Sep 26, 2023 Last Updated 8:24 AM, Sep 13, 2023

Inside the Special Autonomy Bill

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Agus Sumule

21 May 1998.Suharto is forced to step down. The people of Papua seize the moment of reformasi by intensifying their demand for 'M' (Merdeka independence).

26 February 1999. A hundred prominent Papuans meet president Habibie and his cabinet. They openly convey the Papuan demand for an independent state separate from Indonesia.

October 1999. The People's Assembly (MPR) meets to elect a new president. Decree No. IV promises Irian Jaya 'special autonomy' and legal resolution of human rights violations.

29 May 4 June 2000. The Second Papuan Congress is held in Port Numbay (the increasingly popular name for Jayapura, Papua's capital city). Organised by the Presidium of the Papuan Council (Presidium Dewan Papua, PDP) and funded mostly by president Abdurrahman Wahid, the congress is attended by about 20,000 people from all over Papua, Indonesia and overseas (of whom 501 were legally appointed delegates). The congress unequivocally restates the demand for independence. Among its four commissions is one on the history of West Papua, and one on the basic rights of the people of West Papua. Jakarta strongly criticises the congress.

1 December 2000. Commemorations of the '1961 West Papua Independence' are mainly peaceful but take place under heavy pressure from Indonesia's security apparatus. Several PDP leaders are later detained on treason charges.

Fourth week of December 2000. Several prominent Papuan figures hold a series of meetings to consider how to achieve a peaceful win-win solution within the legal and political system of the Republic of Indonesia. They agree that special autonomy, as promised in 1999, should be the vehicle to achieve that goal. Among them are the newly elected governor Jaap Solossa, the then speaker of Papua's provincial parliament Nathaniel Kaiway (since deceased), the rector of Cenderawasih University (Uncen) Frans Wospakrik, the Indonesian Junior Minister for the Acceleration of Development in East Indonesia Manuel Kaisiepo, August Kafiar, and Rev Karel Phil Erari. Bas Suebu, a former governor of Papua and currently the Indonesian ambassador to Mexico, also takes part. The university rector is asked to form a team of Papuan intellectuals to start the process.

First week of January 2001. The rector's team begins collecting documentation - from non-government, university, provincial government as well as Papuan Congress sources - about the possible contents of a law on Papuan special autonomy.

Third week of January 2001. The governor, in a speech broadcast on radio and local TV, invites people to participate in discussing the contents of a special autonomy bill to be put to the central government and the national parliament. He assures people they are free to discuss anything they consider important, and urges the security apparatus to respect the people's democratic rights. Solossa also announces that the team formed by the rector of Uncen has prepared a discussion-starting document entitled 'The basic rights and responsibilities of the people of Papua'. He invites the people to add, delete or even refuse the document, and to write down their suggestions for improvement. He also invites representatives from each district to come to Jayapura for a Study Forum to discuss the draft, adding that the people should determine their own representatives.

Fourth week of January 2001. The rector's team divides into small groups to visit all districts, where discussions are held with local government and non-government leaders including with the district-based panels of the Papuan Council. Not all discussions are `trouble-free' - some meetings refuse to discuss special autonomy and firmly restate the demand for independence. However, many of those who read the document realise the provincial government is serious about finding solutions. Many visit the team and offer suggestions.

First week of February to first of week of March 2001. The team and a steering committee of Papuan intellectuals, including church representatives, academics, NGOs, government officials and provincial parliamentarians, start the legal drafting process. Eight drafts are produced consecutively. Inputs collected from the visits to the districts are seriously taken into consideration.

Second and third week of March 2001. Some outside experts on autonomy are invited to provide their inputs for improvement. Meetings are held with Papuan parliamentarians in Jakarta for the same purpose. This leads to draft numbers 9, 10 and 11.

28 and 29 March 2001. The Study Forum on Special Autonomy for a New Papua is held in Jayapura, organised by Uncen. It is attended by representatives from all districts, as well as some parliamentarians and Supreme Advisory Council members from Jakarta. Strong opposition from those who consider that special autonomy will compromise the people's demand for independence interrupts the opening session. Some participants who agree with this view walk out. However, a significant number remain and the meeting continues. Before each discussion session, Bas Suebu explains the proposed law (draft 11), including the article about the need to resolve the question of the validity of Papua's integration into the Republic of Indonesia. On the second day, better attended, Bas Suebu repeats the explanation. Participants add more suggestions that are substantial.

First week of April 2000. Based on the inputs gained during the Forum, three more drafts are produced.

Second week of April 2000. The Uncen rector hands the final draft (14) to the governor of Papua, who presents it to the provincial parliament. Parliament unanimously supports the draft.

16 April 2000. A delegation from the province of Papua, headed by the governor and the acting speaker of the provincial parliament, hand the bill to president Abdurrahman Wahid, vice president Megawati Sukarnoputri, parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung, and coordinating minister for political, social and security affairs Bambang Yudhoyono. Each is asked to support it.

As Tempo magazine put it, this draft is a middle way for the antagonistic relationship between Jakarta and Jayapura. It could be the most feasible and acceptable peaceful solution. I would like to add, however, that this draft is not merely a legal product through a democratic process. It is a mechanism for building trust, so sorely lacking in Papua today. If Jakarta accepts the people's draft, we can be optimistic that a strong platform has been built for the many future discussions. A one Papuan chief said: 'Problems are easier to solve between friends than enemies.'

Dr Agus Sumule ( teaches agriculture at Universitas Negeri Papua (formerly Cenderawasih University, Manokwari campus). He was a member of the drafting team.

Inside Indonesia 67: Jul - Sep 2001

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