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What Do Papuans Really Want

West Papua Rejects “Special Autonomy” and Calls for Independence while Jakarta Government Prioritises Welfare Approach for West Papua

Banner reads “Special Autonomy failed” Papuan people’s rights to life threatened… Image: Indoleft
Papuans carrying a coffin read “the late Special Autonomy (OTSUS)” meaning the Special Autonomy Jakarta gave has died and we are carrying the dead OTSUS: image Suarapapua.com

A response to a statement from Jaleswari Pramodhawardani (Vice Deputy for Political, Legal, Security and Human Rights of the Presidential Staff Office) published by Antara News Jakarta on July 14, 2020.

By Yamin Kogoya

On Tuesday, July 14th, the Antara News, Jakarta published an article by the Vice Deputy for Political, Legal, Security and Human Rights of the Presidential Staff Office, Jaleswari Pramodhawardani. The article highlighted Widodo’s government approach in handling West Papua’s issues. [1]

Pramodhawardani stated that the approaches were directed at boosting welfare in order to tackle the primary issue impacting the provinces of Papua and West Papua. Her statement concluded that President Jokowi plans to resolve West Papua’s issues through various development programs. According to Pramodhawardani, the lack of welfare is to blame for problems in West Papua.

It seems as though Jakarta has a different concept and definition of “welfare” for Papuans. I find it ironic that Pramodhawardani describes Jakarta’s approach to evaluating the welfare of Papuans as “anthropological”.

In order to be anthropological, one must know and understand the culture and people they are studying, which is a far cry from the attitudes of Jakarta and the government who try to control and silence the people rather than nurture their communities. After all, isn’t anthropology a discipline about having a deep understanding of people within their cultures?

Pramodhawardani stated that President Jokowi has “adopted the welfare approach through various forms of development,” attempting to diagnose the cause of the problems in West Papua by blaming the traumatised people themselves – trauma perpetrated by their very own government.

This is a typical xenophobic rhetoric used throughout the history of colonisation – colonisers condescendingly look down upon the colonised, treating them as primitive or savage, and attributing their suffering to a lack of development. Jakarta injects West Papua with a virus and then blames the people for being sick and then tries to offer a solution or cure for the virus which they created in the first place.

How can Papuans trust the government with their lives when Jakarta has no interest in understanding and connecting with the people they are meant to protect? How can Papuans put their faith in a program designed by an institution that has inflicted decades of physical, psychological and emotional trauma? When I hear the term “welfare-focused solution”, I cannot see past the insincerity of a government who has destroyed the welfare of the people and have decided that they need to inflict more pain just to give that welfare back. In fact, I am not confident that President Jokowi understands the meaning of the term “welfare”.

Pramodhawardani continues in her statement, ensuring that the welfare approach will help “tackle the primary issue impacting the provinces of Papua and West Papua.” It is increasingly concerning that the same people who pursue a regimen for Papuans do not understand the primary issue that Papuans face.

Whilst instabilities within Papua and West Papua can be attributed to a lack of quality infrastructure, economic hardship, and poor education and health, these still do not define the root of the problems. These instabilities are merely symptoms – symptoms of a disease that runs through deeper veins.

Pramodhawardani said “we know that people see West Papua only in terms of issues of human rights and violence,” and alluded that there is less concern in fulfilling the “basic rights” of Papuans.

In this statement, she acknowledges that the international community are aware of the gross human rights violations perpetrated by her government, and that Jakarta recognises the impact of decades-old repressive policies they have inflicted upon Papuans. Once again, Jakarta fails at every turn to see the hypocrisy in their actions – they pretend to advocate for the very same “human rights” which they have violated time and time again.

These welfare programs reflect Jakarta’s refusal to acknowledge how their own oppressive and intrusive politics are to blame for the current state of Papua and West Papua’s disarray. They believe they know what’s best when there is a track record to show that they don’t. They just don’t.

