By Nithin Coca
WITH increasingly regular protests and a violent crackdown by police and the military, the contested Indonesian region of West Papua is currently seeing the highest levels of agitation it has experienced in years. Against a backdrop of Indonesia’s forthcoming general elections in April, tensions are rising over long-standing human rights violations, pro-independence agitation and lack of accountability for crimes committed by security forces.
“The situation is not improving for the better, it’s getting worse,” says Ronny Kareni, an Australian-based activist of West Papuan origin. “There is a divergence between Jakarta and locals, and that is deeply rooted in the historical status of West Papua.”
On 1 December 2018, more than 500 people were arrested in cities across Indonesia for commemorating the 57th anniversary of Papuan attempts to declare independence from Dutch colonial rule. Raising the pro-independence Morning Star flag or publicly expressing support for Papuan self-determination is considered a criminal offense against the Indonesian state.
The following day, on 2 December, pro-independence militants are reported to have killed up to 31 workers on the Trans Papua Highway construction project in the Nduga region of the Papuan highlands. Although the ongoing independence conflict in West Papua has resulted in the deaths of approximately 500,000 Papuans since 1969, this was the deadliest attack by militants in recent years.
The government response has been fierce, with activists reporting that military action has forced thousands to flee their homes.
With the media and civil society prevented from independently visiting the region, these reports are difficult to verify, but international human rights organisations have made pleas for calm. “We call on all parties, the Indonesian army, police and the Free Papua guerrilla fighters, not to target civilians,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
West Papua, which forms about half of the island of New Guinea, was not part of Indonesia when it gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. It was annexed in 1969 in a military-run election approved by the United Nations, in which about 1,000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote against independence. West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s New Order era under General Suharto (1966-1998), before being granted special autonomy status in 2001 in a bid to quell the independence movement. The island’s population, estimated at around three million, are mostly Melanesian and follow either Christianity or indigenous religions, unlike the rest of Indonesia which is mostly Polynesian and Muslim.
Natural resources have played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of Papuan history. Shortly after the rigged election of 1969, Freeport McMoRan, an American mining company, began operating in the region. This marked the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company and the Indonesian government. However, tax revenues mostly go to the western part of Indonesia which is much more developed; West Papua, in the east of the country, is the poorest region in Indonesia and its people see few benefits from resource extraction.
Jokowi’s promises of reform
In 2014, then Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (now president of Indonesia), an outside candidate in the presidential elections with no connection to Indonesia’s elite or military, made several campaign promises to address human rights in Papua. This included addressing the ability of the military to use its own internal trial mechanism rather than civilian courts, opening up the region to the foreign media and freeing political prisoners. Papuans saw hope in Jokowi, and he won the two provinces (Papua and West Papua, formerly Papua until 2003) that make up West Papua by more than 30 percentage points each. In an election where Jokowi won nationally by only 6.3 per cent, the region provided him with some of his best results.
Even months after his inauguration, President Widodo reiterated his promises directly to Papuans after a police shooting in Paniai killed five people.
“Jokowi made bold promises in front of Papuans attending Christmas celebrations, saying that he would investigate and solve this case, and bring peace to Papua,” says Papang Hidayat, a researcher at Amnesty Indonesia.
Jokowi initially made a few attempts to improve the situation in West Papua by releasing five political prisoners in 2015 and declaring the region open to foreign journalists, for example. But his power has been limited due to the role of security forces in West Papua, including the Indonesian soldiers who have maintained their presence in the region despite the fall of Suharto’s military rule more than two decades ago. As a result, most of his promises to make reforms remain unfulfilled.
“It became clear to many people that whatever [Jokowi] says, it will not be implemented,” says Kareni. “He is only a face for democracy, but [he is] not actually in power.”
Harsono agrees: “The situation on the ground, especially the resistance from the bureaucracy, is much bigger than his presidential authority, I’m afraid.”
