Papua: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Papua: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 53 / Asia

Papua: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

No part of Indonesia generates as much distorted reporting as Papua, the western half of New Guinea that has been home to an independence movement since the 1960s.

I. Overview

No part of Indonesia generates as much distorted reporting as Papua, the western half of New Guinea that has been home to an independence movement since the 1960s.

Some sources, mostly outside Indonesia, paint a picture of a closed killing field where the Indonesian army, backed by militia forces, perpetrates genocide against a defenceless people struggling for freedom. A variant has the army and multinational companies joining forces to despoil Papua and rob it of its own resources. Proponents of this view point to restrictions on media access, increasing troop strength in Papua of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), payments to the TNI from the giant U.S. copper and gold mining company, Freeport, and reports by human rights organisations as supporting evidence for their views.

Others, mostly inside Indonesia, portray Papua as the target of machinations by Western interests, bent on bringing about an East Timor-style international intervention that will further divide and weaken the Indonesian nation. Specifically, according to this view, Western interests are encouraging an international campaign to review and reject a 1969 United Nations-sponsored plebiscite, called the Act of Free Choice, that resulted in Papua’s integration into the Indonesian republic. Should that campaign be successful, the international legal grounds for a referendum on independence would be established. They believe that the independence movement consists of a small band of criminals who have no real support in the population at large.

Neither portrayal of Papua is accurate, but both are extraordinarily difficult to dislodge – particularly because both contain kernels of truth that fuel false assumptions. Papua is not a happy place, but neither is it a killing field. Historical injustice and chronic low-level abuse on the part of security forces are facts. Solidarity groups concerned about Papua are more active now than five years ago, and some parliamentarians in Western countries have taken their cause to heart; this has not, however, translated into growing international support for Papuan independence.

Failure to understand the complexities of the Papuan problem not only produces bad policies in Jakarta, but can also have severe international consequences, as witnessed by the plummeting of Indonesian-Australian relations in early 2006 over Australia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to a group of Papuan political activists.

This briefing will examine several questions that lie behind the distortions:

  • Who governs Papua and how? Are TNI numbers increasing, and if so, why?
     
  • What substance is there to the claim of historical injustice in Papua’s integration into Indonesia?
     
  • How strong is the independence movement in Papua? Who supports it?
     
  • What substance is there to allegations of genocide?
     
  • Are there Muslim militias in Papua? And a process of Islamicisation?
     
  • How much of Papua is off-limits to outsiders? Why the restrictions?
     
  • What can the international community do?

 

Jakarta/Brussels, 5 September 2006

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