The pressure on Papuans to surrender to the ways of the “civilised” or “westernised” world is unwarranted. Jakarta seeks to manipulate the people through these welfare programs and to strip away their culture. Papuans have the right to be human, and the right to be Papuan – they have the right to be respected in their ancestral land. Jakarta’s view on what it means to be human is enshrined in the five pillars of their national emblem, Pancasila, which states Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa – “a just and civilised humanity.” If Jakarta could only apply the Pancasila’s principle into their plans for Papua, then there could be hope. These Jakarta elites are guilty of not practicing what they are preaching to Papuans.

This mission for “civilising” Papuans has already destroyed countless first nation tribes across the world – sacred cultures, religions, rituals, languages and ways of life – old worlds full of rich culture, all lost in the name of progress. This is why Jakarta cannot possibly hope to fix the problems in West Papua until they acknowledge how their colonising mission has damaged these nations beyond repair, attempt to understand the Papuans way of life, and respect their cultures without feeling the need to change them. There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way they think about humanity in West Papua.

With such a transformed insight, an anthropological approach to the welfare of Papuans could be fully realised. However, if Jakarta’s ignorance persists, there is no hope for change.

Papuans are simply fed-up with decades of the “top-down” approach. There is no wonder, why Papuans are suspicious of, and overwhelmingly opposed to, any developmental programs that Jakarta has tried to disguise in their ‘Trojan Horse’ called the “special autonomy”.

The 2021 special autonomy was regarded as Jakarta’s band-aid solution for West Papua’s independence demands and has largely been rejected by Papuans. As Jakarta moves to extend this special autonomy policy, Alya Nurbaiti writes in The Jakarta Post on July 7th, that Papuan groups unite to voice their strong opposition to this plan.[2]Suarapapua.com, local online media site based in Jayapura, also reported on July 22nd that Papuan communities (including governors, The United Liberations Movement for West Papua, churches, women, youth groups and West Papuan armed resistance group TPNPB) have united to reject the extension of the special autonomy. [3]

Catholic Pastor Alberto John Bunay, leader of 57 Papuan Indigenous Pastors from five dioceses in the land of Papua, also has strongly rejected Jakarta’s insistence on fixing West Papua’s issues with the special autonomy band-aid and called for a referendum of independence. [4] He stated that Jakarta must engage in dialogue with the ULMWP, a united political body who have been, with the help of the Vanuatu people and government, revitalising the Papuan’s political identity in international forums such as MSG, PIF, ACP, and the UN human rights council. [5]

The momentum in West Papua is building and tensions between Papuans and Jakarta elites are high as the special autonomy given to Papuans twenty years ago is about to come to an end.[6] Indonesian Chief Security Minister stated in The Jakarta Globe that elites in Jakarta are strategizing to continue to provide a special autonomy fund for Papua while preparing a new law to extend it.[7] Victor Yeimo, National Committee of West Papua (KNPB) spokesperson stated that “Papuans are the ones who should get to determine whether they want a second phase of special autonomy or independence” but Jakarta continues to propose and discuss the bill without discussing it with any Papuans. [8] Benny Wenda, the chairman of ULMWP has warned that under this so called “special autonomy” Papuans will be further marginalised and killed. [9]

There is no indication that Papuan’s will be satisfied with Jakarta’s strategies. Considering the demands for a referendum on independence, Jokowi’s handling of the welfare approach will most likely be met with massive protests, with high propensity for tensions to turn violent and result in many deaths among Papuans as they fight against their oppressors. I say this because on July 18th, amidst the welfare-approach announcement, the Indonesian military shot dead a Papuan father and son, Elias Karungu and Selu Karungu – two displaced refugees in their own homeland, victims of military corruption and excessive use of force. This occurred in the Nduga region, one of the most protracted militarised zones.[10]

According to the head of the military regional command III, Colonel Gusti Nyoman Suriastawa, the killing was justified. He stated in a Tempo Jakarta report on July 22nd that Elias Karungu and Selu Karungu were part of a separatist armed group led by Egianus Kogoya. The evidence used to prove their justifications was a revolver pistol, a mobile phone, a machete, and some cash. How can such claims be verified by an independent body in a region renowned for its tightly controlled, militarised zones, where any foreign journalists are banned from entering?[11]

