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West Papua Report October 2013: Competing Histories, Flotilla, Vanuatu Speaks, BRIMOB, more

October 3, 2013

West Papua Report

This is the 114th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at edmcw. If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to etan. Link to this issue:

The Report leads with "Perspective," an opinion piece; followed by "Update," a summary of some developments during the covered period; and then "Chronicle" which includes analyses, statements, new resources, appeals and action alerts related to West Papua. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" or responding to one should write to edmcw. The opinions expressed in Perspectives are the author’s and not necessarily those of WPAT or ETAN.For additional news on West Papua see the reg.westpapua listserv archive or on Twitter.


In this month’s PERSPECTIVE, David Webster, Associate Professor of History at Bishops University, Quebec and WPAT member describes the competing historical narratives that shape the perceptions of the Indonesian government and West Papuans. The Indonesian side views Papuan lands as historically part of the Indonesia while Papuans maintain that West Papua was annexed by Indonesia absent a genuine act of self-determination. These competing narratives have thus far frustrated efforts to pursue meaningful dialogue.

UPDATE notes the mission of a " freedom flotilla" which focused international attention on the plight of Papuans. The peaceful initiative prompted a massive security response by Indonesia that included arrests of Papuans seeking to celebrate and welcome the mission and an Australian refusal to grant asylum to Papuans fleeing the crackdown. Security forces continue sweep operations in Paniai. The Indonesian Human Rights Commission has admitted its inability to pursue cases of security force violations of human rights, notably in West Papua. An expansion of TNI authority to address purported "terrorist" challenges could exacerbate military pressure on Papuan civilians. The Prime Minister of Vanuatu in an address to the United Nations urged that body to investigate the human rights and political status of West Papua.

In its CHRONICLE section, the report notes that reviewed mounting criticism of the complex and non-transparent programs through which the U.S. government funnels security assistance.a press release by the Australian West Papua Association (Sydney) regarding a ban on peaceful Papuan efforts to celebrate the UN’s "International Day of Democracy" and a critical examination of U.S. Security Assistance policy. A regional observer notes warming ties between Indonesia and Melanesian states would be undercut by further Indonesian security force violations of Papuan human rights. Two reports examine fundamental services in West Papua: One looks at the failure of education in the Papuan highlands and the other notes that the rates of death for mothers and children are the highest Indonesia.


Competing Historical Narratives Impede Indonesian-Papuan Dialogue

From the interior of Asia’s largest remaining rainforest, lightly-armed guerillas fight back against the army of the world’s fourth-largest country, with thousands killed in a long-running insurgency. This conflict pits West Papuan nationalist forces against an Indonesian army that sees itself as the guardian of a near-sacred national unity. Today the conflict has mostly shifted to the political arena, but smaller-scale violence still flares suddenly — a clash between Papuan "tribal" people and Indonesian "newcomers"; an army helicopter reportedly sent plummeting to earth; an independence leader killed by soldiers. The conflict has endured for five decades.

One of the major issues in the conflict has been that the two sides understand the history very differently. The clashing views are actually a cause of conflict themselves: Papuans often see themselves denied their right to self-determination, while Indonesian nationalists (especially in the army) see any Papuan dissent as an attack on their own country. Peace is a tough target to get to if each side sees what happened in the past as a live issue. Historical dialogue is needed as part of conflict resolution.
The Indonesian nationalist narrative about West Papua is a story of dispossession, Dutch colonialism and the ultimate victory of Indonesian anti-colonial struggle. The territory entered the Indonesian nationalist imagination as "the martyr place of the struggle for independence," in the words of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president.[
] The reason was the Tanah Merah (Digul) prison camp, so remote and inhospitable that it required no walls to contain its prisoners: The landscape of Papua itself was the prison.

