A Policy for a Story Indonesia Keeps Hidden: Analyzing the Papua Conflict

“I have to yell out to the world. Because if I do not, we are weakening. The indigenous will be wiped out”, says one West Papuan highlander fighting for independence.

“I have to yell out to the world. Because if I do not, we are weakening. The indigenous will be wiped out”, says one West Papuan highlander fighting for independence (ABC News In-depth,2020).  The  Papua  conflict  has  been  ongoing  for  far too long. According to Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan  Indonesia  (LIPI)  (2011),  it  all  started  in  1969  when,  under  the  New  York Agreement on Papua, the Dutch agreed to transfer Papua or Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia subject to a referendum. It was argued that the 1969 Act of Free Choice (AFC) or Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat (Pepera) had indicated foul play that was done by the Indonesian government, violating the “one man, one vote” content of the agreement. This then created a sort of discontentment among the Papuans and the Indonesian government. It all started as a protest for a redo. However, rather than being resolved, the conflict only grew from there.

Human  rights  violations  committed  by  the Indonesian government and state security forces towards the Papuans, and especially the West Papuans, aren’t getting the scrutiny they deserve. The Categories of violations include the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, and the right not to be tortured. Even now, in a notable-aware society, the list of controversial cases is not ending. In 2022, the list of human rights violations in Papua increased from the years before. Most cases are related to the suppression of freedom of expression and the rejection of oil palm plantations. Civilian casualties were more than 300 people, including women and children! Worse, 34 of these horrific cases involve the authorities and state officials, and even 4 are armed conflicts involving the military and the Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat-Organisasi Papua Merdeka (TPNPB). (Laia, 2023)

It doesn’t stop there. Recently, #AllEyesOnPapua has been trending throughout all social media platforms as a nod to the #AllEyesOnRafah campaign. The Papua campaign brings awareness to the tribal forests by clear-cutting inside oil palm concessions. The four companies in Boven Digoel and Sorong are planning to overlap and destroy indigenous tribes’ land by establishing an area twice the size of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, plantations. This is indeed an act of cruelty! What’s even crueler is that the concessions form a project called the Tanah Merah mega plantation, which sits on an immense block of primary rainforest twice the size of New York City. This project is run by several companies owned by unknown investors, hiding behind anonymously held firms in the Middle East. This means foreigners. Foreigners with corporate secrecy,  which  Indonesia’s  corrupted  bureaucracy  played  a  part  in.  Yayasan  Penguatan Partisipasi, Inisiatif, dan Kemitraan Masyarakat Sipil Indonesia (YAPPIKA) stated that the Papuans consider the government and state authorities to be supportive of capital owners and foreign companies, compared to the indigenous and native Papuans(Gradiyanto, 2021). They argue using production being controlled by said foreigners. The question Papuans wished the government would answer is, “Where should we go?”. (Jong, 2024)

Even in their own homes, they are unsafe and unsatisfied. Papuan political and economic unrest has arisen due to controversy over social infrastructure development. This writer argues that  the  failure  of  development  programs,  especially  in  the  fields  of education, health, and community  empowerment  in  Papua,  creates  dissatisfaction  with the Indonesian government. Even as essential as access to markets is limited, thereby limiting the development of agricultural products (Raweyai, 2001). Furthermore, more than 244.000 children at the Sekolah Dasar level, more than 224.000 at the Sekolah Menengah Pertama level, and more than 151 thousand at the Sekolah Menengah Atas level did not attend school, and the shortage of more than 20 thousand teachers throughout Papua (Hutasoit, 2023) are educational issues that need addressing. Unsurprisingly, Papua is the poorest province in Indonesia, with a low human development index (Pahlevi, 2023).

And  as  an  Indonesian  writer,  it  is  profoundly  saddening  to  witness  such  complex atrocities happening in the nation. It’s saddening to witness a fellow Indonesian feel exploited and say, “I feel like all they want from us is our riches, our land. But not us” (ABC News In-depth, 2020). The Papuans felt they were victims of injustice and wished for independence from Indonesia. Their wish is then fought by themselves, forming the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) or the Free Papua Movement. The Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) returned to using OPM  as  an  umbrella  name  for the terrorist separatist and armed criminal groups of Papua. According to the Kepala Pusat Penerangan TNI Mayor Jenderal Nugraha Gumilar, the change of terms is for society to be made aware that the OPM are soldiers and combatants who have the right to become victims in armed conflict (Yunus, 2024). It must be highlighted that, indeed, the OPM is not a peaceful or non-violent movement. In 2023, OPM formally stated that it was responsible for the burning of school buildings and shooting down planes in Bintang Mountains, Papua (BBC, 2023).

