Inside Indonesia No. 94 (Oct-Dec 2008) Special issue “West Papua: Inside Indonesia”? Online at

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Inside Indonesia No. 94 (Oct-Dec 2008)

Special issue “West Papua: Inside Indonesia”?

Online at

West Papua: Inside Indonesia?

This edition of Inside Indonesia marks an important anniversary, and explores the multiple faces of Indonesian Papua today

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 ( is an Australian lawyer and Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, researching international investment law and human rights.

* * * * *

Rulers in their own country?

Special autonomy and Papuan aspirations have been thwarted by Jakarta and hampered by the administrative fragmentation sponsored by local politicians

Richard Chauvel

   A peaceful demonstration against corruption at the local parliament building in Timika, 2008

   Muridan S Widjojo

Politics in Papua operates in two distinct realms. One realm is closed and partly clandestine; the other is open and highly competitive. The first realm reminds one of the repressive climate of Suharto’s New Order, while the second realm has many of the characteristics of the democratic electoral politics that has developed throughout Indonesia since the resignation of Suharto. Taken together these realms suggest that many of the promises of the early reformasi years have not yet been fulfilled in Papua. Yet at the same time, electoral politics and decentralisation have radically changed the pattern of politics in Papua.

The first realm is the politics of Papuan nationalism. The overt articulation of independence demands and public organisation for independence, dominated public life in Papua in the first years after Suharto’s resignation. A team of 100 Papuan leaders met with President Habibie in February 1999 and demanded that Indonesia recognise Papuan independence. In 2000 two mass public gatherings were organised. The second of these gatherings, the Kongres Papua, was partly funded by then President Abdurrahman Wahid, who had earlier permitted the change of name of the province from Irian Jaya to Papua and had allowed the Papuan Morning Star flag to be flown alongside the Indonesian flag. An Indonesian intelligence assessment prepared immediately after the Kongres Papua described the atmosphere down to the village level in Papua as one of euphoria and enthusiasm for the idea of Merdeka (independence). The detention of the Presidium leaders in late November 2000, the occupation of Jayapura by Indonesian troops and the severe curtailment of celebrations of Papuan ‘Independence Day’ on 1 December closed down the public politics of Papuan nationalism. These actions were followed nearly a year later by the assassination of the Presidium leader Theys Eluay. Although the government also issued in 2001 a Special Autonomy Law for Papua, it made it clear at the same time that there would be no toleration for ‘separatism’.

The Indonesian authorities’ responses to the occasional public outbursts of Papuan nationalism, like the flag raising incidents at the Papuan Adat Council Congress on 3 July 2007 and the march to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous People at Wamena in August 2008, demonstrate how restricted the realm of Papuan nationalist politics has become. The national government issued a new regulation (77/2007) banning the use of separatist symbols. In Papua the regulation led to the detention of three Papuan women in January 2008 who were selling handicrafts incorporating the Morning Star flag on the streets of central Jayapura.

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