Ending conflict in West Papua

Security forces before the attack on the Third Papuan Congress in Abepura, October 2011.

DTE 89-90, November 2011, Special Papua edition

The brutal crackdown by Indonesian security forces on the Third Papuan Congress in October has brought up to six deaths and hundreds of beatings and arrests. The declaration of independence by the Congress and the state’s attempt to silence it, has once again put questions about the region’s political status under the spotlight.

 “It is bitterly ironic that when Papuans meet to discuss their basic rights, Indonesia responds by violating those rights,” said Carmel Budiardjo, senior campaigner for the UK-based NGO TAPOL. 

In the following article, Carmel provides an overview of recent political developments in the region.

It is more than forty years since West Papua became a province of Indonesia. The Papuan people were not given the opportunity of a referendum.  Instead, what took place was an Act of Free Choice which was neither free nor permitted any choice.

Just over a thousand Papuans, acting on behalf of a population of several hundred thousand people, decided 'unanimously' to become part of Indonesia. The vast territory had been under de facto Indonesian control for several years already under the terms of the 1962 New York Agreement between Indonesia and The Netherlands. 

Papuans had no say in the matter having been excluded from the talks, while Indonesia enjoyed the support of the western powers in its dispute with the Netherlands over the future of the territory.  When the fraudulent Act of Free Choice took place in 1969, there was massive military presence throughout the territory, with armed personnel vastly outnumbering a handful of UN officials who were unable to visit most parts of the territory to monitor the Act.

This meagre UN presence was used to legitimise the decision of the tribal chiefs who participated in the Act. They had been warned by the military of the dire consequences of voting against integration with Indonesia.

Since then, West Papua has been an area of conflict and exploitation for its indigenous people who have suffered discrimination, eviction from their land and  the gradual loss of their means of livelihood, while the basic freedoms of expression, assembly and association are harshly curtailed. A Jakarta-sponsored programme of transmigration led to a huge influx of people from Indonesia who now dominate the commercial sector and hold a number of the senior  positions in the provincial, district and sub-district administrations. All these developments have led to the marginalisation and impoverishment of the indigenous Papuan people.

In the early days of West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia, an armed struggle was waged by the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).  Although the OPM reflected the grievances felt by most Papuans at being  overwhelmed and in effect colonised by Indonesia, any attempts at armed resistance had little prospect of success. The poorly equipped OPM was hardly a match for the vastly superior security forces provided by the Indonesian army and police.


Call for dialogue

Following a Grand Consultation (Mubes) of tribal leaders in early 2000, the Papuans held their Second Papuan Congress in May-June 2000, attended by several thousand people. It was during this congress that Papuan leaders first called on the government of Indonesia to engage in dialogue mediated by a third, neutral party, but Jakarta ignored the call and has continued to do so ever since.

The congress adopted a number of political decisions. A Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) was set up, which drafted the terms of reference for the proposed dialogue. It also set up a commission which, it was hoped, would undertake a rectification of history - directed towards examining the fraudulent way in which West Papua had been incorporated into Indonesia.

In October 2004, when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) was elected president of Indonesia for his first term, the president along with his then vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, sought what they hoped would be a comprehensive settlement for West Papua. On the occasion of his assumption of the presidency, SBY said:

The government wishes to solve the issue in Papua in a peaceful, just and dignified manner by emphasising dialogue and persuasion.


Special Autonomy

In a move to dampen Papuan grievances and the persistent longing for merdeka (freedom), West Papua had been granted Special Autonomy (OTSUS) in October 2001 under a law that provided for wide-ranging economic and political rights for the Papuan people and the creation of a special council, the Majelis Rakyat Papua -Papuan People's Assembly - which was composed entirely of Papuans.

In December 2002, Tom Beanal, vice-chairman of the PDP declared Papua to be a 'Zone of Peace'. Beanal had taken over the leadership of the PDP following the brutal killing in 2001 by elite Indonesian troops of its leader, Theys Hiyo Eluay. The Zone of Peace would mean West Papua becoming 'a territory free from violence, oppression and grief'.  This land of peace concept was embraced by Papua's religious leaders as well as by the OPM. At the end of 2007, religious leaders again declared that conflicts should be settled peacefully, re-affirming the commitment of the vast majority of Papuans to peaceful means.

Two years later, the Papuan Catholic priest, Father Neles Tebay launched a new initiative promoting dialogue between West Papua and the Indonesian government. More than any other Papuan leader, Father Tebay has dedicated himself to the issue of dialogue, always stressing that violence cannot solve the conflict. Moreover, by that time, it was abundantly clear that OTSUS had failed to guarantee to the Papuan people the rights they had been promised in Law 21/2001.

As frustration with OTSUS grew, Papuans started demanding that the special autonomy law should be 'handed back to Jakarta'. At the same time, thousands of Papuans have held peaceful demonstrations across the territory, flying their traditional emblem, the kejora (morning star) flag. These actions have been treated with a heavy hand by the security forces; scores of people have been convicted of makar (treason) and are now serving heavy sentences in prison.  In 2004, Filep Karma was sentenced to fifteen years for peacefully flying the kejora flag.. Others have been sentenced to two or three years for this simple act of protest.

A campaign, supported by TAPOL, is underway to end the repressive practice of charging persons engaged in peaceful political activities with criminal offences such as makar, inherited from the Dutch colonial era.


