Skip to content

Farewell yet again to another Papuan leader

May 24, 2016


Farewell yet again to another Papuan leader

Thank you very much for your work Robert Jitmau, I wish you had more time with us. Papua needed you, and actually still needs you. Farewell, please be with us in spirit, sir, and help us to carry on with your work.

Ligia Judith Giay

Published 7:37 PM, May 23, 2016
Updated 7:37 PM, May 23, 2016

Robert Jitmau just died.

He was 40 years old. He was a dedicated advocate for ‘Pasar Mama-Mama Papua’, a movement of Papuan women who are famous in Papua as vendors in the market. A partner to a struggling community intent on retaining their place in an increasingly capitalized urban space.

He was victim to a deliberate hit-and-run that cost him his life. Suspicion over the "accident" flourishes; this is not the first time Papuans lost a leader. I am very certain he will not be the last.

If the past taught us one thing, it is that we will not get any closure. But just in case his death becomes an exception to the rule and proven as a pure accident, the government still has to reflect on why people so readily accept the possibility of him being killed. Indonesia needs to reflect on why upon hearing of his death, the reflex is to suspect the involvement of the government and its apparatus.

The government and its apparatus are guilty of these deaths, until proven otherwise.

This is a rough example on how such conversations proceed. A: ‘Robert Jitmau just died from an accident. We suspect Indonesia is involved.’ B: ‘I see; I can imagine Indonesia doing that. It is typical of them.’

After all, in Papua when someone of Jitmau’s stature dies, we don’t talk about homicides, we talk about politically motivated killings.

Otherwise, how are we supposed to talk about the deaths of Arnold Ap, Theys Eluay, Mako Tabuni, and now Robert Jitmau? What words are we supposed to use to characterise the unnatural deaths of Papuan leaders?

Human rights violations

Sometimes it seems like Papua is a place to test the attention span of a human rights advocate. Human rights issues seem to pile up faster than advocates can keep up with. Even yesterday, people were still monitoring Steven Itlay.

Itlay is detained for leading a mass praying for the success of ULMWP (Free West Papua)’s campaign to be a member of MSG (Melanesian Spearhead Group).

A friend recently reported 4 separate cases of hit-and-run that resulted in two deaths and 3 people sustaining heavy injuries. And all that happened between May 11 and May 20, 2016. As a lay person, I can barely keep up with the news, I cannot imagine having to advocate for them. And then this happened.

Now what?

How do you advocate in these circumstances? Because unfortunately, Robert Jitmau is one among many. Robert Jitmau is well-known, and we will remember him and his work. In a place like Papua, with a person like Jitmau, death is sadly an occupational hazard.

His job is a dangerous job in a dangerous place. That Jitmau was willing to do that, speaks of his character and courage. In these conditions, one can only take comfort in that dignity. Many others, who were not as well-known as Jitmau, have not been afforded the dignity of having names (let alone legacy).

Instead, they have to make do with hopefully making it to the statistics in a report the human right advocates write and publish. And here I am thinking of people who died during the 1999 Biak Massacre and the numerous military operations in Papua. How do you advocate for the ones for whom you have no name? How do you advocate for a constantly growing list of human rights violations?


All that does not discount the agony of having to confront Jitmau’s death. Knowing that we will remember him is of hollow consolation. He will remain in memory, but what good does the memory of a marginalized community do? How does memory serve people who cannot act on those memories?

So no, this does not make losing him any easier, if possible, it makes it even more difficult. Because the difficulty to move on from this memory will only serve to reinforce the sense of helplessness we already feel.

And that is the crux of the Papuan experience.

There are people who insist that Papuans should forgive and move on, and that Papuans should wait until this death has been investigated. That these deaths are isolated incidents, that there is no structural element to the violence Papuans continue to experience.

To these people, I need answers to at least 3 questions.


Which cases of human rights violations in Papua do you know have been solved? Do you still remember the 2014 shooting in Enarotali? That case is still not closed and I don’t think it ever will be. I will be happy if I am proven wrong.

How is a Papuan supposed to be to avoid these violations? What kind of Papuan do you want? What kind of Papuan does not deserve these violations?

I feel like I need to ask for specifics here, because Indonesia does have a history of thinking some human rights violations are more acceptable than others.

Communists apparently deserve to die because they don’t know God (not true). LGBTs deserve no equal rights, because their mere existence is a propaganda of an ‘LGBT lifestyle’ (there is no such thing as an ‘LGBT lifestyle’). So, how should a Papuan behave to ‘deserve’ this full platter of human rights?

But most importantly, I want to know what are we supposed to do with all these deaths? What are we supposed to do with all these memories? And just in case you’re feeling smart, tell me, how do we move on from something like this without closure?

And no, I am not a friend of Robert Jitmau. I was not that lucky. But I know of his work and that he was a great man.

Thank you very much for your work sir, I wish you had more time with us. Papua needed you, and actually still needs you. Farewell, please be with us in spirit, sir, and help us to carry on with your work. For now, my thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends. –

Gia is born and raised in Jayapura. She completed her BA in History from Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta. She is currently enrolled as a Research Master student in the Colonial and Global History department in Leiden University.


Act now to Reveal the Truth, Acknowledge the Crime: Urge your U.S. Senator to co-sponsor S.Res. 273.

Please join Noam Chomsky in supporting ETAN. Go to

John M. Miller, National Coordinator
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
Phone: +1-917-690-4391
Email: etan Skype: john.m.miller
Twitter: @etan009 Web:

2012 Recipient of the Order of Timor (Ordem Timor)

Subscribe to ETAN’s email lists:

Send a blank e-mail message to info to for information on ETAN’s electronic resources on Timor-Leste, West Papua and Indonesia.

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: