The Importance of Papuans’ Participation in resolving the conflict in their region

By.Pater Neles Kebadabi Tebay,Pr

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono emphasized in his opening speech at the Bali Democratic Forum (BDF), November 7, the importance of peoples’ own participation in the process of making policies relevant to their lives. Citizens’ participation is recognized as one of the four fundamental elements of strengthening democracy. As such, the president highlighted the importance of Papuan people’s participation in seeking a solution to the Papua conflict (, November 7. 2013).

There are two fundamental elements in the President’s statement with regards to Papua.

The first element is his emphasis on the importance for Papuans taking part in resolving the Papua conflict. In other words, Papuans must not be excluded from the process of seeking a democratic solution to the conflict.

In order to understand the importance of those words, one requires a reasonable understanding of the nature of the Papua conflict.

The conflict is not a horizontal conflict among civilians living in Papua. It is not a conflict among churches or different religions. It is not a conflict between indigenous Papuan and transmigrant communities from other regions of Indonesia.

It will be a big mistake to reduce the conflict to an internal dispute among the Papuans, particularly one pitting those who support the government against those considered to be members of the Free Papuan Movement (OPM).

In fact, the Papua conflict is, by its very nature, a vertical conflict. It is a conflict between the Indonesian government against the Indigenous Papuans, particularly the OPM. The conflict has gone on ever since Indonesian took over Papua from the Dutch government in 1963.

The president’s statement is especially relevant today because Papuans’ participation has been ignored for 50 years.

During New Order era, the government prioritized the security approach in addressing the Papua conflict, declaring the region as a Military Operation Zone (DOM). The military determined policy in  Papua, which meant  the government tried to settle the conflict  with guns. Massive military operations were conducted against the Papuans, who tended to be seen as members of the OPM. The DOM policy was decided by the government without considering Papuans’ aspiration.

When the military approach failed, the government adopted prosperity approach to settle the conflict, manifested through the Special Autonomy law in 2013, again, without involving Papuans in the determination of this policy.

This led to the implementation of further improper and inconsistent policies. The central government without consulting the people of Papua, allowed the formation of new regencies in 2002, then established  West Papua province in 2003. Other policies include the acceleration of development in 2007 and the establishment of a new unit for accelerating development in Papua and West Papua provinces in 2011.

Despite these various policies, the Papua conflict remains unresolved. One fundamental factor behind this failure is the exclusion of the people of Papua in determining the above-mentioned policies.

Yudhoyono’s statement in Bali should thus serve as a reminder that the Papua conflict can be permanently  resolved only if Papuans are involved in finding democratic solutions. The second fundamental element in Yudhoyono’s statement with regards to Papua is whether he is willing to treat Papuans as partners in resolving the Papua conflict. During the New Order, Papuans were not treated as human beings, let alone as Indonesian citizens.

The presence of the OPM shaped the government’s perception of Papuans. Its people were branded as separatists out to destroy  Indonesia’s  territorial integrity.  Treating them as enemies of the state, the military conducted massive military operations against them.

Even Papuans who held and raised the Indonesian red- and- white flag and called themselves  citizens of Indonesia were suspected by the government of being supporters of the separatist movement. There was no trust of the Papuans. The government doubted their nationalism as Indonesians.

Considered as enemies, Papuans were excluded from discussion on policies affecting their own land. The government deliberately did not consult Papuans in its decision-making.

So the President’s recent statement on the importance of Papuans’ participation should be seen as a correction of the government’s perception of them. Papuans should not be considered as enemies who must be eliminated from Indonesian territory.

Rather, they are and should be recognized fully as human beings and Indonesian citizens. As partners of the government, they can participate fully in seeking democratic solution to the ongoing conflict and toward national development.  The government should begin consulting with Papuans, including members of the OPM, when discussing and determining policies in the region.

Yudhoyono emphasized that any policy taken unilaterally by the government without consultation with the people of Papuan, especially members of the OPM, would not resolve the Papua conflict, as it has been proven  time and again over the past half century.

Having recognized the importance of Papuan participation, it is now the duty of the central government, particularly the office of coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, to set up an inclusive mechanism for resolving the Papua conflict. In seeking a democratic solution, the minister could initiate a series of informal communication with Papuans, particularly the OPM leaders, in order to build confidence that, in turn, could lead to joint efforts in settling the Papua conflict.

Without such an initiative, the President’s statement on the importance of Papuan people’s participation will amount to nothing more than empty words. Yudhoyono still has several months to create a means for the people of Papua to participate in resolving the Papua conflict.

The author is a lecturer at the Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology and coordinator of the  Papua Peace Network In Jayapura.

(TEMPO Magazine, November 25-December 1, 2013, pp. 36-37)

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