Perilous Path to Special Autonomy
After two decades of often violent resistance to Indonesian rule, Papua was declared a “daerah militer” (militarized region), and Indonesian security forces were given even greater authority to plan and execute military attacks against those Papuan groups considered treasonous, rebellious, armed, or otherwise threatening and dangerous. Military reprisals were taken against not only alleged freedom fighters but often by extension their home villages and families. Human rights abuses committed by Indonesian security forces- including illegal detention, torture, murder (often indiscriminant and including women and children), rape, extra-judicial killing, and wholesale destruction of villages- have been widely documented since West Papua’s incorporation in Indonesia in May 1963. Legally they amount at least to a collective case of Crimes Against Humanity as defined by the United Nations in its landmark Law of Genocide (1948). That these large scale crimes have been committed with impunity and absence of accountability is even admitted to- at least in part- by the Indonesian government itself. President Megawati’s official apology to the Papuan people for abuses made it clear that many of the allegations made by numerous human rights groups such as Amnesty International, TAPOL, and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights were at least in part true.
Through powers of eminent domain the Indonesian state appropriated land from indigenous groups without honoring or considering customary land laws and traditions that had been in effect for in many cases, thousands of years. The mineral, gas, and logging rights of large tracts of government appropriated land have been leased to mainly foreign development interest. A fair return of revenues on profits was never distributed to local peoples. As in the case of the Freeport Mine, some tribal groups- much like many American Indians- were displaced entirely off their land and resettled in unsuitable and often unhealthy surroundings. Unfair compensation for natural resource extraction was a key negotiated term in the Special Autonomy law of 2001.
The rush to develop West Papua economically benefited only the Jakarta power elite, the Indonesian security forces stationed in West Papua, a small administrative Papuan elite in place, foreign business interests, and to some degree, transmigration populations. Leading indicators measuring quality of life for the vast majority of the one million indigenous Melanesian Papuans have in many cases suffered a reversal. This includes levels of income, health, nutrition, education, and job opportunity. On the whole, the original peoples of Papua have been discriminated against and treated as second class citizens. There has been very limited attempt to prepare them for assimilation as Indonesian citizens.
Irresponsible development leading to environmental degradation- especially in the forms of mining, logging, and palm oil plantation development- has been an ongoing reality of life in West Papua. For example, many countries- including China, several in Europe and the U.S.- have glutted themselves on cheap and rare Papuan lumber without giving proper attention to certifying whether forestry yields have been legal or not.
Unaccountability for the trillions of lost rupiahs in developmental funds the central government has poured into West Papua is due to negligence, cronyism, patronage, and corruption. Papuans themselves have participated in such activities, including elected officials.
Almost all humanitarian aid and monitoring organizations have been barred from entrance into West Papua. This includes the foreign press, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and the International Red Cross.
Ethnic and indigenous rights were finally given official recognition by Jakarta, but Indonesia was not willing to concede maintaining a strong security apparatus in the province. Most pro-independence activities were still to be considered illegal if not treasonous. This included seditious acts such as raising the Morning Glory flag. Jakarta also conceded the need for creating new Papuan institutions which would better involve discrete Papuan interests, including intellectuals, political officials, and even some activists. But seven years after the signing into law of the OTUS agreement, few concerned observers in Jakarta, Papua or the greater international community consider the thrust of OTUS to have made any substantial beneficial difference in West Papuan’s lives. Many of the same grievances are on the table, especially concerning fair compensation for natural resource development and human rights. In Part IV of this series, a closer look at current conditions inside West Papua as referenced by the OTUS agreement will be explored. NOTE: This article is part of a series. Part IV is soon to follow
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Mr. John M. Gorrindo, who serves as an Indonesian correspondent for The Seoul Times, is a native-born Californian. As holder of a MA degree in music composition from the University of California, he made Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia his home after serving as a volunteer English teacher there. He also a writes fictions and composes music. Some of his writings and music can be found at Fringing reefs and Vertical Walls: http://johngorrindo.blogspot.com
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