Feisty Pacific people standing up for West Papua

Dear Editor

We are full of admiration for the feisty Pacific people’s movements standing up for West Papua. It was great to see the reports of the colourful demonstration in Samoa at the time of the Pacific Island Forum meeting. 

Now several Pacific Governments are taking up the cause at the UN, shaming our Government for its inaction.

It was disappointing to see the comments of Indonesian Government representatives, especially the unfair comments of Franz Albert Joku who accused Pacific nations for not taking up the cause of West Papuan freedom back in the 1950s and 1960s.

Did he forget that most Pacific ‘nations’ were still under colonial control themselves at that time and did not have a seat at the UN? 

Joku also overlooks the fact that Pacific politicians and Pacific people did try to make their voices heard when western nations were selling out the West Papuan people to Indonesia.   

In April 1961 Malietoa Tanumafili II was a member of the New Zealand delegation, which attended the inauguration ceremony for the New Guinea Council. 

 This was a significant moment in the Dutch plans to give the West Papuan people a greater say in their own governance.

In August 1962  Nicolaas Jouwe and other members of the New Guinea Council submitted an appeal to the United Nations  and listed the Pacific leaders from Tonga, Nauru, Guam, New Hebrides/Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea who had endorsed it. 

The new Prime Minister of Western Samoa, Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinu’u II headed the list.  The appeal asked the United Nations to respect Papuan rights, in accordance with the UN Charter.   A few months later as the UN was approving the New York Agreement that facilitated the Indonesian take-over of West Papua, several members of the Fiji Legislative Council expressed their fears that their neighbours in West New Guinea (West Papua) were being threatened with domination by an ‘alien’ power. They asked if the British Crown had a similar fate in mind for them.  

Papua New Guinea was still under Australian rule, but local politicians also condemned Australia and the US for giving in to President Sukarno.    John Guise, (later to become PNG’s Governor-General) organised a petition to the United Nations.

 A Port Moresby correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald  wrote bitterly that the United Nations was a ‘deceptive society of cheats’, who traded off the Papuan people like cattle.  He said the dividing line between the two halves of New Guinea was only a line on map and recalled the time when Papuans ‘were not animals but fuzzy wuzzy angels, but that was long ago when the Americans and Australians were fighting Asians and needed our help...’  

West Papua should have achieved its independence decades ago. That this did not happen is not the fault of Pacific people, who have much to be proud of, both in their history and in their current support for West Papua.

Yours sincerely,


Maire Leadbeater

West Papua Action Auckland


*The historic information referred to in this letter was sourced from NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs documents in the NZ National Archives.

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