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Down to Earth No. 65, May 2005

AMAN in West Papua

Notes from a discussion between DTE and Alex Sanggenafa, focal point for the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) for Yapen Waropen, Papua.

AMAN and indigenous peoples: challenges in the Papuan context

Papuans' mistrust of the Indonesian government remains as deep as ever; they still tend to ask what hidden agenda lies behind any government efforts to win their hearts and minds. This attitude can be understood as an expression of cautiousness, or more exactly, the prolonged trauma of oppression. Papuan people who identify themselves as indigenous or masyarakat adat, are treated in a discriminatory way under the government's development process. This excludes Papuans from participating (in common with almost all indigenous peoples in Indonesia), despite the fact that participation in development is a human right - and the Indonesian government knows this. Development in Papua really means exploiting natural resources. Resource exploitation on adat (customary) lands is done without the agreement of the local indigenous community and without even consulting them. What happens instead is forcible takeover, intimidation and the destruction of Papuan values and ways of life.

In the Papuan context, the development of AMAN as an indigenous peoples organisation has faced difficulties due to negative experiences with the Indonesian government. Mistrust of AMAN, which is viewed by some Papuans as part of the government apparatus, still persists.[1] We have seen that the indigenous movement as a whole has had its successes and setbacks. Organisations expected to play a leading role in motivating others often suffer from internal problems which cause financial problems and social tensions. This kind of experience has also resulted in some resistance to attempts to consolidate indigenous groups in some parts of Papua. Efforts to organise continue despite these problems and despite the fact that funding and communication remain the biggest obstacles in Papua. The initiative to consolidate[2] Papuan indigenous organisations is being done from the bottom up (starting at community level) as this is believed to be the most realistic way, despite the long time needed. This approach is also being taken to avoid the clash of priorities that may arise if it were done at a higher level, such as district or provincial. At the moment, Alex is pioneering consolidation in his area by setting up the Waropen Area Indigenous Council.

Developing indigenous organisations under Special Autonomy

Current attempts to develop indigenous organisations in Papua are taking place in a climate of both opportunity and threat. This is especially so in relation to the Special Autonomy Law[3]. Opportunity, if special autonomy is immediately, fully and genuinely implemented; but threat if it is not implemented wholeheartedly by central government. What is evident at the moment is the government's lack of commitment, so that the Law is tending to become a threat to the development and strengthening of Papuan indigenous peoples organisations. Since the Special Autonomy Law was passed, the government has divided Papua into two provinces - Papua and West Irian Jaya - rather than fulfilling the Law's mandate to establish implementing regulations for autonomy. Furthermore, information about Special Autonomy was never properly disseminated to the Papuan people. Local government's attempts to implement it have been rejected as invalid. A more realistic alternative is to make use of the minister for internal affair's decree on local indigenous councils.

In the Third Adat Council Session in Manokwari, in January-February 2005, a deadline was set (August 2005) for the proper implementation of special autonomy with clearer supporting regulations to implement it. If this call does not get a good response from central government, special autonomy and the Government Regulation on the Establishing the Papuan Consultative Council (MRP) will be rejected and returned to Jakarta.

Setting up the Papuan Indigenous Peoples Alliance (AMA Papua) is an opportunity to develop existing indigenous institutions - the Adat Council, the Adat Consultative Institute and the Presidium[4] - at least as partners, by developing and strengthening capacity as well as the network. Clarifying the relationship between these groups and explaining how each organisation strengthens its constituent community groups and encourages them to become autonomous organisations, has already raised awareness of network development.

There are currently AMAN members in 9 districts in Papua (and West Irian Jaya). This shows the great potential for AMAN to become a large indigenous peoples organisation, but there has not yet been enough consolidation. Issues surrounding Special Autonomy and the establishment of the Papuan People's Council can be used as an arena for consolidating and strengthening the indigenous position, especially as regards control over natural resources management and land rights. This will only happen if the Papuan Regional Government (provincial and district levels) are serious about developing people's capacity, have confidence in people and give them scope to participate in the processes of implementing special autonomy and development in Papua.