Attempting to address political grievances through economic development
One area in which Jokowi has been able to push forward is on development. The government is investing massively in roads, airports and agriculture, including a plan to build 1.2 million hectares of palm oil and sugar plantations.
Following decades of underdevelopment, “the government feels the need to pay more attention to Papua,” says Arie Ruhyanto, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “Given the political setting, the option is limited to the non-political issues…hence, the Papua problem is always framed in the context of development issues, such as poverty and underdevelopment.”
In the end, this has only increased tensions, as many Papuans feel that development is either aimed at extracting resources or benefitting migrant workers from other parts of Indonesia. That’s one reason why the December attack by separatists was against the construction of the centrepiece of this new development plan – the 4,300 kilometre Trans-Papua Highway.
The response to the attack also highlights a major problem – that many in the Indonesian security apparatus do not distinguish between the peaceful protests and aspirations of the vast majority of Papuans, and a small minority of militants. In response to the Nduga attack, police arrested members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), a student-run organisation that coordinates peaceful protests, and forcefully closed their offices.
With the security forces entrenched and Jokowi’s power limited, many fear that the divide between the two sides is growing. Papuans know that the April elections are unlikely to change anything.
However, instead of waiting and hoping for action from Jakarta, more West Papuans are starting to agitate on local, national and global stages. In 2014, several West Papua independence organisations unified under the banner of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), headed by the renowned Papuan activist Benny Wenda. The entity has been active within the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group within it, which counts the four Melanesian nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, as members.
“In 2015, the ULMWP put in an application bid for a membership of observer status,” says Kareni. The bid was successful. “For Papuans it was a recognition of our cause. The movement has gained a lot of momentum, especially in the Pacific.”
In 2017, organisers in West Papua undertook an impressive effort, smuggling a petition across the island and collecting signatures from 1.8 million residents – 70 per cent of the population – in support of an independence referendum, as promised in the 1960s. The petition was delivered to the United Nation’s Special Committee on Decolonization, to which Indonesia responded by arresting Yanto Awerkion, a KNPB activist and organiser of the petition drive, and sentencing him to 10 months in prison.
One small opportunity to shine a light on the human rights abuses taking place in West Papua came when a UN human rights panel issued a statement condemning racism and police violence in the region, resulting in a rare apology from the Indonesian police for one incident in particular.
There is also hope in the expression by the Indonesian foreign ministry that it will allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua. However, civil society are skeptical that the UN visit, if it takes place, will result in concrete changes.
“It is not new,” says Harsono, referring to previous invites that were not followed up with visas or details. “I won’t believe it until I meet them in Jayapura, until I see them in Papua.”
Meanwhile the election campaign is gathering steam, with the Nduga incident becoming a campaign issue, spurring increased nationalist sentiment against West Papuans. Unfortunately, there may be little that either Jokowi or his opponent – former military general Prabowo Subianto, who has a checkered record due to his involvement in East Timor – can do to change the plight of Papua.
“Whoever the president is, he will be in a difficult position since all political forces in Indonesia, whether the nationalist, the military or Islamic groups, seem to be reluctant to address the human rights issue,” says Ruhyanto. “It remains a marginal topic that only concerns a handful of activists and academics.” (*)
Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on social and economic issues in developing countries, and has specific expertise in south-east Asia.
Urgent international intervention in the Regency of Nduga, Papua Province, Indonesia : Open Letter
OPEN LETTER TO :
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
James Marape, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
Shinzō Abe, Prime Minister of Japan
Ueli Maurer, President of the Swiss Confederation
Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden
Antti Rinne, Prime Minister of Finland
URGENT INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION IN THE REGENCY OF NDUGA IN THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA
Indonesian security forces are killing civilians in Nduga, a remote regency (kabupaten) in the province of Papua.
The bodies of four women and a boy who disappeared on September 20, 2019, were found yesterday, the most recent victims of army violence in Nduga. They had been buried secretly to hide the crime committed by the army.
