In 1883 the island of New Guinea was partitioned by three Western powers, the Dutch claiming the western half, while the Germans and British divided the eastern half into German New Guinea in the north and British Papua in the south.
The Republic of Indonesia was created in 1949 when The Netherlands granted independence to the colonised peoples of the former Dutch East Indies. West New Guinea however, due to its distinct Melanesian population and cultural characteristics, was retained as a colony by the Dutch and during the 1950s the Dutch government prepared the territory for independence. President Sukarno meanwhile consistently maintained Indonesia’s claim to all former territory of the Dutch, and when his demands were not met armed conflict ensued from 1962.
Under pressure from the United States to come to terms with Indonesia, the Dutch agreed to secret negotiations. In August 1962 an agreement was concluded in New York between the Netherlands and Indonesia, under which the Dutch were to leave West New Guinea and transfer sovereignty to UNTEA (the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority), for a period of six years until a national vote was to be conducted to determine Papuan preference for independence, or integration with Indonesia.
Almost immediately however, Indonesia took over the administration from UNTEA, and the oppression of the West Papuan people intensified. A sham referendum was held in 1969, and the UN sanctioned a vote by 1025 handpicked electors, coerced into unanimously choosing to “remain with Indonesia”.
The UN Representative sent to observe the election process produced a report which outlined various and serious violations of the New York Agreement. In spite of the “duly noted” report and in spite also of testimonials from the press, the opposition of fifteen countries and the cries of help and justice from the Papuans themselves, West Irian was handed over to Indonesia in November 1969. The inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, across the border, achieved full independence in 1975.