The Dutch decision to cling to "Netherlands New Guinea" rather than allow it to become part of Indonesia in 1949 was seen by all stripes of Indonesian nationalism as a betrayal. One government publication called West Papua "a pistol pointing at Indonesia’s chest."[
] While Sukarno’s Indonesia was building a nationalism oriented to a glorious future global role, it also looked back to a glorious past. In one version, inspired by the work of nationalist historian Mohammad Yamin, many nationalists read Indonesia back in time to equate with the territories of the 14th century Majapahit empire as laid out in one poem, with these territories said (dubiously) to include West Papua.

The Indonesian campaign to "regain" control of West Papua served as a mobilizing focus to unite the new Indonesian state in the 1950s and early 1960s. Government and non-government groups produced a vast array of books and pamphlets to back the campaign to regain the last bit of Dutch colonial debris. These themes developed in the 1950s and 60s echoed in Indonesian government rhetoric on Papua thereafter. Centralizing nationalist histories left little space for local tellings: "The history classroom functioned to suppress knowledge of difference," as historian Jean Taylor has written. The key problem, in the words of historian Asvi Warman Adam, is that "Indonesian history was written uniformly by men in uniform."[

So the 1969 "act of free choice" was less referendum — a word never used — than a display of respect for legal norms, designed for international consumption. The only reason that the act was being held, officials said, was to show that Indonesia kept its treaty promises. General Suharto, who had by this point replaced Sukarno as president, announced that the act "in no way mean[s] that we shall sacrifice that population [or that] we shall abandon the fruits of our struggle for the liberation of West Irian."[
] The Indonesian struggle to add West Papua to "the fold of the motherland" erased Papuans from their own story. The land and the struggle were what mattered.

Papuan’s History

The Papuan nationalist version of history, by contrast, argues that justice has been denied and holds that self-determination can only be exercised by the Papuan people. Instead of being decolonized, the narrative sees West Papua as being recolonized by Indonesia. Indonesian images abound showing the New Guinea border as if there was nothing to the east of it — as if it were the edge of the world, almost. Papuan nationalist images use the map to ignore Indonesia and locate their country in a Pacific geographical and a Melanesian ethnic context, rather than in Asia.

The formative period of this narrative was the time when West Papua had a separate existence from Indonesia, as a separate Dutch colony between 1949 and 1962. A key text is Voice of the Negroids of the Pacific to the Negroids Throughout the World, a document produced by Papuan nationalist leaders in 1961. This short publication, as its title makes clear, aimed at a global pan-African audience and made a bid to be placed among the African colonies gaining their independence around this time. It declared: "Many, many times you have heard about us from the Dutch and the Indonesians. Now we will take the floor ourselves. We are living in the Pacific, our people are called Papuans, our ethnic origin is the Negroid Race". We do not want to be slaves any more."[

The Papuan nationalist narrative stresses dates like December 1, 1961, when the Papuan flag was inaugurated. In 1999, the new Papuan National Congress issued a declaration saying: "The Papuan people have been sovereign as a people and as a state since December 1, 1961."[
] In this version, Indonesian rule is invalid because it did not take into account the views of the people in Papua itself. The 1969 "act of free choice" becomes, not a joyful embrace of Indonesian unity, but proof that Papuans were forced at gunpoint to accept a new colonial ruler. There is a widespread perception that Papuans were robbed of their right to self-determination. In the words of one human rights worker: "There is the problem of the annexation of Papua. The people believe it was not fair. That is the source of the problems between the people and the Indonesian government, why conflict continues to happen."

This theme of self-determination denied persists, and continues to be one of the issues at the root of conflict. The democratic governments that emerged in Indonesia after the fall of President Suharto in 1998 offered special autonomy for Papua, a move with potential to resolve the conflict. In avoiding the symbolic aspects and refusing to engage in a dialogue of historical narratives, however, the "autonomy" package failed to solve anything. Conflict continues in part because the historical facts are so disputed. Historical narratives are not stories told in classrooms and on the campaign trail; they also justify acts of violence and fuel conflict. As a 2005 protest pointed out, there is still Indonesian state violence committed against West Papuans "merely because they have a different understanding of history."[

"Special autonomy" has done nothing to address this problem. The Papuan call for historical dialogue, in the final autonomy package, became a commission empowered to "provide clarification of Papua’s history in order to strengthen the people’s unity in the State of the Republic of Indonesia."[
] Other tensions, over land, uneven development, and so on, contribute to conflict. Yet no proposed solution grounded in these disputes has been able to move the conflict closer to resolution. Clashing historical understandings remain one of the major barriers to conflict resolution.

