Dialogue is a recipe to end deadly violence in Papua

The process of decolonization needs to be recognized and implemented via talks with the Indonesian government
Dialogue is a recipe to end deadly violence in Papua

A Papuan student screams as he is arrested by Indonesian police while trying to join a human rights protest at a Papuan student dormitory in Yogyakarta in this July 15, 2016 file photo. Pro-independence sentiment runs high in Papua, which has seen a long-running insurgency waged by poorly armed guerrillas. (Photo by Suryo Wibowo/AFP)

Since annexation in 1963, indigenous Papuans say they have been targeted by Indonesian security forces for arbitrary arrest, torture and even marked for death. The evidence is overwhelming and the signs are that atrocities committed against the Papuans will not end soon. 

More human rights violations are expected to happen in the future for four reasons. Firstly, the increased military presence and expansion of territorial command. The government has established two military regional commands in Jayapura, the capital of Papua and Manokwari, the capital of West Papua. It has also increased local and district-level commands.

Since 2001, the government has installed three new battalions in Wamena, Timika, and Merauke, adding to the three that already existed in Papua, making a total of between 4,900 and 6,000 troops. Now, the government has announced plans to deploy thousands more. The army build-up stands in sharp contrast to the initiative launched by civil society to make Papua a land of peace.  

Secondly, favoring security over prosperity in the government's approach to its restive territory. After applying the security approach from 1963 to 2000, the government emphasized the prosperity approach in dealing with the Papuans. However, the reality on the ground indicates that the security approach is still practiced by the military and police. The latest example was the election of a local regent on Feb. 15. Police allegedly coerced Papuans to elect the candidate supported by the chief of police. It got so bad, the governor of Papua Province, Lukas Enembe, called upon Indonesia's national police chief and President Joko Widodo to remove Paulus Waterpauw the Papuan police chief.

The security approach also violates human rights. Despite the government's prosperity approach, Papuans are easily arrested, detained, beaten, tortured, shot and killed by security forces anywhere and anytime in Papua. 

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There are also migrants and non-Papuans living in the province. Some of them were brought to Papua by the government under its so-called transmigration program by which people from densely populated provinces were moved to less populated zones. Some other migrants come voluntarily to Papua looking for prosperity and a better life and their numbers continue to increase. There are now at least 1.5 million non-Papuans who have never been victims of human rights abuses because they are considered Indonesian citizens.

It is only Papuans who are targeted by the military and police and have been victimized for 54 years under Indonesian rule.

Thirdly, a lack of political will to address human rights issues. The government is not seriously committed to addressing human rights in Papua. In 2016, the government established a team to address three cases of gross human rights violations in Papua. They announced that the cases would be settled before the end of 2016. However, the government failed to do so. Meanwhile, many abuses committed by security forces since 1963 remain unaddressed.

From October 2014 to October 2016, as reported by the SETARA rights group, the military and police were involved in 84 cases of human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests, beatings, shootings, and killings. The government has not shown its commitment to end such horrors or how to stop them in the future.

Papuans consider the abuses a result of Indonesian colonialization so they launched a resistance program through diplomacy and acts of violence such as shooting and killing members of the Indonesian military and police. The goal of the resistance is to decolonize the land and the people of Papua. Naturally, the military and police are intent on fighting back and so further abuses are inevitable.

Finally, there is no willingness to engage in dialogue with the Papuans. Civil societies in Papua and many parties in Jakarta have been calling for all-inclusive dialogue between the Indonesian government and Papuan resistance groups known as Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM).

Both sides, through dialogue, could jointly identify the fundamental issues that trigger the conflict and discuss solutions. Nevertheless, the government has not demonstrated its willingness to engage in dialogue with the Papuans. 

Resistance groups united under the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) in December 2014. It has been the main representative of resistance groups and the indigenous population since then. The Indonesian government should meet with the ULMWP and discuss a policy that can be agreed by both sides. A jointly accepted policy should provide guidelines on development in Papua, including how to address past human rights violations, end the current violence and prevent rights abuses in the future.

Human rights violations in Papua will not end unless the government and the ULMWP engage in a peaceful dialogue. Strong international support is deeply needed to make this dialogue happen.

Father Neles Tebay is a lecturer at Fajar Timur School of Philosophy and Theology, and Coordinator of the Papua Peace Network. 

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