Skip to content

Widodo challenged, access, indigenous land rights, Scotland, Fiji, MIFEE, Vanuatu

October 7, 2014

Widodo challenged, access, indigenous land rights, Scotland, Fiji, MIFEE, Vanuatu

West Papua Report
October 2014

This is the 126th 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 analysis 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.


This month’s PERSPECTIVE by WPAT’s Edmund McWilliams looks at the challenges facing incoming President Joko Widodo, including those posed by West Papua.

This edition’s UPDATE groups urge police to provide security to West Papua human rights defenders and reviews growing Indonesian and international calls for an end to repression in West Papua with particular focus on demands for an end to restrictions on access by journalists and others to West Papua. The surge in concern is prompted in large measure by the continued detention of two French journalists whose has been the focus of numerous appeals for their prompt release (see September 2014 West Papua Report). A local Papuan official drew attention to the release of greenhouse gases associate with the MIFEE project. A West Papuan conference hosted by Vanuatu has been postponed to December. Attacks on Indonesian security forces in the Papuan highlands continued in September. Indonesia’s national Human Rights Commission is holding a series of hearings on the land rights of indigenous peoples, including in West Papua, The U.S. military has begun training for Indonesian military personnel with the AH-64 Apache helicopters which will enhance TNI capacity to conduct "sweep" operations in West Papua.

CHRONICLE notes an analysis by Al Jazeera America of the targeting of journalists in West Papua. Fijian NGO urges government to support West Papua, The September referendum which afforded Scotland a vote on their political status prompted several analyses that highlighted the continuing denial of the right to self-determination in West Papua.


President-elect Widodo Faces Many Challenges
by Ed McWilliams

President-elect Joko "Jokowi" Widodo faces serious challenges prepares to take office. In the Indonesian parliament (DPR), the parties that he defeated in the presidential election are moving to counter his reform agenda. And the old elites, who have long sought to restore their control over the political process, have recently made significant headway in rolling back the democratic reforms of the past 16 years.

During an early morning session of the national parliament (DPR), losing Presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s "Red and White" coalition passed legislation ending direct election of local officials on September 26. The vote restores the practice of Regional Representative Councils (DPRD) selecting governors and mayors. The Red and White Coalition currently controls at least 31 provincial legislatures, and should the coalition remain stable, it could easily pick nearly all of the nation’s governors. The national Parliament also changed its own rules such that Widodo’s PDI-P – the party with the most representatives – and its partner parties are frozen out of all legislative leadership posts.

The Prabowo-led coalition is now seeking t o end to the direct election of the President. If it succeeds the Suharto-era practice of parliament selecting the president would be restored.

A large majority of Indonesian voters are opposed to these changes, which pose a fundamental challenge to the democratic progress made since the dictator Suharto was overthrown. A number of demonstrations and online protests were held prior to and after the vote, and a number of legal challenges to the change in elections are in the courts.


The threat posed to this assertion of parliamentary power to Widodo’s own tenure should not be dismissed. A draft plan to revise the regulations of Indonesia’s upper house, the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), would make it easier to remove a President. Parliament could exploit or create a crisis to provide a basis to remove the President.

In practical terms, such a bold move could only be done with the consent, or conceivably at the behest of the Indonesian military (TNI). This happened in 2001, when President Abdurrahman Wahid, popularly known as Gus Dur, a reformer on many fronts, notably regarding the military and policy toward West Papua, found himself at loggerheads with parliament. In July 2001, during a tense political struggle, Wahid sought to suspend the Parliament, a power which he arguably was entitled to exercise. Crucially, however, current President Yudhoyono, then the Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, supported by the military, refused to obey President Wahid’s order to implement a state of emergency. Instead, the military brought 40,000 troops and police into Jakarta. The military’s insubordination amounted to a coup, in which the Parliament subsequently elevated Wahid’s Vice President, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to the presidency. Wahid’s reforms stalled and the Indonesian security forces launched brutal crackdowns on Aceh and West Papua.

President-elect Widodo intends to press forward with reforms, notably to attack corruption. (Indonesia’s effective anti-corruption commission is another target of parliament. ) During his campaign for President, he pledged to investigate the disappearance of 13 political activists in the late 1990s.

He also has signaled a willingness to take a new approach toward the rights of indigenous peoples, and more specifically to pursue new policies toward West Papua (see September 2104 West Papua Report). The recently ended parliament, meanwhile, failed to pass legislation protecting customary land rights of the archipelago’s indigenous people and other ways empower them within the confines of Indonesian law.

