Pacific value of ‘one family’ lost on Indonesian government

Papuan floods this month ... "The tragedy is that unlike the support given to the Christchurch families from their government, local communities, celebrities and world leaders, Papuan families receive no support from the Indonesian central government, nor from world leaders." Image: Solymone Blog

A West Papuan academic’s response to the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister’s opinion article in The Jakarta Post.

ANALYSIS: By Yamin Kogoya

Lst Thursday, The Jakarta Post published an opinion article by the Indonesian Foreign Affair Minister, Retno LP Marsudi, highlighting a plan for diplomatic engagement with the South Pacific countries.

According to the minister, Indonesians and the people of Pacific countries belong to “one family” and call the Pacific Ocean “our home”. She emphasised the importance of developing physical connection and enhancing the connectivity of “hearts and minds”.

Marsudi said that cooperation is needed to develop the South Pacific to define the future for the next generation.

READ MORE: New era of Indonesian-South Pacific engagement

“Family” and “home” are powerful words that represent a place where human dignity and quality are nurtured and valued. A safe, loving, and peaceful home environment is important for quality of life: this should be a priority for the future generations of the Pacific Ocean families.

Strong communities are built upon these intrinsic human values.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi with some Pacific leaders … “hearts and minds” a vehicle for political strategy. Image: Jakarta Post

Minister Marsudi must understand the significance behind these words that she uses for her agenda; she cannot simply use “family” and “home’ lightly – words that have special value for the people of the Pacific. It is the people’s hope that the minister understands the implications of using these words.

Marsudi emphasises the importance of establishing engagement, dialogue, and “mutual respect” between Indonesia and Pacific Island countries, noting that the people need to connect “hearts and minds”.

It is a concern that the minister uses these words as a vehicle for political strategy to sustain Indonesia’s influence over other countries. Connecting people beyond cultural biases and hostility and recognising humanity as “one family” is an urgent need for the people in order to set the precedent for the future of the relationship between Indonesia and Pacific Islands.

Indonesia’s abuse of power
In 1963 Indonesia invaded West Papua, an already independent nation. West Papuans who opposed this invasion migrated to Europe, Africa and America via Pacific Island routes. It was during this journey of exile that the stories of the West Papuans’ first horrors of the Indonesian military invasion were shared with Pacific Island people.

This early Papuans diaspora had planted the seed of resistance in the hearts and minds of these ancient regions of Oceania. Since then, people of the Pacific have been praying and grieving with their brothers and sisters in West Papua.

Indonesia is not willing to address the fact that since the nation came into existence after the Second World War, they have been behaving dishonourably and disgracefully towards the people of West Papua and East Timor especially.

Their actions have instilled terror in the hearts and minds of communities across the Pacific Islands. It has been estimated that more than 500,000 indigenous people of West Papua have died in the hands of Indonesian security forces. Indonesia is continuing to ostracise and slaughter the Papuans in their own home.

The recent visit by the World Council of Churches (WCC) has confirmed this tragedy.

“The Papuans have been marginalised and access to the Papua region has been severely restricted in the past,” said WCC director for international affairs Peter Prove.

Reports are continually released that many young Papuans die every single day under Indonesia’s tyrannical ruling. When the oppressed people attempt to express their dissatisfaction through peaceful rallies, oppressive security forces continue to imprison, mistreat and even kill unarmed civilians – civilians which the minister considers “family”.

Live snake interrogation
“Recently, a young Papuan was interrogated by Indonesian security forces by using a live snake. This horrendous act by Indonesian police went viral on social media and made international headlines.

United Nations experts have called for investigation for “prompt and impartial investigations” into inhumane treatments of Papuans by Indonesian police and military. One African media outlet, Wake Up Africa, commented on the event, saying “sadly this is not an isolated incident, but one that the black people of West Papua have endured for years under the brutal regime of the Indonesian government.”

