By Olivia Tasevski
This year marks 50 years since West Papua was officially incorporated into Indonesia via 1969’s ironically named Act of Free Choice, whereby less than 1 percent of Papuans were forced to vote in favor of West Papua’s incorporation into Indonesia. To the dismay of Indonesian government officials, 50 years later, a West Papuan pro-independence movement persists and has made some significant gains. Despite these successes, for the foreseeable future, the movement will continue to be hamstrung due to Indonesia’s opposition to an independent West Papua and successive American and Australian governments supporting Indonesian rule over the province.
Since 1969, Papuans have sought to obtain independence through pacifist actions and, in the case of the Free West Papua Movement (OPM), armed struggle against the Indonesian army. Key pro-independence organisations, such as the pacifist United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and the OPM, argue that Papuans should obtain independence on the grounds that, unlike Muslim-majority Indonesia, Papuans are predominantly Christian and Melanesian. Pro-independence sentiment among Papuans is also motivated by Indonesia’s repressive rule in the province, which the ULMWP labels a form of “colonialism,” and the fact that human rights violations have been perpetrated by Indonesian forces in West Papua since the 1960s. These violations include imprisoning pro-independence Papuans for participating in protests, assaulting Papuan journalists, and killing Papuans alongside allegations of torture and rape of Papuan women.
Papuan independence activists have successfully managed to gain support from multiple Melanesian Pacific Island states. Vanuatu in particular has been a longstanding supporter of an independent West Papua. It has provided asylum to pro-independence Papuans and advocated in favor of West Papua’s independence in international fora, including the United Nations. Furthermore, in 2015, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), consisting of Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands, granted “observer” status to the ULMWP, led by Benny Wenda, a Papuan who obtained asylum in the United Kingdom after fleeing Indonesia in 2003. The MSG conferring this status upon the ULMWP was significant as it boosted the ULMWP’s legitimacy and marked the first instance in which a Papuan pro-independence group was represented at an international organisation.
Beyond Pacific Island states, pro-independence activists have also gained support from prominent British and Australian politicians. Britain’s Labor Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, arguably constitutes the most high-profile supporter of the Papuan independence movement, which is not supported by the British government. Richard Di Natale, a senator in the Australian Parliament and leader of the Australian Greens political party, supports Papuan self-determination. In 2017, Di Natale publicly condemned human rights abuses that have occurred in West Papua, notably the fact that multiple Papuans have been imprisoned for raising the Morning Star flag, which is banned in Indonesia as it is the flag of the Papuan independence movement. Moreover, in 2018, Di Natale publicly asserted that the Indonesian government has denied Papuans right to self-determination “for so long,” a reference to the authoritarian and unrepresentative manner in which the so-called Act of Free Choice was conducted.
A small pro-Papuan independence lobby also exists outside the Australian Parliament. For example, in 2017, a pro-independence activist raised the Morning Star flag on the roof of the Indonesian-Consulate General in the Australian state of Victoria. This action unsurprisingly provoked strong condemnation from Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, and saw West Papua re-emerge as a source of tension in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. In 2017, three Victorian local councils held ceremonies where they raised the Morning Star flag and expressed support for the Papuan independence movement.
Pro-independence Papuans have also effectively drawn international attention to their demands and human rights abuses perpetrated by Indonesian forces against Papuans. Notably, in 2019, Benny Wenda presented the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, with a petition signed by 1.8 million Papuans advocating in favor of a UN investigation into alleged human rights violations occurring in West Papua. The petition also called for an internationally supervised vote on Papuan independence.
Despite these gains, since 1962, all Australian governments and Australia’s major political parties, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, have supported Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. This support is, in part, motivated by Australia’s desire to maintain good relations with neighbouring Indonesia, which constitutes the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the fourth most populous state in the world. Bipartisan support for Indonesian rule in West Papua stands in contrast with Australia’s support for Timor-Leste’s independence from Indonesia in the 1990s, which created tension in the Australia-Indonesia relationship.
The Australian government’s support for Indonesian rule in West Papua was codified in 2006 when the Australian and Indonesian governments signed the Lombok Treaty. The treaty stipulates that Australia and Indonesia would not “support or participate in activities by any person or entity which constitutes a threat to the stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other Party, including by those who seek to use its territory for encouraging… separatism in the territory of the other Party.” The treaty’s reference to separatism is an implicit reference to the Papuan pro-independence movement, which Indonesian governments have repeatedly labelled as a separatist movement. As a result, via signing the treaty, the Australian government, then led by John Howard, formalised Australia’s policy of supporting Indonesian rule over West Papua.
Similarly, successive U.S. governments have supported Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua. Thus, the efficacy of the pro-independence movement is and will continue to be limited as it lacks support from either the global hegemon, the United States, or the regional hegemon in the South Pacific, Australia.
