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Recent developments in West Papua

West Papuan initiatives: people's organizations and representation
The most evident change in West Papua after Suharto's fall in May 1998, has been the public expression of the political aspirations by the indigenous peoples, the Papuans, and the outspoken desire to follow the path of peaceful dialogue. Since the Indonesian take over of the territory in May 1963 till the fall of Suharto, the only way to express opposition to Indonesian administration and Indonesian militarism had been the underground liberation army Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM). After almost 40 years of Indonesian repression and suppression of Papuan identity, the Papuans have organized a series of public gatherings and set up new political structures.

The determination of the Papuan people to utilize to the maximum the new openings of the 'Era of Reformation' in Indonesia, and to take the initiative instead of being paralyzed in the role of victims, was first shown by the establishment of Foreri (Forum Rekonsiliasi Rakyat Irian - Forum for Reconciliation of the population of Irian) in July 1998.

The next public move was the meeting between a West Papuan delegation (Team 100) and Indonesian Interim President B.J. Habibie (February 26, 1999). The message conveyed was very clear indeed: the West Papuans want Independence (Merdeka). Habibie's successor, the democratically elected Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, evolved this process further by stimulating dialogue and renaming Irian Jaya into Papua. However, he called upon the Papuans to remain under the Unitarian Republic of Indonesia.

In February 2000, the first massive public political meeting under Indonesian rule was held: the Musyawarah Besar Papua (Mubes, Big Papua Consultation). Three months later an important historical political event took place: the Second Papua People's Congress. From May 29 till June 3 2000, fifteen thousand people gathered in the capital Jayapura to discuss the theme 'Let's rewrite West Papuan history'. President Wahid had cosponsored the Congress and attendance of Provincial Authorities was appreciated.

After these public moves, FORERI took it upon itself to 'socialize' these developments among the people of West Papua. Throughout the territory, people established poskos, meeting places where people engaged in political discussions.

The results of the two mass political gatherings in the first half of the year 2000 were not radical or unexpected. The outcomes build upon the First Papuan People's Congress of 19 October 1961 in Hollandia and on the message that Team Hundred had brought to interim-president Habibie (February 1999): sovereignty and independence.

The Mubes concluded: "The people of West Papua regret and regard as unlawful the transfer of sovereignty of the people of Papua from the Dutch, through the intermediary of the United Nations to the Indonesians"; and "The people of West Papua reject the results of Pepera held in 1969." The People's Congress called upon the international community to recognize the sovereignty of West Papua (because the principle of sovereignty cannot be transferred: every individual or people is sovereign by itself) and to undertake investigations in order to rectify history. At the same time the Congress showed a sense of reality and responsibility by mentioning the possible explosive issues of Indonesian immigrants and of investments. They issued an appeal to the people of Papua

  • to approach problems in a peaceful way,
  • to respect and guarantee the civil rights of every inhabitant in the territory of Papua, including the minority groups, and
  • to support investment activities, as long as the investors respect the rights of the traditional owners and sustain the environment and appreciate the culture of the Papuan community.

Both the Mubes and the Congress stressed that they would pursue a transparent political dialogue and peaceful and democratic ways to realize the wishes of the West Papuan people.

Out of the two meetings a new organizational structure developed. A people's representation has been elected consisting of a Papua Panel (501 representatives; 10 seats are reserved for representatives of migrants) and a Papua Presidium Council (PDP, 31 members). The Second Papua People's Congress accepted Theys Eluay as chairman and Thom Beanal as vice-chairman of the PDP. The position of secretary-general has been entrusted to Thaha Mohammed Al Hamid.

The organizational structure is based on nine so-called pillars: politicians, traditional leaders, religious leaders, former political prisoners, informal sector, students, youth, women and historic leaders. The People's Congress installed four commissions, which have to advise the PDP, after study and discussion, on:

  1. Rectification of history
  2. Political agenda
  3. Consolidation of Papua organizations
  4. Indigenous rights.

Based on this new structure, conferences are organized to define clearly the problem setting, the strategy, the level of organization and the (international) network. So far, PDP has organized two of these conferences. The Papua Women Conference (July 24-27 2001) decided to have a West Papua-wide women's organization - Solidaritas Perempuan Papua -with chapters in the 14 kabupaten (districts). The Conference on Indigenous Rights (February 25-28 2002) decided to install a Dewan Adat Papua - a council with representatives from the different tribal communities and peoples - and a coordinating Pemerintahan Adat Papua. Based on the traditional and communal institutions of the indigenous people, the council and the board will give direction and protection regarding the development in Papua and the development of the Papua communities.

