‘Indonesian democracy stops in papua’ - Autonomy isn't independence

'Indonesian democracy stops in Papua’
Autonomy isn’t independence
, June 2010

by Philippe Pataud Celerier


Indonesian nationalists deny all ethnic and religious claims for separatism in the vast archipelago that makes up their country. But in Papua, people feel exploited, and threatened with cultural, and demographic, annihilation

Linus, from Papua, said: “It doesn’t matter who the leader is, the dice are loaded against us.” For him, as for many others, the re-election in July 2009 of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (known as SBY) as Indonesian president was no surprise. Linus and his friend Agus are from Jayapura, the provincial capital of Papua, the western part of the island of New Guinea (1). They are studying to be civil servants in the city of Surabaya in eastern Java.

“Instead of independence we have ‘special’ autonomy,” said Agus. That status was won in January 2002. “It is so special nobody trusts it. All I know is I will at last get a job in a new district in the south of Papua. To separatist Papuans, I am a traitor. To most of our Javanese teachers, I am a monkey they are trying to lure down from the trees. I just want to feed my family.”

There was unrest, and more than 13 arrests, in several cities across West Papua when hundreds of demonstrators raised the Morning Star independence flag in December 2009. The Indonesian press condemns the Papuan separatist movement and claims it tried to stop free elections in a democratic country. “Free?” asked Agus. “Democratic? So why does Papua keep counting its victims?”

There was hope of change when General Suharto resigned in 1998 after 30 years of absolute rule. His centralist authoritarian dictatorship, backed by the army, had contained the racial, ethnic and religious mix of Indonesia – the largest archipelago in the world with 6,000 inhabited islands and a population of 
240 million. After he left it fell apart. From Aceh to Papua, separatist forces rose, and many ethnic groups tried to reclaim their independence and identity, long stifled by the dominant Javanese culture.

The people of Papua, who rejected their annexation by Indonesia in 1962 and their official incorporation into the archipelago in 1969 after a sham referendum (2), were granted “special autonomy”. Indonesian nationalists think even that is too indulgent. They say the constitution has been amended enough times already to satisfy the demands of separatist movements: amendments recognising regional differences, creating autonomous regions, decentralising fiscal power. They believe all these changes threaten the integrity of the nation state; that the time has come instead for unity and not more autonomy, which will only serve as a springboard for Papuan independence, and encourage other separatist movements.

“Nationalism is very strong,” said Jacques Bertrand, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, in Canada (3). “Indonesians see any attempt to divide their country as an attack against the integrity of the state and Indonesia’s concept of itself as a nation. The entire political discourse and the teaching of Indonesian history supports this idea. Jakarta’s annexation of Papua was recognised internationally, making it legitimate in international law.”

Divided into three
The main separatist organisation, the Papua Presidium Council (PDP) rejected the autonomy law as soon as it was passed in November 2001 by the then president, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Fifteen days later the body of the PDP’s charismatic leader, Theys Eluay, was found in a suburb of Jayapura.

The state brought in the sinister Kopassus special forces to find his killers. Megawati, aware that in such turbulent times the electorate could turn to more radical leaders, watered down the autonomy law. With Papua in turmoil, she passed a decree (January 2003) dividing it into three. It was a crafty move. “Papuan national identity is young and fragile, compared with more local identities,” said Bertrand. (There are 310 ethno-linguistic groups among the 1.5-2 million Papuans.) “By dividing the province in three, the government removes Papua’s ability to speak with one voice through an autonomous government that can present their demands in a coherent way. The Indonesian government is exploiting Papua’s tendency towards division.”

But the creation of new territorial entities helps the local elite, who see the opportunity to improve their social standing, wealth and prestige. “The more provinces and districts there are,” said researcher Richard Chauvel of the University of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, “the more positions of governor and district chief, and the more money allocated by central government”. The new democracy in Indonesia means each of its 33 provinces elects provincial and district representatives. “Elections have created a new, often pernicious, sphere of competition between Papuan officials,” said a professor at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura. “The army support the candidate who promises to improve their situation. So competition is also fierce between different factions in the army and police.” In the end only two provinces were created – Papua and West Papua.

Attracted by the $2.5bn central government allocated to the two provinces in 2009, many lobbies are trying to persuade the state to create more regional divisions, and the administrations that go with them. These would provide employment for the privileged Papuans who replaced Javanese migrants after the autonomy law was passed. “The incompetence and corruption of officials is the same,” said an observer, “but now it has a different face.”

Jakarta claims these territorial divisions, and the large amount of funding, are proof of sincerity; they are also tools for making healthcare and education more accessible in a region with a difficult terrain. But a Papuan militant disagreed: “This territorial division is mainly about creating more administrations, police stations and schools where Bahasa Indonesia [the official Indonesian language] is promoted, taught by Javanese migrants.”

Javanese already make up 48% of Papua’s population of 2.5 million, according to the most reliable estimates. For most native Papuans, this “Javanisation” was planned long ago by the government. Economic reality means there is little hope Papua will eventually achieve independence as East Timor did in 2002. Papua is rich in natural resources: gold, copper, uranium, nickel, oil, natural gas and timber (a quarter of Indonesia’s forests). The government in Jakarta has decided that more than half Papua’s 42m hectares of rainforest are exploitable, not counting the 9m or so hectares allocated to growing oil palm for use in agribusiness and as a biofuel. Palm oil destroyed the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, and now it is taking over Papua, which, along with Malaysia, hosts 85% of global production. Sinar Mas, Indonesia’s largest producer, has just acquired almost 3m hectares.

Few see the wealth
The mining company Freeport-McMoRan (Phoenix) is the biggest foreign investor in Indonesia but its methods are criticised. It earned about $18bn in 2008, partly by displacing the Amungme people, who had to trade their cold highlands in Tembagapura for the lowland malarial swamps of Timika to the south. It was an ecological, human and social disaster that was even denounced by BP Indonesia. BP has been exporting millions of tons of liquefied natural gas from the port of Bintuni since 2009, mostly to China. The gas field is huge, the third biggest in Indonesia.

Most Papuans see nothing of this wealth. Poverty is twice the national average, and child mortality is between two and six times higher, depending on the region. HIV/Aids, which is 40 times more prevalent, spreads easily because soldiers pay little attention to the health of the prostitutes they supply. The army does what it wants to in Papua, so far from central government geographically and financially (the state only provides 30% of its revenue.) It is prepared to cause death and disorder to reinforce its power and guarantee an income – from prostitution, gambling, arms trafficking, alcohol, illegal logging and racketeering (in road construction, transport, security). But the army’s influence has been reduced after East Timor’s independence, the end of the civil war in Aceh, and peace in the Moluccas and Sulawesi. Now different units in Papua compete aggressively to secure the most lucrative contracts.

Obliged to find most of its own resources, the army behaves like a predator. According to official figures, 150,000 Papuans were killed between 1963 and 1983. Military operations continue, as they have for the last 40 years. Not a month goes by without Human Rights Watch or Survival International reporting persecution, rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, displacement, and destruction of habitat and livestock (4). Some commentators talk of genocide. At the very least, there will be more migrants than natives in Papua by 2015, contributing to the break-up of Papuan society; 20,000 people have been displaced since 2001, and 13,500 refugees live in exile across the border in independent Papua New Guinea.

Is Indonesia trying to destroy the Papuan people? If it wants to prove otherwise, it should open the area up to the foreign press and human rights groups, and enforce the rule of law. Whether Jakarta is unable or unwilling to do anything, one thing is clear: Indonesian democracy stops in Papua.