Military Reform

The President-elect has said little regarding the need to reform the military or to make it accountable for its criminal actions, corruption and notably its long history of human rights abuse and lack of accountability. During the campaign he spoke of his desire to increase the military budget. The Indonesian military can expect a harmonious relationship with the new President. There is at least one area, however, where a reform-oriented Widodo administration could wind up at cross purposes with the TNI. Notwithstanding the legislative requirement to dismantle its empire of legal and illegal businesses by 2009, the TNI remains deeply involved in all manner of enterprises. If President Widodo were determined to attack the systemic corruption that pervades the Indonesian economy, he would inevitably run-up against powers within and allied to the TNI elite.

A key platform for TNI financial and commercial interest is West Papua where it has long been deeply engaged in the exploitation of the vast natural resources. Logging and other forest operations, rent-taking from major international corporate operations such as Freeport-McMoran and BP, and diversion of state funds intended for "development" have long assured the flow of wealth into TNI coffers.

West Papua

President-elect Widodo has also signaled an openness to dialogue with West Papuans and even spoken publicly of his intention to end the restrictions which severely limit access to or travel within West Papua for international journalists, UN personnel and human rights and humanitarian NGOs. He has spoken of creating a special Presidential office there to facilitate communications with Papuans. (See September 2014 West Papua Report)

These changes in the way a Widodo administration wants to deal with West Papua harken back to reforms pursued by President Wahid, who made symbolic gestures such as allowing Papuans to fly their own morning star flag, while he engaged in dialogue about substantive issues. It is likely that such new thinking toward West Papua has not gone down well with the TNI. In any discussions, Papuans will certainly convey their long-standing concern over the militarization of West Papua, the continuing violations of human rights there by the security and intelligence forces, and the systematic lack of accountability for that abuse.

The TNI would likely oppose any lifting of the veil behind which it and police abuse and intimidate the Papuan population. Open access to West Papua by international journalists and other observers would expose TNI brutality and criminality.

The recent arrest and continued detention of two French journalists could well be a message from the military to Widodo that his good intentions vis-a-vis Papuans are unwelcome and unacceptable. The fate of an earlier reform-oriented Indonesian President will presumably weigh on this new one.

Sign ETAN’s Petition to U.S. Government

Release the Records,
Acknowledge the Crimes of 1965/66 Mass Violence in Indonesia


Rights Groups Urge Police to Provide Security to West Papua Human Rights Defenders

Prominent rights groups have urged the police to provide better security and protection for human rights defenders working in West Papua. In a joint statement, the groups, said in part: "We deplore the attitude of the police force in handling cases related to human rights defenders."

Nasional Papua Solidaritas (Napas), Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua (Papuan Student Alliance, AMP). the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), the Komite Persiapan Federasi Mahasiswa Kerakyatan (Preparatory Committee of the Federation of Student Democracy, KP-FMK) issued the statement.

NAPAS’s Elias Petege, told SuaraPapua that NGOs in Jakarta had received information concerning police pressure targeting Gustaf Kawer, and acts of violence by unknown people against Latifah Anum Siregar. Petege noted that both had been "defending the oppressed people of Papua."

Petege noted that the international community has been precluded from monitoring developments in West Papua, efforts to silence those active in West Papua’s "democratic space" had continued.

Hariz Azhar, coordinator of KontraS contended that law enforcement officials need to comply with Law No. 18/2003 dealing with lawyers, in particular Articles 14, 15 and 16. Azhar asserted that Gustaf’s conduct in defending his client was clearly within the law.

The groups called on the Indonesian government to protect human rights defenders in West Papua, as recommended in the Universal Periodic Review in 2012. They urged the government to conduct a full and independent investigation of violence against human rights defenders. The groups said that the police must end the prosecution of Kawer and to investigate violence committed against Anum Siregar.

NGO’s Raise West Papua Access at UN

Indonesian and international NGOs jointly addressed the UN Human Rights Council to demand the Indonesian government improve freedom of expression in the provinces of Papua and West Papua. They also called for release of the detained French journalists.

In mid-September Franciscans International, joined with 21 other groups, to urge the government of Indonesia to improve access for foreign journalists to West Papua and allow the long-postponed visit of UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to take place. The appeal called for the immediate release of the imprisoned French journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat. The journalists have been held since early August.

Poengky Indarti, Executive director of Imparsial, told the Jakarta Globe that "the tight restrictions around foreign media access to Papua were unhelpful." She said "It creates the impression that Papua is closed for international reporting."

Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club Likens Detention of French Journalists to Suharto Era

The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) expressed concern over the continued detention without charge of two French journalists. The JFCC wrote that in previous visa violation cases foreign journalists were simply deported. The JFCC calls "he continuation of restrictive state policies on journalists reporting in the Papua region, which are a sad reminder of the Suharto regime, and a stain on Indonesia’s transition to democracy and claims by its government that it supports a free press and human rights."

The statement concludes with an appeal to President-elect Widodo "to immediately lift all restrictions on foreign journalists travelling to the Papua region. These restrictions only harm Indonesia’s international reputation as a country that values press freedom, and encourage inaccurate and simplistic reporting of the issues in the region." (See full statement at )

More Calls for Media Access in West Papua

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) has called on New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to pressure Indonesian President Joko Widodo to release two French journalists and a West Papuan indigenous leader from prison.

The NZCTU joined others, including West Papua Action Auckland, representatives of the Melanesian community, and the Green Party, in demanding that the National Party government act on behalf of journalists Thomas Dandois and Valentine Bourrat and West Papuan indigenous leader Areki Wanimbo, who was arrested after giving journalists an interview.

The Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF) called on President-elect Joko Widodo to keep his campaign promise to open up access to West Papua. The PFF Co-Chair Monica Miller said that Widodo’s failure to take action would raise questions about who really controls West Papua.

New Zealand’s West Papua Action Auckland organized a vigil on September 23 to call attention to the absence of press freedoms and other human rights issues in West Papua. The vigil urged the New Zealand government and the French Embassy in Wellington to press Indonesia to free the French journalists and their sources. Maire Leadbeater of West Papua Action Auckland said "the only way journalists could get stories out of West Papua was by bending the rules." She spoke against the "intense interrogation" by the Indonesian military of West Papuan activists who met with Dandois and Bourrat.

Plantation in Papua Source of Greenhouse Gases

Tangke Mangi, an official from Merauke, has told the local daily Bintang Papua that the area’s alarmingly high greenhouse gas emissions rate results from deforestation with the Merauke Regency’s contributing nearly half of the Papua province’s emissions. Mangi told Bintang that the high rate results from rapid forest degradation caused by the huge agro-development project known as the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) . Unless action is taken, emissions are expected to increase as more companies take up permits at the estate. (WPAT Note: see below)

Papuan Conference in Vanuatu Postponed

The West Papua Reunification Committee announced that the Papuan conference scheduled to open at the end of September in Vanuatu has been postponed until December 1-4. Many of the expected 80 Papuan participants reportedly encountered travel difficulties. The conference is intended to formalize a unified bid for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

The MSG deferred action on an application by the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation in 2013, urging instead a more representative bid from a broader representation of Papuans.

New Violence in West Papuan Highlands

The Jakarta Globe reported on September 25 that an Indonesian soldier was killed during an armed attack on four soldiers at an Ilaga market in the Central Highlands Puncak regency. The other soldiers were not hurt. According to military sources cited by the Globe, 10 people were involved in the attack, which followed a July attack on a military post in Tingginambut, also in Puncak Jaya District. The Globe reports notes that the OPM is active in the area. As noted in West Papua Report coverage of the July incident , the OPM activity in the past has prompted a heavy response by Indonesian security forces

Komnas HAM Holds Inquiry on Land Disputes

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) launched a series of public meetings in September that will focus on land disputes. The hearings will include public sessions in West Papua as well as in North Sumatra, Banten, West Kalimantan, and Maluku. Land disputes have long been a point of tension in Indonesia, often pitting major corporations or wealthy Indonesians against local landowners. Frequently, the major corporate interests enjoy the support of security forces.

Further complicating the issue, as noted by AMAN secretary-general Abdon Nababan, are conflicts of interest within the Forestry Ministry, which now handles almost all aspects of forest management, including forest production, forestry planning, and forest protection and conservation. This accounts for the government’s lack of initiative in settling the country’s customary land disputes, he explained. To avoid a further conflicts of interest, Abdon said that the new administration of president-elect Widodo dissolve the Forestry Ministry and split its current duties among other ministries.

"The absence of formal procedure to settle disputes over customary land has forced businesses and indigenous communities to rely on informal agreements to prevent further conflicts. In West Papua, there is a long history of businesses ignoring indigenous communities’ customary land rights or breaking deals struck between the communities and the businesses" writes the Jakarta Post.