Interestingly, even governments of Timor-Leste, which was an Indonesian colony from 1975-99 and had a pro-independence movement that fought against Indonesian rule, have refused to support the Papuan independence movement. This policy is likely motivated by a desire to maintain positive relations with Indonesia as it constitutes Timor-Leste’s largest and most important neighbour. This support is demonstrated by the fact that Jose Ramos-Horta, who served in the upper echelons of the Timorese pro-independence party, FRETILIN, during Indonesian rule and served as the prime minister, president, and foreign minister of Timor-Leste, has consistently supported Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua and thus refused to demonstrate solidarity with pro-independence Papuans.
Arguably the most important factor limiting the effectiveness of the movement for an independent West Papua is the fact that all Indonesian governments have opposed Papuan independence. Opposition toward Papuan independence is motivated by a deeply held belief among successive Indonesian governments that West Papua is rightfully part of Indonesia as West Papua and Indonesia were both Dutch colonies and together constituted the Netherlands East Indies.
Indonesian governments’ refusal to entertain an independent West Papua is also motivated by the fact that West Papua is a resource-rich province that raises considerable revenue for Indonesian governments. West Papua contains the Grasberg mine, the world’s second-largest copper mine and largest gold mine, which is run by the U.S. mining company, Freeport McMoRan, the largest taxpayer in Indonesia.
Finally, Indonesian government officials likely fear that an independent West Papua may bolster the pro-independence movement in Maluku, which has existed since the 1950s and has been repressed by Indonesian governments.
In 2019, Indonesia’s Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu stated in relation to West Papua, “[They’re] not allowed independence. Full stop.” Despite the efforts of pro-independence Papuans, for the foreseeable future, an independent West Papua will remain prohibited and improbable. (*)
Olivia Tasevski is an International Relations and Asian Studies tutor at the University of Melbourne, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of International Relations. She specialises in human rights issues in Indonesia, Australia-Indonesia relations, and the history of U.S. foreign relations.
DVI Team identifies 10 victims of crashed MI-17 helicopter
Jayapura, Jubi – Some 10 out of the 12 victims of the MI-17 helicopter that had crashed on Mount Mandala, Oksob Sub-district, Pegunungan Bintang District, Papua Province, have been identified, according to a spokesman.
The victims were identified from their uniform, Col. Infantry Binsar Sianipar, commander of the military regional command (Korem) 172/PWY, stated on Saturday.
Only two victims could not be identified owing to the condition of their bodies. The police’s Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team will identify them, he added.
Sianipar is currently leading the operation to evacuate victims of the crashed MI-17 helicopter.
The 10 identified bodies belong to 1st Lt Ahwar, the copilot; 2nd Sgt Dita Ilham; Capt. Bambang, the flight engineer; Capt Haris Afik, the pilot; Chief Sgt Suryatna, T/I; 1st Private Asharul, the mechanic; 2nd Private Sudjono Kaimudin; 2nd Private Yanuar; 1st Private Risno; and 2nd Private Tegar.
The Russia-made military helicopter, operated by the Indonesian Army Aviation Center, with 12 passengers aboard, including five members of the 725 Infantry Battalion/WRG, went missing during its flights from Oksibil to Sentani, Papua, on June 28, 2019.
The ill-fated helicopter is believed to be in a mountainous area at 12,500 feet above sea level, with a slope of around 90 degrees, or perpendicular.
A helicopter, earlier deployed to locate the Mi-17 helicopter, managed to spot it only once while being airborne and was compelled to return to Oksibil owing to bad weather, Sianipar stated, adding that most likely, the rescuers must head to the location on foot. (*)
Bad weather caused Indonesian Army’s MI-17 crash in Papua
Jayapura, Jubi – The Indonesian Army’s Mi-17 helicopter that crashed on Mount Mandala in Oksop Sub-district, Pegunungan Bintang District, Papua Province, and killed 12 people aboard, was owing to bad weather, according to an official.
“I think the pilot had attempted to re-direct the helicopter to the original location due to foggy weather, but when the helicopter turned, it crashed into the mountain,” Major General Herman Asaribab, commander of the Regional Military Command (Pangdam) XVII/Cenderawasih, remarked here on Saturday.
In response to the press’ questions, he noted that the weapons carried by the fallen military officers were being kept by local hunters and the weapons would be returned to the authorities.
“The local residents will return the weapons of the military officers killed in the helicopter accident,” he said.
The commander, who visited the Police’s Bhayangkara Hospital to see the bodies of the fallen officers and meet their family members, expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims.
The helicopter reportedly lost contact during its flight from Oksibli to Sentani on June 28, 2019. Since the day it went missing, search efforts have been steadily made to locate the helicopter by involving a Bell Helicopter 206 and Bell Helicopter 412 bearing registration number HA-5177.