In the dialogue that achieved a peace deal in Aceh, both sides agreed to lay aside their historical grievances and start fresh. Such an approach is more challenging in West Papua, where the perception of historical betrayal fuels nationalist sentiment. An acknowledgement of historical grievances should be included in any dialogue, as a key starting point, or else dialogue will ignore key causes of conflict. This has been accepted in the "Papua Road Map" from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), but not as yet by the Indonesian government. As road map coordinating author Muridan Widodo wrote: "History should not be treated as a fixed position involving absolute truth and determining collective identity. Rather, history should be treated as a negotiable construction involving acceptance and compromise, and providing benefits for both parties rather than being the monopoly of just one side. Otherwise, history in Papua will perpetuate an endless cycle of violence."[
] Perceptions of the past often inform conflict. A dialogue in which clashing historical narratives engage can, in turn, be an important tool in resolving conflict.

[1] Sukarno interview, Report on Indonesia, Nov. 1957-Jan. 1958, p. 21.

[2] Subversive Activities in Indonesia: The Jungschleager and Schmidt Affairs (Jakarta: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, n.d. [1957]), p. 76.

[3] Jean Gelman Taylor, Indonesia: Peoples and Histories (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 362; Adam cited in Armando Siahaan, "Setting History Straight," Jakarta Globe, 30 April 2009.

[4] "Papuans at U.N. Score Indonesia," New York Times, Oct. 20, 1968.

[5] Voice of the Negroids of the Pacific to the Negroids Throughout the World (Hollandia, 1961).

[6] "Bangsa Papua telah berdaulat sebagai sebuah bangsa dan negara sejak 1 Desember 1961." Second Papuan Congress resolution, 4 June 2000. The official English version adopts the name West Papua for international consumption: "The People of West Papua has been Independent as a Sovereign Nation and State since 1 December 1961."

[7] Dewan Adat Papua protest demands, 12 Aug. 2005.

[8] Sekretariat Keadilan dan Perdamaian, Keuskupan Jayapura, Catatan Perkembangan Terkini di Papua : Otonomi Khusus, proses dan hasil akhirnya [Social-Political note on recent developments
in Papua: the special autonomy process and final results]
(Jayapura, 2001).

[9] Muridan S. Widodo, "Negotiating the Past and Looking to the Future," Inside Indonesia no. 98 (Oct.-Dec. 2009).

Freedom Flotilla Challenges Indonesian Perceptions of Papuans’ Political Status

A small ship, The Pog, has challenged Indonesia’s assertion of sovereignty over. In early September, the vessel sailed from Australia bound for West Papua carrying sacred water and campfire ash provided by Australian Aborigines. The gifts were offered to celebrate the millennia of connection between the Australian Aboriginal population and the Papuans.

The Indonesian authorities never responded to repeated requests from the "flotilla" for dialogue. Instead, the small craft faced an intensive mobilization of land and sea security forces intended to keep it out of Indonesian waters and to prevent Papuans from welcoming the visitors. Ultimately, members of the flotilla sailed a small dinghy on which they were able to meet secretly with a small group who sailed from West Papua to receive the sacred gifts.

The Indonesian security forces staged a brutal crackdown targeting thousands of Papuans who organized peaceful welcoming ceremonies for the visitors. Four West Papuans were charged with treason for organizing prayer gathering in support of the flotilla. The treason charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Amnesty International noted that the four were "arrested and charged solely for their peaceful political activism, which remains highly restricted in Papua".