Lawmakers and the government representatives were deliberating a bill on the Recognition and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous People (PPHMA) to create a means for indigenous people to register their communities and to map their customary areas. This would have implemented a court ruling that restricted the state’s authority over customary forests. But the DPR ended its session without acting on a bill.
In May 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled in a review filed by the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) that articles in the existing 1999 Forestry Law contradicted the constitution. The provisions prevented indigenous people from collectively using natural resources in their territories The court restricted the authority of the state over customary forests located in the territories of indigenous people.

"Our hopes now lie in the hands of the president- and vice president-elect since they promised that they will commit to protecting and empowering the rights of indigenous people," said environmental policy expert Noer Fauzi Rachman .

U.S. Military Apache Helicopter Joint-Training Exercise Enhances TNI Capacity to Strike Papuan Targets

Garuda Shield 2014, a joint Indonesian-US training operations included familiarization for TNI units that will deploy with the U.S.-supplied AH-64 Apache helicopters. As has been noted in previous WPAT commentary, these helicopters significantly enhance TNI capability to conduct "sweep" operations in West Papua. Such "sweep" operations have had devastating impact on Papuan civilians, who repeatedly have been driven from their villages by attacking Indonesian security forces, purportedly pursuing armed pro-independence fighters.

The Garuda Shield 2014 exercise "is a bilateral, tactical military exercise sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific Command and hosted by the Indonesian armed forces. Approximately 1,200 personnel from U.S. Army and Indonesian Armed Forces will conduct a series of training events focused on what the US military euphemistically describes as peace support operations."


Al Jazeera on Media Freedom in West Papua

Al Jazeera America published a lengthy commentary and analysis about media freedom in West Papua that includes a detailed account of the intimidation of journalists including the French journalists now in Indonesian custody in West Papua. The anonymous author writes: "While the government says journalists can travel freely in some parts of West Papua, as tourists can, reporters inquiring about political and human rights issues are routinely denied the permit required to enter. The policy amounts to a de facto ban on real reporting and is condemned by the United Nations, Western governments and human-rights organizations."

Fiji NGO Urge Support for West Papuans

Fiji’s Coalition of Human Rights pledged to lobby its government to "take a stand on behalf of our Papuan brothers" who are "suffering human rights violations, discrimination and abuse." Rights activist Ms. Shamima Ali told the media that it was important for Fiji, as a Pacific brother, to join the fight against torture and human rights violations in West Papua.

The Scottish Precedent

A September 24 article in The Interpreter, discusses self-determination in West Papua in the context of the recent vote on Scottish independence. The article, "Scotland: Indonesia is Watching" cites Papuan activist Benny Wenda as telling Scots that he hopes one day Papuans would some day get the same chance at self-determination.

For its part, the Jakarta Post noted in an editorial comment: Scotland’s peaceful referendum showed Indonesia that in a democracy, "There are civilized ways of dealing with independence aspirations other than treating them as a security threat," including respecting cultural differences, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and devolving certain powers to the regions to give them more direct control over their assets and development. (WPAT Comment: Interestingly, the Jakarta Post did not go so far as advocating the "civilized way" of a "peaceful referendum" for Papuans.)

Johannes Nugroho, writing in the Jakarta Globe on September 19, offers a different, thoughtful assessment of Jakarta’s handling of the challenges it faces in West Papua:

"The best Indonesian leader to deal with the Papuans was perhaps President Abdurrahman Wahid, who had enough sensitivity to recognize that a change of name was in order for Papua, previously called Irian Jaya. He even allowed the Papuans to fly their ‘Bintang Kejora’ flag, an act that is considered treason nowadays. The same sensitivity, regrettably, is lacking today in Jakarta, where the conventional wisdom has it that Papuan separatism is rooted in economics. Indeed, there is a widespread belief among our bureaucrats that when these easternmost provinces are brought to the same levels of development, education and prosperity as the rest of the country, the desire for separatism will cease.
"Unfortunately, this hypothesis fails to take into account the crucial questions of ethnohistorical identity and culture. The people of Papua, racially as well as culturally, have less in common with the largest ethnic group in the country, the Javanese, than the people of Aceh. Therefore, Jakarta’s attempts to ‘Indonesianize,’ or rather, in most cases, ‘Javanize’ the two provinces, will only store up trouble for the future.
"As the Scottish case has demonstrated, more than economics is needed to make a political union relevant to minority groups like the Papuans. Greater sensitivity is overdue in the way Jakarta seeks to discourage Papuans from separatism. Perhaps the best way to keep them in our unitary state is to protect their right to be Papuan, unique in their own history and traditions, rather than try to make them more like the rest of the country."

Link to this issue:

Back issues of West Papua Report

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: