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EAF: Indonesia: The Need for Peaceful Dialogue in West Papua

June 21, 2013

June 21, 2013

East Asia Forum
By Hipolitus Yolisandy Ringgi Wangge,
Northwestern University & Agustinus
Kambuaya, Cenderawasih University

photo: Papuan activists take part in a rally marking the 50th
anniversary of failed efforts by Papuan tribal chiefs to declare
independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1961 (AAP).

The Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka or OPM) has opened
an office in the city of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

This has been met with mixed reactions. Within Indonesia two camps
have emerged. One camp is calling on the Indonesian government to take
decisive action toward the British government, even if it means
freezing diplomatic relations. The other camp is calling for the right
to freedom of expression. Looking at the issue closely, two trends are
apparent. First, the Indonesian government has been unable to counter
the second-track diplomacy undertaken by West Papuan tribal leader and
international lobbyist Benny Wenda. Second, and more importantly,
relations between the Indonesian central government and the Papuan
people are deteriorating, risking the future of peaceful dialogue.

The recent opening of the OPM office in Oxford is consistent with what
Wenda has been doing for more than decade since he left Papua for the
United Kingdom in 2002. Most notably, in 2008 Wenda established the
International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP), a cross-party
political group of politicians from around the world who support West
Papuan self-determination. He also travelled to Melanesian countries
in the South Pacific (Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New
Guinea) to garner support. These efforts have internationalised the
Papua issue and shone a spotlight on this eastern province of
Indonesia. One of the objectives of Wenda’s diplomatic actions has
been to pressure the Indonesian government to abandon its current
security approach toward solving problems in Papua.

Wenda’s success highlights the weakness of the Indonesian government
in exercising its diplomatic instruments. Indonesia seems unable to
project an image of sovereignty over Papua. The Indonesian government
has responded by strengthening its efforts to cooperate with the
Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) since this group of countries has
spoken frequently about human rights conditions in Papua. But this
growing Indonesian diplomatic effort in the region cannot prevent
these countries from supporting the expressions of Papuans toward
obtaining independence. The Papuan goal was fortified by the MSG
giving Papua observer status in their leaders’ meeting on 20 June in
New Caledonia. Meanwhile, human rights conditions in Papua have also
become a main concern for international agencies, such as Human Rights
Watch and Amnesty International, and famous figures, such as
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky, who have urged
the Indonesian government to respect Papuan indigenous rights.

Wenda’s efforts to internationalise the Papua issue, such as through
the opening of the OPM office in Oxford, and the weakness of the
Indonesian government’s diplomacy impacts the future of peaceful

Initially, the idea of peaceful dialogue was launched by the Papuan
intellectual Neles Tebay in accordance with The Indonesian Institute
of Sciences. This effort culminated in an initiative to use active
dialogue to rectify ongoing historical, political, cultural and
economic grievances in Papua. By holding workshops and public
discussions throughout the province as well as lobbying the national
government for support for the enterprise, this strategy pushes for a
positive environment under which dialogue can take place through both
top-down and bottom-up approaches. However, the challenges are still
numerous, including the fragmentation of the large number of parties.

One of the biggest obstacles for consolidating a dialogue is bringing
all the relevant parties together for discussion aimed at finding a
mutually acceptable solution. Looking back at Papua’s history, there
have been many initiatives, spearheaded by central and local
government as well as non-governmental organisations, to arrange an
active dialogue. But these efforts have faced similar obstacles
related to political fragmentation among Papuans. Benny Wenda’s
international actions aimed at achieving Papua’s independence
jeopardise any potential role the OPM could play in fostering peaceful
dialogue between the national government and the Papuan people.

The existence of the OPM’s office in Oxford also makes the road to
peaceful dialogue more complex. On the one hand, Wenda will almost
certainly refuse to participate in any dialogue conducted under the
auspices of the provincial authority of Papua. On the other hand, the
British government can do little to disband the activities of the
OPM’s Oxford office due to its national laws that respect and
guarantee its citizens’ rights—and Wenda is a British citizen. In
this situation, ignoring the existence of the OPM office is
impossible. All the British government can do is to make a public
statement at a diplomatic level affirming its respect for the
sovereignty of Indonesia over Papua. For the time being, Wenda and his
group look set to continue to campaign internationally for the
secession of Papua. But ultimately, constructive communication,
including with those who have been exiled, is necessary for peaceful
dialogue to forge any meaningful solutions.

In the meantime, until a long-term solution can be agreed, the
consternation over the opening of the OPM’s Oxford office must not
be used as an excuse to incite an escalation of conflict in Papua.
This concern is especially grave considering the recent military
shooting and killing of several Papuans on 1 May, which coincided with
the peaceful commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the handover of
Papua to the Indonesian government by the United Nations Temporary
Executive Authority.

Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge is Visiting Scholar in the Equality
Development and Globalization Studies Program at the Buffet Center for
International and Comparative Studies, Northwestern University.

Agustinus Kambuaya is a faculty member in the department of politics
at Cenderawasih University, Jayapura, Indonesia.

A version of this article was published here in the Jakarta Post.

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