Although Indonesia’s economy was widely praised in 2011, in its easternmost provinces, Papua and West Papua, people continued to live in severe poverty.
They have seen little economic development as violence and human rights violations continue to pervade the region, 10 years after the implementation of so-called “special autonomy.”
The year in Papua has been marked by violence and increased militarization.
It began in January with a tribunal for military officers who were blamed for the horrific torture of two Papuan men in May 2010. A 10-minute video of the torture taken on a cellphone prompted international outrage when it was posted on YouTube in October 2010. Among the abuses, it showed one of the victims being burned on the genitals with a smoldering stick.
The officers involved were only sentenced to between eight and 10 months in jail for insubordination. The torture and human rights charges were never taken further.
According to media reports, at least 50 civilians have been killed in Papua, and 14 guerilla deaths during shootouts this year are suspected but unconfirmed. At least 10 security personnel have also been killed.
More than half the civilian deaths came from clashes between supporters of rival politicians in Puncak Papua district.
Continued state violence
Papua officially became part of Indonesia in 1969 and since has seen a low-level insurgency. Rights groups have repeatedly condemned security forces that are charged with killing civilians and imprisoning peaceful activists.
Many also have long accused the government of ignoring the views of Papuans, including calls for a real dialogue between native Papuans, separatist groups and the government. Activists have said the government’s military approach to resolving problems in Papua has backfired too many times.
On the other hand, the government also has constantly dodged allegations of human rights violations. In October, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced her concerns about the mounting violence and human rights violations in the region.
Law enforcers once again fell under scrutiny in October as at least six participants of the Third Papuan People’s Congress died during a brutal crackdown on rally attendees, and hundreds more were injured or subjected to degrading treatment.
In an investigation by the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), the organization found that security forces had used excessive violence when they disbanded the Congress in Abepura.
The National Police responded by punishing seven officers with between seven and 14 days detention and reprimanded 10 others.
However, officers and civilians clashed again on Dec. 1, marking the day when Papuans declared their independence from Dutch colonial rule.
Even though there were no deaths reported, nine police officers were reportedly injured and three civilians arrested.
The crackdown in Paniai
Following the Dec. 1 incidents, Indonesia sent 260 law enforcement personnel to the restive Puncak Jaya and Paniai highlands in central Papua, joining the estimated 14,000 police and paramilitary troops in Papua.
Believed to be one of the nexus of the Free Papua Organization (OPM), the Eduda village in Paniai was barraged by military forces aiming to take down one of its headquarters.
The security forces succeeded, and the OPM claimed that 14 of its members were killed and six badly injured during the raid. However, the group’s leader, John Magay Yogi, escaped the incident unharmed.
Villagers said they felt intimidated by the police and army presence, and many have since fled for safety.
John N.R. Gobai, the head of the Paniai customary council, said troops often took people’s belongings forcefully during home searches.
Local activists dubbed the crackdown “Tuntas Matoa 2011,” or Banish Matoa 2011, taking their cue from a similar operation in 2000 (called “Tuntas Matoa”) which was carried out by the National Police as a countermeasure against separatist movements in Papua.
Paniai religious leader Father Oktavianus Pekey said he was worried about a possible counter-attack from the OPM.
“The people are worried about the possible response from the OPM. Because if it happens, then there would be shootouts with the officers and civilians could easily be the target,” Oktavianus said.
He also said that he had pleaded with the local mobile brigade (Brimob) commander and Paniai Police chief to limit their presence in the village.
“The people are afraid and they are already traumatized,” he added.
Adding to the problems in Papua is beleaguered Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of US-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and owner of the world’s largest copper mine.
Since September, its workers have been on strike demanding a pay increase. The strikers say they are Freeport’s lowest-paid workers in the world and originally demanded increases of up to 20-fold, from a minimum of $1.50 to $30 an hour.
With losses running as high as $18 million per day and production reduced to just 5 percent of normal capacity, the strike also caused higher copper prices on international markets.
In October, production was shut down completely after sabotage of the facilities and escalating violence. Security forces shot and killed two workers during a rowdy protest, and unidentified assailants killed three miners on Freeport’s sprawling Grasberg complex.
Police have been struggling to explain payments provided by Freeport — $14 million annually for what was dubbed “pocket money” — to joint security officers stationed at the company’s Grasberg mine in Timika, which many see as affecting police neutrality in the labor dispute.
After three months — the longest in the company’s history — and a number of standoffs, both parties struck a deal for an approximately 40 percent rise.
However, just before the year ended, the employees decided to delay their return to work when one of Freeport’s subcontractors, Kuala Pelabuhan Indonesia, failed to guarantee that 119 of its workers would be rehired after previously being suspended for joining the strike.
“Potentially, this will have a huge impact on our recent agreement,” said Virgo Solossa, a senior Freeport Indonesia union official.
Failed regional autonomy
Many of the Papuan people’s problems can be traced back to the failed policy of regional autonomy, which marked its 10th anniversary this year.
Even though trillions of rupiah have been disbursed — Rp 28.1 trillion ($3.1 billion) from 2002 to 2010 — Papuans are still living in poverty, with limited access to health care, education, jobs and other essentials.
Papuans were unprepared as Jakarta started to divide the region’s administration, from seven districts in 1996 to 39 in 2008, which led to clashes during regional elections and jealousy as more educated and experienced “outsiders” took jobs at government offices.
The violence in Puncak Papua, which has killed 30 civilians, stemmed from the clash between supporters of two political rivals, both eyeing the top post in the district’s first election. Both claimed to have received the backing of the Great Indonesian Movement Party (Gerindra).
Thirteen people were killed during the initial clash in July and the others died in the sporadic outbreaks of violence that have followed.
Siti Zuhro, a regional autonomy expert from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), told the Jakarta Globe that given the history of tribal-based violence in Papua, both the central government and the General Elections Commission (KPU) should pay more attention to elections in the province — particularly, she added, in newly established administrative regions such as Puncak Papua.
“The whole chain of deaths could actually have been prevented from the beginning if the KPUD [regional KPU] had been strict about who the official candidates were,” she said.
Muridan Satrio Widjojo, also from the LIPI, recommended that the Special Autonomy law be revised and that it involve the conflicting parties, namely the government and the people from the separatist movements.
The International Crisis Group’s Sidney Jones agreed that the law needed to be changed but said the government should view autonomy as a principle and not just a legal technicality.
“The only way the autonomy can become acceptable to the Papuans is if there are fairly deep changes in the law,” she said, adding that it should include flexibility about how autonomy is defined.