Thursday, June 17, 2010

Desperate Papuans Are Still Calling, But Is There Anyone Listening to Them?
















The call for Papuan independence remains strong. Although activists are likely to exaggerate the number of independence supporters, it is fair to say that the idea is widespread among those who have experienced the drawbacks of four decades of integration.

Alongside the call for independence is a demand to review the 1969 Act of Free Choice, the referendum that saw 1,025 hand-picked delegates vote in favor of integration with Indonesia.

Many still lament the fact that the UN recommendation for “one man, one vote” went unheeded, and as such they describe the 1969 act as undemocratic and illegal, deserving of its nickname, “the Act of No Choice.”

The first call is rightly seen as threatening to Indonesian territorial sovereignty. The second would challenge UN credibility and Indonesian political authority together. Neither has received an adequate response.

Then there is third demand, which enjoys even broader support, for fair and democratic development in Papua. Many Papuans desire a much more level playing field, for their own development and for the sake of Indonesian integrity.

There is no doubt that the Indonesian government and the international community have the power to make this happen.

Unfortunately, after almost a decade of special autonomy, the fair go Papuans are waiting for is still far away, particularly as special autonomy continues to benefit only a few local politicians.

Despite the Special Autonomy Law that grants a greater role for native Papuans in district and provincial legislative councils, such leaders have not necessarily delivered the goods any better than Jakarta-appointed representatives in the past.

The role of native Papuan leaders is largely symbolic, and this situation is only getting worse. They are prone to power abuses and corruption.

Many people complain that the real people in charge of running the district and provincial administrations — and more specifically of deciding development projects and allocating the autonomy budgets — are not indigenous Papuans and that therefore their commitment to the Papuan people’s development is suspect.

The social marginalization and alienation of indigenous Papuans, in addition to the excessive exploitation of natural resources, is a cause of frequent strife.

The presence of the military and police in massive numbers in the region (supposedly to fight a separatist insurgency or to maintain social order and secure development programs) also has had undesirable results.

Ordinary people and students who rally for democratic policies and good governance run the risk of arrest, torture and even death.

Human rights and development activists and NGOs share the belief that the current deprivation is not merely a violation of international human rights, but is also undermining the national government’s interest in preserving its sovereignty.

More voices for the Papuan cause are needed without delay. The argument is simple, but both humanitarian and nationalist: As an integral part of the nation, Papuans have the right to seek out assistance and support from the rest of Indonesia.

Allowing Papuans to go without their basic rights is morally wrong and socially irresponsible. It is time for all national elements to join together for the sake of Papua.

Students across the nation need to engage and join the call for security and development in Papua. Discussions outside Jayapura are of great worth.

Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Medan and Makassar have to have their say about the problems in Papua. And the national media will need to play a greater role in raising awareness and creating national solidarity.

A call for national solidarity in support of Papuans should not discount the efforts the central government has made for the good of region.

Despite the continuing problems, there is no doubt that the government has considered ways to improve the situation.

Blocking these improvements, however, is Jakarta’s indecisiveness and its lack of commitment.

Three central needs continue to permeate the lives of Papuans: for protection and respect, social and economic development, and the enforcement of good and accountable governance.

That President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his cabinet members are aware of both the problems and the proposed solutions is also clear.

The State Ministry for the Acceleration of Development in Underdeveloped Regions, the experts who advise the president about problems in the region, the Home Ministry and the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), together with the Armed Forces and the National Police, are all institutions that play a crucial role in improving the conditions in Papua.

While the last two entities are responsible for the reduction of coercion, the others hold the power to ensure the social and economic life of the people.

Of the obstacles to achieving improvements in Papua, resistance from within state institutions is a major threat, with the president’s irresolute decision-making being the biggest obstacle of all.

This has, according to some Papuan figures and activists, generated anxiety among officials from ministries down to regional bodies.

In addition to personal leadership, all the old characteristics of the New Order regime — centralized, patrimonial and bureaucratic — seem to be in place.

The post-Suharto era might be called the era of reform, but the administration’s guiding characteristics seem to have survived and been passed down.

As such, it is hard to see how lower-level administrations could be proficient enough to take the initiative to bring the Special Autonomy Law into full effect.

The military and the police are also reluctant to comply with public demands to change their approach.

There is no evidence the president has given the order for the military’s commander and the National Police chief to review their massive presence in the region and scale back excessive security operations.

In order to maintain a united country and lockstep toward development, as Yudhoyono and his administration continue to say are their intended aims, all people concerned with the Papuan cause need to support the government.

It is only the united voice of the nation that can bring about change.

Mangadar Situmorang senior lecturer at Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung
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