In early 2019, large numbers of additional Indonesian troops were sent to Nduga after an altercation involving the OPM, a Papuan group opposed to Indonesian sovereignty of Papua. By including the civilian population in this conflict, killing them indiscriminately with modern weapons, Indonesian security forces (army and police) not only are breaking international law but are making the conflict worse.
Papuan inhabitants of Nduga (2,168 sq klm) are a distinct ethnic group numbering about 100,000 people. The violence by the Indonesian army which escalated in 2019 has resulted in more than 40% of the population now being internally displaced persons. This means twelve administrative districts of Nduga have been emptied of their population, many schools left deserted, buildings and agricultural land vacant. This year, with 190 people in Nduga killed, Indonesian army policy is nothing less than ethnic cleansing and must be stopped immediately.
The Indonesian government in Jakarta is responsible for the actions of the Indonesian army but clearly the army is operating beyond all law, killing for no reason other than killing innocent people because they are the inhabitants of Nduga. Why the army wants to occupy this region, empty of its original inhabitants, has not been revealed.
Many thousands of people in Nduga have already fled because of the threat of being killed – but these four women and a young boy were ones who did not flee – and they were killed by the army. This is their home, this is where they live – it is the army which needs to leave, not the people who live here.
Indonesian President Jokowi is aware of problems caused by continuing army violence in Nduga. Together with the heads of many governmental departments, the governor of Papua, Lukas Enembe, publicly requested the excess army troops be withdrawn, but the request has had no effect. I myself met with his top minister, ex-army general Wiranto, in charge of co-ordinating political, legal and security affairs, and with ACM Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces. Despite repeated requests, nothing has changed.
Only one day after Jokowi himself announced that all foreign journalists would be given access to Papua, not just a few carefully-selected media representatives, the regional army commander himself in Papua contradicted the president. Beyond the control of Jakarta, the violent methods used by the army, whether described as crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or worse, must be stopped immediately.
With Indonesian sovereignty of Papua, there is a ‘responsibility to protect’ the Nduga population from the extreme human rights violations occurring there. According to the R2P global political commitment adopted by the United Nations and endorsed by Indonesia, action is urgently needed to address Jakarta’s inaction, reluctance or incapability of providing a safe place for civilians, including Papuan women and children in Nduga. Because Jakarta cannot stop the killing, I am asking for international assistance to protect the lives of people in Nduga. These four woman and the boy killed by the army were part of my family, and I am asking for international protection for all Papuan people who still live in Nduga – those who have not already fled in fear.
If we cannot live in Nduga without fear of being killed by the army, where can we go? In the past, refugees have fled from Papua Province across the border to Papua New Guinea but starting a new life in PNG is not the answer to the problem. It is the Indonesian army which is the problem.
What is needed is International intervention to stop the killing in Papua, to remove those sections of the army currently involved in the killing of innocent people in Nduga. Of course, Jakarta will disagree, as shown by repeated requests for President Jokowi to intervene. The tragedy here is well past the stage where mere promises or blatant denial by Jakarta will stop the killing. It must stop now. International intervention is required to stop the killing.
Director at Papua Language Institute (PLI)
The origin of Indonesian racism towards Papuans and its implication to a Free West Papua Movement
By Yamin Kogoya
ESCALATING violence and attacks on Papuan students saw thousands of young people march on the streets and set fire to the Parliament building in West Papua on 19th August 2019. This was in response to Papuan students being attacked in their dormitory in Surabaya last week after they had alleged bent a flagpole during the Indonesian Independence Day celebrations (on 17 August).
Surabaya police chief, senior commissioner Sandi Nugroho, said the attack on the Papuan student dormitory was carried out by Indonesian nationalist community groups who were angered by the treatment of their national flag.
In an effort to restore calm, the Papua Governor, Lukas Enembe called on all Indonesian citizens to respect their national value of “unity in diversity” (Bhineka Tunggal Ika), and for the security forces to act professionally and in accordance with Indonesian laws and to not let activist groups take the law in their own hands. He reiterated that Papuans studying in Indonesian cities and towns must be treated with dignity and respect and is how Papuans treat Indonesians studying in West Papua.
