This is part of an input broadcast 25 Jul 1998 on 
Eastnet <> in a discussion with
Geoffrey Heard on the name "Irian", and about the 
notorious Terra nullius principle and its impli-
cations on the Irian Jaya problem.

Irian Jaya and Terra Nullius

A Discussion with Geoffrey Heard

> Now, you state that Indonesia did not invade West New Guinea. From your
> point of view, it did not.
Not from my point of view, but from the point of view of international law. What my point of view is was not a point of discussion. The whole point why this argument started was, whether that Bernard Nietschmann was correct when he described the transition from Dutch to Indonesian rule as "invaded and annexed by expansionist Java", or whether it was actually transferred from Dutch rule to UNTEA and then to Indonesia peacefully. Whether the Dutch had a right to be there in the first place wasn't a subject of dispute (.....). Obviously, the ensuing Indonesian jurisdiction over the island-half stands on the same level of justification or lack of justification as the preceding Dutch jurisdiction. But that's a different story.
                            But that is because you are a true colonialist
> and you believe in the lying assumption of Terra Nullius which we have
> fought so hard to overturn here in Australia.
> Terra Nullius assumes no-one has control of the land when you move in.
> In fact, from the point of view of the West New Guineans, Indonesian
> invaded all right. As did the Dutch.
You're right and you're wrong. There are two sides to the medal. One is that forcing the Aborigines from their lands, assuming it didn't belong to anyone, was indeed wrong. So the lands should then be returned to them, agreed? The other side of the medal is that it is not only indiscussable to order all non-Aborigines out of the country back to where they came from, that's difficult enough as it is (remember, not only Angles, Saxons, or Norman French and Danes were "newcomers' in Britain, even the Celts too; Indo-Europeans came from way East around the Caspian or Central Asia somewhere, I don't think everybody is agreed yet where), it would also be an injustice to the Aborigines, who wouldn't at all be happy if you left them all alone. (You figure that out yourself, why).

Would you agree, that ordering all non Papuans out of West New Guinea and denying Indonesian jurisdiction over the island (or the previous Dutch jurisdiction from which it legally derives) would mean also recognizing full and total Aborigine sovereignty and leaving it up to them to decide what happens with the Anglosaxon and other imigrant population. (......, I'm not looking for an excuse for Indonesians to remain. But what I want there is not the point here yet).

It's actually even more complex than that. Easy is only when you come to an uninhabitted piece of land which nobody had yet laid claim on. Then you can usually claim it to be yours if you like. But when it is already inhabited, or somebody has already laid claim on it. Then it's ultimately always a question of brute force. Anglosaxons defeat Brits, Norman French defeat Anglosaxons, their descendents sail to Terra Australis Incognita and shoot away some Aborigines.... Look at it like this. You are born in Britain from penniless, landless parents. When you come of age you want your fair-and-square right to a patch of land to farm. Why do some people have inborn/inheritable rights to a patch of land, others don't? Because Britain has a legal system which stipulates how ownership of land is transferred and inherited, and you just weren't among those entitled. Now this legal system is backed by a state which has a police force, an army, and a navy, and they might get rather unpleasant if you decide to override existing laws because you think they're unjust. So either you bow to superior force, or you start an armed rebellion and hope to get your right by force.

The interesting thing of legal systems and the economic processes that they regulate and which in turn determine their nature, which I find quite fascinating, is that they can ultimately lead to situations, in which the legal system actually seems to work against it's "owners". This is because excessive use of privileges acquired and maintained by force at some time becomes counterproductive. In this way classical "capitalists" stop letting the police bash down worker's strikes as was custom in the 19th and earliest 20th century, but were actually compelled to allow for a dialogue and balance of power between trade unions and industrialists. It wasn't because they got more civilized, just that the economic development made it in their interest, to let it be that way, whether they liked it or not. Otherwise, one would have had to revolt and chase away the capitalists by force. They tried that some places, didn't prove particularly successful in the long run ... (hope this isn't stepping on your toes).

