Special autonomy for Aceh and West Papua

Down to Earth No 51 November 2001

Separate special autonomy laws have now been passed for Aceh and West Papua. The laws were originally designed to offer something over and above the 'normal' autonomy now being implemented in other regions. The aim was to undermine independence movements wanting complete separation from Indonesia by granting local populations a greater measure of self-government. However, it is doubtful whether the arrangements agreed by Megawati will have the desired effect: instead the signs are that her government is willing to use military means to enforce unity rather than to adopt the more conciliatory approach favoured by her predecessor.


The Aceh autonomy law, signed in August renames the territory 'Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam' (NAD). It gives Aceh the power to determine its own judicial and education systems, as well as increasing revenues from its oil and gas resources to 70%. Under normal autonomy provinces receive only 15% from oil and 35% from gas. It is not known when the Aceh autonomy law will be implemented.

According to Acehnese human rights activists, autonomy has little relevance to or interest for ordinary people in the area - and is not likely to as long as the military continues its campaign of torture, disappearances and terror. A Presidential Instruction issued early this year (No.4/2001) which paved the way for more troops and more violence, was renewed at the end of October. A halt to the violence is the main demand of the Acehnese population. So far, the passing into law of special autonomy has not made any difference on the ground.

Yet foreign governments - eager to show support for Megawati - have chosen to play up the importance of special autonomy as the best course for Aceh. The Australian, US, British and other governments back Megawati's policy of upholding Indonesia's territorial integrity. Human rights organisations are concerned that the focus on autonomy will divert much-needed attention away from the need to push for a properly implemented cease-fire between the armed independence movement, GAM, and the Indonesian military; for a stop to military violence against civilians and for a negotiated settlement involving all parties, rather than one imposed by Jakarta.

West Papua

West Papua's special autonomy law was passed in October and will be implemented from January 2002. It includes provisions for:

  • 70% of oil and gas royalties to be channelled to the territory (to be reviewed after a 25 year period)
  • 80% of mining, forestry and fisheries royalties
  • funds from the national General Allocation Fund - as under 'normal' autonomy
  • 2% of the national General Allocation Fund for education and health
  • extra funds (amount not yet determined) for infrastructure
  • the creation of a Papuan People's Council (MRP) - made up of indigenous, church and women's leaders, designed to protect the customary (adat) rights of indigenous Papuans
  • Use of Papuan flag as a cultural symbol, not as an expression of Papua's sovereignty as an independent state.

Over the past months the discussions over what exactly special autonomy for West Papua should mean have been intensive. Consultations between Papua's political elite, the churches, Papuan students, NGOs and independence movement members produced a draft for a special autonomy bill, presented to Jakarta earlier this year. This original draft - which could be considered as a stepping stone to independence rather than autonomy as an end in itself - underwent a drastic watering-down process in Jakarta, with all controversial elements stripped out. These included local control over the police force; an investigation into West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia (accepted internationally by means of the 1969 'Act of Free Choice'); investigation of past human rights atrocities by the Indonesian military; and the bringing to justice of those responsible for violations.


The division of revenues in the original draft submitted to Jakarta was 80% for Papua and 20% for central government. The intense wrangling over this aspect of the law was inevitable, since Jakarta has relied heavily on income from West Papua's resource-based projects - especially the Freeport/Rio Tinto gold and copper mine - to help balance the budget.

The new revenue split will double West Papua's income, according to Sabarno, and will, no doubt, make a great difference to local government finances. However, it is by no means assured that any substantial portion of these funds will trickle down to local communities. There is great concern that an anticipated increase in natural resource exploitation by foreign companies will instead continue to impoverish local people because there are inadequate safeguards in place to protect land and resource rights. As long as the military continues to act with impunity, there is little chance of strengthening local-level democracy to act as a check on destructive development projects. As in Aceh, while the military atrocities continue and the climate of fear is deliberately perpetuated, local peoples' profound distrust of anything emanating from Jakarta is likely to persist.

Presidium rejects autonomy

The pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) has rejected the special autonomy law, saying it would not "promote a comprehensive, peaceful solution to the Papuan political conflict." In a statement signed by PDP leaders in October, the PDP said the law "was yet another example of the way in which the fate of the Papuan people has been decided by others.." The PDP has been the target of attempts to clamp down on the independence movement by the Indonesian military and intelligence agencies. Several members face trial on charges of subversion.

(Buletin Infoprada 4/Sep/01, 22/Sep/01; Tapol Bulletin Oct/01; Media 26/Oct/01; Jakarta Post 26/Oct/01, 2/Nov/01; Statement by Papuan Presidium Council, 20/Oct/01)

The law (in Indonesian) has been posted on the GTZ-SFDM website at www.gtzsfdm.or.id/public/laws/RUU_papua.pdf