The timing of last weeks’ attacks, retaliations and protests could not be more significant for both the Papuans and Indonesians. On 16th August 2019, the leaders of Pacific Island nations passed several resolutions regarding the Papuan genocide at the Pacific Island Forums, while 17th August 2019 was the 74th anniversary of Indonesia’s Independence Day.
PAPUANS HAVE ENDURED YEARS OF RACISM AND VIOLENCE
Papuans are no stranger to Indonesia’s cruel and violent racism and which they have endured since the 1960s. Papuans have died, been marginalized, and had their rights denied because of racism.
Filep Karma, a West Papuan political activist experienced firsthand racism by Indonesians during his university years, and in 2014 said: “As If We Are Half Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land”.
Fifty-six years later, and these cruel racial slurs are alive and thriving as Papuans continue to be called monkeys, insinuating that they are primitive. This insult cuts deep in the hearts of Papuans.
Just last week, Indonesian Human Rights Lawyer, Veronica Koman posted videos on her Twitter feed of Indonesian demonstrators holding up picture monkeys and chanted “kick out, kick out the transmigrants, kick out transmigrants now”.
While the world’s media is focusing on the violence involved in the demonstrations, they are ignoring what is at the heart of the demonstrations, that being racism. It is not acceptable to call Papuans monkeys, effectively denying them their fundamental intrinsic value of being human. And while President Joko Widodo called on his brothers and sisters in Papua and West Papua to forgive and forget, the racial harassment and discriminations against Papuan students has been ongoing.
Governor Enembe said “Papuans students throughout Indonesia always get called Monkey and are not safe”. During an interview on Indonesian TV ONE, he condemned the way Papuan students are treated in other parts of Indonesia. “It has been 74 years since Indonesia gained its independence from the Dutch and this country still treats my people inhumanly. If the situation doesn’t improve, I will bring my Papuan students back home”.
Racism is a weapon deploy by the colonial power to break down the Papuan human spirit. This is the same weapon Indonesia is using that was used on them by the Europeans, and who killed millions of the first nation people around the world over 500 years.
IS IT A CASE OF MONKEY-SEE-MONKEY-DO FOR INDONESIA?
As the Jakarta Post reported “racism” is at the heart of the Surabaya -West Papua conflict, and highlighted Indonesia’s own experience of racism under the Dutch colonial rule.
It appears that after 74 years of independence from the Dutch, and despite Indonesia’s national ideology of “Pancasila” and “Bhineka Tunggal Ika” (Five constitutional Pillars and Unity in Diversity”, it is still suffering from the decades of racial abuse under Dutch rule.
Indonesian treatment of Papuans is like a revenge towards unexamined grievances they suffered. Papuans’ genocide at the hands of Indonesia in West Papua and unprecedented destruction of their ancestral homeland originated in the minds of racist Europeans. But they are projecting their anger onto the wrong people. They should direct their anger onto the Dutch and Western Governments.
The Dutch used guns and the Bible to tame the Indigenous Indonesian over 300 years. They broke their human spirit and imagination through racial discrimination. They were dehumanized and used as a lethal weapon against all other non-Dutch Europeans.
The Dutch implemented a class system whereby the Indonesians were third class citizens, well beneath the first-class Europeans, and the second-class Chinese and Arabs.
And so, the cycle continues, with Indonesia trying to dehumanize and break the Papuan spirit so they can rebuild them to identity with Indonesian colonial ideas.
Indonesia wants to love Papuans and accept them as part of Indonesia. However, they can’t because, just like their former European colonialists, Indonesia has wrong and distorted information about Papuans.
As articulated by sociologist Thomas Scheff in the Jakarta Post on Friday, May 31, 2013:
“there is no love between Papuans and Indonesians. It is infatuation. Genuine love requires detailed knowledge of the other”.
