Jan 27, 2023 Last Updated 12:03 AM, Jan 26, 2023

Fixing Papua's history?

Published: Jul 26, 2007

Feije Duim

An independent academic study on the decolonisation of Indonesia, concentrating on the Papuan case, may have a disastrous effect on the welfare of Papuans as well as on relations between Indonesia and the Netherlands. For many Papuan leaders, however, the report embodies their hope for rectification of their history.

On 15 August 1962, the Netherlands and Indonesia signed the New York Agreement on the future of Irian Jaya, now called Papua. Papuans were excluded from the decision-making process. The New York Agreement stipulated that the territory was to be placed under the authority of the United Nations (UN), which, after a transitional period, would in turn hand it over to the Indonesian authorities. After seven years, Indonesia was required to consult the Papuans on whether they wished to remain a part of Indonesia or become independent. In 1969, Indonesia selected some 1000 people to act as representatives of the Papuan population in an Act of Free Choice. These representatives were made to ‘choose’ to remain part of Indonesia.

In 2000, two Dutch parliamentarians visited Papua. Papuan community leaders pointed out to them the historical responsibility of the Netherlands for the present fate of Papuans in Indonesia. The Papuans claimed they had a right to know what had happenedSduring the Act of Free Choice and demanded that an investigation be carried out.

Based on this request, one of the parliamentarians, Van Middelkoop, asked in the Dutch parliament for an independent inquiry. The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Van Aartsen, promised to arrange one. He appointed a Dutch scholar, Drooglever, to undertake an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the Act of Free Choice. The study was to reflect upon Papuans’ right to self-determination within the framework of the decolonisation of Indonesia between 1901 and 1969. From the outset, the Dutch government made it very clear that the report would not change the attitude of the Netherlands towards the territorial integrity of Indonesia.

At the time, Abdurrahman Wahid was President of Indonesia. A wind of new opportunities for justice and democracy blew through the Indonesian archipelago. Wahid was moderately open to dialogue with Papuan community leaders and even co-financed the Papua Congress in 2000. But even in this open atmosphere the Indonesian government reacted immediately to news of the inquiry, asking the Dutch to reconfirm their support for the New York Agreement. The Dutch declined the request, arguing that it was not necessary to reconfirm international treaties. After Megawati succeeded Wahid as President in July 2001, the climate of political openness in Indonesia began to change. Megawati’s fixation with keeping the country together (a legacy from her father) merged with the military’s vision and interests and intensified tensions between Indonesia and the Netherlands on the issue. Indonesia showed its irritation by refusing entry to Papua to representatives of Dutch development agencies in 2003, and by excluding the Dutch from the visa-on-arrival scheme for tourists in 2004. Dutch diplomats also began to feel Indonesia’s displeasure.

Indonesia is indeed very uneasy about the report. They wonder why the Dutch would accommodate separatist movements and their foreign friends in this way. Some perceive it as a renewed attempt to divide Indonesia, as the Dutch tried to do in the aftermath of colonial rule. They suspect that the Dutch are merely paying lip service to the territorial integrity of Indonesia, while acting to undermine it. The opening of an inquiry is ‘proof’ of their malicious intent. Senior military commanders appear to perýeive the report as part of an international conspiracy to ‘steal’ Papua from Indonesia. Bureaucrats argue that Indonesia arranged the Act of Free Choice only as a courtesy to the Netherlands, as a kind of face-saving operation. So why this effort to puý the issue on the table again? Of course, for Indonesia the integration of Papua has been final from the start. Indonesians perceive themselves as the liberators of Papua, setting it free from colonial occupation and paternalism. As former colonisers aýd human rights abusers in Indonesia, the Dutch are historically disqualified from speaking on behalf of any group in Indonesia, including the Papuans. This is why Dutch diplomatic interventions are often counterproductive. The mere fact of the inquiry has seriously limited the impact of Dutch interventions on behalf of victims of human rights abuses in Indonesia.

