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Recent Report: Papua (Irian Jaya): Roy Harrison

Government Rapprochement Marks Shift in Suppression of the Independence Movement; Potential Volatility Remains
Introduction to the Current Conflict

For nearly forty years, Irian Jaya has hosted a war between the national military and the Free People’s Movement (OPM) (Cultural Survival Quarterly: Sands). Under the former Suharto government, Irian Jaya (a.k.a. West Papua) offered not only “land space for over-populated Java,” but also “exploitable material wealth – minerals and forests” (Cultural Survival Quarterly: Sands).

The amount of resources present is impressive – by 2006 the province is expected to be the single largest producer of natural gas in Asia (Deutsche Presse-Agentur: “Indonesia’s Papua”). For the indigenous population, however, there is a feeling that they do not benefit from the rich resources over which they live. They complain that Javanese migrants are the only ones employed and that the profits made from the resources flow quickly out of the province.

In an attempt to address Papuan complaints, Irian Jaya was granted limited autonomy effective January 2002. The law gave the province (which it officially recognized by the native name of “Papua”) rights of 80 percent of forestry and fishery revenue and 70 percent of oil and gas revenue. The government also promised to double the amount of aid given to the province for health and educational programs (The Jakarta Post: “Papua Bill”). Nevertheless, Papuan opposition groups rejected the deal, arguing for complete and full independence, similar to East Timor.

Key Players

Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM): This group was formed by Dutch-educated elites who felt betrayed by the Netherlands’ failure to negotiate strongly for West Papua’s independence at the time of decolonization. In attempts to rectify this, the OPM partook in paramilitary maneuvers both in and out of Papua-proper. The OPM had been labeled a terrorist organization by the Indonesian government. Agence France Presse characterized the group as “ragtag” (“Solving Aceh”). Still, it enjoys wide popular support within the province.

Papua Presidium Council (PDP): The PDP is a civilian political body that attempts to speak for the Papuan independence movement and aims to use non-violent means to disassociate itself from Jakarta (Amnesty International: “Indonesia”). It declared Papuan independence in 1999 and has led highly contentious raisings of the symbolic ‘morning star,’ the de facto flag of the movement.

The Indonesian Government:The present government headed by Megawati Soekarnputri in Jakarta opposes Paupan independence. Indeed, Megawati recently stated that she does not envision a federalist Indonesia (or even one without Irian Jaya), but a central one. To accomplish this goal, since February 2002, the state has been working to amend several autonomy laws to clarify “confusing and conflicting articles” (The Jakarta Post: Kurniawan). Moreover, in November of 2001, more troops were ordered to the province “to accelerate the process of a peaceful settlement to the conflicts” (qtd. in The Straits Times: Kearney).

At the same time however, Indonesia has, verbally, sought a rapprochement with the Papuans. In the summer of 2001, President Megawati offered to provide “a sincere apology to [her] fellow citizens who have long suffered from those incorrect policies” (qtd. in The Jakarta Post: “Megawati Apologizes”). The recent legislation that provided the province with greater profit from its natural resources can also be viewed as an example of Megawati’s gestures.

Indonesian Military (TNI):The Indonesian military has been marred by corruption and disorganization. The lack of discipline in this institution proved to be problematic for governmental efforts at reconciliation. Most recently, the “Red Beret” division, which has already received blame for human rights abuses in East Timor and Aceh, is currently the focus of a military police investigation into the murder of pro-independence West Papuan politician Theys Elauy (Deutsche Presse-Argentur: “Indonesia launches”).

Laskar Jihad:The Java-based Indonesian paramilitary Islamist group presently is expanding the reach of its operations into Papua. The Financial Times reports that certain members of Laskar Jihad have expressed that they are “willing to take the struggle to Papua and fight alongside the military to preserve the integrity of Indonesia” (McCawley). The presence of Laskar Jihad has worried the majority Christian and animist populations, most recently leading to an official denouncement of the organization’s attempts to enter Papua. Some Christians feare that Laskar Jihad will import the same Muslim-Christian tensions on which it thrives in other regions of Indonesia (Agence France Presse: “Papua Church”).

Nature of the Abuse

Political Suppression: The kidnapping and subsequent murder of PDP leader Theys Eluay in November 2001 reignited the suspicion that governmental forces were violently impeding free speech rights. Theys and others had been on trial, for attempting to split Papua from Indonesia, participating an illegal Papuan Congress, and “spreading hatred against the government” (Amnesty International: “Indonesia: Impunity”).

Amnesty accuses the police of unjustly detaining these five members. Questioned as a result of a riot in Wamena in which 37 were killed, Amnesty contends that there was “absence of any evidence against them” and that the group was told to find the instigators of the riots in exchange for their freedom (Amnesty International: “Indonesia: Impunity”). Three members of the group were acquitted of the charges in March 2002. Theys was murdered, and the fifth was in the hospital (New Zealand Press Association: “Indonesian Court”).