As the world mourns over the Christchurch massacre along with New Zealand – a terrible loss of innocent lives in a place of worship by an Australian right-wing terrorist – more than 120 Papuans lost their lives in the floods of Sentani, Papua.

Many people are still missing, while hundreds of others have lost their homes. The tragedy is that unlike the support given to the Christchurch families from their government, local communities, celebrities and world leaders, Papuan families receive no support from the Indonesian central government, nor from world leaders.

Not only are the Papuan victims traumatised by this natural disaster, on top of this they have to worry about the heavy involvement of the Indonesian police and military.

There has been a circulated recording of a flood victim voicing her concerns about military and police involvement. The Papuan mother talks of how they cannot eat the food that has been donated to them by the Indonesian police and military in case it has been poisoned or tampered with.

While grieving family members in New Zealand can rely on their government for moral and physical support, it is horrific how grieving Papuan families cannot even trust their own government due its history of oppression and mistreatment of its people.

Indonesia has fostered distrust, fear and trauma in the Pacific Island people.

“There is no difference between the natural flooding crisis and the Indonesian state horrors”, said one survivor of the recent floods.

Minister Marsudi, is this how you treat family? Terrorising them with machine guns, tanks and snakes? Why does Indonesia continue to traumatise and kill the innocent, unarmed Papuan people that belong to the Pacific Ocean “family”?

Community voice must be heard
In September 2016, seven Pacific leaders publicly condemned Indonesia’s brutal treatment of Papuans and advocated for West Papua’s right for independence at the United Nation General Assembly (UNGA). They were attempting to send a clear message to Indonesia that the people of the Pacific are not happy and are mourning over the tragedy of pain and death inflicted on their fellow people every day.

The Pacific people also recognised the plight of Papuans by allowing the United Liberation for West Papua (ULMWP) to become an observer in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). To demonstrate further support, the leaders of ULMWP were also invited to attend the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) meeting in 2018.

The unwavering commitment of the Vanuatu government and its people to impede on Indonesia’s attempts to annihilate their fellow Melanesian Papuans cannot be underestimated. The grassroots support from Pacific Island NGOs, churches, universities and youth are growing as Indonesia continues their oppressive actions.

We Bleed Black and Red, Pacific Network for Globalization (PANG), Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO) are among the Pacific civil solidarity groups that brought the tears of the Papuan people to the world’s attention.

This growing support of the Pacific Island communities, from the regional forums such as PIF and MSG, and civil solidarity groups indicate that the people of Oceania are sincerely concerned about the fate of the West Papuan people. If people truly believed the words of their foreign minister, then the best way to demonstrate this “family connection” is by treating the Papuans with dignity and respect, even if this means they must give West Papuans the right to be free in their own ancestral land.

Recognising the value of humanity and human rights is what it means to connect “hearts and minds”. Any dialogue of human activity that deviates from this recognition is a violation of fundamental human rights.

Indonesia’s problematic development mentality
Whether Indonesia likes it or not, as long as the West Papua issue goes unresolved, they will never become free or great. Just like East Timor has been, West Papua is the pebble in Indonesia’s shoe.

Even if Indonesia recognises their crimes and cease terrorising the Papuans, the challenges are still immense for these nations to sit as one family under the same roof to discuss family matters. Indonesia has a paternalistic outlook on the Pacific people – it wants to “develop” the island communities.

This development mentality is problematic. Why do industrial first world countries and Indonesia always try to develop Pacific Islanders? What is wrong with the natural state of being an Islander? This imperialistic view of civilising Oceania through developmental programmes is posing a greater existential threat to its people.

Indonesia would have the Pacific Islands stripped of their heritage and culture, and everything that makes them a unique and beautiful community.

Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister stressed the message from President Joko “Jokowi” of the need for Indonesia to invest in international development programmes, including developing the South Pacific.

Indonesia sees itself as part of, or at least recognised by, the “big boys club” – their emerging power and large Muslim population give extra weight to their global political bargaining. They want to play the same games as the “big boys”, flexing their financial and political muscles over small countries.

