Apr 22, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

West Papua: Inside Indonesia?

West Papua: Inside Indonesia?

Jennifer Robinson

   Photo: Leslie Butt

For many people, West Papua is unquestionably part of Indonesia and therefore a proper topic for discussion in this magazine. For many others, it rankles. This difference in opinion boils down to a significant point in Papuan – and Indonesian – history. Next year marks 40 years since a UN sponsored vote in 1969, the Act of Free Choice (AOFC), which determined that West Papua would be integrated into Indonesia rather than become an independent state. Of course, there was another big and much-discussed anniversary in Indonesia this year. May 2008 marked ten years since the downfall of President Suharto and the beginning of reformasi. This anniversary prompted much reflection about the state of Indonesia’s democracy. That the anniversary of the AOFC is looming is hardly less significant. The contested histories arising from the AOFC – in particular concerning Papua’s status as a part of Indonesia – are at the root of ongoing conflict in Papua.

This important marker in Papuan and Indonesian history offers a pertinent and appropriate time for Inside Indonesia to dedicate a special issue to contemporary Papua. It has been seven years since Inside Indonesia last dedicated an edition to this topic. The title then was: ‘A New Papua: Special Autonomy or Independence?’ Seven years later, the question remains as relevant now as it was then.

This edition

In this edition we offer a range of articles that reflect upon contemporary concerns in Papua. In addition to the poor implementation of special autonomy, these articles deal with human rights abuses, demographic change, natural resource development and the HIV/Aids epidemic. Such issues fuel discontent with the Indonesian government and drive Papuan independence sentiment.

Our first group of authors concentrates on issues in Papua that may be familiar to Inside Indonesia readers: politics and human rights. Richard Chauvel provides an overview of the recent politics of special autonomy in the territory. He suggests that, although political changes have been dramatic and there is now real electoral competition in Papua, the repression of Papuan nationalism and the pro-independence movement means that Papuans are not able to fully enjoy the freedoms now available to most other Indonesians. The article by Muridan S. Widjojo represents an Indonesian view on paths to peace, offering a new framework to address the Papua conflict within the framework of the Indonesian state, arguing that Indonesia’s present security approach to conflict resolution creates unnecessary and violent tension. Three authors then look at different aspects of the human rights situation. Budi Hernawan reports upon state torture practices in Papua, Carmel Budiardjo reflects upon the political assassination of prominent Papuan leaders, and Jennifer Robinson writes about freedom of speech. Each of these articles reiterates the point made by Chauvel: in practice, state policy in Papua is radically different than in most parts of Indonesia, and Papuans do not enjoy the same civil liberties as most other Indonesians.

Beyond politics

The other contributions look at a range of social issues that may be less familiar to our readers. Three articles are dedicated to the HIV epidemic in Papua, which stands out as one of its most pressing social concerns. HIV infection rates in Papua are the highest in Indonesia and five times the national average. Seventy per cent of those infected are indigenous Papuans. Iskandar Nugroho explains how men engaging in sex with other men are at high risk of contracting the virus, showing how this risk is exacerbated by taboos against discussions of extra-marital sex and HIV prevention strategies. Leslie Butt and Jack Morin show how systematic discrimination and structural inequities increase the risk of HIV infection among indigenous waria (transsexuals), leading to higher infection rates among indigenous Papuans. Sara Knuckey writes about community awareness and the need for socially and culturally sensitive HIV education, describing one successful sexual health education program involving Jayapura’s professional football team, Persipura.

The next three articles address a broad spectrum of social issues: the impact of large development projects, the increasing political significance of traditional Papuan art, and the emotional transformations accompanying modernisation in Papua. Paul Barber questions whether the new BP Tangguh project will benefit local people or become yet another resource curse. Kipley Nink describes how Papuan asylum seekers in Australia are using the Asmat bisj-pole as a form of protest, explicitly linking this art form with their campaign for independence. Sarah Hewat writes about romantic love in Papua, demonstrating that new understandings of love, passion and expectations of gendered relations have accompanied, and been as dramatic as, the better documented changes associated with modernisation.

Our final article by Mike Cookson considers how ‘Papua’ is represented, used and exchanged on the web. While cautioning readers that one must be critical when using web-based material about Papua, Cookson provides readers with an invaluable guide to a far greater range of information.

As Papua enters this significant year, Inside Indonesia hopes to bring you more articles about the anniversary of the Act of Free Choice and about other contemporary developments and challenges in Papua.     ii

Jennifer Robinson (jennifer.robinson@balliol.ox.ac.uk) is an Australian lawyer and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, researching international investment law and human rights.

Inside Indonesia 94: Oct-Dec 2008

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