At the same time, many Papuans believe that they have lost their identity through integration with Indonesia. Many feel as though they live in an occupied territory — an Indonesian colony — that has been exploited in the Indonesian national interest. They feel they have been denied their most basic rights and have been made second-class citizens. Indeed, the Indonesian authorities — particularly the military — have always treated Papuans as ‘primitive’ people who need to be ‘civilised’ according to the Indonesian model. Papuans have to listen and obey. Papuans who were critical of the Indonesian authorities were first called colonial collaborators, and later separatists. The military knew what was ‘best’ for the people of Papua and in the meantime exploited local resources..

As long as their views are not taken seriously, Papuans will continue to seek independence as a solution to the problems in the territory. The Special Autonomy Law for Papua in 2002 did take their complaints seriously but it was then undermined in 2003 by a presidential decree that ordered the partition of the province into three new provinces. With a flagrant disregard for the Special Autonomy Law, the presidential decree was released without any prior consultation with the Papuan community. In 2003, the military even called advocates of special autonomy ‘separatists’! At this point, many Papuans lost any remaining confidence they had in Indonesia. They are now even more determined to reclaim history, as if Papuans had proclaimed their independence in 1961, only to have had it taken from them in 1969 without their consent. Many Papuans are convinced that a historical inquiry could strengthen their position, and open the way for more effective lobbying for a UN review of the Act of Free Choice.

Scholars, because of a scholarly fixation with completeness and precision, rarely meet deadlines. The release of Drooglever’s report has been postponed several times. It is now expected that the report will be published in March 2005. In the meantime, other developments are making the report’s forthcoming publication increasingly sensitive. The international solidarity network for Papua is on the alert: ready to act as soon as the report is published. Together with a group of Papuans they have garnered considerable and growing support for their campaign for a review of the Act of Free Choice. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Irish Parliament have both expressed support for the review campaign. However, other church and development organisations, such as Global Ministries PCN (Protestant Churches in the Netherlands) and the Interchurch Organisation for Development Cooperation (ICCO), do not support this campaign.

But churches, religious leaders and church-based human rights organisations in Papua, Jakarta and the rest of the world are worried. Secular human rights activists in Jakarta share their concern. They feel that the whole affair is getting out of hand. A reaction to the report in Papua could easily provide the Indonesian military with a pretext to stage a military operation, which will have serious impact on the people of Papua. The military will require new operations to protect its budget and expenditure once the operation in Aceh concludes. And there are signs that the military and bureaucrats are preparing for such an operation in Papua. Last year, a number of personnel who had served in East Timor were placed in important posts in Papua. In addition, East Timor militia leader Eurico Guterres established the Red and White Defenders Front (Front Pembela Merah Putih) in a military office in Timika to defend Indonesian sovereignty in Papua. In January, a group of Jakartan parliamentarians, obviously put on this track by the military, asked the Indonesian government to declare civil emergency in the territory. A civil emergency would put the military in charge of civil administration. Although their request was rejected, these steps have left church and development groups confused and anxious about the report.

Meanwhile, the Dutch parliament, where the whole issue started, is waiting in silence for the report to be published, as though they bear no responsibility. Although they too are nervous, neither the Dutch government nor parliamentarians appear to be taýing any real action to reach an understanding with the Indonesian government before the report is published. An additional problem is that Indonesia’s weak and inconsistent implementation of the Special Autonomy Law has left the international community empty-handed when it comes to alternatives for the Papuan community.

This is not to say the report should not be published: promises have been made, and expectations have been formed. However, when the report is published, Dutch parliamentarians and the Dutch government should not be found to have remained idle. At the very least, the Dutch — who accept and support the territorial integrity of Indonesia — should work together with the Indonesian government and Papuan community leaders to develop a strategy to prevent violence, promote dialogue and improve the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law. This could prevent existing tensions from escalating further.

Feije Duim works at the Global Ministries PCN (Protestant Churches in the Netherlands) and the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO).

Inside Indonesia has invited the Papua lobby to respond to this article in the October–December edition.

Inside Indonesia 79: Jul - Sep 2004

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