By Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka in Honolulu, Hawai’i
Late last week, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement rejecting the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s comments on the issue of West Papua and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).
In his statement, Manasseh Sogavare proposes that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) be given full membership to the MSG.
He asserts that the Indonesian President’s refusal to meet him, as chair of the MSG, demonstrates that Jakarta joined the MSG merely to “protect its own interest other than engage in dialogue about the serious human rights issues in West Papua.”
In response, Indonesia’s newly appointed Director General for Asia Pacific and Africa, Ambassador Desra Percaya, described Sogavare’s statement as a violation of “the basic principles of sovereignty and non-interference as enshrined in the Agreement Establishing the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) in 2007.”
He went on to say, “it is… myopic for Prime Minister Sogavare to speculate that Indonesia’s agenda in the Pacific, let alone in the MSG, is solely Papua-driven.”
While I respect Indonesia’s right to respond, it is vital that Melanesian and other Pacific Island countries do not allow Jakarta to dictate what we believe, say and do, especially when it comes to the defence of human rights.
Indonesia has persistently committed human rights violations, including atrocities, against Melanesians in West Papua for over 50 years. That is not a myth. It is the truth. It has been verified and documented by international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and other independent bodies.
For Indonesia to say that it is “long committed to address human rights issues,” is misleading and an attempt to deflect attention from realities on the ground in West Papua.
Indonesia, plus international organisations such as the United Nations, as well as the governments of countries like the US, Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands, etc. must correct the mistakes of the 1960s; the fraudulent processes that led to the transfer of West Papua’s sovereignty from the Dutch to Indonesia.
History is relevant to this discussion. As Australian academic, Jason MacLeod, states,
“Continued rule by the Indonesian government in West Papua is founded on the myth that the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to the Unitary Republic of Indonesia was free and fair. It was not.
“Events surrounding the transfer of sovereignty remain a core Papuan grievance. This grievance is not just historical. It has a contemporary dimension. The lack of willingness to discuss history contributes to the Papuan perception that there has been a ‘death of democracy’ in West Papua.”
The international community needs to correct the wrongs of the past and hold Indonesia accountable for its continuing human rights violations. This is central to the injustices that have deprived indigenous West Papuans their right to self-determination.
Indonesian’s Melanesia claims
In an effort to rebuttal the growing support for West Papuan independence, Jakarta is re-inventing and re-presenting itself as a Melanesian and Pacific Islands country. Through subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — use of language, it writes itself in as part of Oceania.
The statement released by Indonesia last week, for example, states that, “as part of the Pacific, Indonesia developed partnerships with several key countries in the region to ensure that the bilateral ties are strong and productive.”
Most Pacific Islanders, however, would not think of Indonesia as “part of the Pacific.” It is not part of our “imagined community,” or to borrow from the late Epeli Hau’ofa, “our sea of islands.”
This re-presentation is also obvious in Indonesia’s attempts to forge itself as a Melanesian country. It argues it should become a member of the MSG by virtue of having ethic Melanesians as citizens. To increase its “Melanesian population,” it includes Maluku and the nearby islands as part of its “Melanesian Provinces.”
In these diplomatic maneuverings, Jakarta is stretching the boundaries and definitions of Melanesia and Pacific Islands to suit its political, economic and strategic agendas. It deploys identities, albeit misconceived, as a political tool of inclusiveness.
What the Indonesian government conveniently erases from this narrative is that Melanesian West Papuans make up for only 0.67 percent of Indonesia’s total population of over 260 million people. The Melanesians are also the most discriminated against: they have been murdered, oppressed, abused and marginalised in their own land.
Furthermore, it is predicted by 2020, Melanesians will make up for only 28.99 percent of the total population of West Papua. The rest will be Malays from densely populated islands such as Java. This is part of a concerted effort by Jakarta to assimilate West Papua into Indonesia.
As part of this strategy, Jakarta has used population census as a political tool. While the 1971 and 2000 population censuses made a distinction between Papuans (Melanesians) and non-Papuans, the 2010 census did not make that distinction, enumerating everybody as “West Papuans”. Melanesians will eventually be absorbed as “Indonesians,” continuing Sukarno’s policy of building a unitary republic.
Interestingly, Jakarta peddles the story that it is “the third largest democracy, [and therefore] respect for human rights is an essential principle for Indonesia.”
The sub-text here is that size — the third largest democracy — warrants a commitment to human rights principles. Of course, that is not necessarily true. Also, the invoking of size is meant (either intentionally or unintentionally) to intimidate.
But Pacific Island countries should not be intimidated. We might be small and imperfect democracies, but we compensate that with huge principles that uphold human rights.
Furthermore, in its statement, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs flaunts the issue of sovereignty to counter what it views as the Solomon Islands PM’s infringement into its national affairs; West Papua is a national issue.
But it is worth noting that sovereignty is not absolute, especially when a country has perpetrated human rights abuses for over 50 years. The international community must not allow the Indonesian government to use sovereignty as an excuse for continuing human rights violations in West Papua.
Another twist to this story is that although West Papua contributes significantly to Indonesia’s economy, it is the province with lowest development index.
Between 1992 to 2011, for example, the Grasberg Mine, owned by the US company, Freeport-McMoran Inc., made direct payments to the Indonesian government totaling US$12.1 billion. This is made up of $7.3 billion in corporate income tax; $2.3 billion in employee income tax, regional tax and other levies; $1.2 billion in royalties and $1.2 billion in dividends.
Indigenous West Papuans have been economically marginalized and have not benefited equitably from the mine and other natural resource investments.
Given the above, I support the Solomon Islands government on this issue. We might be a small country, but we must not let Indonesia bully us.
Contrary to the statement by Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s statement is not “myopic.” Rather, it reflects an understanding of issues far into the past and well into future. It is the Indonesian government that is myopic in its treatment of this issue and of Melanesians.
Mannaseh Sogavare and the Solomon Islands Government, you have my support. Don’t let Indonesia bully us. Vote Indonesia out of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). Indonesia is not Melanesia.
Dr Tarcisius Tara Kabutaulaka is a Solomon Islands academic at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. He is an associate professor and editor of the Pacific Islands Monograph series at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies. This article was first published in the Solomon Star and is republished by Asia Pacific Report with the permission of the author.