Times, 13 October 1985), were forcibly deported by PNG police and Foreign Affairs officials. Their application for asylum in Papua New Guinea had been denied because the judge ruled that there was no basis to prevent deportation because "If there was any basis, it is in relation to what will happen, namely deportation. Such an action has not yet taken place." Even the Papua New Guinea Times editorialized, "The court looks a little foolish today...the issue must be taken to as many international forums as possible."

The internationalization of the Irianese refugee problem was stayed in 1984 because Papua New Guinea at first refused to take responsibility for the refugees. Eventually it abided by the international requirements to provide for them and not forcibly repatriate them into obvious danger. But while Papua New Guinea was violating the requirements for non-refoulement in late 1985, the first handful of refugees arrived by boat at Thursday Island.

PNG Demands Australia to Accept Refugees

With the Irianese refugees' arrival at Thursday Island, the Australian government could no longer shirk the issue of whether or not refugees from Indonesian-controlled West Irian are legitimate political refugees from oppression and thus entitled to asylum. The Papua New Guinea government took advantage of the situation to resolve (while Prime Minister Somare was away at the Commonwealth Heads of State conference) to internationalize the problem and demand that Australia be among the countries to accept some of the refugees because of its historical responsibility for Papua New Guinea and its regional situation. Australian Foreign Minister Hayden tried to throw the grenade back into the PNG trenches saying, "The resolution of this matter must be a responsibility of the independent, sovereign, Government of PNG" (The Age, 8 November 1985).

PNG's Deputy Prime Minister, Father Momis, estimated that among the 11,000 border crossers, 600 to 800 were political refugees. These political refugees are not necessarily members of the OPM, but similar to the five men who reached Thursday Island - members of other pan-Melanesian groups such as the Melanesian Union of Gag in the west of Irian and Samarai in the east of the PNG mainland. Whatever their affiliations, they are Melanesians who are opposed to Javanese overlordship which has committed severe human rights abuses in the past twenty years.

By the end of 1985 the Australian Committee on Determination of Refugee Status was forced to consider the prospect of legitimate political refugees claiming asylum in Australia from Indonesian oppression. Australian-Indonesian relations had just begun to settle down with Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke's unprincipled acceptance of the fait accompli in East Timor - Indonesia's forced annexation - but Australia's Labour government's policy of appeasement of Indonesian interests does not rest easily with its international obligations. At the same time, Papua New Guinea has received more than $2,500 million in aid (30 percent of its budget) from Australia over the past decade, while also maintaining a $500-million-a-year export market for Australia, with a six-to-one trade bias in Australia's favor. Meanwhile, PNG's first Governor-General, Sir John Guise, argued that "Australia has a duty to awaken the conscience of the world to this problem in order for other nations of the world to assist Papua New is an historical fact that Australia and the Dutch governments have both initially created this international problem" (The Age, 11 November 1985).

Lending Agencies Finance Dislocation

This is true enough but the other culprits in the destabilization of the Melanesian peoples of West Irian are the multilateral lending agencies financing the mammoth transmigration programs that are displacing the indigenous inhabitants from the fragile rain forests of places such as West Irian. Up to $600 million has been made available to Indonesia by a consortium of lenders including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the European Economic Commission, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and western countries such as the US, France and West Germany. Already 700,000 hectares of land have been "cleared" for transmigration in Irian Jaya; 70,000 immigrants are already there and another 600,000 are scheduled to be sent to West Irian by the end of this decade, with an allocation of 3,000 hectares for every 500 newcomers. At this rate, the Melanesians will become a minority in their own land by 1990.

By funding this dislocation program. United Nations agencies such as the World Bank and UNDP violate Article 8 of the Plan for Action for the Full Implementation of the Declaration of the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples adopted by the United Nations in 1980. Article 8 requires that "Member States shall adopt the necessary measures to discourage or prevent the systematic influx of outside immigrants and settlers into Territories under colonial domination, which disrupts the demographic composition of those Territories and may constitute a major obstacle to the genuine exercise of the right to self-determination and independence by the peoples of those Territories." By funding the program the World Bank also violates its own published principles on "Tribal Peoples and Economic Development" in which it resolves to "not support projects on tribal lands unless the tribal society is in agreement with the objectives of the project as they affect the tribe, and unless it is assured that the borrower has the capability to safeguard tribal populations and their lands against harmful side effects."

