The reasons behind the latest Papua unrest
Adriana Elisabeth, head of the Center for Political Studies at the Indonesia Institute of Sciences, talks about the situation in Papua. In Indonesia, anti-Papuan racism is a widespread. Since 19 August, several protests have turned violent. The government must better understand the human rights situation and not limit itself to political aspects. It must take an interest in local economic realities and socio-cultural issues.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The recent violent unrest in Indonesia’s easternmost possessions, the provinces of Papua and West Papua, is not due to sectarian tensions between natives and immigrants. Those behind the disorders know well local social problems and could exploit the violence for future political gains, this according to Adriana Elisabeth (pictured), coordinator of Papua Peace Network (PPN) and head of the Center for Political Studies at the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI), a government body, co-author of Papua Road Map (2009) and a former head of the Papua Study Team at LIPI.
On 19 August, violence broke out in Manokwari, Sorong, Jayapura and Wamena, triggered by protests over racist incidents that occurred a few days before against Papuan students in Surabaya and Malang (East Java province). Infiltrators among pro-independence protesters increased tensions, resulting in repeated clashes between civilians and security forces, vandalism and even many deaths.
The worst incident took place in Wamena, Jayawijaya regency, when, on 23 September, hundreds of protesters set fire to government and other buildings causing the death of scores of people trapped inside. Indonesian authorities blamed the violence in Papua and West Papua provinces on sectarian hoaxes and fake news.
For Adriana Elisabeth, “Racism has been a common experience for Papuans”, for both “students and ordinary people”. This has included the “stigma of separatism”, compounded by the fact that “they look already different from other Indonesians.”
“From the perspective of pro-referendum/independence groups, racism started early”, in 1969, with the controversial integration process, the Act of Free Choice. Since then, most Indonesian government initiatives have been treated with suspicion by Papuans.
Almost all the victims of the fire in Wamena were domestic migrants, people from other islands, not Papuans. The tragedy has led to the exodus of their community from Papua. But, for the political scientist, “The violence has no relation with sectarian issues.”
“Prior to that, social relations between local Papuans and non-Papuans were very harmonious. Historically, the first Christian mission arrived in Papua (Mansinam Island, Manokwari, West Papua Province) from the Nuku Sultanate in Tidore, Moluccas. This indicates that social harmony among the religious community had a strong foundation.” Indeed, “the local identity of Papua includes Islamic values too.”
Since annexation by Indonesia in 1969, the West Papua National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat, TPNPB) and the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) have been seeking independence for the Papua region in a low intensity conflict.
In April 2018, Joko Widodo was the first Indonesian president to visit the distant region.
Local communities and leaders have repeatedly filed complaints against the central government for the excessive exploitation of the area’s natural resources, whilst human rights activists have reported frequent discrimination and widespread intolerance towards Papuans who emigrated to other parts of the country.
For Adriana Elisabeth, the cycle of violence and human rights violations in Papua are “difficult to resolve, because there are different perspectives between the government (military and policy) and Papuans.” The latter want the authorities to bring violators to justice, above all soldiers and police officers, the latter claim that security must be the priority.
"The government needs to understand better the human rights spectrum, not only its civil and political aspects, but also its economic and cultural aspects. Many human rights cases in Papua are linked to non-political or security issues, but to customary rights over land that belongs to the local community.”
Economic interests, in particular investors and companies, are usually insensitive to local values, and seek only economic benefits for their businesses. (PF)