Monday, August 22, 2011

Making sense of current events in Papua

Budi Hernawan, Canberra

Since the Papua Peace Conference concluded in Jayapura in July, a whirlwind of events in Papua has raised questions that need answers.

While the violent incidents around the Puncak Jaya highlands remain unresolved, separate violence has occurred in the neighborhood in Puncak regency surrounding a local election.

A few days later, several thousand Papuans took to the streets in Jayapura to express their great hope and support for a conference being held in Oxford, the UK, by the International Lawyers for West Papua (ILWP). The conference discussed the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the decision of the 1969 Free Choice Act.

Although these events are mostly separate, they pose the question to those of us trying to make sense of the situation: What is going on here?

Let’s start with the conference in Jayapura. It was the culmination of continuous efforts by Papuan civil society seeking a peaceful solution to the Papuan conflict.

The conference organizer, the Papua Peace Network, was born out of a decade-long peace movement in Papua, which envisaged Papua as a land of peace, free from all forms of violence. The network translates this broad concept of peace into a narrowly defined goal: dialogue with Jakarta.

The first step to achieving this — dialogue during the conference — was realized. Representing Jakarta, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto was present.

For three days, government officials, observers and hundreds of Papuans engaged in intensive conversations to envision politics of hope.

The conference concluded with a final statement outlining its follow up, including appointing select Papuans to negotiate with Jakarta. This conference demonstrates the politics of hope embedded in the network of power in Papua.

Despite the importance of conferences such as this, it is not enough to stop violence, as we have seen in the recent events in Puncak Jaya. Over the last decade, this area has gained more attention outside Papua, sadly, following reports of the violent incidents.

Beginning from the hostage incident in 2001, the hoisting of the outlawed Morning Star flag in 2006 was met with a police raid and now gunmen conduct hit-and-run attacks on security troops.

The death toll is climbing, prompting new Army chief Gen. Pramono Edhie Wibowo to consider further action. This continuing violence has compelled leading human rights group Kontras to appeal to President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono to stop the violence.

Puncak Jaya may illustrate other elements within the Papuan network of domination and resistance. The security services representing the power of domination have been met with the power of resistance from the Papuans. But both claim sovereignty of the same territory: Papua.

In a separate incident, local elections at the newly established district of Puncak led to violence. One of the candidates for the position of the regent was denied entry to the registration process by the local election commission (KPUD). The inevitable clash between supporters of rival candidates is no stranger to any local election in Indonesia. Therefore, rivalry is the message here.

Back in the UK, the ILWP organized follow-up action signaling its determination to seek a legal solution for Papua through international mechanisms. This gathering has obviously inspired many young Papuans — especially in Jayapura. It may also reveal the element of merdeka (freedom) within the network of power, which cannot be ignored. The government and many Papuans may now wait for the delivery of ILWP’s promise.

It is challenging for anyone to make sense of the relationships between the politics of hope, domination, resistance and ethnic rivalry in Papua. It is even more challenging for our policy makers both in Papua and Jakarta to offer policies to address these interconnected elements of power.

The main difficulty lies in the fluidity of the relations that often escape regulatory responses, as we have seen with the implementation of special autonomy.

Therefore, an answer to these current incidents account for the multiplicity of these relationships and dynamics.

In sum, an approach to Papua should involve greater sophistication to formulate a responsive policy. From experience, a legal response alone seems inadequate. Similarly, a forceful approach may only lead to more violence.

Therefore, the Papuan call for dialogue may be the only medium to reformulate a new power network model in Papua. The first step has been taken. Now, it’s time to move further with broader and deeper dialogues. The Indonesian credible experiences with peace processes in Aceh, Mindanao, Mynmar and Southern Thailand have set solid ground for dialog with Papua.

The writer is a Franciscan friar, former director of the Office for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Jayapura, Papua, and a PhD scholar at Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University.