So, the "right" of the whites on Aborigine lands was not the right of "Terra Nullius", it was the right of force (firearms versus boomerang, and the organization of industrial society versus that of pre-neolithic comunal society). And as you manage to succeed in the struggle for returning the Aborigines to at least a small part of their lands, that is not because of "Terra Non-Nullius", but because the intricate forces of economy reached a state which provided for conditions that made that possible. But the same conditions require that this be given some civilized formulation, so one speaks of "Terra Nullius" and "Terra Non-Nullius". I don't remember whether it Was Frederick the Great or Napoleon who said, that when he needed to send his army into a neighbouring country, he just did that. Later on he would leave it to his diplomats to explain why he had the right or even duty to do that.... Sounds cynical? People are wrong to think Machiavelli was a cynic. Political reality IS cynical. Machiavelli was only honest.

Nowadays, seeking solutions by brute force of weapons just won't be tolerated anymore. Although I'm not a total pacifist, I'm nevertheless happy that it's that way. So, whereas the radicalist, or extremist, or maximalist (......) way of solving the problem is to get out your AK-47s and blast away all those "Javanese" (or, in Australia, Anglos?), I favour the kind of solution that keeps both sides of the medal in view, weighs all the contradicting factors carefully, to seek for a solution that is based not on unilateral principles (e.g. either "Terra Nullius" or "Terra Non-Nullius"), but preferrably on the best interests of the victimized party (Aborigines in Oz, Papuans in Irian Jaya), by demonstrating that it is in the actual ultimate interests of particularly the strongly armed and powerful, to allow for such solutions. The cold war is over. You can't rely on the old tactics of, if the US won't let you have your will, go to the Soviets, or vice versa. Even then, it usually ended with the victims bleeding to death as they fight it out in representation of the big powers. The Vietnamese didn't like the Americans, so they got weapons from the Rusians. Who died? Vietnamese, not Russians. The Afghans didn't like the Russians, so they got weapons from the Americans. Who died, Americans? no Afghans. So you and Joe Devin can't bear the sight of these Javanese. You'd like to see that the Papuans get enough weapons so as that they could shoot the guts out of them. Who'll die? You and Joe? nope, Papuans.....

>                                  You see, Waruno, the central Javanese
> government did not consult with the POLITICAL authorities in West New
> Guinea before forcing the Dutch out of the place.
Actually, there are two (or three) "central Javanese governments", that of the special district of Yogyakarta, and that of the same of Surakarta (Solo). I'm not so sure what the present status is of Mangkunegaran. But I assume you mean neither of the two (three), but the government in Jakarta (which is located North of the province of WEST Java), having at that time a president who was half Javanese, half Balinese (the present one was born in Sulawesi), and a multi-ethnic cabinet of ministers. The minister of defence was a Batak (from Sumatra). The fellow heading the Indonesian delegation that negotiated the New York Agreement on Western New Guinea was likewise a Sumatran. Sorry, that's just to help you overcome that Javanese-basher syndrome. I'll keep on haggling you on this just as long as you stick to Javanese-bashing. (mind you, that's not because I were a Javanese. I'm not). But I don't really believe people get a Javanese-basher ide fixe just out of ignorance, and if this syndrome is not pathological, could someone please perhaps own up, which interests are really behind keeping up this "Javanese" maskerade?

Which POLITICAL authorities in West New Guinea? The island half was de facto and de jure under Dutch administration, and Indonesia indeed negotiated with the Dutch "POLITICAL authorities". But that's surely not what you meant. Perhaps you meant that "Nieuw Guinea Raad" that was hastily set up by the Dutch in 1961, practically on the eve of the US-refereed Dutch-Indonesia agreement that handed the territory back to Indonesia (of which it had been integral part up to 1949). That N.G. Raad had no more right to represent the various indigenous ethnicities and communities than the Dutch administration that pretended to have given them that prerogative. If they did, how come the Indonesian government who recieved it from the same source didn't have it?

