The Question of Papua

The Question of Papua
Neles Tebay, 12 July 2010
Coordinator of the Papua Peace Network in Abepura, Papua

Last Friday indigenous Papuans — through the provincial legislative council — symbolically handed back the 2001 Law on Special Autonomy to the Indonesian government. The act should neither be dismissed as irrational, nor should it lead to the conclusion that referendum and independence are the ultimate goals of those dissatisfied with the current situation in Papua. It is rather a cry to be taken seriously: Papuans are waiting for dialogue to negotiate a new solution to the their governance. The 2001 law was offered by the central 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 while advancing and safeguarding the needs of Papuans on the other.

The policy of a semiautonomous Papua was at the time strongly supported by the European Union, the United States and the state members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

But although the special autonomy policy was hailed by many as the only viable solution, it was not the result of genuine dialogue between the Indonesian government and Papuans; rather, it was unilaterally decided by the Peoples’ Assembly (MPR) in 1999. The lack of a joint decision-making process between the government and Papuans thus makes it a solution that is not negotiated but imposed. This is why neither the government nor Papuans felt strongly that they owned this policy.

The decision to “return the law” was taken after a two-day evaluation of the legislation last week in Jayapura, facilitated by the Papuan Peoples’ Assembly (MRP). Papuans from all tribes and political factions participated. According to the 2001 law, an evaluation of the law’s efficacy should be conducted every year. In reality such an evaluation never took place until Papuans took the initiative last week.

The action led the Papuans to the understanding that the government does not show moral commitment and political will to implement the 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 2004 Law on Regional Government has brought about confusion among the local government. The Papuans feel their needs and fundamental rights remain largely unaddressed.

The government in the past nine 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 a central government pouring billions of rupiah into Papua, the majority of Papuans still live under the poverty line. Without government control of migration from other provinces to Papua, Papuans are fast becoming a minority in their own land, economically marginalized and disfavored.

In the light of the above, the act of handing back the special autonomy may be taken as a sign of outrage and anger. More importantly, it is an expression of fear, of frustration and of despair. It is a cry to be taken seriously. Papuans do not feel protected and empowered by the government. They are seriously worried about their survival today and about their future in the country. What the Papuans want first and foremost is to be taken seriously and to have their grievances acknowledged.

They wish for a solution they can be a part of and can participate in. They want a solution that they can also own. They cannot 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 accepted by both the Indonesian government and the Papuans themselves. This is through meaningful dialogue between the central government and the Papuans.

In the wake of the events of last week, the time has come for the government of Indonesia and people of Papua to engage in a such a peaceful exchange.