23 Jun 2010

Vanuatu to seek UN General Assembly support for ICJ opinion on Indonesia's Papua

8:03 pm on 23 June 2010

Vanuatu's parliament has unanimously passed a motion to raise issues around the status of Indonesian-administered territories of New Guinea at the United Nations.

Vanuatu is to request General Assembly support for the International Court of Justice to provide an advisory opinion on the process in which the former Netherlands New Guinea was ceded to Indonesia in the 1960s.

This process culminated in 1969's Act of Free Choice under which a group of West Papuan representatives voted for integration into Indonesia rather than independence.

However the referendum is widely regarded as having been stage-managed by Indonesia.

Johnny Blades reports:

Vanuatu's request for an ICJ opinion would seek clarification on the legality of a series of events in the 1960s which gave Indonesia control of the western half of New Guinea island.

This includes the 1962 US-sponsored agreement between Jakarta and the Dutch to transfer the region to a temporary UN authority, after which Indonesian security forces effectively invaded and took control.

A spokesman for the offshore-based West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation, Rex Rumakiek, says they've hoped for years that a country would do what Vanuatu is doing.

"That is what we've been aiming for but procedurally, or protocol-wise, based on the United Nations system, the ICJ can only give an opinion on the conduct of the Act of Free Choice, whether it's the right way of conducting self-determination or not. They can only give an opinion. it has to go back to the General Assembly, that is the decision-making body that can decide whether there should be a new referendum or not."

Vanuatu's parliament voted after an independent MP in the government coalition, Ralph Regenvanu, tabled a public petition calling for clear foreign policy on Indonesia's Papua.

Vanuatu has long supported West Papuan self-determination efforts and he says they want to see fresh international scrutiny on the status of the Act of Free Choice in particular.

But also it is the way to get it revised if it's going to be revised by the United Nations. The issue's been avoided for so long, or not brought to attention for so long and the issue of legality has never been established. So now that the International Court of Justice exists - which it didn't back then - it's a way to see if there is a case for talking about this isue which the West Papuans themselves have been raising for many, many years.

Papua analyst Jim Elmslie from Sydney University says the ICJ move is significant and that the consent of Indonesia is not required.

The lack of consent of an interested party is not an obstacle to the ICJ rendering an opinion. Any UN member state can seek an advisory opinion on the question of the status of West Papua , that is provided that General Assembly support can be attained.

Lobbying for support at the General Assembly can be expected to be intense on all sides and Jim Elmslie says Indonesia has little to gain from pushing for the issue to be blocked.

If it was to be blocked, it certainly doesn't make Indonesia look good and if it comes out as being an opinion that the Act of Free Choice was fraudulent and not within UN guidelines, then that would again be a very serious setback for Indonesia.

The Vanuatu motion also seeks an opinion on Indonesia's licensing of a mining concession in Papua to US-based Freeport McMoran under President Suharto.