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Response to Call to Apply Anti-Terrorism Law in West Papua

Response to Call to Apply Indonesia's Anti-Terrorism Law in West Papua

by Ed McWilliams

Edmund McWilliams is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer who served as the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta 1996-1999. He received the American Foreign Service Association’s Christian Herter Award for creative dissent by a senior foreign service official. He is a member of the West Papua Advocacy Team and a consultant with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).

In a December 5, 2012 lecture at Stanford University's International Policy Studies program ( revised January 22, 2013), the respected Southeast Asia analyst Sidney Jones discussed the Indonesian government's unwillingness, thus far, to categorize the Papuan "ethno-nationalists/separatists" as "terrorists." Jones identifies these Papuan "ethno-nationalists" and "separatists" as the armed Papuan opposition, Operasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) and what she describes as "an extremist faction of KNPB, the West Papua National Committee, a militant pro-independence organization." Jones cites various incidents of violence in West Papua that she claims were committed by these "ethno-nationalists and separatists."
 
The authors of violence in the Indonesian archipelago, especially violence with complex motives, are never so clear cut as her lecture implies. This is especially true of West Papua where police-military rivalries over access to resources and sources of extortion monies is well known.

Her analysis focuses on the different approaches employed against the West Papuan "ethno-nationalists/separatists" and against Islamic militants ("jihadists") by prosecutors and the security forces (police, military and Detachment 88). Jones contends that "the discrepancy between the way the two groups are treated by the legal system is untenable." She considers two alternatives: One would be to employ anti-terrorism law in West Papua, and the other would entail moving away from the use of anti-terror law against "jihadists." She argues extensively against the latter approach of "pulling back from the use of the anti-terror law."

Jones contends that pressure for use of the anti-terror law against "ethno-nationalists/separatists" is growing among Islamic observers. In particular, she cites Harits Abu Ulya, director of the Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA): "If the government is consistent, then it should acknowledge that attacks motivated by ethno-nationalism and separatism be considered terrorism because they are carried out by an organization with a political vision that uses terrorism to influence the security environment and challenge(s) the sovereignty of the state. Why aren't we seeing forces being sent en masse to cleanse Papua of separatism?"

Jones' argument warrants a more detailed critique than space here allows, but even a brief review reveals a number of problems.

Jones summarily credits recent violent acts in West Papua to the "ethno-nationalists and separatists." This is surprising insofar as Jones is a highly regarded observer of the Indonesian political scene with a deep human rights background. She knows, or should know, that the authors of violence in the Indonesian archipelago -- especially violence with complex motives -- are never so clear cut as her lecture implies. This is especially true of West Papua where police-military rivalries over access to resources and sources of extortion monies is well known. Jones should know also that military, police and intelligence agencies, have long played the role of provocateur, orchestrating acts of violence which advance agendas that are invariably obscure.

Jones cites what she claims is recent "ethno-nationalist" pressure on the giant Freeport McMoRan mining operation. She ignores the reality that such pressure in the past has frequently been orchestrated by the military, specifically the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). To be fair, Jones alludes to this complexity but largely dismisses it. Her analysis similarly ignores the reality that the Indonesian state has long blocked international monitoring of such security force skullduggery and manipulation of the security environment in West Papua by restricting travel by international journalists, human rights researchers and others to and within the region.

Jones also fails to acknowledge the reality, widely noted in international and local human rights circles, that the Indonesian government has long sought to smear peaceful dissent in West Papua as "separatist." Jakarta, through the aegis of a corrupt court system and often criminal state security forces, has repeatedly employed the "separatist" label to arrest and prosecute or detain peaceful political dissenters, such as those who display the Papuan morning star flag. Courts regularly resort to charges of treason that date to the Dutch colonial era and widely used by the Suharto dictatorship to intimidate dissidents. Jones' call for Indonesia to define "separatism" as "terrorism" would deepen Jakarta's targeting of peaceful dissent and the intimidation of Papuans generally. Use of the anti-terror law would enable the police to detain "separatist" suspects, including those engaging in peaceful protest, for a week rather than 48 hours. The law also empowers the police to employ electronic surveillance. Ongoing efforts would strengthen the anti-terror law to give the police even broader powers to limit the freedom of speech and assembly.
 
The argument to employ the "terrorist" label against "ethno-nationalist and separatist" groups and individuals in West Papua could have direct legal implications for international solidarity movements.

Jones claim that the West Papua Nationalist Committee (KNPB) is a "extremist," is without substantiation. Criminal activity by some alleged members of the KNPB is generally not well corroborated and usually reflects efforts by the State to undermine the organization. The KNPB, and many other Papuan organizations and individuals are indeed ever more strongly pressing for Papuan rights, importantly including the long-denied Papuan right to self determination. But these efforts are largely nonviolent.

In recent years, this struggle has found growing support within the international community. Employing the "terrorist" label against "ethno-nationalist and separatist" groups and individuals in West Papua could have direct legal implications for international solidarity movements. In the U.S., groups or individuals who advocate on behalf of groups designated by the U.S. government as "terrorists" are subject to criminal prosecution. Given the close relations among governments, including those of the U.S. and Australia and Indonesia's security forces, Indonesian government labeling dissidents in West Papua as "terrorist" could have dire implications for the solidarity network. How long would it be before the U.S. and other governments themselves begin to label various Papuan groups and individuals as '"terrorist." U.S. and other international groups acting in solidarity with Papuans seeking to attain their rights could be criminally targeted and charged.

In sum, the Jones analysis is hobbled by the very term "terrorism" which is so poorly defined international law and procedure as to threaten and intimidate even those groups and individuals engaged in peaceful dissent.

In a final note, Sidney Jones, who was the Asia Director for Human Rights Watch from 1989 to 2002, should at a minimum explicitly reject the call by Harits Abu Ulya that she cites in her lecture for the Indonesian government "to cleanse Papua of separatism." Such rhetoric gives license to the kind of atrocities already visited on the people of the Indonesian archipelago, including Timor-Leste, for far too long.

ENDS

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