Sunday, October 25, 2009

West Papuan issues and the prospects for dialogue

As Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono begins his second term as President, it is worth considering the prospects for dialogue to resolve Indonesia's most intractable conflict. West Papua has been part of Indonesia for more than four decades, and calls for dialogue with the central government have reverberated in West Papua for years.
The West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL) recently said dozens of organizations were calling for talks with the central government to find a peaceful solution to many issues, including human rights problems.

Talks held by then president Habibie in 1999 broke up when the Papuan delegation raised the issue of independence. Caught unawares, Habibie closed the meeting, saying only that the matter "needed further consideration".

In 2000, after the downfall of then president Soeharto, a congress in Jayapura attended by tens of thousands adopted a program that included the demand for independence. It set up the Papuan Presidium Council and called for pelurusan sejarah, a reappraisal of the history of West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia.

Earlier this year, in an attempt to inject new life into the dialogue, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), published a Papua Road Map to consider how to take the dialogue forward. It called the talks in 1999 "a missed opportunity" that deepened the mistrust between the two sides.

The implementation of the 2001 Special Autonomy Law (Otsus) for West Papua has been woeful. While the exploitation of Papua's natural resources earned huge revenues for Jakarta, West Papuans are among the poorest in Indonesia.

Without consulting the Majelis Rakyat Papua, the Papuan People's Council, set up in compliance with Otsus, the central government split the territory into two provinces. Dozens of new districts have been created to facilitate access for people in remote areas, but they have gobbled up most of the funds allocated under the Otsus law to build new offices and pay new staff, most of whom are non-Papuan.

The Papuan people have enjoyed little improvement in health and education. LIPI concludes that education is worse today that when West Papua was still a Dutch colony. While many schools have been built, there is a serious shortage of teachers willing work in remote villages.

According to a survey in 2006, thousands of children in the Central Highlands had never been to school. Many Papuan families cannot afford to send their children to primary school. A secondary school teacher in Merauke said she could not teach children from local primary schools because so many couldn't read, write or count. In Yahukimo district, there were only 331 teachers for 15,662 children.

The state of health was just as bad: malnutrition is widespread and there is hardly any access to clean water. There are only 12 government hospitals and six private hospitals, plus a few poorly equipped health centers. Ninety percent of Papuan villages have no access to clinics and the few that are located in the interior have only a midwife and a nurse, with no doctors in sight.

Malaria, dysentery and acute respiratory disorders are widespread, not to mention HIV/AIDS, the incidence of which is worse in West Papua than anywhere in Indonesia, except Jakarta. The researchers concluded that "the government fails to recognize *the health situation* as being a threat to the existence of the Papuan people".
Papuans are unable to compete with Indonesians now doing business in West Papua. Whereas in 1959, outsiders accounted for 2 percent of the population, this rose to 35 percent in 2000, and 41 percent in 2005. By 2011, Papuans are likely to be out-numbered.

Although dialogue has been successful in Aceh, Jakarta fears that dialogue with West Papua will get bogged down over the issue of independence. The guiding principle for Indonesia is the preservation of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), at all cost, while many Papuans see independence as their objective. If such attitudes persist, dialogue is like merebus batu (trying to cook a stone).

Papuans have experienced years of military operations and violence. While the perpetrators enjoy impunity, Papuan groups that organize demonstrations are accused of being anti-NKRI or "separatist", with dire consequences. Even flying the Papuan flag, the Kejora, risks heavy punishment.

Recognizing that dialogue is fraught with difficulties, LIPI recommends an "incremental process" which would mean abandoning the armed struggle by the Papuans and the implementation of Otsus and demilitarization by Indonesia.

The suggested agenda would include: the history and political status of Papua; justice for human rights victims; the failure of development in Papua and the marginalization of the Papuans.

Jakarta needs to have the courage to approach Papua, learning from what has been achieved in Aceh. The LIPI recommendations deserve the government's serious attention.
By Carmel Budiardjo the founder and co-director of TAPOL, the London-based human rights organisation set up in 1973.

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