Papuan Peace Conference

As the protests continued  to spread, a new initiative was taken to promote dialogue and peace. On 7 July this year, the Jaringan Damai Papua (Papua Peace Network) organised a Papuan Peace Conference attended by an estimated 500 people from all parts of the territory.

This conference was also attended by three high-ranking Indonesians who addressed the meeting: Indonesia's Minister-Coordinator for Political and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto, the military commander of the Cenderawasih/XVII military command in West Papua, Major-General  Erfi Triassunu and Inspector-General Bekto Soeprapto, chief of police for West Papua.  Djoko Suyanto described the conflict in West Papua as 'multi-dimensional' and recognised that two-way communications - in other words, dialogue - was necessary.

Also present at the conference was the governor of the province of Papua, Barnabas Suebu, who drew attention to the paradoxes in West Papua; a region rich in natural resources but replete with internal conflicts that have led to social disintegration.  He also drew attention to the Papuan tradition of resolving local disputes by 'dignified' talks as being the best way to avoid the loss of life.

Father Neles Tebay, the co-ordinator of the Jaringan Damai Papua, said after the conference:  “I want to underline that these [recommendations] were not made to find out who is at fault but more to focus our attention on the real problems, problems that need to be addressed to create a peaceful Papua.”

The Conference proposed a series of indicators for this objective:

  • Indigenous Papuans should feel tranquil, safe, enjoy a decent standard of living, live on the land and in peaceful relations with each other, with nature and with God.
  • Indigenous Papuan people should not be stigmatised as separatists or subversives.
  • Indigenous Papuans should enjoy freedom from discrimination, intimidation and marginalisation.
  • Indigenous Papuan people should enjoy freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of association.
  • All acts of State violence against the indigenous people, including those against women and children, should end.
  • Anyone who perpetrates acts of State violence should be tried and punished in accordance with the people's sense of justice.
  • Indigenous people's right to customary land should be legally recognised.
  • The exploitation of natural resources should take account of the conservation of the resources, recognise local customs and provide the greatest possible benefit for the indigenous Papuan people.
  • Companies that destroy the environment and damage the right to ownership of customary land should be subject to legal and administrative sanctions.
  • Forest conversion practices that contribute to global warming should be stopped.

With regard to security, the Conference proposed that the security forces should perform their duties in a professional manner and respect basic human rights in order to safeguard the sense of security of the indigenous Papuan people. Intelligence operations that are intimidating or create a sense of insecurity should stop. The TNI (army) and POLRI (the police force) should be banned from engaging in business or in politics, with legal sanctions against those who violate this.

As regards social and cultural affairs, the Conference proposed that the social and cultural rights of the indigenous Papuan people including their customary rights and norms should be recognised and respected.  Labelling indigenous Papuan people as stupid, alcoholic, indolent or primitive should stop.

Discrimination against people suffering from HIV and AIDS should stop. Everything should be done to reduce the mortality rate of indigenous Papuan mothers and children with the help of professional medical services.  Policies that lead to de-population of the indigenous Papuan people such as family planning programmes should stop, and measures should be introduced to limit immigration into West Papua.

TNI opposes dialogue

However, less than two months after the peace conference, on 21 August, the commander-in-chief of the Indonesian armed forces, Admiral Agus Suhartono, speaking at a meeting with members of the Indonesian parliament, was quoted as saying that 'the TNI will not negotiate with any separatist movement, especially the Free Papua Movement (OPM). There are no [negotiations], none in any shape or form.'

These words appear to have been intended to contradict the more tolerant views expressed by senior members of the armed forces who attended the July peace conference.  They also show that the tolerant approach to dialogue by Papua's religious leaders will continue to confront resistance at the highest level of government in Jakarta. It is clear that the path to dialogue and peace will continue to be obstructed by forces in Indonesia who have no intention of ending West Papua's decades of conflict, discrimination and the violation of basic human rights.

The repeated calls for dialogue with Indonesia have been met with silence from Jakarta and have led to calls for a referendum. On 2 August, while a meeting of International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP) was taking place in the UK, demonstrations organised by the KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat - West Papua National Committee) were reported in many parts of West Papua despite the deployment of heavily-armed Indonesian security forces. The demonstration were to express opposition to Indonesian rule and the calls for dialogue and demanding that a referendum be held 'as the only lasting and credible solution to determine the future of Papua for Papuans'. 

The need for urgent political initiatives on Papua was tragically underlined when up to six people were killed during a brutal crackdown on the Third Papuan Peoples' Congress held from 17-19 October in the regional capital, Jayapura.  Indonesian security forces turned violent when Papuan indigenous leaders, who had gathered to discuss their basic rights, issued a declaration of independence. This takes the Papuan struggle to a new level of intensity and testifies to the need for ever greater international support for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Renewed call for peace

Leading campaigner for peace, Pastor Neles Tebay has called on Komnas HAM, the National Human Rights Commission, to investigate the acts of violence that occurred at the end of the Third Papuan People's Congress. He repeated his support for the call for dialogue between Jakarta and Papua in order to end the violence and prevent future violence in the Land of Papua.

(Source: Bintang Papua, 26/Oct/2011, translated by Tapol).

More details of the peace conference are reported in an International Crisis Group briefing, Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua, Asia Briefing N°126, Jakarta/Brussels, 22 August 2011, http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-east-asia/indonesia/B126%20Papua%20-%20Hope%20and%20Hard%20Reality.pdf