Economically Motivated Ethnic Tensions:Human Rights Watch observes that ethnic Papuans are becoming more willing to exercise violence against immigrants into the province. According to the organization, wages have been “significantly higher” in Papua, and there exists an “economic jealousy” that “stems from the fact that migrants, on the whole, are far wealthier than Papuans. Migrants tend to have better educations, experience as entrepreneurs, and skills suited to the marketplace, or some combination of all three, making competition difficult for Papuans” (Human Rights Watch: “Indonesia: Violence and”).

In the same riot, many non-Papuans fell victim to anti-migrant violence. In all, 24 Indonesian settlers died, making the Wamena violence the worst bout of anti-migrant hostility in Papua’s history. Also, March and April 2001 witnessed three attacks against migrants, killing five workers and children. Human Rights Watch contends “many migrants now carry handmade weapons, but they remain physically vulnerable because they are still outnumbered in most places and because, compared with well-armed Indonesian troops, they provide an easier target for Papuan militants” (Human Rights Watch: “Indonesia: Violence”).

Torture: In response to the murder of settlers in late March 2001, the TNI sent in reserves and practiced “arbitrary action against the civilian population” (International Crisis Group: “Indonesia: Ending Repression”). Action taken the following June was characterized in the same report as resulting in 5,000 people fleeing their homes after arson, torture, and detention was practiced by security forces.

On January 2, 2002, a 28-year-old Papuan was beaten “black and blue by a dozen local Brimob Mobile Brigade Police members” for having allegedly thrown a rock at a house (BBC Monitoring International Reports: “Indonesia: Police Patrol”).

What International Laws Are Being Broken?

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court:According to this document, which Indonesia has not signed, the follow crimes against humanity were committed in the Papua:

Article 7 (1) (a) (1): “The perpetrator killed one or more persons.”
Article 7 (1) (e) (1): “The perpetrator imprisoned one or more persons or otherwise severely deprived one or more persons of physical liberty.”
Article 7 (1) (f) (1): “The perpetrator inflicted severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon one or more persons.”
Article 7 (1) (h) (2): “The perpetrator targeted such person or persons by reason of the identity of a group or collectivity or targeted the group or collectivity as such.”


The situation in Papua, despite legal advancements such as the special autonomy law passed late last year, remains dire. The main bodies of dissent from Jakarta – the PDP and OPM – rejected the law out of hand. They insist on nothing less than full independence. Megawati and her government, for its part, still remain steadfastly opposed to any loosening of the ties between the province and Jakarta. In addition to this primary source of tension, the economic discrepancies between native and migrant groups, and nascent religious pressure carry the possibility of future strife.

Works Cited

Amnesty International. “INDONESIA: Impunity and human rights violations in Papua.” 4 March 2002. Online.
http://web.amnesty.org/ai.nsf/Index/ASA210152002?OpenDocument&of;=C OUNTRIESINDONESIA. April 26, 2002.

“Experts call for gradual autonomy in Irian Jaya.” The Jakarta Post July 30, 2001. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

Human Rights Watch. “Indonesia: VIOLENCE AND POLITICAL IMPASSE IN PAPUA.” July 2001. Online. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/papua/PAPUA0701.pdf#.

“Indonesia launches murder investigation of ‘red berets.'” Deutsche Presse-Argentur April 26, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

“Indonesia’s Papua province to be Asia’s largest gas producer in 2006.” Deutsche Presse- Argentur April 3, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis ® Academic Universe.

“Indonesia: Police Patrol Beat Up Civilian in Papua.” BBC Monitoring International Reports January 4, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

“Indonesian Court Acquits Papuan Pro-Independence Leaders.” New Zealand Press Association March 4, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

Kearney, Marianne. “Jakarta to deploy more troops in troubled areas.” The Straits Times November 27, 2001. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

Kurniawan, Hari. “Revision of autonomy law is meant to prevent federalism.” The Jakarta Post February 5, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

McCawley, Tom. “Islamist groups target eastern Indonesia.” The Financial Times February 12, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

“Megawati apologizes to Acehnese, Papuans.” The Jakarta Post. August 18, 2001. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

“Papua bill endorsed in flurry before recess.” The Jakarta Post. October 23, 2001. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

“Papua Church, local leaders reject Java-based Muslim militants.” Agence France-Presse. March 21, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.

Sands, Susan. “West Papua: Forgotten War, Unwanted People. Cultural Survival Quarterly. April 30, 1991. Online. EthnicWatch.

“Solving Aceh, Papua conflicts Indonesia’s top priority this year.” Agence France Presse January 3, 2002. Online. Lexis-Nexis® Academic Universe.


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