ULMWP and the insurgent Papua by Dr Budi Hernawan, Lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy and Research Fellow at Abdurahman Wahid Centre at University of Indonesia in Jakarta.
Views expressed in the piece are that of the author, and not of Live Encounters Magazine and its associates.
The background photograph of a bird of paradise is courtesy:
Andrea Lawardi, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Since the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was established in December 2014 in Vanuatu, Papua’s international diplomacy has gained a new momentum. Papua political factions no longer presented themselves in different voices but rather, it has come in a unified voice. The Saralana Declaration reflects a strong commitment of all three major Papuan political organisations, namely West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL), Federal Republic of West Papua (NFPB), West Papua National Parliament (WPNP). It states, “We declare and claim that all West Papuans, both inside and outside West Papua, are united under this new body and that we will continue our struggle for independence”.
While many critics and skeptics, who claim to be realists, remain unconvinced of the sustainability and solidity of ULMWP, they argue that this might be just another episode of the Papuan factionalism. One umbrella organisation after another seems to be the pattern.
The critics might overlook the facts that the ULMWP has been effective in representing the Papuan political aspirations at the domestic and international fora just in two years. The ULMWP has secured international recognition from the Melanesian Spearhead Group and has gained more attention from the United Nations and the Pacific Island Forum. Papua has become an effective insurgency.
If we looked back to the Papuan Spring in 2000 when Papua gained much more space to express their political identity, the commitment to ‘gain international recognition’ was formulated during the 2nd Papuan Congress in Jayapura in June 2000.
During the Congress, which was politically and financially supported by the late Indonesian President Abdurahman Wahid, Papuans elected the Papuan Presidium Council as their leaders led by late Theys Eluay, who was assassinated by the Indonesia Special Forces. The Congress gave mandate to the Presidium:  “to struggle for world recognition of the sovereignty of the Papuan people and for investigations into and the trial of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity in West Papua;  to speedily set up an Independent Team to enter into peaceful negotiations with Indonesia and the Netherlands under the auspices of the United Nations for a referendum on recognition of the sovereignty of the Papuan people and Nation;  to use available resources in Papua in a non-binding manner to fund endeavours to achieve the objectives of the struggle.”
It took fifteen years before the Papuan leaders convinced the Pacific nations under the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). During the 2015 MSG Summit hosted by Solomon Island in Honiara, the Forum gave an observer status to the ULMWP to the forum. The decision marked a historic moment for Papuans. Backed by Solomon Island popular and particularly churches’ support, the Papua was born as an international legal entity. Since then, Papua no longer need Vanuatu or Solomon Island flags to raise their voices at this diplomatic forum because it has raised its Morning Star flag.
This year Papua is expecting a full-membership status at the MSG. The trajectory remains fragile. The proposal split the MSG leaders into two camps: Papua New Guinea and Fiji which are keen to maintain the status quo, on the one side, and Vanuatu, Solomon Island and the FLNKS on the other side, which envisage fundamental change for the forum. As the decision has been deferred to be discussed by the end of this year, this development might reflect the irreconcilable differences within the MSG as they have to take decisions by consensus.
The Papua insurgency has only penetrated the MSG but more broadly, the Pacific Island Forum, the diplomatic forum that covers the whole Pacific nations. In the recent Pacific Forum Island’s communiqué held in Phonpei, Federated Republic of Micronesia, PIF shed a new light on the issue of Papua, “Leaders recognised the political sensitivities of the issue of West Papua (Papua) and agreed the issue of alleged human rights violations in West Papua (Papua) should remain on their agenda. Leaders also agreed on the importance of an open and constructive dialogue with Indonesia on the issue.”
The statement reflects the struggle of the Pacific leaders in dealing with Papua. On the one hand, they are concerned with “alleged human rights violations” but on the other hand, they are well aware that Papua is a “sensitive issue” for them. The sensitivity relates to their relations with Indonesia, a large and influential neighbour. For some PIF members, Indonesia provides a profitable market for their trade that sustains their domestic economy particularly Australia, New Zealand, PNG, and Fiji. Its political influence has been seen as a bridge between Asia and the Pacific.
In a parallel move, Papua’s influence has convinced seven UN member states from the Pacific spoke up. They raised their concerted voices on Papua during the prestigious 71st session of the UN General Assembly in New York last September. This was an unprecedented turn.
Nauru started the intervention by highlighting the issue of human rights violations in Papua, followed by a newcomer in the discourse of Papua: the Marshall Islands.
Vanuatu, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands followed suit and went one step further by specifically highlighting the issue of the right to self-determination for Papuans. Tonga emphasised the gravity of the problem and Palau, another novice, called for constructive dialogue with Indonesia to solve the Papua issue.
In other words, we might see another Papua Spring like we experienced in 2000. The question is whether the Spring will lead to Summer or back to Winter as we had in 2000 after Theys Eluay was assassinated? Many Papuans might believe that the progress is linear and irreversible so they put high expectations of the political process in the Pacific. The expectation is understandable but it needs the ULWMP leaders to manage it. Further, we need to put it in a broader political dynamics of Indonesia.
As we know, however, in comparison to Aceh, which found peace settlement for its political dispute with Jakarta through the 2005 Helsinki Agreement mediated by the European Union, Papua remains experiencing negative peace. That is, Papuans only experience the absence of war but continue suffering from multipolar of violence. That is, the ongoing state-sponsored violence is not the only source of Papuans’ grievances. They have confronted the increasing pressure of non-state actors that exploit their natural resources. The business interests of large corporations, particularly extractive industry, have put Papuans in a more vulnerable position as the local governments continue issuing licences to these corporations with little consultation with the Papuans.
Once a business project is established, it attracts jobseekers from all over Indonesia to go to Papua to fill the job market. As we have seen Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate in Merauke, BP Gas Project in Bintuni, various timber industry in Sorong, and the classic example of Freeport Indonesia in Timika, any large business projects also mean a demographic shift as many skilled and non-skilled labor will enter Papua simply because Papua does not have enough manpower. The demographic shift without proper social and cultural mitigation on the part of the local governments has caused resentment and widening social gaps between different ethnic groups in Papua that often lead to communal clashes. All of these different elements have merged into complex grievances that are not properly addressed by the Indonesian government.
At the international diplomacy, Indonesian diplomats simply deny the reality of human rights by referring to the state sovereignty argument. They overlook the unchanging reality of impunity on the ground in Papua. In the meantime, different ministries endorse overlapping and sometime opposing policies towards Papua. While President Joko Widodo endorsed open-door policy for Papua for international observers, the Indonesian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian Military remains reluctant to implement the President policy.
Similarly, when victims of human rights violations and human rights organisations in Indonesia call for justice, the President appointed Wiranto the Coordinating Ministry for Security, Legal and Political Affairs who then promote non-judicial measures to address human rights abuses. Given his alleged involvement in human rights abuses in East Timor, many are not so convinced that non-judicial manners will address the lingering question of impunity.
The non-monolith response from Jakarta suggests that it grapples with a formidable challenge in formulating and implementing a coherent policy to Papua. The situation illustrates that the domestic politics will unlikely change in the near future. It means that Jakarta will not be prepared to engage any meaningful discussion with Papua at either domestic or international levels. In this context, the ULWMP leadership will have to work hard. On the one hand, they have to navigate and negotiate with political powers in Jakarta and the Pacific, domestically they have also to deal with the expectations of their constituents. If the ULWMP leaders pass this ordeal, they will confirm their solidity. Otherwise, they might confirm the doubts of the critics and skeptics.
© Dr Budi Hernawan