No, the local ethnicities (which are just as diverse as in the rest of Indonesia, also just as variegated in degrees of economic sophistication) were not asked for their opinion when they were included into Dutch East Indies/Indonesia. The others weren't either. There never was a referendum anywhere, asking the local people whether they agreed to be part of Dutch East Indies (or later of Indonesia). Neither the Amungme, nor the Javanese themselves were ever asked. But the economic conditions resulting from the forcible unification of all these peoples and territories into Netherlands East Indies, resulted in a spontaneous process of ethnic convergence, reflected particularly in the further development of local Bazaar Malay dialects (also in Hollandia/Kota Baru and in Biak), of a uniform Dutch missionary and government schooling, and many other things. This served as foundation for a common or All-Indies national movement that first appeared in 1918, and rapidly developed in the following two decades to find its formulation in the Congress of the Indonesian People of December 1939, the most representative assembly of the politically organized multi-ethnic population of Dutch East Indies ever to have been convened. By this time, the Indonesians were already calling themselves "Indonesians", had already chosen the red-and-white flag as their national flag, and chosen "Indonesia Raya" as their national anthem, and had even already renamed their capital from "Batavia" back to "Jakarta".

It was not forced upon anyone by any "Javanese" central government. The (Dutch) central government of that time was quite against it, and even used police methods to fight its development throughout those two decades. It was not even Sukarno's charisma (he was in bannishment at the time of the Congress). They were never asked. They spoke out out of own accord, without anyone compelling them to do so. Seldom in the history of mankind, had such a large multi-ethnic union formed itself so peacefully (if one leaves aside the violence that was aimed at disbanding it). But it seems only fair to note, that although the Dutch colonial administration did its best to avoid it, Dutch presence and administration was crucial in the formation of this voluntary union nevertheless.

Was West New Guinea part of this process? Yes, because Western New Guinea was even then not only mountain tribes, but included towns and cities where people spoke local Malay dialects. And at least by December 1949 (i.e. before the Indonesian republican forces ever set foot here), there also was a local political organization for Indonesian independence. But what about the dozens of rural ethnicities? Same as the dozens everywhere else, in Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and even the Tenggerese and Badui in Java, they were never asked, and they also never spoke out on own accord. Does this mean that only the coastal strips in West New Guinea are legally part of Indonesia, and not the hinterlands? Don't answer before you realize the consequence of whatever principles you might base that answer on on the situation in other countries all over the world.

One reason for telling you all this in such detail is to illustrate another principle which one may not ignore. That of the workings of Time. The unification of all those territories into one Dutch East Indies was done by force, but than followed years, decades, in some places centuries of development under uniform economic and political conditions in constant contact with each other. And Time did its work in forming that unitary Indonesian feeling of togetherness that encompassed the whole colony. The Dutch never wanted it. But they were the ones who were really "responsible" for its emergence.

Time has also done it's work in Western New Guinea. 13 years long it was forcibly kept separated from the rest of Indonesia (1949-1963;...). And so it failed to share the formative years of the Indonesian state. Time has again played a vital role in the following 35 years of unification with Indonesia (1963-1998). The resulting effects of the workings of time in these two contrary periods is very complex. And only if you are prepared to come to terms with the difficult details, will you really have the least chance of doing justice to any claims of wanting to help or support the Papuans.....

It is not simple to list them all out here (and I don't even have a sufficiently complete picture). But I'll try to outline the most important.

(....). I'm not going to blindly stick to an integrationist ide-fixe of West New Guinea as part of Indonesia just for the sake of nationalist nostalgia. But to begin with, what the future of the territory should be never was the subject of my inputs that's been getting [you all excited]. Read them again. Nowhere at any point did I either insist that the territory should remain within Indonesia or vice versa. The sole point was to substantiate my statement that that paper of Bernard Nietschmann was full of untruths. And I'm satisfied to see that neither Joe Devin nor you have been able to deny even one single one of the whole list of points where I showed the author to have deviated from the truth. (......).

Like all other territories of Indonesia, including Java itself, the population has suffered under incredibly ruthless abuse by the military. But the 13 years of separation from the rest of the country had as consequence that the people in West New Guinea, both in rural as well as in urban sites, react differently to that abuse. Everywhere else, the people take this for what it is, and strive to overthrow the despotic regime and set up democratic conditions. In Western New Guinea, however, one very widespread reaction is to see this as "Indonesian" or "Javanese" oppression. The fact, that the population here is part of the australoid and negrito population of Indonesia additionally introduces a racial aspect to the contradiction. The army has in any case quite successfully wiped out just about all the original pro-Indonesian sentiments already existing in the 1940s.

