Understanding (again and again) the context of Papua’s racism and discrimination

(Photo Credit: Swaranesia.com)

Annalia Bahar — August 2020

The case of racism in the US has become a lively conversation in the world and Indonesia. When it comes to Indonesia, the issue of racism in the US is arguably anchored by the pro-Papuan independence groups who were seeking support and pretext for their “people’s struggle”.

Having been the subject of discussion in various domestic and international media, the successful rise of the racism issue in Papua is not only because of pressure from the pro-independence group but also because of the Indonesian government itself that is not optimal in resolving issues related to Papua.

Several pro-independent Papuan figures were seen actively to be speakers at several online discussions. One of the activities was inviting representatives of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), such as Markus Haluk as a guest speaker. This shift in focus from separation to racism, to a certain extent, shows the opportunism of the Papuan pro-independence groups. Is it for personal purposes? Nobody knows.

Since there have been many studies explaining that Papua’s most significant problem if we look at it, lies in discrimination in aspects like economic and cultural development, not racism. Moreover, the previous case of racism against Papua on 15 August 2019 in Surabaya has been handled not only legally, but also socially. Several individuals alleged to be the provoking actors of the incidents have faced legal consequences. Socially, more and more people, even many public figures showed their solidarity to our Papuan fellows that such a discriminatory act does not have a place here in Indonesia.

Then, why does the case keep appearing, now by linking the issue of racism in the US and the issue of racism in Papua? Of course, as mentioned above, our speculation leads to individual opportunism.

However, this article does not expose racism but views several cases of discrimination that occurred in Papua. It also reviews practical steps to build peace in Papua, including eliminating the discrimination that often occurs because this is a real problem of Papua. At the same time, racism is an afar issue that belongs to the United States as a country that had ever permitted slavery.

Discrimination in Papua

Regarding discrimination in Papua, LIPI (the Indonesian Institute of Sciences) has issued a comprehensive report entitled “Papua Road Map: Negotiating the Past, Improving the Present and Securing the Future” in 2008 which discussed four essential issues that should be a concern to the Indonesian government when dealing with issues about Papua.

First, marginalization and discriminatory actions against indigenous Papuans since 1970. Second, the failure of development, especially in the fields of education, health, and empowerment of the people’s economy. Third, regarding the historical contradictions and poor construction of political identity between Papua and Jakarta. Fourth, accountability for past country violence against Indonesian citizens in Papua.

Of the four problems identified; not a single idea was found that suggests that a security approach can be used to achieve peace in Papua as the government used to execute.

Recognition of the existence of OAP (Indigenous Papuan), budget management for the efficiency and effectiveness of development, paving the way for equal dialogue, and resolving impunity that is mandatory for reformation are all a viable solution for achieving a conducive situation — also guarantees OAP on civil liberties without exception.

But, the four problems (and their solutions) have yet to be employed as a common reference to end the sustainable violence and discrimination in Papua.

Revision of the security approach is urgently needed

Lokatoru Foundation, in its release entitled, “Lack of freedom for Civilians in Papua: Continuing the Security Approach?” gives an analysis and conclusion, that the current government is still making the same mistake by initiating a security-based formula that addresses the problems in Papua. The security approach, which is still the focus of the government, is becoming a severe threat to civil liberties in Papua and other parts of Indonesia.

In fact, though, the Papua Peace Network (JDP) has pioneered dialogue and encouraged the government to rebuild an equal dialogue space between Jakarta and Papua. In a joint release of LIPI and JDP, titled “Building Peaceful in Papua Together “ (LIPI — JDP; 2015; Jakarta-Papua dialogue which means avoiding repressive ways, and building trust) become an effective and also rare event that must be used as a valuable benchmark to end the continuing stigma and discrimination in Papua.

The presence of the government representatives in Papua several times, often followed by a security approach that has been criticized so far, only continues to sharpen friction and spread threats to OAP. As reported by ALDP (Democratic Alliance for Papua) in 2018 for example, infrastructure development for alleviating previous failures, nonetheless still accompanied by the presence of security forces — both as security forces and as project implementers.