Australian-based West Papuans said another five activists were arrested for organizing celebratory functions as the gifts brought by the flotilla were taken on a tour of the disputed territory.

A group of Papuans, some of whom had met the flotilla at sea, fled to Australia to escape pursuing Indonesian security forces, where they appealed for political asylum. Instead, Australia quickly transferred the group to Papua New Guinea, in apparent violation of their internationally recognized right to asylum. The group included a ten year old child. Canberra’s decision to deny asylum has prompted protest and criticism within Australia.

Continuing Brimob Persecution in Papuan Central Highlands

West Papua Media (WPM) reported September 25 that Indonesian police assaulted Papuans in Waghete near Paniai in the Papuan Central Highlands, killing one and injuring three. According to the report the police attack on peaceful civilians was part of a crackdown staged by police as part of a "sweeping operation" inaugurated in 2011.

Local witnesses described the September 23 operations in Waghete as including house sweeps by hundreds of Brimob personnel (heavily-armed Indonesian police) looking for supporters of Papuan independence. The police confiscated mobile phones searching for Papuan pro-independence songs and music and searched for nukens (dillybags) with any image of the banned Morning Star Flag. During the evening raids, Papuan men with long hair, long beards or dreadlocks were ordered at gunpoint by Brimob officers to cut their hair or beards on the spot or they would be shot dead. Long hair or beards are seen as symbols of pro-independence sentiment, and "offenders" are regularly punished, according to local human rights activists and previous investigations by WPM.

West Papua Media notes that these sweeps have been a weekly occurrence since late 2011. West Papua Media reported in December 2011 on Operation Matoa. That operation resulted in the displacement of more than14,000 people and the destruction of some 150 villages.

WPAT Comment: Indonesian restrictions on foreign journalists and intimidation of Indonesian journalists have not prevented the international community form learning of abuses such as those described above thanks in large measure to the timely and accurate accounts relayed by West Papua Media based on its network of courageous reporters in West Papua.

Indonesian Commission on Human Rights Admits Constraints

A member of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) has acknowledged severe constraints on the body in addressing human rights violations in West Papua. Decky Natalius Pigai explained to JUBI that Komnas HAM was dealing with eleven cases of grave human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces in West Papua, including the Wamena and Wasior cases (which occurred during the 1980s). He noted that these were not difficult cases to resolve, but that nevertheless "strong pressure was needed from the community in order to resolve them."

Decky also mentioned other unsolved cases, such as the murder of Papuan cultural and political leader Arnold Ap in 1984, most likely by Indonesia’s Kopassus special forces. The murder has never been prosecuted nor has Komnas HAM addressed the killing. Decky said that more recent cases such as the murder of Mako Tabuni (chairman of the KNPB) who was killed earlier this year, were even more difficult to deal with. ‘Maybe, a cooling off period is needed before this can happen. Let’s hope that this will occur in 2016 or 2017 while those who were responsible for these cases are still active.," he said.

Later, he said that "there were as many as five or six thousand violations of human rights each year in the two provinces of Papua and West Papua."

WPAT COMMENT: This candor by a Komnas HAM member is revealing with regards to the weakness of the official Indonesian Human Rights Commission in addressing human rights violations committed by Indonesian security forces. Security force crimes against civilians, particularly in West Papua, continue in part because perpetrators remain unaccountable due to corrupt prosecutors, incompetent courts and a Indonesian Human Rights Commission that lacks the courage and the power to act.

Expansion of Military Powers Ominous for Papuans

The Indonesian military (TNI) has announced that it is returning to the Suharto era doctrine of "dual function" which enables it to exert substantial influence over political, economic and security affairs throughout the Indonesian archipelago, down to sub-district and even village level. The broad expansion of TNI power and authority was framed as a response to the purported changing nature of the terror threat in the archipelago posed by a terrorist change in tactics wherein they increasingly operate in smaller units that are more difficult to track.

