Activists call for talks between Jakarta and Papua

Activists call for talks between Jakarta and Papua
, 2 September 2010

Activists have described the need for dialogue between the central government and Papuans as “urgent” and “critical” if Jakarta hopes to save the country’s easternmost provinces from potential conflict, stemming from horizontal inequality, and disintegration.

Activists and a political pundit said Monday that dialogue was the only way to resolve Papua’s perennial issues, which range from human rights violations, massive environmental destruction and rapid transmigration to its dysfunctional special autonomy, among others.

“We’re not seeing any effort on Jakarta’s behalf to protect residents there from possible conflict, empower the locals or side with them in general,” Amirrudin Al Rahab, a member of Papua Working Group in Jakarta, said.

He likened the current situation in Papua to an active volcano, which might look dormant at the surface, but forces inside were likely to explode without warning.

“This can’t be allowed to happen,” Amirrudin said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, in his state of the nation address on Aug. 16, promised the central government would conduct “constructive dialogue” with Papuans, but that was an empty promise, Amirrudin continued.

“The President said the exact same thing five years ago and there has been little progress in Papua since then,” he added.

Amirrudin said Papuans deemed that the central government had ignored them and had failed to empower local human resources, as well as establish concrete policies guaranteeing Papua’s future.

When the public talks about Papua, they allude to West Papua and Papua provinces, the latter of which is the largest province in Indonesia and once covered the entire western half of the island of New Guinea.

The government declared the western-most tip of the island a separate province in 2003, naming it West Irian Jaya, now West Papua.

Papua is a region rich in natural resources but plagued by decades of separatist violence.

According to the Indonesian human rights monitor, Imparsial, violence in Papua often targeted human rights activists, who were often presumed by the Indonesian military to be members of separatist groups.

“The government must investigate the killings of human rights activists such as Opinus Tabuni, Yawan Wayeni and journalist Ardiansyah Matrais,” executive director of Imparsial, Poengky Indarti, said.

Poengky, who authored The Practice of Torture in Aceh and Papua, 1998-2007, said beside those unsolved murder cases, the central government seemed to have turned a blind eye to Papua’s debilitating social and economic problems.

“Papua ranks bottom among other provinces in the Human Development Index,” she said. The index is composed from data on life expectancy, education and standard of living.

The special autonomy vested to Papua a decade ago, Poengky continued, had been ineffective.

“As much as Rp 2 trillion [US$222 million] has been distributed to the region every year since 2001. The people, however, don’t feel this,” she said, adding there needed to be a fresh approach, such as open dialogue between Jakarta and Papua, to solve the problems.

“The central government needs to consider its development policy and to stop deploying additional security forces there. Send more professionals, such as teachers and doctors,” Poengky added.

Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, pointed out that immigration had become an emerging problem in Papua, as local residents now had to compete economically with migrants from Java and other islands.

“I believe dialogue between Jakarta and Papua is essential. However, we have to choose representatives that are right in the eyes of Papuans and the central government, to bring effective governance to the region,” Ikrar said.