Another tragic learned behaviour from the Dutch is Indonesia taking the role of “definer”. Essentially, Indonesia sees itself as the tape measure that other people and cultures have to measure up to or ‘be defined’.
Papuans are subjected to racism everywhere they go, from university dormitories, the marketplace and on the streets. The Papuan values, feelings, emotions and psychology are under constant attack by the colonial racist system. This is the institutionalized racism to poison the soul of Papuans.
PAPUA HAS BEEN THE RACISM FOOTBALL THAT’S BEEN KICKED AROUND FOR YEARS
West Papua has been treated as a commodity for years, being passed around and sacrificed as world leaders saw fit. The USA, Australia, Dutch and Indonesia decided its fate during the negotiations in the 1960s. It was sacrificed for world peace on UN’s alter in 1963 and handed over to Indonesia in an attempt to halt the spread of communism in Indonesia (by way of providing an army). Remarkably, West Papuans was never considered nor were they invited to participate in this meeting
US president Kennedy referred to West Papuans as “The 700,000 living in the stone age…a few thousand square miles of cannibals land.” Papuans was used to secure the interest of Western governments and the Soviet Bloc. They had no value and rights. The result of these negotiations cost millions of Papuan lives.
Western policy makers were more concerned with teaching Papuans how to eat with knife and fork rather than their rights for political independence.
Unfortunately for Papuans, their relationship with Europeans has always been tainted by racism. The Western governments, Chinese, Indonesian and industrialised countries always assume that natural state of being Papuan is not desirable which is why they always attempt to dehumanise the Papuans.
According to Dr. Tarcisius kabutaulaka, associate professor at the Centre for Pacific Islands Studies at the Univeristy of Hawaii, European’s have always placed Melanesian people at the bottom of human hierarchy because of their darker skin colours and cultural traits that led to them being viewed as primitive. They bare the internal stigma of “Oceanic Negroes”. The crimes Melanesian committed to be boxed at the bottom of Europeans category was simply the fact. 
IS THIS THE PATH TO INDEPENDENCE
The intriguing aspect about this recent demonstration is how seriously Papuan students and young people are taking the issue of ‘racism’. They are using the ongoing racism to voice their deep aspiration for independence from Indonesia.
Recently, Indonesia has been focusing on building diplomatic relationships with the Pacific island countries but, how can a genuine relationship be built and sustained when one party approaches the other with a paternalistic colonial mental outlook? This was evident during the 2019 Pacific Exposition in Auckland whereby the Indonesian government did not disclose the real issues faced by Papuans. What Indonesia did display was misconstrued image of the Papuan.
If Indonesia continues to see Papuans through the lens of racism (monkey), why would they treat any other black race in the Oceania with love and respect. To build a sense of brotherhood among all men across all our cultural and religious prejudices, we need a new interconnectedness worldview, not racially fragmented one.
if President Jokowi was sincere about calling Papuans “brothers and sisters” then it is time for Indonesian to treat Papuans with dignity and respect, including the overwhelming desire by Papuans for “Independence”. Otherwise these words are meaningless.
Despite the Indonesian effort to truncate the growing support for an independent West Papua, the Pacific island leaders did pass a few resolutions in during last week PIF’s meeting in Tuvalu.
What do these resolutions really mean to Papuans? Whether it was a mere Orwellian exercise concocting the final communique -a pure fiasco or it is one of the steps that will enable the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) to enter UN General Assembly, one thing is clear that support for the West Papuans plight is growing.
This support from Pacific island communities will likely grow in the future if Indonesia continues to mistreat their fellow Papuans.
Calling Papuans a monkey can and will ignite the fire of resistance (as seen by thousands of Papuans protesting and setting fire to parliament house). The issue of racism is serious and failure to recognise this will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to.
