Subject: Indonesia needs peace process in Papua

Indonesia needs peace process in Papua

By Theo Hesegem and Chrisbiantoro Guest Commentary

Jakarta, Indonesia - Even though Papua became a province of Indonesia by an ambiguous referendum in 1969, peace between the indigenous Papuans and Indonesia's security forces has never been achieved. While the resource-rich province is Indonesia's largest, it is also one of the poorest, with poor public services and poor protection of the rights of indigenous Papuans.

The living conditions of indigenous Papuans are worsening, as Indonesian migrants from other provinces have occupied the economic sector in a most intrusive way, cutting the local people's access to their traditional resources. They have also infiltrated the local government and law enforcement agencies, making the institutions bureaucratic and corrupt.

But the problem also lies with the Papuans. Few have adequate skills to handle a higher level of administrative services. The reason for this is lack of education and insufficient resources, which have obstructed any meaningful development.

Papuan history, as described in the Papua Road Map published by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, explains that the Netherlands occupied parts of Papuan land after the Treaty of London with the Dutch colonial ruler in the late 19th century.

The Dutch wanted Papua, known as Western New Guinea then, to be a independent state, to which Indonesia objected and staked a claim as its own territory. The conflict between Indonesia and the Netherlands regarding Papua's sovereignty ended with the New York Agreement of 1962, which handed Papua over to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority, which in turn handed it to Indonesia in 1969 with the condition that it must implement a referendum.

The sufferings of Papuans under Indonesian rule took an ugly turn when former Indonesian President Suharto's “new order regime” displaced his predecessor Sukarno in 1966. During the 32 years of Suharto's rule, indigenous Papuans suffered from his policies, which saw a buildup of military presence to protect economic assets and mining businesses in the province.

After the Indonesian political reforms of 1998, the situation in West Papua continued to be marked with gross human rights violations. The Indonesian government made several efforts to introduce laws to make special autonomous areas in West Papua. But lacking implementation and besieged by problems, most indigenous Papuans concluded after more than eight years that the law was unable to provide a solution.

As Papuans struggled for their rights, various civil society organizations came to support them. Among them was the Free Papuan Movement, also known as OPM, which was established in 1965 to fight the Indonesia government for an independent Papua.

To achieve their goal, OPM chose to use weapons and guerrilla warfare, but in the process broke into several splinter groups with no central command. Another group fighting for Papua's independence was the National Liberation Army. Neither group received sympathy from Papua's indigenous people.

Both groups sympathized with the Papuan people, however, who endured many forms of violence at the hands of the Indonesian armed forces. Both groups ran their warfare with the sole aim of attaining an independent Papua, which they said was offered in 1961 before the territory was handed over to the UNTEA, but the Indonesian government rejected it.

The policy of either side to resolve the sovereignty conflict by military and violent means has yielded no concrete results and has further exacerbated the situation. Many people in Papua have died in the crossfire.

Papua's main conflict can be explained in four parts: The failure to develop education, health and human resources; the problem of marginalization and discrimination of its indigenous population; the historical contradiction of its integration with Indonesia; the failure to resolve past human right abuses against its indigenous people.

Based on the above, we recommend to the Indonesian government to start a peace process and not use the military approach to resolve the issue. The peace process should include a review of the policy for deploying armed forces in Papua, which has not brought any solution but has instead become the source of serious human rights violations.

It should review the implementation of Special Autonomy Law No.21 of 2001, which has not been able to provide any assistance or increase the welfare of the indigenous people.

It should conduct a thorough inquiry into human right violations and establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Papua.

It should release and rehabilitate all political prisoners still in jail.

Finally, it should prepare for a comprehensive dialogue between representatives of the Papuan indigenous people to seek the best solution in order to resolve the conflict.


(Theo Hesegem is director of the Advocacy Network for Law Enforcement and Human Rights in Papua, Indonesia and has been working with victims of human rights for many years. He has written for newspapers in Papua and worked with different nongovernmental organizations. Chrisbiantoro works in the Impunity Division of the Commission for the Dissappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) based in Jakarta and is also a human rights lawyer.)

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