Indonesian initiative: Special Autonomy
Meanwhile Indonesia has embarked on a decentralization process and adopted a nation wide autonomy law. Because of the persistent calls for secession from Aceh and Papua, the two provinces were granted special autonomy. PDP has rejected the Special Autonomy on political principle since the Papuans are not asking for a social-economic contract. However, although PDP and the majority of the Papuans reject the autonomy - because it is again imposed on them by Jakarta and the call for a genuine dialogue between the PDP and the central government is still ignored - the special autonomy provides some space and challenges to empower the Papuan people. The bigger share in the revenues from the exploitation of natural resources may be used for the accelerated development of neglected sectors like health and education. The installation of the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua = Papua People's Council) a second chamber (with only an advisory function) next to the provincial parliament (DPR-D) provides an extra dimension in the political spectrum, another chance for extra attention for the position of indigenous communities. The members of the MRP are from the (ethnic) Papuan community and represent women, religious institutions and the Dewan Adat Papua.

The turbulent developments in West Papua, have led to high profile visits from the European Union, the US and New Zealand. While stressing their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia, they also recognized the role of the Papua movement and its quest for a political dialogue and had meetings with PDP.

Both the European Union and the United States have expressed their willingness to contribute to the development of the neglected province Papua and support Special Autonomy for West Papua as a means for the province to accelerate its development. However, concrete European and American support, depends on the actual implementation of the Special Autonomy Bill and on the human rights situation which with the presence of thousands of non-organic troops and paramilitary organizations like Laskar Jihad and Merah-Putih is far form satisfactory.

In a report released in September 2002 (AI INDEX: ASA 21/032/02) Amnesty International writes:

"Over the past 40 years there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of cases of extrajudicial executions, 'disappearances', arbitrary detention, torture and other human rights violations perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces. The violations have taken place in the context of the Indonesian government's actions against an independence movement, both armed and civilian, which has been active in the province since the 1960s. Failure to resolve the vast majority of the cases of human rights violations has reinforced mistrust of the central government among many Papuans which in turn undermines measures taken by the government aimed at addressing the problems of the province, such as the recent granting of special autonomy status."

The International Crisis Group writes in a report released on 13 September 2002: "Indonesia has attempted to end the conflict by offering special autonomy to Papua, as in Aceh. The original draft of the law, created by members of Papua's educated elite, was watered down in Jakarta to produce a document short of the aspirations of even the most conciliatory Papuans. It does offer some potentially important concessions, notably returning more natural resource wealth to the province and giving a greater (but limited) role to Papuan adat (customary law). However, implementation has been left to an inefficient, sometimes corrupt bureaucracy, and most Papuans appear to reject it on principle. The success of special autonomy is, therefore, open to question."

In the same report, ICG warns that violence in Papua could escalate, particularly if the Indonesian military adopt a hard-line approach to the independence movement. On August 31, a bus carrying employees from the international school at the Freeport site, and their families was attacked. Two American and one Indonesian teacher were killed, while 14 people got injured. Investigation by the human rights organisation Elsham suggests that Kopassus (elite troops of TNI) are involved in the Timika-attack.

The position and role of the Indonesian army (TNI) is indeed crucial for peace, security, stability and development in West Papua. The army is not content with the Special Autonomy Bill since it has vested interests in all kind of economic (illegal) activities like logging, trade in birds of paradise and protection of foreign assets. Many observers have suggested that TNI is involved in violent incidents (the killing of PDP-chairman Theys Eluay, the deadly attack on American and Indonesian teachers in Timika) just to stress that their presence in West Papua is crucial.

Rectification of history
The Second Papua People's Congress (June 2000) adopted a resolution calling for a political dialogue to settle the political dispute between West Papua and Jakarta. Embedded in this resolution is the call for Rectification of Papuan History: did West Papua rightfully become an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia? Former President Wahid and his Minister for Foreign Affairs have brought this up with the then US-president Bill Clinton and with the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

In the Netherlands, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Jozias van Aartsen, decided to have an independent research into the (inter)national events surrounding the 'act of free choice' of 1969. The research has been contracted to the Institute for Dutch History (ING) which is due to publish its results in 2005.

In January 2002, international NGO's launched an international campaign demanding the United Nations to conduct an evaluation of the incorporation of West Papua into the Republic of Indonesia.

Obviously, the future of West Papua, and of Indonesia as a whole for that matter, is uncertain. Indonesia and West Papua live a period of transition. The bomb attack in Bali in the beginning of October 2002 might spark new unrest, if only as the Indonesian army might find in the attack an excuse to regain its position of power, which has to some small extent been curtailed lately.

In this context it is essential that the nationwide initiatives within West Papua to establish a civil society continue. To achieve this it is of great importance that West Papuan voices get heard outside West Papua and that the aspirations of the West Papuan people are firmly put on the international agenda.

Further reading on our links page.

Papua Lobby, August 2002


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