However, the SAR’s efforts to locate the missing helicopter had been hindered by factors, including erratic weather conditions and difficulties on ground due to inaccessibility to roads.
The MI-17 helicopter, bearing registration number HA-5138, was carrying 12 passengers and crew members on board, which had earlier flown to Okbibab to deliver logistics to soldiers serving in the area.
The crew members aboard the helicopter were pilots CPN Captain Aris and CPN Lieutenant Bambang, co-pilot First Lieutenant CPN Ahwar, Head Sergeant Suriyatna, Sergeant Dita, Head Private Dwi Purnomo, and Private Aharul.
The passengers, who were members of the Battalion 725/WRG, comprised Second Sergeant Ikrar Setya Nainggolan, Private Yanuarius Loe, Private Risno, Second Private Sujono Kaimuddin, and Second Private Tegar Hadi Sentana. (*)
Stop criminalization over Papuan activists and free political prisoners
Jayapura, Jubi – The rights of freedom of expression in the second administration period of President Joko Widodo have still in concern to human rights activists. Democracy index 2019 released by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) put the democracy in Indonesia is the category of flawed democracy with index 6.48.
“One of the factors contributing to this low rate index is control and repressive acts such as the restriction over freedom of assembly and expression. The restriction of civil movements including student’s rally, criminalization against activists, farmers and students to restriction on freedom of expression on political free choice of indigenous Papuans,” said the Deputy Director of ELSAM (Institute of Human Rights Studies and Advocacy) Andi Muttaqien in a release received by Jubi on Saturday (8/2/2020).
According to him, the restriction against the freedom of political expression of indigenous Papuans has raised an assumption that the Government of Indonesia had been placing Papuans as “the second-class citizen” who has no rights to express their political view and opinion.
“The human rights issue and conflict in Papua has endured for decades and never been solved until today. The central government seems to neglect indigenous Papuans to be minorities and marginalized in their own land. The security forces have acted repressively to any forms of the political expression of indigenous Papuans by giving them a stigma as a separatist,” he said.
Based on monitoring and documentation conducted by ELSHAM in the second quarter (August-December) of 2019, the criminalization against the Papuan political activists has increased drastically. The security forces have massively seized Papuans on many occasions. These acts have mostly ended in the arrestation and detention of Papuans.
ELSHAM’s data showed that as per 28 January 2020, there are 100 Papuan political prisoners behind bars.
Earlier, Papuan Behind Bars confirmed 26 political prisoners detained in Papua in 2018, consisted of 25 indigenous Papuans and a journalist of Poland national Jakob Skrzypski. But, the number of political prisoners in 2019 has sharply increased to 77 new prisoners who arrested in civil demonstrations during August and September 2019. The increase happened concerning the incident of racist taunts towards Papuan students on Monday, 16 August 2019.
There are also some cases against Papuan political activists which seized public attention. It includes the case against Septi Meidogda (Gempar Papua Chairman) arrested in Manokwari on 18 September 2019 and charged with Information (ITE) Law by accusing him to provoke the public on Facebook dated 17 September 2019.
Then, the case of Mispo Gwijangge who accused to murder 30 construction workers in Nduga on 2 December 2018. There are flawed aspects related to his arrest, such as he does not understand Indonesian and only speak his local dialect. Mispo is illiterate. He cannot write, read and count nor able to specify the day or date. He does not know his date of birth and his age. During the investigation, he even did not understand any questions posed by the police officers.
Next, the case involved six political prisoners Surya Anta, Charles Kossay, Dano Tabuni, Issay Wenda, Ambrosius Mulait and Ariana Elopere who currently detained at Salemba prison, Jakarta for treason because of raising the Morning Star in front of the Presidential Palace on 28 August 2019. The police arrested them two days after the rally. Currently, most political prisoners are undergoing the trial at court. However, some prisoners are now in home-detention, while others are still in prison.
“The use of treason article and ITE Law against Papuan political prisoners are exaggerated and not necessary. Therefore, each person who considered doing the treason act and brought to court should be released,” he said.
ELSHAM considers that the restriction to the rights of freedom of expression imposed by the treason article has gone beyond the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ratified by the Indonesian Government. The detention against citizens by state because of their political view also considered violating the rights to freedom of expression and opinion in which protected by Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution and other laws.
“President Jokowi should instruct the Attorney General to immediately stop or withdraw all charges against defendants and or Papuan political prisoners who accused with treason and ITE articles,” he said.
ELSHAM also asked the Indonesian Police Chief to order his staff to use a dialogical approach and stop all forms of discrimination against Papuan activists. (*)
Reporter: Yance Wenda
Editor: Pipit Maizier
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