The Yapen Waropen case provides a lesson in how development can be sidelined under the guise of promoting development through creating new administrative districts. Previously three areas (Biak, Yapen and Waropen) were grouped in one district - Biak, then split into two (Biak and Yapen Waropen districts) and finally became three districts (Biak, Yapen and Waropen). This would have been beneficial if carried out in the spirit of decentralisation, but this split was really aimed at strengthening central control over the area. This can be seen from the logical consequences of the move: more district military commands (Kodim), one for each new district. Security and politics have been more prominent considerations here than development and empowerment.

The development of human resources is very poor in Papua. Indigenous demands for community participation and the guarantee and protection of indigenous rights to land and natural resources are seen as threats to economic and political stability. Alex strongly stated that Papuan people are undergoing a process of genocide in all aspects (economic, political and social). An example of discrimination is the handling and response to the earthquake disaster in Nabire (Alex compared it to the handling of the earthquake-tsunami disaster in Aceh) and also the central government's attitude to building dialogue with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which is so different to the treatment of Papua, where the armed and repressive approach alone is used to counter separatism.

The illegal logging issue

The operation to counter illegal logging in Papua is well-intentioned, but is not based on an adequate understanding of the socio-cultural and political-economic context in Papua or of special autonomy. An illegal logging operation based solely on the state forestry law effectively negates Papuan Special Autonomy. The result is that community logging licences (IPKMA) are regarded as the cause of illegal logging, whereas it is really the lack of control/supervision by the regional forestry office, which issues the permits, and the implementing regulations for licences that are at fault. These fail to involve and empower Papuan communities who, as the owners of the forests, should be the key parties. IPKMA should be developing the capacity of indigenous Papuans to manage forests commercially, but this has never been done. Instead IPKMA are exploited for short-term gain which promotes forest destruction. Operation Hutan Lestari II in Papua has brought suffering to Papuans because the people arrested are, for the most part, (indigenous) Papuans working in the field. People's access to the forests has also been limited by the police. Shots have been fired between police and military personnel supporting illegal logging entrepreneurs - incidents which are seriously disrupting people's lives. Operation Anti Illegal Logging is frequently a means of intimidating people, labelling people who are considered non-cooperative as members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

It is unjust if forests are closed off and indigenous Papuans are denied access to them, simply due to the mismanagement of IPKMA and conflicting legislation issued by central government. The government is prioritising the exploitation of Papua's natural resources under the guise of development.

The military

The military's significant role and high level of control over many aspects of life in Papua is an open secret. The consequences for Papuans include low participation in political, economic and social development due to the authorities' distrust of the people. Usually, any kind of meeting of Papuans is supervised by the military; intelligence officers are posted in all centres of community activity including markets, and the military controls the work of the local government administrations. So it is easy to imagine the military's power in Papua, quite apart from security business with multinational companies, illegal and legal logging and many other activities.

The OPM or separatist label is often used to pressure people - there have been cases of arrest, beatings/torture and abduction without clear evidence or legal basis. This disregard for the law is reflected in the division of Papua at district and provincial level, despite the Special Autonomy Law.

Also linked to the independence movement issue is historical transparency. There have been systematic attempts to conceal and even distort the history of Papua's inclusion into Indonesia. History must be set straight, for everyone's benefit, predominantly by those who played leading roles in the so-called Act of Free Choice in 1969.

Militarism, military oppression and the many human rights violations in Papua, together with the half-hearted implementation of special autonomy, are providing more fertile ground for the independence movement in Papua. People are even starting to discuss their desire for a referendum and how to submit this to the MPR [People's Consultative Assembly - Indonesia's highest legislative body].

For Alex, the key to holistic development in Papua is proper implementation of special autonomy, including a serious commitment to building the capacity of its human resources and strengthening the people's participation in development.

DTE notes:

  1. AMAN is an independent indigenous peoples' organisation, which, far from being a part of the government apparatus, usually finds itself in direct opposition to government policies and development strategies.
  2. For more on AMAN's consolidation programme see Gaung AMAN (AMAN's newsletter) August 2003 at
  3. Papua's Special Autonomy Law (No 21/2001) was passed by President Megawati Soekarnoputri in 2001.
  4. Indigenous Papuan organisations with varying objectives and functions. The Presidium is the most overtly pro-independence from Indonesia and has been targeted by the Indonesian government as a result. In 2001 its leader, Theys Eluay, was murdered by special forces (Kopassus) military personnel.

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