The 35 years of Indonesian jurisdiction however also had another effect. Large numbers of Papuans were in other parts of Indonesia for studying or for their jobs. In Western New guinea itself schooling was the same as in the rest of Indonesia, and in the same language as everywhere else, i.e. in Indonesian (Indonesia not only promoted West New Guinea to the rank of a separate geopolitical unit for the first time in history, making it an own province, but one of the other first things that happenned upon inclusion of the territory was that it got an own university). The press is in Indonesian, and through the media (particularly TV) they've been absorbed into the All-Indonesian cultural sphere. That initial Malay sphere of Hollandia/Kota Baru and Biak (and sporadically in the other towns too, particularly also around the camps of Boven Digul where Indonesian political prisoners were kept), has expanded considerably. So that culturally, West New Guinea is more part of Indonesia than it had ever been before.

How does this even out in the total? In case of a referendum, a part, and perhaps a not at all small part, will certainly vote for separation from Indonesia. But a substantial part will vote to remain in Indonesia. A third part doesn't really know what it wants. If the missionary who has been so nice to them these last few years whispers to them it's better to vote out, they'll vote out. And if he whispers they should vote in, they'll probably do that too. If you tell them the Indonesian soldiers will come again, they'll vote out. Thank the army for that.

This third part actually doesn't have a foundation to decide which would be better for them, and their vote will be coincidental either way. The votes of the two first mentioned factions are however legitimate democratic votes. I can already see you flexing your fingers to lambast me on this "arrogant disdain" for the opinion of those other people. No I don't have disdain for them. It's just that in pre-civic societies, people are just too honest (a more arrogant word would be "naive"), and we city-slickers could talk them into anything just like the colonialists of yesteryear with their glass beads. It's therefore simply not fair to nail them down by their votes.

But if any Papuan from Western New Guinea asks my opinion, whether it is better to stay inside Indonesia or separate. I'd tell him it's better to stay in. I have many reasons for this, of which the circumstance that the territory legally and historically is part of Indonesia is the least important. (the reason why it SEEMED the most important was because that was the topic of the discussion, being where Bernard Nietschmann deviated from the truth). Also, I don't think inclusion of Irian Jaya is crucial for the economic survival of Indonesia.

Whether for good or bad, Indonesian Malay is the only interregional language of communication here now, and language has a crucial role in education and culture development. Even in Indonesia as a whole, the development of language policy and maintenance has been limping seriously for decades, and is only recently gaining professionality. It is a problem involving many factors, including that the Indonesian elite originally spoke Dutch rather than Indonesian; That Standard Indonesian is derived from a High Malay dialect, whereas popularly spoken Malays developed from Low or Bazaar Malay; and that language policy was for a considerable time maintained rather unprofessionally. West New Guinea on its own would have stupendous difficulties maintaining Indonesian as standard language alone, and switching over to either Dutch or English or Tok Pisin would be connected with even greater problems. This may at first seem a rather trivial matter, but if you allow yourself a while before lambasting me on it, you may realize that there's more in this than may first strike the eye.

Economically, West New Guinea is more tightly tied to Indonesia than ever before and separation would lead to very grave problems in the first five years or more. It is possible, that these problems will be solved, because it will be easier to solve them than to solve the previously mentioned problem. Nevertheless, the greater possibility will be that the solution will lead to new external dependency, perhaps to Australia, perhaps to PNG, or perhaps.... to Indonesia. Which is the more likely? Think hard!, you got it, it is the dependency to Indonesia. Why? Firstly those are the already existing lines of connection, and secondly because of the language. So, If you see present West New Guinea as an Indonesian "colony", then separation could turn it into an Indonesian "neo-colony". The same dependencies, only the soldiers no longer "Javanese" but Papuans, and the feed-back dividents won't be there. This is not because Papuans are incapable of maintaining modern economies any more or any less than anybody else. If they had been light-skinned Dayaks they'd have had the same probems. Their economy and infrastructure is too onesided and too integrated in the overall Indonesian. I'm afraid Soeharto has done too good a job in that respect.