Some argue that the Papua conflict is a problem of violence, terrorism, separatism, or even criminals. However, if this is merely a problem of violence, this only means a problem of intentional use of physical force or power against another person that either results in injury, death, or psychological harm (UNHRC, n.d.). And if it is merely a problem of violence, what differentiates it from the acts of violence done in other areas? In Yogyakarta, there are many cases of violence done by a group of Klitih (Nurhadi, 2021). As the state’s capital, Jakarta has seen quite a lot of violence. And so, this writer does not think of the Papua conflict as a problem of violence.

This writer believes that the root problem of the Papua conflict is inequity and injustice. Therefore, this policy brief aims to eliminate violence and bring justice and equity. Peace does not mean no disputes, but at least with peace, long overdue justice is finally served. A few efforts have been made to resolve the Papua conflict and build the pathway to peace, one of which is through the making of Undang-Undang Otonomi Khusus Papua dan Pembentukan Daerah Otonom Baru (DOB) as a state law:

“This law regulates the addition and amendment of several articles in Law Number 21 of 2001 as amended by Law Number 35 of 2008. The authority of Papua Province includes authority in all fields of government, except for authority in the fields of foreign policy, defense and security, monetary and fiscal, religion, and justice as well as certain authorities  in  other  fields  determined  in  accordance with the provisions of laws and regulations. The regional government of Papua Province consists of the Regional Government of Papua Province and the Papuan People’s Representative Council (DPRP). The  DPRP  consists  of  members  elected in general elections and appointed from the indigenous Papuan element.” (BPK, 2021)

However, this is not enough. This writer argues that through recent cases, it is evident that  the  conflict has not been resolved and has not calmed, even with the policy of special autonomy. Therefore,   through   this   policy   brief,   this   writer   would   like   to   propose recommendations to the Indonesian government to transform or resolve the Papua conflict.

Since the beginning, Sukarno’s policy regarding Papua has been clear, namely, incorporating the territory into Indonesian territory, as with the adjacent former Dutch lands. This then creates a bond between people, known as nationalism. According to Britannica (2019), nationalism is an ideology based on the premise that the individual’s loyalty and devotion to the nation-state surpass other individual or group interests. In simple terms, nationalism means an individual’s love for a particular nation-state. However, nationalism could not be the only answer to such a complex conflict. Nationalism only works if Papua is treated in equity as the other areas of the nation. Nationalism only works if Papuans are considered part of the nation, not only Papuan land but also Papuan people!

The Papua conflict is cultural as much as it is political. Therefore, this writer urges the government to carry out a dialogue. To do so, the primary stakeholders need to be identified. Rather than hold a regular discussion between two parties, this writer believes that by involving experts who can provide comparative examples or options of solutions. As the involved parties are the Indonesian government and Papua as a province, the two are unable to think clearly and objectively,  thus  unable  to  think  outside  the  box.  It  would  be  better  if  the  two  invited professionals could present new ideas with tangible evidence in a dialogue. For example, ask a professional  and  expert  in  land  disputes to provide a menu of solutions by saying, “Oh, in Mexico,  they  divide  the  land  into  two!”  or  “In  Japan,  they  made skyscrapers to move the indigenous!”. Given a menu of solutions, the two parties can choose from a selection. This writer also believes it would be ideal if the state or government here works as a participant rather than a facilitator, which means there needs to be another independent dialogue facilitator to ensure objectivity and fairness in the discussion.

For all human rights violations and cases of violence that occur between the TNI, OPM, and even Papuans, perpetrators must go through all the processes of law in conflict resolution. And official supervision from the Indonesian government must be maintained to prevent repetition.

These  approaches  must  be  done continuously and, indeed, until solutions by Papuan needs are met. As it is understood, the root cause of the conflict is inequity, so to truly resolve the dispute, Papuan problems need to be treated and paid the same as the other Indonesian provinces. Even so, Papuan issues are not one for all. The mountains of Papua must have conditions that are different from those of the coastal Papua, so various problems must be addressed. Hence, this writer recommends that the Indonesian government change its standards, especially in making state laws. Instead of equality, highlighting equity is much more critical. Asymmetrical standards and regulations customized to each area of the nation will make everyone feel involved. That is when true nationalism takes place.

The Papua conflict is complex, involving almost every aspect of life, including culture. Cases of human rights violations, indigenous people’s eviction, and inequity pushed the Papuans to fight for freedom, thus creating the Organisasi Papua Merdeka. To transform and resolve the conflict   between   the   Papuan   organization   and  the   Indonesian   government,   this   writer recommends a well-structured dialogue, prevention of repetition, and a fight for equity rather than merely continuing the special autonomy policy.

A nation without nationalism is merely a territory with people. However, nationalism could only work if a nation truly treats all of its people and territory in equity.

Jasmine Naurah Sabrina
Jasmine Naurah Sabrina
Jasmine Naurah Sabrina is undergoing her undergraduate studies at Universitas Gadjah Mada. Jasmine is a lifelong learner of global politics and international relations. She is incredibly passionate about film and literature. She is, therefore, dedicated to further exploring and expressing opinions through writing.