As Evi Mariani warned Jakarta in her paper published yesterday by the Jakarta Post:
“Racism in the love story in Bumi Manusia is the prequel to Indonesia’s budding nationalism against the occupation of the Dutch before our independence in 1945. Surely, we would not want the racism befalling Papuans to pave the way for their struggle for independence from “Indonesian occupation” on their land”.
The outspoken Free West Papua advocate, the governor of PNG Oro Province, Gary Juffa has warned through his official Facebook page that:
“In case any of you have any misconception about your future fate at the hands of expanding Indonesian influence…here is a grim remainder…if they call our brothers and sisters monkeys…on their own land…that is exactly what they are calling us now”
The leaders of “Blue Pacific” cannot be naïve like a rabbit by inviting the wolves from Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra to discuss about what they are going to have for dinner. Dangerous and yet virtues rabbit is better than harmless and virtue less creature that lives only to be eaten by predators.
It is West Papua’s deepest hope that the Pacific Island leaders will not sacrifice West Papua by accepting a worldly materialistic offer by Jakarta, Beijing and Canberra. How remarkable it would be in this modern world for the racially abused and subjugated people are able to stand firm against the might and reject the gold in favour of their own souls. That would be the retelling of an old story written anew. (*)
Author is Australia-based anthropologist
Who actually benefits from the Trans Papua Highway?
Papua, Jubi – Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) researcher Cahyo Pamungkas says that the Trans Papua Highway has yet to bring any benefits to the Papuan people.
“The benefits for indigenous people can’t be seen yet. So people ask who exactly is the road for? Because the there is still illegal logging in the central highlands, the highlands are being destroyed, it’s easier for outsiders to exploit natural resources”, said Pamungkas at a press conference on the conflict in Nduga regency at the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) offices in Jakarta on Thursday July 18.
Pamungkas explained that instead of benefiting ordinary Papuans, the Trans Papua Highway threatens their economic wellbeing.
“Pig livestock from Toraja comes into Wamena. So the Wamena’s people’s pigs don’t sell. This threatens their economy. It is increasingly easy for outsiders to come to Wamena, so Wamena people see the road as a threat to their future”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas said that the Trans Papua Highway project only connects regencies or cities and the benefits of this are not felt by the Papuan people. Meanwhile roads between villages and districts which are in fact what is actually needed are not being built.
“Yet roads like this (between villages and districts) are very important, for example simply to sell vegetables produced by farmers in markets”, said Pamungkas.
According to Pamungkas, the Trans Papua Highway actually facilitates the exploitation of natural resources which can be seen from large number of trees being felled and gold mining.
“Moreover when LIPI researched development on this road, we found many logging camps for logging in the direction of the Papua Lorentz National Park, which should a protected area”, explained Pamungkas.
Pamungkas is of the view that the government should immediately hold a dialogue with Papuan social leaders with the assistance of appropriate mediators.
“Because the most important thing at the moment is liberating the Papuan people from the memory of suffering which has built up over time. Particularly the acts of violence by security forces which has resulted in trauma for the residents of Nduga regency, Papua province”, he explained.
Local people’s rights
Expressing a similar view to Pamungkas, Amnesty International Indonesia researcher Aviva Nababan believes that the Trans Papua Highway does not provide any clear benefits. He also questions the government’s planning process for the road.
“Looking at it again from the process. Did the government design its function by thinking about the rights of the people the road impacts on? Did they really follow the principles of involving local communities? If not, this needs to be fixed. We think it shouldn’t be seen from the perspective of western Indonesia. There’s a road, lovely. There’s a road, great”, said Nababan at Jakarta LBH on Friday July 19.
Nababan warned that Indonesia has a commitment to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) meaning that it must involve local communities in all development planning.
He also asked the government to respect the rights of indigenous Papuans. Because according to Amensty’s research, there have been alleged human rights (HAM) violations which have made Nduga residence traumatised and afraid of the security forces.
“When there are problems of HAM violations related to law enforcement in Papua, the tendency is that the cases are rarely investigated. Let alone followed up, or satisfactory accountability”, he explained. (*)
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