The History of Papuan Integration: a Uti Possidetis Juris Doctrine Perspective


Papua and West Papua are two of the most recent provinces in which their integration to Indonesia went through a long battle between two nations, Indonesia and the Dutch, both physically through military power and diplomatically. Before joining the Republic of Indonesia, it was named Irian Jaya Barat.

After the rest of the Dutch East Indies became part of Indonesian Republic, the Dutch defended its sovereignty over Papua Island and planned to make it as a separate country. The Dutch and West Papuan leaders stated that Irian Jaya Barat did not belong to the Republic of Indonesia as it was different, both ethnically and geographically, to other parts of Indonesia. They also argued that Irian Jaya Barat people did not want to be under Indonesian government’s control.

However, Indonesian people had always regarded Irian Jaya Barat as an intrinsic part of the Republic of Indonesia long before the Dutch claimed it as its territory. An Indonesian military operation, called Operation Trikora, was then launched by President Soekarno to take over the Dutch overseas territory in Papua Island. The operation was executed from 19 December 1961 to 15 August 1962. At the end of the operation, a negotiation through New York Agreement on 15 August 1962 was held. According to the treaty, the Dutch should hand over Irian Jaya Barat to the United Nations.

The United Nations would later hand over Irian Jaya Barat to the Republic of Indonesia if Papuan people had chosen to join the Republic of Indonesia after the referendum. The referendum was called the Act of Free Choice or Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat (PEPERA) which was held in 1969. The referendum was done by asking 1,025 selected men and women to vote. This is one of the reasons that causes the conflict in Papua as many parties argued that the referendum did not represent Papuan people voices altogether (the estimated population at the time was around 800,000 people).

Now, after 57 years, the conflict still exists. The one who demands independence from the Republic of Indonesia is still trying to push the issue through physical contact with the Indonesian military and international propaganda. The physical contact was sometimes caused fatalities on both parties.

The issue about Papua also becomes a matter that the ambassadors of the Republic of Indonesia abroad need to face, especially those assigned in the western countries. People are concerned about the allegations of human rights abuses in Papua and the movement to free Papua from Indonesia. However, these ambassadors do not deal with the issue unarmed. They prepare an ‘ammunition’ in the form of principles of the international law when facing the issue of Papua, which is uti possidetis juris principle.

Uti possidetis juris principle is used to determine the boundaries of a previously colonized state. The borders of the new nation follow boundaries when the country is still being colonized. As for Indonesian territory, the boundaries followed the borders of the territory when it was still part of the Dutch East Indies.

There was a debate between Muhammad Yamin and Muhammad Hatta about the exact boundary of Indonesia’s territory. Muhammad Yamin argued that the boundary of Indonesia’s territory reached a border which is now a territory of Thailand following the former Majapahit region. Meanwhile, Muhammad Hatta used the uti possidetis juris principle to determine Indonesia’s territory which followed the Dutch territory. With this kind of logic, the former Papua under the Dutch colony is originally a part of Indonesia when it obtained its freedom. And it is still valid until now.

According to the principle which is generally accepted by the international law, an independent state inherited the territory of its former colonial state (Article 6 Paragraph 1 of Law No. 20/2008). Thus, the term the integration of Papua into parts of Indonesia is not precisely correct, but it returned to being a part of the Republic of Indonesia through diplomacy.


In addition to the above ‘ammunition’, the people of Papua still have their right to self-determination. The right to self-determination is administered by a number of international conventions or agreements. As for Papuan people, their right to self-determination was done once on Indonesian Independence day, on 17 August 1945. It was the moment when the Republic of Indonesia declared the territory of Indonesia extending from Sabang to Merauke. Thus, once again, Papua and West Papua were part of Indonesia from the very beginning.

Those reasons are enough as a strong foundation to acknowledge the status of Papua and West Papua. However, the Indonesian government should continue to maintain the safety in Papua to avoid human rights violations. More than that, the Indonesian government should increase the development in Papua and enhance the local economy which, in the end, will be able to suppress the emergence of the future conflict in Papua Island.