Separatism stigma and rebellion charges still widespread in West Papua

9 Oct 2009
Paul Barber, TAPOL

A wave of violent incidents in West Papua in the months before and after the recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia has resulted in pro-democracy activists facing charges of makar (rebellion or treason). A recent analysis of the period by a Coalition of NGOs (Foker LSM) draws attention to the continuance of the central government's policy aimed at clamping down hard on all demonstrations and other manifestations by pro-democracy groups and individuals in West Papua, in violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly enshrined in Indonesian law.

The policy consists of three key elements:

1) The ideology of NKRI harga mati - ‘safeguarding the Unitary Republic at all costs’. All actions considered to be in pursuit of separatist motives are regarded as acts of rebellion or makar.
2) Stigmatizing any action taken in protest against human rights violations as being separatist in nature and therefore treated as an act of rebellion.
3) Blaming groups such as the TPN-OPM (the OPM and its military wing) for all the recent acts of violence, without first conducting investigations into the incidents.

While the charge of makar can incur a sentence of up to twenty years, actions by the military such as torture and killings are not regarded as crimes because they are seen as being part of the army’s duty to protect ‘NKRI at all costs’ and go unpunished.

The Coalition also draws attention to the substantial presence of troops in West Papua. It quotes a recent statement by a senior military officer to the effect that there are one hundred military posts along the border with PNG manned by four battalions (a battalion is normally composed of around 600 men) as well as ten thousand troops manning the provincial, district and sub-district military commands, which means that the number of troops in West Papua is now around 12,400 men.

The security approach is still dominant, says the Coalition. While the military are active everywhere, the three key civilian institutions ­ the governor, the regional assembly/DPRP and the MRP, the the Majelis Rakyat Papua ­ are virtually non-active and appear to be ‘powerless’. They are failing to govern West Papua despite the powers vested in them under the Special Autonomy Law of 2001.

Frustrated by the powerlessness of these institutions, Papuans frequently resort to peaceful actions such as demonstrations and flying the kejora flag.

The Coalition calls for dialogue to end the cycle of violence in West Papua and urges the Indonesian government to stop treating West Papua as a region of conflict. The authorities should, it states, investigate whether there is a ‘grand design’ behind the series of violent incidents and concludes as follows:

‘Protecting and resolving human rights issues is the key to creating peace in Papua. The government and all those involved in Papua should show their goodwill in everything they do regarding the social, political and economic life of the people, while drawing up an agenda to ensure the fulfillment of the human rights of the people.’

Appended to the Coalition report is a list of no fewer then 33 violent incidents that occurred across West Papua in the four months from April to July this year

Click here to read a translated copy of the report.

Note: The term West Papua covers the whole territory of West Papua which has now been divided into two provinces: Papua and West Papua.