Overcoming Papua repression through peace

13 May 2005
Carmel Budiardjo, TAPOL
Appeared in: 

Despite being chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and affirming its commitment to human rights, including self-determination, at the recent Asian-African summit in Jakarta, the Indonesian government has once again demonstrated its instinctive mistrust of fundamental freedoms by its response to an international meeting on West Papua.

Just a day after my colleague Aguswandi argued in this newspaper that being hostile to foreign and domestic critics of its human rights record harms Indonesia's reputation as an up-and-coming democracy, on April 29 the government reportedly attempted to stop a solidarity meeting convened in the Philippines to discuss ways of supporting the human rights and political aspirations of the West Papuan people.

The government's actions have once again highlighted its repressive approach to the West Papua problem. Its efforts to suppress freedom of expression and association internationally reflect its far harsher policies on the ground where people are murdered, tortured, disappeared or thrown into jail for exercising similar rights or for being suspected "separatists". National Commission on Humanrights (Komnas HAM), for example, has found evidence that following a series of military raids against alleged "separatists" in Wamena in 2003, as many as nine people were killed, 38 were tortured and 15 others were arbitrarily arrested and detained. Komnas HAM suggests that crimes against humanity were committed.

Fortunately the Philippines meeting went ahead as planned from April 29 to May 1 despite the verbal intimidation of participants and direct appeals to the government in Manila and the Board of the University of the Philippines where the event was held. The meeting was attended by representatives from a number of Asian countries, including Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, East Timor, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, as well as delegates from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The international solidarity movement for West Papua is not anti-Indonesia as alleged by foreign affairs spokesman, Marty Natalegawa. It is pro-West Papua. Its objective is to support the Papuan people in their search for peace, justice and democracy.

One of the key concerns of the movement is to promote West Papua as a "Land of Peace". This is an initiative supported by religious leaders of all faiths, local politicians, tribal leaders, the police in West Papua, the Indonesian-appointed governor, and the provincial parliament. It rejects the increasing militarization of the territory and aims to provide space for political dialogue and create conditions in which human rights are fully protected, impunity is ended and proper attention is given to the economic, social and cultural needs of the West Papuan people. It involves all people living in West Papua and respects the diverse ethnic, racial and religious nature of the society.

These should also be the central government's objectives and it is difficult to understand why instead it persists with repressive policies, such as the recent alarming decision to increase the number of troops in the province to around 50,000. The only conclusion to be drawn from this military expansion is that the security forces are intent on exerting even tighter control over the population as well as continuing to exploit the business opportunities presented by West Papua's abundant natural resources. The troop increase will also increase concern about illegal logging activities involving local military units.

The Indonesian Army has a reputation for creating violent incidents in order to provoke unrest and justify its continued presence in the interests of security. The Papuans have shown admirable restraint in the face of such provocation, but have suffered grievously from military operations such as those currently being conducted in the Puncak Jaya area of the Central Highlands.

The potential for an escalation of the conflict has also been heightened by Jakarta's failure to implement special autonomy and its divisive attempt to split the territory into three or more separate provinces.

Among the issues considered by the Manila meeting was violence against women. Delegates called for stronger support for West Papuan women's groups and for the implementation of national and international laws to protect West Papuan women against all forms of violence in the home and from Indonesian state forces.

The meeting also called upon Indonesia to allow immediate and unfettered access to West Papua to the international media and NGOs so they can see for themselves the conditions under which the West Papuan people are living. It also called for the release of all West Papuan political prisoners wherever they are being held in West Papua or Indonesia.

West Papua as a "Land of Peace" should be the guiding principle of Indonesia's policy towards West Papua and should inform the approach of all international actors, including foreign governments, transnational corporations, religious bodies and non-governmental organizations. The Indonesian government would be far better off responding positively to this initiative than wasting time generating bad publicity by bullying the foreign friends of West Papua.

The writer is a human rights advocate, who attended the Philippines meeting and works for TAPOL the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign in London.