Special Treatment


The rights and revenue that were supposed to flow from West Papua’s Special Autonomy Law implemented by the Indonesian Government in 2001 are yet to transpire for the majority of West Papuans, according to delegates at a conference in Sydney last week.

‘Most of them don’t know what Special Autonomy is,’ said J Budi Hernawan, director of the Jayapura-based Office for Justice and Peace, at the Paths to Justice and Prosperity conference at Sydney University last Thursday. ‘They hear that the money will be available but they are waiting and nothing happens.’

Hernawan believes that the Papuan political elite are too distracted by the fight over resources to implement real changes in the standard of living for Papuans.

There is a power struggle amongst the elites but for their own interests. The ongoing creation of new provinces is simply in the interests of political parties and the incumbent government officials, and I think that for most Papuans, looking at many different statistics in the area of HIV/Aids, health, education, the money does not go to their level. Where does it go? Don’t ask me, better you ask the politicians.

And while Special Autonomy was supposed to lead to a reduction in troop levels, Agus Alue Alua, Chairman of the Papuan People’s Assembly, says numbers have escalated sharply since 2001, with concerning consequences.

Human rights violations are part of the Military presence [they are]never [conducted by]outsiders and during the Special Autonomy Law, the Military presence has increased. That means that military human rights abuses have [also]increased.

Hernawan says that while human rights abuses have not yet reached the scales seen in Aceh and East Timor, the population nevertheless remains terrorised.

In May we received a report of torture in Wamena [in the Central Highlands]. A person stole money, he confessed that he stole that money from a solider, but it didn’t stop there. They tortured him in public. This is a way to say to the community ‘we have the authority to do what ever we want to control you.’

Faced with the ongoing impunity of the Indonesian Military, the thoughts of many Papuans inevitably turn to independence, says Hernawan.

I think many Papuans still want independence, and I believe it’s an expression of the desperate situation. They don’t see the concrete progress of welfare, they don’t see that their fundamental freedoms and their fundamental rights are respected, protected, so basically they have nothing to lose in their support for independence.

The latest contingent of  Indonesian  troops in the Merauke District of West Papua

With the province seemingly bogged down in a quagmire of competing problems a lack of political will from Jakarta to implement necessary legislation, resistance if not outright opposition to autonomy from the military and a Papuan political elite potentially lining their own pockets one could be forgiven for thinking that aspiring for independence is naive and short sighted. However, Dr John Otto Ondawame, International Spokesperson for the Free West Papua Movement and member of the Papuan Presidium, refuses to accept autonomy as anything other than a bridge to independence.

Any discussion of autonomy should clearly spell out the possibility to give Papuans the opportunity to decide if they want to be part of Indonesia or a separate State and there should be an option for a referendum after 15 years, or 20 years. In West Papua, Special Autonomy law never spelled it out clearly on this matter.

As far as West Papuan people are concerned, as far as OPM is concerned, we don’t trust Jakarta.

Faced with allegations of corruption at a local level, I ask Ondawame how he proposed to prevent this scourge from continuing to pollute an independent West Papua.

‘A culture of corruption is not only in West Papua, it’s part of the world community,’ says Ondawame.

So of course it’s very hard to say we will be free from corruption. But we have to look into the legal system to prevent any further corruptions resulting from the large amounts of money.

The legal system must be strengthened, democratic values have to be strengthened, and institutions have to be established in order to prevent this sort of corruption. We don’t want to continue the Indonesian style of corruption in West Papua.

Any discussions of self-determination in the Asia Pacific region also invoke inevitable comparisons with unstable nation States like the Solomon Islands and the world’s youngest country, Timor Leste.

Director of the Australia Asia Pacific Institute at Victoria University, Dr Richard Chauvel, concedes that the shopping list of problems currently plaguing Papua the HIV/AIDS pandemic, labour problems associated with the Freeport gold mine in Timika, corruption, poor health services and education problems would continue to blight the province, whether it was independent or autonomous. However, he believes comparisons with neighbouring Papua New Guinea, which has its own problems with political corruption, are too simplistic.

‘I’ve always been disinclined to make the simple comparisons over the border, or elsewhere out into the further South Pacific and say from that that West Papua is going to be another failed State.’

He says the historical legacy of the Dutch colonial masters’ moves to educate a ruling elite in preparedness for handover to Papuan independence an event that was stymied by the Act of Free Choice in 1969 needs to be appreciated, along with the skills the elite in West Papua already have, which have been honed from a difficult operational environment.

‘By highlighting all the problems that an independent Papua or even an autonomous Papua would confront is not saying that it is doomed to be a failed State. But it would inevitably be a fairly difficult place to govern.’

For his part, Ondawame believes the Asia Pacific region’s more troubled countries like the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Timor Leste are not failed States but emerging States.

European nation States weren’t free from being ‘failed States’ in the  16th and 17th centuries. They went through a similar experience. Now the Melansian States, or perhaps other third world countries, are going through the same experience. And that’s a process that will need to be gone through for a few generations until the population comes to respect some fundamental level of democratic rights.

However, Chauvel points out that an independent West Papuan State would face a series of challenges, not least the thousands of Indonesian migrants who now call West Papua home, some going back generations. Then there would be the ongoing issue of the Freeport gold Mine in Timika.

‘The enclave mining operation at the Freeport mine in Timika is essentially Indonesian settler run and dominated,’ says Chauvel.

How would an independent West Papua deal with an economy that is essentially run by outsiders? That would be a particularly important issue. An independent Papua would face all of the problems that PNG has faced dealing with large multi-national corporations; an independent Papua would be highly dependent on the revenue generated by Freeport.

However, Dino Kusnadi, spokesperson for the Indonesian embassy in Australia, maintains that not enough time has been given to enable Special Autonomy to work as well as moves to reform the Indonesian Military to take effect.

My argument is that on the table you have Special Autonomy wide ranging autonomy, it’s on the table [the]best way forward is to make that work. We’ve seen today that there is a lot of incompetence within the local Government or even the [Indonesian] Government but again out of this incompetence at least there should be an enlightenment process about how to get that job done.

Some of his sentiments were shared by Franz Albert Joku, Chairman of IGSSARPRI (Independent Group Supporting the Special Autonomous Region of Papua within the Republic of Indonesia). While remaining a believer in Papuan self-determination and conceding that Jakarta still needed to implement aspects of Special Autonomy, he maintains Papuans must work within the current framework.

Papuans should have every reason to now, I believe, firmly embrace Special Autonomy however diluted, imperfect or incomplete [it]may be in the present form, realistically there is no other option on the table right now that we can legitimately discuss and pursue.

For Papuans, the reality of living with a Special Autonomy that is ‘diluted, imperfect and incomplete’ often means occupying the lowest rung in the economy of their own province. It also means living with torture or the threat of it that is ongoing and unchecked.

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