Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The peril of distributive injustice in Papua

The recent flare-up in Timika, Papua, has raised questions not simply about the labor disputes at PT Freeport Indonesia, but also about the long-standing problem of welfare and equal distribution of wealth and opportunity for indigenous Papuans to exploit their land.

Elsewhere, the country’s frontiers of Tanjung Datuk and Camar Bulan in West Kalimantan have allegedly been occupied by neighboring Malaysia.

Nevertheless, the problem does not stop there, since issues over the quality of life of Indonesian citizens are also emerging. Jealousy is inevitable when one sees that his neighbor’s grass looks greener than his own.

These two situations clearly describe the same nuance that exists in some of our provinces. Our fellow citizens in remote areas are desperately in need of the state’s attention, particularly in terms of social welfare.

It is also a fact that, in an attempt to appeal against what is happening on their land, many Papuan people keep questioning the status of Indonesia’s sovereignty. This certainly could be regarded as a peril to our national integrity.

Learning from those phenomena, we can thus assume that distributive (in)justice is closely close related to certain claims to statehood. American philosopher, Robert Nozick, once opined, “The complete principle of distributive justice would say simply that a distribution is just if everyone is entitled to the holdings they possess under the distribution.”

From a human rights perspective, all people should be able to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

To support this argument, much research has concluded that economic oppression as a form of material self-interest may lead to considerations of secession. This includes situations in poorer regions in Sri Lanka, East Timor, Quebec, Scotland, Corsica and Bangladesh.

Related to this, another American philosopher, Allen Buchanan, has two grounds in upholding the claim of statehood on the basis of distributive injustice. First, he argues that “distributive injustices would embroil international legal agencies in controversies about the substantive content of transnational distributive justice that they are not presently equipped to resolve in any principled and legitimate way”.

Second, distributive injustices might also “encourage groups of people to claim that they are subject to discriminatory redistribution and are therefore justified in calling for seceding when in fact they desire to have their own state simply in order to better their own economic situation at the expense of their fellow citizen”.

The secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971 may be a good example in this respect. Politically and economically speaking, East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh) was distinct from the West (now Pakistan). The West used to receive raw materials and foreign exchange from the East, but by no way was the West economically dependent upon the East.

With exploitative structures of economic policy and prolonged human rights violations, the relationship between the two regions more likely to represented an “internal colonialism”, which justified the right to secede for people in the East.

The UN General Assembly seemed to support such a situation by qualifying East Bengal as a non-self-governing territory in Resolution 1541 (XV).

In relation to this, a brief discussion of national economic interests might also be useful in constructing a claim of statehood.

For example, it is widely known that, compared to the separation of Katanga from Congo and Biafra from Nigeria, the situation in Bangladesh was more favorable for the international community since it did not place too much of an economic burden on the rest of the country.

Hence, it is worth noting that some international practices show that the legitimate economic interest of a nation as a whole should be taken into account in determining the legitimacy and legality of secession.

If we apply the distributive justice test to the situation in Papua, the welfare and distribution of wealth issue may give justification to how the government should provide opportunities for its nationals to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

The international practices conveyed above should shed light on how distributive injustices can harm national integrity. The despair of people living in border regions, and the threats they make to move to the neighboring countries, should actually serve to notify us of the importance of ensuring equal welfare and economic justice for all people.

In the same way, demands for a referendum and proclamations of a West Papuan state, a few days after the Freeport upheaval, should be overcome not only with security measures but also through a distributive justice approach.

All in all, a claim to statehood should no longer be seen merely from a classic point of view, which comprises mainly people and territory. It also has to be seen as a claim to take responsibility to protect and fulfill people’s rights.

By Harison Citrawan, who works at the Human Rights Research and Development Agency under the Law and Human Rights Ministry. The Jakarta Post

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