Papuans want a Negotiated Solution

Papuans want a Negotiated Solution

Neles Tebay, 5 July 2010


On Friday, 17 June, 2010, the indigenous Papuans – through the Papuan Provincial Legislative Council (DPRP) – handed symbolically back to the Indonesian Government, law 21/2001 on Special Autonomy. It should be understood as an element in the ongoing discussions about dialogue between the Indonesian government and the Papuans. It should neither be dismissed as an irrational act, nor should it lead to the conclusion that referendum and independence are the ultimate goals. It is a cry to be taken seriously: the Papuans are waiting for dialogue to produce a negotiated solution.

Why did the Papuans hand back the law to the government?

Lack of Ownership
Law number 21/2001 on Special Autonomy for Papua Province was offered by the Indonesian Government, as the best and most realistic solution to the Papua conflict. Internationally, it was recognized as a win-win solution, preserving on the one hand Indonesia's territorial integrity, advancing and safeguarding the needs of Papuans on the other hand. The policy of Papua autonomy was at the time strongly supported by the European Union (EU), the government of the United State of America (USA), and the state members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF).
   Although the special autonomy policy implemented since 2001 was hailed by many as the only viable solution, it was not the result of genuine dialogue between the Indonesian government and the Papuans. As a matter of fact, the special autonomy solution was unilaterally decided by the Indonesian Peoples’ Assembly (MPR) in 1999. Whereas the government felt under pressure to work out a law on Papua’s autonomy as a response to Papuans’ demand for independence from Indonesia, the Papuans were under pressure by many, including by the international community, to accept the policy of special autonomy.
   The lack of a joint decision-making process between the government and the Papuans regarding the policy of Special autonomy makes it a solution which is not negotiated but imposed. This is also why neither the government, nor the Papuans developed any ownership towards the autonomy policy. This evident lack of ownership is one important element to understand better why the government never implemented the autonomy consistently and comprehensively, and why the Papuans can easily hand the law back to the government.

Fear, Frustration and Despair
The decision to return law 21/2001 was taken after a two days evaluation on the implementation of the law, conducted on 9 and 10 June 2010 in Jayapura, facilitated by the Papuan Peoples’ Assembly (MRP). Papuans from all tribes and political factions participated. According to Article 78 of law 21/2001 an evaluation on the implementation of the Autonomy law should be conducted every year. Since such an evaluation was so far never conducted, the Papuans took the initiative to evaluate the law, using their own criteria of examination.
   The evaluation led the Papuans to the understanding that the government does not show moral commitment and political will to implement the Papua’s autonomy law. This has been demonstrated through the government’s controversial policies which were felt by many to be deliberately violating Papua’s autonomy law. Those policies include the establishment of three new provinces in Papua in 2001, changing the autonomy law in 2008 to provide a legal foundation for the establishment of West Papua Province, and rejecting the Papuans’ proposal of using the Morning star flag as a Papuan cultural symbol. Furthermore, the joint application by the government of the Law on Papua’s autonomy and the of law number 32 Year 2004 on regional government, has brought about confusion among the local government.
   Papuans feel that law 21/2001 has never effectively been implemented. Their needs and fundamental rights remain largely unaddressed. The government in the past 9 years did not produce the necessary governmental regulations for the special implementing regulations, establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, work out an adequate policy framework to protect and empower the indigenous Papuans, and address the human rights violations since 1963 until today. Despite of pouring billions of Rupiah by the central government to Papua, the majority of Papuans still live under the poverty line. Without government control of migration from other Indonesian provinces to Papua, they are becoming a minority in their own land, economically marginalized and disfavored.

What is it, they want instead?

In the light of the above, the act of handing back the special autonomy may be a sign of outrage and of anger. More importantly, it is an expression of fear, of frustration and of despair. It is a cry to be taken seriously. The Papuans do not feel protected and empowered by the government. They are seriously worried about their survival today and about their future within the Republic of Indonesia.
   What Papuans want instead is first and foremost to be taken seriously and to have their grievances acknowledged. They wish a solution they can be a part of, they can participate in. A solution which they can also own. They can not accept any solution they feel is imposed by the government. In their eyes, there is only one way to produce a negotiated solution, which is genuinely owned by the government, as well as by the Papuans. This is through dialogue between the Indonesian government and the Papuans.
   The Papuans call for dialogue to produce a jointly agreed solution. The Papuans are serious with their call for dialogue. The mention of referendum and recognition of Papuas’ sovereignty is to be understood as underlining the necessity of dialogue, as such claims gain weight only in the event of increasing frustration, as for instance if the feeling prevails that the offer for dialogue is not being taken seriously. So it is the time for the Government of Indonesia and the Papuans to engage in a peaceful dialogue.

Neles Tebay is the coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Abepura, Papua