If it is indeed to protect the safety of workers from the violence that often comes from the Papuan independence fighters or the OPM, the government must ensure that the personnel brought in are those who can communicate well with the residents. Besides, the security forces present in Papua are those who know the historical, social, and psychological contexts of the Papuan people that are different, as each region in Indonesia is also unique to one another.

The vicious murder case of several Trans Papua development workers by the OPM in the past has not been cleared yet. The government has yet to come up with a robust explanation of the case, leaving the public with another confusing information maze. Cases that should be able to attract the world’s attention to help the government in the welfare of Papua finally was just left unanswered like that.

The reconciliation plan for human rights violations in the past (i.e. Wasior, Wamena) also does not find any solution. This is indeed a stark historical record and the wound left in the hearts of the people of Papua. We can make a conclusive reading of the situation above as a critical point to return to the core problems of Papuan, that Papuans continuously do not get legal and rights protection as citizens.

Cease fighting, find a solution

To make what is happening today in Papua becomes conducive, of course, strategic steps are needed. Some dark historical records and human rights violations that occurred in Papua cannot be underestimated. Strong policies are required to change the existing system there so that the approach is more humane and the democratic rights of Papuans, guaranteed by Pancasila, must be upheld in a democratic Indonesia.

Approaches by the government that seem repressive so far, whether intentional or not, will certainly continue to have the potential to fuel the prolonged conflict there. The end is predictable, namely the deeper hatred of our Papuan brothers towards the government.

This can be easily exacerbated as foreign commentators and media are always ready to amplify (and that is their right) negative events and statements from the Indonesian government.

Furthermore, security approaches and restrictions on Papuan civil rights must continue to be assessed and degraded gradually. Because, throughout the history of Indonesia, including in Aceh, such an approach clearly will not solve the Papua problem completely. The government needs seriously to formulate and offer new or alternative approaches to prove its commitment to guarantee a safer, more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Papua without discrimination.

Why is the government that seems to be the most responsible? Isn’t it true that in several studies, it was also shown that many victims fell because of violence which was mainly carried out by the OPM?

The government, with all its resources, is ultimately the ablest to determine the direction of progress and prosperity of Papua. Unfortunately, even violence by OPM has not been successfully resolved through open and transparent approaches.

For example, open cross-examination between government representatives and pro-independence groups has also never been carried out. Even if the government feels that it has full responsibility, problems with the OPM, whose number of personnel is never comparable to the Indonesian security forces, should be more quickly resolved.

Indeed, the deeper we dig in, the Papua problem is more and more complexed. It could become even more tangled up if the Indonesian government does not immediately innovate and transform itself to resolve the Papua issues peacefully. To begin this peaceful path, dialogue with various stakeholders, especially Papua customary leaders, must start to be intensified, because they are the ones who actually have social influence.

Also, the role of many young Papuans, who are now becoming more active in many social movements, needs to be supported without the frills of NKRI Harga Mati or the non-negotiable Unitary Republic of Indonesia.

It is a shared secret that the Indonesian government is generally suspicious of the movements of young Papuans. We know that many young Papuans have done positive actions, for example, by routinely holding social assistance and having high academic achievements. If the government is to be provided, before either moral or material support is given, they are asked whether they are NKRI or not.

Of course, it becomes a government dilemma if those who are supported later dislike Indonesia in their hearts. But in a situation like this, if the conservative approach continues, the young generation of Papua will be more and more uncomfortable.

The loyalty of young Papuans to Indonesia cannot be stated with an answer, yes or no to the NKRI Harga Mati. These young people also need to be given space to prove that they have a role in the country. For example, the government initiated an exchange program of high school children throughout Indonesia in which young Papuans can participate.

That way, these young people would understand that ultimate happiness and prosperity (see the rise of Arab, Europe, and America) can only be built on multiculturalism (as long as it is well managed). This understanding will hopefully grow more robust, and these young Papuans hopefully find their significant role in developing Papua and developing Indonesia.

In the end, the government must be able to leave a legacy by transforming Papua into a positive direction, turning memoria passion (memories of suffering) to memoria felicitas (memories of happiness) in Papua. (*)

This paper fully represents the author’s idea. This paper does not constitute an idea or the establishment of a particular institution or organization the author works or is affiliated.



Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.

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The Wawawa Journal

Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.