Saturday, June 14, 2014

Solving Conflict in West Papua, and Indonesia’s other restive provinces South Moluccas

This year’s presidential election has roused Indonesia’s young, vibrant democracy in ways no previous vote has done before. As the two-candidate race is getting closer, it captivates millions at home and abroad.

But as the republic seems to flourish, freedoms seen as fundamental to a functioning democracy are continuously denied across the archipelago. Whether this will change under either Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, or Prabowo Subianto remains to be seen.

Indonesia’s easternmost provinces of West Papua and Papua have long seen a low-level insurgency by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and other armed groups who have fought for independence since 1963.

In the Maluku province, composed of the southern Moluccan islands and centered on Ambon, there is a history of small protests to re-establish the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS), which was crushed by Indonesian forces in 1963.

Both movements are known for their wide usage of two banned symbols: the Benang Raja, or “rainbow” flag of the RMS in Maluku, and the “Morning Star” flag of the formerly independent West Papua in Papua.

Many peaceful protesters raise these flags as a symbol of nonviolent resistance to the Indonesian state, yet they are prosecuted under anti-terror laws because the authorities view their actions as separatist activities. This is a violation of freedom of expression, which a democracy should guarantee.

Articles 106 and 107 of the Indonesian criminal code set a punishment of life imprisonment or a maximum of 20 years in jail for “attempt[s] undertaken with intent to bring the territory of the state wholly or partially under foreign domination or to separate part thereof” and for “attempt[s] undertaken with the intent to cause a revolution.”

On June 23, 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the imprisonment of over 100 peaceful political demonstrators in Indonesian prisons in Java, Maluku and Papua.

The report accuses members of the Indonesian Military (TNI), the National Police, and the police’s counter-terrorism wing Densus 88 of torturing protesters who raised the illegal flags during the independence anniversaries of the defunct West Papuan and South Moluccan republics.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its legal opinion in 2011 that the police’s arrest of Papuan political activist Filep Karma in 2004, for raising the Morning Star flag, constituted a violation of international law.

“The UN group believes Indonesian courts do not proportionally interpret the written law,” Indonesian human rights journalist Andreas Harsono told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday. “Most of these prisoners are in jail for treason, they are not violent and not a serious threat at all.”

When asked about the HRW report’s accusation of police torture, National Police spokesman Boy Rafil Amar said “the police in Papua and Maluku are working based on standard operating procedures.”

“The police is working based on the law against separatist activity,” he added. “They are against Indonesian law so we just investigate based on Indonesian law.”

While armed groups such as the OPM do pose a military threat, Andreas believes that the flag-raisers pose “no threat at all towards Indonesian sovereignty.”

Of 197 UN members, Vanuatu alone recognizes West Papua as a separate country, after passing a recognition bill two years ago. Indonesia’s embassy in Canberra, which is also accredited to Vanuatu, was not available for comment.

Joko is the only presidential candidate in Indonesian history to have visited Papua during a campaign, having visited the province last week.

He announced that, if elected, he would lift restrictions dating back to 1963 that deny foreign journalists, diplomats, and non-governmental organizations entry to the restive region.

“This is positive because it has widened the debate on the elections, involving not only the more populous regions of Indonesia but also the least populous,” Andreas said. “Electorally, South Maluku and Papua only have 5 million voters.”

Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also promised to remove restrictions on foreign media in Papua, yet nothing has changed under his administration. In 2007, he passed the 77/2007 presidential decree that made lifting the RMS or Morning Star flags a crime punishable by life in prison.

“Those opposed to opening up Papua are military intelligence,” Andreas said. “The military, police, and intelligence have their own self-interest in Papua, they want promotions, a ladder to climb to a better career.”

“An area within Indonesia can only be closed if there is an emergency, but there is no emergency in Papua,” he added. “Some high ranking government officials told me they agree Papua should be opened up, but they cannot make this decision by themselves because they need the NGOs and the media to educate the public and put pressure on the military.”

A spokesperson for the military was not available for comment.

