The Free Papua Organisation is Not a Terrorist Group

31 Mar 2021

(London, 31 March 2021) TAPOL strongly denounces the proposal put forward by the Indonesian National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT/Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme) to categorise the Free Papua Organisation (OPM/Organisasi Papua Merdeka) as a terrorist organisation. Such a move will lead to more serious human rights abuses in West Papua.

Detachment 88, the anti-terrorism unit in Indonesia, which receives training and equipment from the United States and Australia, has been widely criticized by human rights groups for its notorious and disproportionate actions and being allowed to act with impunity. 

A decade ago, Detachment 88 was deployed to attack peaceful pro-independence groups. Dangerous accusations were made against these groups, such as creating and possessing bombs, to justify aggressive arbitrary raids, arrests, torture, and killings. Musa Mako Tabuni, a key West Papuan non-violent political leader was infamously assassinated in broad daylight by Detachment 88 in 2012.

Terrorists are those who attack civilians to instil fear in the population. The OPM is responsible for a small number of civilian deaths compared to the Indonesian security forces. Based on the reports that TAPOL has received, most of the tens of thousands of Indigenous West Papuans displaced due to armed conflict fled their homes because they are afraid of reprisals by the Indonesian security forces.

Calling OPM a terrorist organisation will only give more power to the state security forces to carry out more gross human rights violations in West Papua with impunity. The label will also further stigmatize West Papuan people who have already been subjected to institutionalized and systemic racism in Indonesia.

Not only does the terrorist label worsen the human rights situation, it will also reduce the possibility of peaceful resolution of armed conflict between Jakarta and West Papua. Since the proposal was advanced last week, several non-violent groups in West Papua have declared the Indonesian military and police as terrorists instead.

TAPOL has advocated for a peaceful resolution of the political and armed conflicts in West Papua. We recognize that the OPM, otherwise known as the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB/Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat), is one of the oldest national liberation armies in the world fighting against colonial rule. It must therefore be part of a political, not a military solution, which designating it as a terrorist group cannot achieve.