SYDNEY, Dec 14, 2011 (IPS) – The Indonesian government’s offer of development for West Papua, following the crackdown by security forces on a pro-independence meeting in Jayapura in October, is unlikely to succeed in the absence of political dialogue and calls for self-determination are expected to continue.
For half a century, the indigenous population of the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua in western New Guinea, who are ethnically and culturally related to Melanesians of the neighbouring Pacific Islands, have campaigned for the self-government first initiated as Dutch colonial rule ended in the early 1960s.
The First Papuan People’s Congress in 1961 was part of decolonisation but thwarted by incorporation of the territory into Indonesia after the United Nations-supervised ‘Act of Free Choice’ on the political future of West Papua in 1969 was apparently manipulated to guarantee a majority vote for integration.
The granting of Special Autonomy in 2001, following the Second Papuan Congress, failed to improve the social and economic status or political freedoms of West Papuans.
The Third Papuan Congress led by Selpius Bobii, Papuan Chair of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), was convened in Abepura, Jayapura, with approximately 5,000 attending despite the heavy presence of Indonesian security forces.
At the close of the congress on Oct. 19, and following declaration of an independent West Papua, violence broke out as security officers triggered guns to disperse the crowd, fired tear gas and arrested approximately 300 participants.
Indonesian human rights organisation, Kontras, reported evidence of security forces committing “killings, arbitrary arrests, torture and deeds of other inhumane and excessive use of force” against congress participants, while those arrested suffered “acts of violence in the form of beatings with wood, the barrels of guns and were kicked and beaten.”
Six delegates are now dead and the six who remain arrested, including Selpius Bobii, Forkorus Yaboisembut, Chair of the Papuan Customary Council, and Edison Waromi, president of the West Papua National Authority, are charged with treason.
Large pro-independence demonstrations across the provinces over the past year have been galvanised by escalating frustration at ten years of failed Special Autonomy, impunity of human rights abuses by security forces and the government’s promotion of Indonesian migration to Papua and West Papua, resulting in an indigenous demographic minority.
Concurrently the movement has been boosted by the Vanuatu Government’s decision in 2010 to include support for West Papuan Independence in its foreign policy and a high profile International Lawyers for West Papua conference in Britain in August.
Camellia Webb-Gannon, West Papua project co-ordinator, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney, explained: “The central government has failed to pass crucial legislation that would have allowed Special Autonomy to be fully implemented.
“The splitting of West Papua into two provinces undermined Special Autonomy and started the process of ‘pemekeran’ through which Papua and West Papua are being administratively fragmented and thus weakened. Many of the freedoms promised under Special Autonomy, such as the right to fly the (separatist) Morning Star flag, have since been revoked.”
While the government also devolved responsibility for substantial revenues from the giant Freeport-McMoRan-owned Grasberg copper and gold mine in Timika, which generates 50 percent of Papua’s GDP, the province has the lowest human development index in Indonesia.
“Although Papua and West Papua are awash with funds flowing back from the centre, the extent of corruption at the provincial and local administrative levels mean that most of this money never makes its way to the projects and people that need it most,” said Webb-Gannon.
Special Autonomy funds prop up elite corruption and perpetuate military rent-seeking behaviour as there is inadequate restriction on and monitoring of these funds, Webb-Gannon added.
While Indonesia fears secession could lead to national disintegration, ‘makar’ treason laws criminalise separatist demonstrations and the government benefits substantially from the province’s natural resources.
Indonesia has emerged as a strong democracy since the end of the militaristic Suharto regime in 1998, but the power of the armed forces remains extant and their role in human rights abuses, corruption and extortion largely immune to challenges from the state or civil society.
Human Rights Watch reports that: “New allegations of security force involvement in torture emerged in 2010, but the military consistently shields its officers from investigations and the government makes little effort to hold them accountable. Nor was there any progress on a bill before parliament that would give civilian courts jurisdiction to try soldiers accused of committing abuses against civilians.”
Illegal activities of the Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia) or TNI in the Papuan provinces includes drug smuggling, prostitution, trade of tropical birds, legal and illegal logging operations, gambling and extorting payments from local villagers.
Corruption watchdog, Global Witness, also revealed in 2005 payments of millions of dollars to the TNI from the Freeport mining company for security services at the Grasberg mine, where recent violent confrontations between the TNI and workers, who have been striking since Sep. 15 over pay grievances, resulted in the death of a miner in mid-October.
Now the Indonesian government has announced the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua will be fast tracking development, overseeing allocation of autonomy funds and initiating dialogue with local civilian groups.
Neles Tebay, a priest with the Catholic Diocese of Jayapura, who is campaigning for peace talks, said: “The West Papuan people have not been treated as human beings and the trust has been broken. Trust between the Indonesian government and Papuan people will not be easy.”
Tebay believes that the Indonesian president should appoint a special envoy to initiate political dialogue with West Papuan political representatives.
Positive government pronouncements currently overlook the main demand of the Third Papuan Congress Declaration, namely termination of Indonesian occupation.
“In Timor, a referendum led to the transformation of the peoples’ aspirations and this is what many of the current generation of activists in West Papua are pushing for,” Webb-Gannon said.