Jakarta seems confused and unable to distinguish between two conflicting instructions given to them by their own presidential office. One instruction, as announced by Pramodhawardani, is for a welfare approach, endorsed by President Jokowi. A second instruction, according to the Papuan Legal Aid Institute (LBH) as reported by Budi Sutrisno from The Jakarta Post, comes from President Jokowi, who “gave the green light to hunt down Papuans” and consider them to be “armed separatist rebels.” This instruction was issued shortly after the 2018 Nduga shooting incident in December. [12]

How can President Jokowi, a man who has visited West Papua twelve times during his presidency - dancing, singing and laughing with Papuans, who welcomed him with good hospitality and garnered him with the majority vote for the most important job in the country – order militarised operations to slaughter people in the streets while releasing diplomatic statements in the media regarding the welfare of West Papua? Should Papuans be killed, or should they be cared for? It cannot be both.

Papuans view the presence of Indonesia in West Papua as the bane of their existence. Jakarta has tried to change that view for decades, with no success yielded from their various development approaches. This is why Pramodhawardani’s endorsement of Jokowi’s welfare approach will not convince the people of West Papua that their best interest is being held in the President’s heart. Pramodhawardani’s words have no real meaning in terms of healing wounds, and her attempt to dilute the Papuan’s desire for independence is as transparent as can be.

While Indonesia remains in West Papua, so too do the problems. It is a futile endeavour for Jakarta to try and deceive Papuans as they have been burned too many times before. Benny Wenda, leader of ULMWP said it best: “Indonesia has been promising West Papua autonomy for over 50 years.” And in that 50 years, Indonesia has not delivered on that promise. [13]

During such unprecedented times that people are enduring in the face of the Corona virus and the lockdowns, Jakarta needs to reflect on their past atrocities against the people of West Papua, and how they intend to move forward – force down yet another already failed special autonomy or referendum on independence. Their next moves will decide the welfare and quality of life of generations to come.

Such reflection is being offered to powerful governments, to give them a chance to hear their own people and realise how they are treating their nation. The brutal murder of George Floyd by US Minnesota police in Minneapolis on May 25th this year sparked a global outcry calling for justice, led by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Papuans found inspiration from the BLM movement because of shared experiences of racial injustice – injustices that have been deeply rooted in Indonesia’s political affairs for more than half a century, starting in the 1960’s. [14]

Last year, mass demonstrations reverberated across West Papua and Indonesia, triggered by the use of a racial slur directed towards Papuan students in Surabaya on Indonesia’s 74th independence anniversary.[15] This should have been a turning point for Jakarta. Papuans were showing their deep anger caused by decades old miss-treatment of Papuans by Indonesians. Papuans saw this atrocious act as a direct attack on their value as human beings and as Papuans.

Last year, in an opinion piece I published about Indonesia’s racism towards Papuans and its implication to Independence, I stated that calling Papuans “monkeys” can and will ignite the fire of resistance. And it did – thousands of Papuans protested and set fire to the Parliament House. The issue of racism is a serious failure and will end up costing Indonesia the very thing they are trying to hold on to. [16]

“The people of West Papua have suffered decades of oppression and discrimination at the hands of the Indonesian state” writes Febriana Firdaus, an Indonesian Journalist. “Now they’ve drawn inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests to mount popular resistance to yet another authoritarian clampdown.”[17]

Fajar Nugroho, President of the University of Indonesia’s Student Executive Board which organised webinars promoting Papuan Lives Matter, continues this sentiment by adding that “many Indonesians wouldn’t be reflecting on the injustice toward Papuans if it wasn’t for George Floyd.”[18]

The sheer power of humanity behind the BLM’s protests was able to galvanise communities across the globe. Despite the Coronavirus lockdown, large gatherings were held demanding racial justice and equality. These reactions serve to prove that Papuans will not swallow Jakarta’s sugar-coated welfare pills offered as the be-all-end-all of issues in West Papua. Racial injustices and the experience of the Papuans run too deep to be ignored and cannot be swept under the rug any longer.

If Jakarta is truly serious about applying anthropological knowledge toward their welfare approach, then they must seek to understand the history of the people, such as the Melanesian people who live in West Papua.

As articulated by PhD researcher Sri Lestari Wahyuningroem of the Australian National University in The Jakarta Post on Friday, May 31st, 2013: “our possessive love of Papua hinders our willingness to understand Papuans. To listen to their stories and commit to defending their rights, we insist on accepting the Papuans image of themselves. There are no Papuans because Papua is Indonesia. Papua is us, even, though in reality Papuans are always seen and treated as the other.

What we feel about Papua is not love. It is infatuation”. “Genuine love”, according to Sociologist Thomas Scheff, “requires detailed knowledge of the other”.[19]

Jakarta’s insistence on forcing the special autonomy extension onto Papuans will ignite more violent protests and even death. They continue to approach West Papua with a paternalistic view, assuming what is best for a community of people who were never invited to contribute to the conversation. Papuan voices and actions will continue to speak louder until they are heard. [20]

Neither Pramodhawardani’s figures and statistics pulled from the Human Development Index to measure the welfare of Papuan’s, nor any presidential instruction or decree to “fix” West Papua will lead to the satisfaction of the people.[21] Valuing and nurturing human lives cannot be achieved by mere measurements, statistics, or developmental plans. Papuans desire empathy from an indifferent Government and will infinitely resist their “civilisation missions” until Jakarta relents and gives West Papua its voice back. As stated by Victor Yeimo, Papuans should be the ones who get to determine whether they want a second phase of special autonomy or independence” and Jakarta should facilitate an internationally supervised vote to determine this.

If not, through all of their failed efforts to coax Papuans into a false sense of security, Jakarta have failed and continue to fail to ask the most basic question: what do Papuans really want?

[1] https://en.antaranews.com/news/152342/govt-prioritises-welfare-approach-in-handling-papua-west-papua-issues

[2] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/07/06/papuan-groups-voice-opposition-to-special-autonomy-status.html

[3] https://suarapapua.com/2020/07/22/all-papuans-reject-the-papua-special-autonomy-volume-ii/

[4] https://www.ucanews.com/news/papuan-priests-call-for-independence/88883

[5] https://dailypost.vu/news/push-to-suspend-indonesia-as-associate-member-in-msg/article_b3a98820-67ce-11ea-8965-3bd6191f88d6.html

[6] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/07/24/govt-may-deploy-more-troops-in-papua-minister-says.html

[7] https://jakartaglobe.id/news/govt-to-carry-on-with-special-autonomy-fund-for-papua

[8] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/07/06/papuan-groups-voice-opposition-to-special-autonomy-status.html

[9] https://theowp.org/west-papua-autonomy-lies-bullets-and-murders/

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/07/22/world/asia/22reuters-indonesia-papua.html

[11] https://en.tempo.co/read/1367894/military-justify-shootings-of-nduga-papua-men-tni-separatists

[12] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/07/24/presidents-instruction-to-blame-for-rights-violations-displacement-in-nduga-lbh-papua.html

[13] https://www.freewestpapua.org/2020/07/11/a-referendum-not-autonomy-is-the-only-solution-in-west-papua/

[14] https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/07/west-papua-black-lives-matter

[15] https://www.dw.com/en/deadly-rioting-flares-up-again-in-indonesias-papua/a-50567988

[16] https://pmc.aut.ac.nz/articles/indonesian-racism-towards-papuans-and-its-implications-free-west-papua-movement-5038

[17] https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/07/west-papua-black-lives-matter

[18] https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-07-02/papuan-lives-matter

[19] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2013/05/31/the-continuing-infatuation-with-papua.html

[20] https://www.freewestpapua.org/2020/07/11/a-referendum-not-autonomy-is-the-only-solution-in-west-papua/

[21] https://en.antaranews.com/news/152342/govt-prioritises-welfare-approach-in-handling-papua-west-papua-issues

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