These are just two of several more reasons, but it has again become late and I do have other things to do......

Now let's see, what have we still got...

>             And the whole point about Indonesia is that nearly everyone
> wanted out. Remember the Ambonese? The Sumatrans weren't too hot on the
> idea either. And what about Flores?
You are very wrong there (.......). Some generals wanted out so as to upgrade from feif-leader to king on his own. Unfortunately, there was a cold war on, and Sukarno's insistance not to kotau to the US but remain neutral had as consequence that the secessionist generals got arms and other support. The arms were more modern than the best the Indonesian central forces had. A la gueure comme a la gueure, even in the cold war. If the population had really wanted out, West Java, West Sumatra, South Sumatra, North Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Ambon,.... we'd never have survived. As it was, even superior weapons didn't help them. Whole truck loads of modern ammunition and weapons, including bazookas that the national army didn't have, fell practically unused into the hands of the central government. I tell you, if you know what a people's uprising is, you'll now those weapons wouldn't have been lying around unused and gift-wrapped. Near Sulawesi our warships were sunk by superior bombers our airforce had nothing to set up against. Needless to say, the bombers were not being flown by Sulawesiers or any other Indonesians, but by American "volunteers":-)
That didn't help the rebel generals there either though...


> Not only have their political rights been overturned, so have their land
> ownership rights, human rights, and every other right you would expect
> people to have in a free and democratic society rather than one run by an
> army-backed dictator who is totally corrupt and runs the whole country as
> his personal fiefdom for the benefit of himself, his few friends, and to
> the disadvantage of all others.
> Is this an empty statement? No. It is simple fact, or haven't you been
> noticing what has been happening Waruno?
It is certainly not an empty statement. I've known it all along, perhaps before you ever did. Only whereas you apparently only noticed this happening in West New Guinea (and in East Timor, but that isn't part of Indonesia), I've also noted it's happening everywhere else. Suggest that all Indonesia separates from Indonesia? Also even Java itself? Or did you think it's been somehow a bit more democratic there than elsewhere?

No, the only solution is total reform. That would be the only thing to help Indonesia as a whole, and that would also help West New Guinea several times more than any separation. There is an economic crisis on, and this crisis won't stop before that reform comes through. That means, they'll just have to reform, one way or the other, whether they like it or not. But the sooner they do it, the better also for them themselves, of course. And that means two things.

The first and most vital condition for a revival is the reform of the army. This has been the principle factor of destabilization since way back even before New Order rule, and is the main reason for the country threatening to fall apart now. And unless the generals give themselves a good kick in their own you-know-where and really give the whole army a shake up and return to fundamentals of law and order, they won't succeed. These generals were not only US trained, they are very much dependent upon keeping in the good books with the Americans. It is unfortunate that the Republicans are giving Clinton so much trouble in congress and with those other things. That is hindering him from implementing US influence most optimally, whether in Israel/Palestinia, in ex-Yugoslavia, with the IMF, or in Indonesia.

The second is return to independence of the three powers (executive, legtislative, judicative), and independence of public means of control of government, which include freedom of the press (which has already greatly improved now). However, this will be easier than fulfilling the first condition, but will also depend upon the fulfillment of that first condition.

> My bet is that Indonesia is going to come apart at the seams.
I won't take up that bet. There is indeed a realistic possibility that that happens, particularly if condition number one above remains unfulfilled. But I HOPE that doesn't happen, not only for Indonesia as a whole, but also for the Papuans, and also for you Australians.... (think hard, why)
                                                            It is the
> Balkans of Asia - an unhappy forced alliance of disparate and hostile
> groups kept in place by repression.
There I can relief you. It isn't. Never has been. And amazingly enough (nothanks to the army), it still isn't. But, as I said, it could become that. It's not too far off from becoming that. The army could succeed in getting it in that condition, and they wouldn't have to try particularly hard to achieve it.

Back to Index