Indonesia's Fait Accomplis "Accepted" But Not Approved

Continuing former President Sukarno's tradition of postwar diplomacy, current Indonesia President Suharto is playing a dangerous game. In addition to deliberately destabilizing the Melanesian population by forcing its relocation off land wanted for transmigration programs funded by the international agencies, Indonesia is using the destabilization as an excuse to militarize and settle the border regions with more reliably pro-Indonesian communities. At the same time, Indonesia is keeping Papua New Guinea confused about how to fulfill its obligations to its Melanesian brothers without inviting an Indonesian border incursion or even invasion, while also putting Australia in yet another difficult position in having to choose between principle and appeasement in its own back yard. Indonesia does not conduct itself particularly diplomatically in the United Nations, and is still blustering its way through the forcible annexation of East Timor. The world community may have lacked the political will to come to the aid of East Timor, but Papua New Guinea - a fully sovereign country - may be too difficult to swallow.

Although many countries were greatly dissatisfied with Indonesian's handling of the purported plebiscite that resulted in West Irian's incorporation in 1969, they also demonstrated a certain willingness to accept the situation because there was no clear evidence of an independence movement. For the past 20 years Indonesia has relied on the notion that its faits accomplis will eventually become accepted in international law. It has been sitting out the West Irian situation for 15 years and the East Timor situation years, and sees no reason to doubt its strategy.

Prospects For Political Autonomy

The climate within the United Nations is changing, however, for two major reasons: one, the assertion of Melanesian nationalism in New Caledonia - where the French rendered the Kanak people a minority in their own land through a deliberate immigration policy in the seventies - has a great deal of sympathy even beyond Pacific members; second, many observers appreciate that in this fortieth year of the United Nations, the first round of decolonization settlements is coming to an end. When the United States finally succeeds in getting the strategic trusteeship over Micronesia terminated, the Trusteeship Council will fold. Seventy nations have become independent under the auspices of the United Nations over its 40 years, and an additional 30, such as West Papua, have been accorded some other status less than independence by the international community.

But the principle that guided so much of this post-Second World War settlement - the notion of successor states to the colonial entities that predated these independent nations - was itself a creature of the dominant power balance of the mid-century. While the majority of member States of the United Nations are probably happy to accept that principle - either despite or because of its anomalies - the peoples who lost out in that shuffle are not necessarily going to continue to accept it. New Caledonia is a clear case in point - and the principles by which New Caledonia was declared a French territory are exactly the same as those by which West Irian was declared an Indonesian territory.

A review of the documents concerning the "act of free choice" in West Papua reveals that the United Nations was extremely tentative in its acquiescence to the Indonesian annexation. Professor Roger Clark of Rutgers Law School pointed out in the Yale Journal of World Public Order in 1980.

The United Nations acquiesced in a consultation that did not recognize the principle of one person, one vote. Moreover, the consultation was effectively conducted by Indonesia which "exercised at all times a tight political control over the population"...While the General Assembly did not approve of the result of the "act of free choice," it passed a resolution taking note of this act...This resolution passed by a vote of 84-0, with 30 abstentions.

The salient issue that will determine whether or not the United Nations decides to reconsider the question of West Irian will be the will of the people. In decolonization law there is a "threshold" principle that requires that enough of the people must indicate their will to change their situation in order to compel international agencies to take notice. The Kanak people demonstrated that threshold of will in 1984; the East Timorese people have been demonstrating it for 10 years, which is why the United Nations has not been able to bury the issue the way they did the Irian fait accompli. It remains to be seen whether the Irianese people will continue to "vote with their feet" in sufficiently large numbers to alert an already alarmed international community to their dissatisfactions with their neocolonial administrators.

Signs of World Bank sensitivity to the problem in West Irian are increasing. US Treasury official David Mulford told a Senate oversight panel on September 18, 1985 that he saw some progress in examining environmental effects of proposed development projects such as the Indonesian transmigration scheme before loans are authorized, "but it is not enough." In an editorial on "The Rape of the Rain Forests" on November 27, 1985, the New York Times asked, "Why do tropical countries like Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia allow their rain forests to become moonscapes? Population growth and land hunger are the usual explanation officials give. But there's plenty of land; the problem, as Catherine Caulfield recently noted in The New Yorker, is that 4.5 percent of Brazil's landowners own 81 percent of the farmland; in El Salvador, 2,000 families own 40 percent. Colonizing the forest deflects the pressure for land reform."

Scandinavian members of the World Bank in particular have been disturbed by the practices of this specialized agency of the United Nations which are in direct violation of United Nations resolutions. Indonesia has been very astute at playing the international agencies for every dollar it can extract from them. Given the timidity of both Papua New Guinea and Australia, it is up to the international community to defend the rights of indigenous peoples against deliberate destabilization and relocation campaigns paid for, even planned for, with multilateral "development" assistance.

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