The Free West Papua Campaign is a pro-independence movement led by Benny Wenda, who organizes the group’s activities from abroad. It opened offices in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands last year, and another in Perth two months ago.

A spokesperson from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta told the Jakarta Globe that while the Australian government was aware of the office’s existence, it had no involvement in its opening and that its “long-standing position on Indonesia’s Papuan provinces is that it unreservedly recognizes Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

On April 25 this year, Maluku Police arrested Simon Saiya, the Ambon-based leader of the Maluku Sovereignty Front (FKM), an outlawed separatist organization headed by Alexander Manuputty, who is in exile in the United States.

Simon had been wanted since 2007, when his followers unfurled an RMS flags at a National Family Day celebration attended by Yudhoyono. The TNI and police arrested them, in line with the anti-terror laws.

Looking for signs

As human rights abuses continue in the run-up to the election, foreign and local analysts will be looking for signs from Joko or Prabowo that the situation will change under them.

Joko’s running-mate, former vice president Jusuf Kalla, has been touted by Indonesian politicians as a possible mediator for the Papua conflict, given his experience in negotiating peace accords in Aceh and the religious conflicts in Central Sulawesi and Maluku.

However, in a 2010 letter, OPM military leader Thadius Magai Yogi rejected Kalla as an intermediary, instead calling on international organizations to mediate an end to the conflict.

On the other hand, John Wattilete, president of the self-declared RMS government-in-exile in the Netherlands, told a Dutch newspaper in 2009 that he would be open to special autonomy for Maluku instead of outright independence.

Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), praised Joko’s approach, but noted that he has “people standing in his circle with a negative record” in regard to human rights and Papua.

Former president Megawati heads Joko’s party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and is suspected by many Indonesians of controlling the Jakarta governor and presidential candidate from behind the scenes.

In 2003, she passed a law that divided Papua into three provinces, later reduced to two by a court ruling, and directly contradicted former president Wahid’s 2001 law granting special autonomy to Papua.

The measure, although popular in Papua’s far west for bringing in more government jobs, splintered the territorial unity that was intended to underpin the autonomy of Papua.

Joko’s rival Prabowo is often criticized for his alleged human rights violations in East Timor and Jakarta. Joko may be considered clean himself, but he is supported by several figures with histories similar to that of his competitor.

Former general Ryamizard Ryacudu, who supports Joko, was involved in the TNI’s heavy-handed campaigns against the secessionists in Aceh. In 2003, he told Tempo that the killer of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay was a “hero.”

The People’s Conscience Party (Hanura) forms part of Joko’s coalition. Its leader, former general Wiranto, is seen as the chief architect behind the TNI’s brutal retreat from East Timor in 1999, and was accused of fomenting violence between Christians and Muslims in Ambon during the deadly sectarian conflict that raged from 1999 to 2002.

As for Prabowo, Andreas believes that “there is nothing new: he has said what was said by other presidents in the past, that Papua is an integral part of Indonesia.”

In spite of Joko’s relative strengths in human rights — compared to Prabowo’s emphasis on security — Haris says he did not know “how far they would put aside their interests to go on with solving the genuine problems in [conflict areas].”

“For the future, it’s very important to ask these two candidates how they will deal with the conflict and post-conflict areas,” Haris told the Jakarta Globe. “We request that the national election commission open a debate on human rights and on the issue of peace in conflict areas.”

Indonesia has made incredible strides in democracy since the Suharto era. The mere fact that last Monday’s presidential debate featured Kalla asking Prabowo a difficult question about his checkered past is a positive sign for the future.

But as long as anti-terrorism laws are still used to sentence harmless people who raise flags, as long as Papua remains closed off to reporters and diplomats, and as long as there is an absence of a lively discussion on past and present human rights abuses in this country, there is more progress to be made.

Both Joko and Prabowo’s coalitions have skeletons in their closets. Time will tell if they can match their electrifying campaign with an equally assertive push to protect the rights of all citizens — regardless of geographic origin. Jakarta Globe


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