"The Army holds a territorial function that reaches even to the furthest village," BNPT Deputy Director Agus Surya Bakti said. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on September 5 calls for district-level military personnel, known as Babinsa (village development officers) to watch out for suspicious activities, working with local police and local community leaders.

WPAT Comment: The implication of this expansion of the TNI’s role is especially ominous for the Papuan people. Indonesian security forces are already extensively deployed in West Papua, rendering it one of the most heavily militarized areas in Southeast Asia, with military, police and intelligence agents operating at nearly all levels. Expanding TNI authority to address "terrorist" challenges could exacerbate already severe military pressure on Papuans seeking to exercise their rights. The Indonesian government has in the past portrayed such peaceful efforts as "separatist" and has linked "separatism" with "terrorism."

Vanuatu Calls for UN to Support West Papuans’ Rights

Moana Kalosil Carcasses, Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu, blasted the UN for ignoring the rights of the people of West Papua. In a speech, he told the UN General Assembly that "We can talk all about good governance and rule of law and
respect for human rights. But when it comes to the issue of the rights of the people of West Papua, our voices are muted even in this podium." He asked how can we "ignore hundreds of thousands of West Papuans who have been brutally beaten and murdered?"

He said "It is time for the United Nation to move beyond its periphery and address and rectify some historical error.” And heurged the UN "to appoint a Special Representative to investigate alleged human rights violations in West Papua Indonesia and their political status in light of the controversies surrounding the UN Temporary Executive Authority Administration in the 1960s."

He added “It is clear from many historical records that the Melanesian people of West Papua were the scapegoat of Cold war politics and were sacrificed to gratify the appetite for the natural resources which this country possess. Today they are still the victims of ignorance of the UN.”

Links to the video and the text of the speech here:


Problems in U.S. Security Assistance

A September 17 ProPublica article by Cora Currier reviewed mounting criticism of the complex and non-transparent programs through which the U.S. government funnels security assistance. Efforts are underway in Congress to legislate greater transparency and monitoring of these and other foreign aid programs. WPAT notes that security assistance increasingly has flowed to the rogue, unaccountable Indonesian security forces through just such programs.

AWPA Note Ban On Papuan Demo Attempting to Celebrate Democracy

A September 13 press release by the Australia West Papua Association (Sydney) noted that Manokwari District Police banned a peaceful rally by the KNPB intended to celebrate democracy. The planned September 16 rally would have commemorated a UN General Assembly resolution in 2007 which declared September 15 the "International Day of Democracy."

Tightening Indonesian-Melanesian Ties Jeopardized by Human Rights
Abuse in West Papua

A September 28 article by Straits Times senior writer Bruce Gale reviews warming ties between Melanesian states and Indonesia. The Melanesian governments are said to be interested in balancing existing ties with Australia, the U.S. and China through increasing contacts with Indonesia and ASEAN. The writer notes, however, that the development runs counter to strong Melanesian sympathy for the plight of West Papuans under Indonesian control. He observes, "it may only take a few more reports of human rights violations by the Indonesian military towards Papuans to undermine the entire fence- mending process." At its recent summit, MSG leaders, for the first time, publicly supported West Papua’s right to self-determination (see July 2013 West Papua Report).

The Failure of Education in West Papua’s Highlands

Bobby Anderson has written a devastating critique of education in West Papua’s highlands for Inside Indonesia. Limited education services in the region have been a serious problem well back into the Dutch colonial era, but under Indonesian control Papuan youths have been largely abandoned. Anderson blames the post-Suharto decentralization as having been particularly ineffective. Anderson offers solutions to the ongoing crisis. He concludes that "Anyone who continues to blame Papuan children for their lack of education must simply be ignored. Teachers who do this should be fired."

Death Rates for Mothers and Children Highest in Indonesia

A September 24 report carried in Bintang Papua, notes that the death rates for women and children in the provinces of Papua and West Papua are the highest in Indonesia. The report is sourced to the Dr. Paulina Watofa, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Cenderawasih University.

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