International Crisis Group Media Release - August 22, 2011 (see executive summary below)

Jakarta/Brussels – A spike in violence in Indonesian Papua over the last two months underscores the urgency of exploring new ideas to address conflict there.

Indonesia: Hope and Hard Reality in Papua, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, juxtaposes the vision of a peaceful Papua produced by a conference in Jayapura in July with the reality of conflict in Puncak Jaya, one of the most remote districts.

"President Yudhoyono needs to move quickly to set up a long-delayed new Papua unit with a mandate to cover political as well as economic development issues", says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. "It's not a guarantee that the situation will get better, but without a fresh approach from Jakarta, it will certainly get worse".

Crisis Group notes that a series of "indicators" produced by the Papua Peace Conference on 5-7 July could serve as guidelines for public policy at a national and local level. For example, one indicator of a peaceful Papua would be that basic socio-cultural rights of indigenous Papuans are recognised and respected. A policy consequence might be to prepare booklets on customs of different ethnic groups that would be required reading for anyone assigned to Papua, including security forces. Another indicator would be that perpetrators of state violence are brought to trial and sentenced in a way that gives Papuans a sense of justice. The policy prescription would be to ensure that soldiers or police responsible for gratuitous violence are given sentences commensurate with the crime, instead of slap-on-the-wrist punishments for disciplinary infractions.

The district of Puncak Jaya, wracked by insurgency, corruption and some of the worst poverty in Papua, exemplifies the challenge of finding solutions. There are many factors feeding the insurgency there including a sense of historical injustice, harsh actions by security forces and clan-based factionalism. But two common policy responses - more money and more troops (deployed for "community service") - are not likely to bring about improvements.

This is where a new "Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua" (called UP4B after its Indonesian abbreviation), has the potential to be helpful. A draft decree creating the unit has been sitting on the Cabinet Secretary's desk in Jakarta for the last three months, and some are beginning to wonder if it will ever come into being. Originally seen as a vehicle for economic "quick wins", it evolved into a unit that, according to the latest draft, was also tasked with "developing the mechanism and substance of constructive communication between the government and representatives of the people of Papua and West Papua with a view toward resolving the the conflict".

"At least the indicators provide some ideas on how to move forward," says Jim Della-Giacoma, South East Asia Project Director. "The challenge now is to make tangible changes that Papuans themselves would regard as progress."


Hard Reality in Papua - Executive Summary


The conflict in Indonesian Papua continues to defy solution, but some new ideas are on the table. A spike in violence in July and August 2011 underscores the urgency of exploring them. The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should move quickly to set up a long-delayed new Papua unit with a mandate that includes political issues. That unit should look at a set of political, social, economic, legal and security indicators produced in July by a Papua Peace Conference that could become a framework for more enlightened policies. Taken together, they represent a vision of what a peaceful Papua would look like. The conference participants who drafted them, however, were almost all from Papuan civil society. For any real change to take place, there needs to be buy-in not just from Jakarta but from the increasingly large constituency of Papuan elected officials who have influence and resources at a local level.

The aspirations voiced during the conference contrast sharply with the reality of escalating conflict in the highland district of Puncak Jaya, a remote region wracked by insurgency, corruption and some of the worst poverty in Indonesia. It is home to one of the most active units of the pro-independence National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional, TPN) of the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM). A complex set of factors feeds the insurgency, including a sense of historical injustice, harsh actions by security forces, and competition and factionalism, sometimes clan-based, among the fighters themselves. Violence there helps fuel local political activism and an international solidarity movement, which in turn fuels antipathy in Jakarta to any steps toward conflict resolution that involve discussion of political grievances. It also leads to restrictions on access by foreign humanitarian and development organisations.

The conference on 5-7 July was meant to break that pattern. The fruit of two years of behind-the-scenes labour by a group called the Papua Peace Network, it was to be an exercise in formulating issues that could then be discussed with the government in Jakarta in a way that some thought might keep the "M" word -- merdeka (independence) -- at bay. It did not work out quite as the organisers had planned. Top government officials offered informal "constructive communication", without specifying what they had in mind; activists responded with a demand for a much more formal dialogue, with the Indonesian government sitting across the table from Papuan pro-independence negotiators, mediated by a neutral international third party. Instead of building bridges, the conference underscored the depth of the gulf in perceptions between Jakarta-based officials and Papuan civil society about the nature of the conflict.

The government of President Yudhoyono, on Papua as on everything else, has been glacially slow to develop a policy that would be different from the default response of throwing cash at the problem and hoping it will go away. In mid-2010 the idea emerged of a special unit on Papua to be based in the vice-president's office called the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (Unit Percepatan Pembangunan di Papua dan Papua Barat, UP4B). Initially conceived as an agency to implement "quick win" development projects, it seemed by early 2011 to be gaining a wider mandate that could also allow it to address more sensitive issues related to land, conflict and human rights. A draft decree setting up UP4B has been on the Cabinet Secretary's desk, however, since May and there is no indication when it will be sent to the president for signing. Without the new unit, the chance of any positive change in policy is much diminished, allowing developments in Puncak Jaya to stand as a symbol for activists inside and outside Indonesia of everything that is wrong in Papua.

Jakarta/Brussels, 22 August 2011

See also:

  • West Papua
  • West Papua Links
  • Statements and Press Releases on West Papua
  • Indonesia
  • Indoleft Archive
  • Indonesia links
  • Indonesia News Digest
  • News services on Indonesia
  • Publications & videos on Indonesia
  • Reports & articles on Indonesia
  • Statements & press releases on Indonesia