The Act of Free Choice (Indonesian: Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat or PEPERA, Determination of the People's Opinion) was an election held in August 2, 1969 in which 1,025 men and women allegedly selected by the Indonesian military in Western New Guinea voted unanimously in favor of Indonesian control.
The event was recognized by the United Nations in General Assembly resolution 2504 (XXIV) without determining whether it complied with the authorizing New York Agreement, and without determining whether it was an act of "self-determination" as referred to and described in United Nations General Assembly resolutions 1514 and 1541 (XV) respectively.
The referendum and its conduct had been specified in the New York Agreement; Article 17 of which in part says:
The agreement continues with Article 18:
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 (the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations) in the territory on 22 August 1968.
The New York Agreement specified that all men and women in Papua who were not foreign nationals had the right to vote in the Act. General Sarwo Edhie Wibowo reportedly instead selected 1,025 local men and women out of an estimated population of 800,000 as the Western New Guinea representatives for the vote, which were asked to vote by raising their hands or reading from prepared scripts, in a display for United Nations observers. They voted publicly and unanimously in favour of Indonesian control. The United Nations took note of the results with General Assembly Resolution 2504. According to Hugh Lunn, a journalist from Reuters, men who were selected for the vote were blackmailed into voting against independence with threats of violence against their persons and their families. Contemporary diplomatic cables showed American diplomats suspecting that Indonesia could not have won a fair vote, and also suspecting that the vote was not implemented freely, but the diplomats saw the event as a "foregone conclusion" and "marginal to U.S. interests". Ortiz-Sanz wrote in his report that "an act of free choice has taken place in accordance with Indonesian practice", but not confirming that it was in accordance with international practice as the Act of Free Choice had required.
The act has often been criticized and disparagingly referred to as the "Act of No Choice", and many independence activists continuously protest for a fresh referendum for every single Papuan. After the Fall of Suharto in 1998, celebrity Archbishop Desmond Tutu and some American and European parliamentarians requested United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan to review the United Nations' role in the vote and the validity of the Act of Free Choice. There have been calls for the United Nations to conduct its own referendum, with as broad an electorate as critics say the New York Agreement obliged but the Act of Free Choice did not fulfill. Those calling for a vote also point 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 to discredit the 1969 Act of Free Choice.[original research?] The Indonesian Government position is that the United Nations' noting of the results validates the conduct and results.
A new referendum is supported by many international organisations including the Free West Papua Campaign which works with West Papuans to provide all West Papuans with self-determination and full independence from Indonesian rule.
The Federal Republic of West Papua, formed on 19 October 2011 at the Third West Papuan People's Congress, has declared the New York Agreement and The Act of Free Choice null and invalid, and seeks recognition by the United Nations as an independent nation according to international and customary law.