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A map showing Indonesia and Western New Guinea.

Act of Free Choice (Indonesian: Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, PEPERA) was the title of an Indonesian military presentation in 1969 to establish an Indonesian claim that the Melanesian population of Western New Guinea had chosen Indonesian rule and rejected independence. General Sarwo Edhi Wibowo had approximately 1025 Melanesian men selected as the Western New Guinea representatives.

Although United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2504 did acknowledge that an event called Act of Free Choice took place, neither the General Assembly nor International Court of Justice gave their opinion about the event, nor did they claim the Act to have been any form of self determination.

International demands for the United Nations to resume its decolonization obligation for Western New Guinea increased after the publication of United States Department of State telegrams from 1968 and 1969 confirming US knowledge of the Indonesian military efforts to prevent a referendum or plebiscite by requiring the Act of Free Choice be conducted as a military version of Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat. Although the United Nations representative Ambassador Fernando Ortiz-Sanz was unable to get Indonesia to allow a "one-man, one-vote" within the territory, the Indonesian authorities declared that there was a unanimous vote against independence.

However, participants and other observers question the conduct and legitimacy of the process. They contend that the Indonesian process violated terms of the New York Agreement such as Article 18 which stated "The eligibility of all adults, male and female, not foreign nationals to participate in the act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice", and did not allow people to vote in their own plebiscite. Men who were selected for the vote subsequently testified that they had been blackmailed into voting against independence with threats of violence against their families and communities. Although Indonesia denies these allegations, recently released United States government correspondence indicates that the pro-Indonesian outcome was effectively agreed in advance between Indonesia and the U.S. [1]

Under Article 17 of the New York Agreement, the plebiscite was not to occur until one year after the arrival of U.N. representative Fernando Ortiz-Sanz in the territory on 22 August 1968. However after NASA announced the Apollo 11 flight schedule to land on the Moon for July, Indonesia proposed the plebiscite be conducted six weeks early during July 1969. Later, journalist Hugh Lunn would testify that Reuters repeatedly told its correspondents not to attend west Papua during the plebiscite.

Though the United Nations took note of the results; there has been continued calls for the United Nations to conduct its own referendum in accord with the original New York Agreement. Those calling for a vote, have also pointed to the 30 year license which Indonesia sold to the Freeport-McMoRan company for Papuan mining rights in 1967, and to the Indonesian military's response to the East Timor referendum, as support for discrediting the 1969 Act of Free Choice. The Indonesian Government position is that the United Nations noting of the results validates the conduct and results.

The referendum and its conduct had been specified in the New York Agreement; Article 17 of which in part says:

"Indonesia will invite the Secretary-General to appoint a Representative who" .. "will carry out Secretary-General's responsibilities to advise, assist, and participate in arrangements which are the responsibility of Indonesia for the act of free choice. The Secretary-General will, at the proper time, appoint the United Nations Representative in order that he and his staff may assume their duties in the territory one year prior to the self-determination." .. "The United Nations Representative and his staff will have the same freedom of movement as provided for the personnel referred to in Article XVI".

The agreement continues with Article 18:

Article XVIII
Indonesia will make arrangements, with the assistance and participation of the United Nations Representative and his staff, to give the people of the territory, the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice. Such arrangements will include:
a. Consultation (musyawarah) with the representative councils on procedures and methods to be followed for ascertaining the freely expressed will of the population.
b. The determination of the actual date of the exercise of free choice within the period established by the present Agreement.
c. Formulations of the questions in such a way as to permit the inhabitants to decide (a) whether they wish to remain with Indonesia; or (b) whether they wish to sever ties with Indonesia.
d. The eligibility of all adults, male and female, not foreign nationals to participate in the act of self-determination to be carried out in accordance with international practice, who are resident at the time of the signing of the present Agreement, including those residents who departed after 1945 and who returned to the territory to resume residence after the termination of the Netherlands administration.

See also


  • The United Nations and the Indonesian Takeover of West Papua, 1962-1969: Anatomy of a Betrayal by John Saltford (2002) ISBN 0-415-40625-0 (pdf 3.4 MB)
  • Drooglever, Pieter J.: Een Daad van Vrije Keuze: De Papoea's van Westelijke Nieuw-Guinea en de grenzen van het zelfbeschikkingsrecht. Verlag Boom, Amsterdam, 2005. ISBN 90-8506-178-4 (Summary)

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