Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Papua's case in the eyes of the European Commission

Neles Tebay, Pontifical University of Urbaniana, The Jakarta Post, Rome

The Indonesian government has begun intensifying efforts to settle the Papua conflict by making it one of its main priorities, given reports that the government will launch diplomatic approaches to foreign countries to request support regarding Indonesia's territorial integrity, including the province of Papua.

One institute that needs to be approached is the Brussels- based European Commission (EC). Before lobbying the institute, the government needs to be informed of the EC's stance regarding Papua.

It is good to know that the EC sent an independent mission to Indonesia last year, including Papua, to assess the potential for supporting conflict prevention. The mission published its report, which has been available online since June 26, 2002. This means that the Papua issue is not something new for the EC.

The report points out three sources of the conflict in Papua: First, it is related to the 1969 Act of Free Choice. The report says, "Indonesian troops immediately took control of the territory, and the 'Act of Free Choice', which took place on Aug. 2, 1969, was never more than a farce. A grand total of 1,025 Papuans, all selected by the Indonesian authorities, were permitted to vote -- with virtually no UN monitoring -- on the future of West Papua's 800,000 inhabitants.

"Not too surprisingly, they unanimously voted to remain in Indonesia, and the territory became an autonomous province in the same year and was renamed Irian Jaya ('Victorious Irian') in 1973."

The second source of the conflict, the report said, was the ethnic and religion distinctions between non-Papuans and Papuans due to the influx of migrants. The total population of Papua was estimated at 1,800,000 and there was an estimated 770,000 migrants living in Papua. Many Papuans feel that they had been reduced to being second-class citizens in their homeland, and became victims of prolonged discrimination.

The third source of the conflict is the unfair revenue policies over the allocation of Papua's vast natural resources between the province and Jakarta. In addition to this, the report recognized that the Indonesian development policies had created widespread environmental destruction in Papua.

In addition to these three, the mission reported that Papua had the poorest health standards of all Indonesian provinces.

Regarding the deployment of the troops in Papua, the mission said that "actions by the security forces in Papua remain significant grievances of local people, where intimidation and fear for violence have become a part of their lives."

In regards the special autonomy for Papua, the mission recognized that it gave much authority to the local government in Papua. On the one hand, the special autonomy, if implemented properly, would create new room for "freedom" in relation to well-being and human rights.

On the other hand, the mission indicated that the special autonomy bill for Papua failed to address the political case of Papua, which is "the call for political freedom". It is hence "a partial response, but still a real response."

The mission also discovered that in Papua "there remains strong but peaceful support for independence, with uncertainty and some resistance toward the bill" on the part of the Papuans. The mission reminded that continued security operations in Papua would also increase the public rejection of special autonomy.

In its executive summary, the mission highlighted some problems to be addressed. These include: the accountability of past human rights violations; the history of Papua's merger into Indonesia; the limited space for Papuan cultural expression and the status of the Morning Star flag of those who advocate for Papua's independence; strong racial and prejudicial attitudes; social and economic inequalities between Papuans and non-Papuans; the lack of democratic accountability and transparency in local government; and the role of the military in Papua.

A few of the recommendations are that the commission support the implementation of special autonomy to meet the needs of the people of Papua, to support the police in developing a more effective police force, and to strengthen civil society and democratic institutions.

Among other recommendations to the Indonesian government, the mission said, "there is a need for the government to develop policies and credible processes to address (a) past injustices, human rights abuses and the historical events surrounding the integration of Papua into Indonesia, (b) racial discrimination in Papua, (c) needs for improvement in governance and civilian control over the military."

From the report, we can glean several things. First, the report recognizes the presence of the Papuan aspiration for independence, but does not recommend the EC to support the independence movement in Papua.

Second, the report brings to light the problems in Papua that should be addressed by the Indonesian government.

Third, it is certain that the EC will continue to support Indonesian territorial integrity, including Papua, even without launching a diplomatic approach.

Fourth, having its own report on the problems in Papua, the EC might closely follow how the Indonesian government addresses these problems.

Fifth, the Indonesian government could inform the EC that special autonomy is the final solution for Papua. But the EC might also ask how the central government plans to support the implementation of special autonomy.

Therefore, the government should be ready to explain why it continues to delay its approval of establishing the Papuan People's Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua, or MRP), which is already included in the bill and is very crucial for the implementation of special autonomy in Papua.

Sixth, it would be helpful for Indonesian diplomatic relations with foreign countries if the government has clear policies and credible processes to address the problems in Papua, including the unresolved human rights violations in the past, the controversial 1969 Act of Free Choice, racial discrimination, and civilian control over the military in Papua.

The EC could ask, "OK, we support the territorial integrity of your country, but how are you going to solve the problems in Papua?"

The EC might want to know the Indonesian government's response to the Papuans' call for a genuine dialog raised since 2000.

It would be more convincing for all parties if the policies and credible processes were worked out by both the Indonesian government and the Papuans in a genuine dialog.