‘Development, progress and civilisation’
Oceania and the First Nation People all over the globe have learned that much of the destruction of their languages, cultures, sacred lands, forests and islands are being committed in the name of “development, progress and civilisation”.

These three words have inflicted more damage to the Papuan people than Indonesian bullets. Naturally, the question presents itself: development for whom, and for what purpose?

All those meetings and disputes between the USA, Indonesia, Dutch and other influential powers that went on in the 1950s and 60s about the future of West Papua were done without involving or consulting the Papuans.

Why weren’t the people who were affected by this included in the decisions about their fate? Because the world has declared that Papuans are primitive and naked jungle dwellers that are incapable of governing themselves. These disputes were not simply over Papuans right to independence, no: Dutch investigative journalist Willem Leonard Oltmans at that time stated that the dispute was over “who will train the Papuans to eat with knife and fork”.

Since these events in the 60s, Indonesia has been trying to redesign Papua through numerous developmental programmes supported by heavily armed military and police. Indonesia built a system in West Papua – not to protect the diversity of languages and cultures, but to demonise them and force change upon them.

This is an evil colonial system, intentionally built to annihilate the peaceful people who wish to exist freely in their own home.

Development programmes and civilising missions were a Trojan Horse used for invasion. It is an old strategy – Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires used it to legitimatise their collective pathological existence. Europeans used this strategy effectively after the 1300-1400 Renaissance in Italy.

Since then, the Europeans endeavored to discover lost worlds full of treasure and conquer savage Pagan lands. It is these kinds of attitudes that Europeans imparted on Indonesians over 300 years.

Now, it these same attitudes that Indonesia imparts on Papuans. They want to break down and rebuild these peaceful communities – change their languages and stories, rewrite their history and dictate their future. They want to develop the beautiful lands by cutting down millions of trees and killing rich biodiversity; they want to build giant highways across sacred mountains and uproot sacred grounds.

It is exactly these development and civilising policies and approaches that angered the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) to kill 16 Indonesian military construction workers whom TPNPB believed to be disguised as civilians in Nduga weeks before Christmas.

Moving forward – resolving the broken system
If there is any sincerity in the words expressed by Minister Marsudi about Pacific Islanders belonging to one family, home and culture with Indonesians, then Indonesia needs to exemplify these promises through their actions.

First of all, the Minister should consider re-educating Indonesian leaders in Jakarta that Papuans are not primitive people and do not need to be “developed”. They are human beings that have survived for thousands of years with their own sophisticated system of culture, communication and knowledge.

Building connectivity from hearts and minds must begin by recognising that just because you have means of brute force to terrorise unarmed humans and nature, doesn’t mean you are more evolved or “above” the people you oppress. What it indicates is that you are the savage ones.

Contemporary global crises such as ignorance of climate change, terrorism and nuclear threats are not caused by people whom the Indonesia and Western governments consider to be savage and primitive. These extreme global threats are undertaken by the so called “civilised” and industrialised humans of the first-world countries.

If Indonesia is indeed sincere about climate change action and development of the Pacific, they should start by going to Washington, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, Canberra, Berlin, Delhi, and Beijing to educate and civilise these people so that they don’t destroy all species of life on this planet in the name of progress and development.

Many Pacific Islands are sinking into the rising ocean due to climate catastrophes caused by the projects of modernity, progress and industrialisation led by the first-world countries – not because of the lack of development of these islands.

The most humane thing that Indonesia could do for the people of the Pacific Island communities is to stop the unending oppression and slaughter of the Papuans and restore their human dignity and freedom – the freedom that was stolen from them by Indonesia and Western governments during the shamefully fabricated “Act of Free Choice” in 1969.

Stop fooling Pacific nations
Stop trying to fool these communities with empty and dishonest words such as the ones expressed by Foreign Affairs Minister Marsudi. The people of the Pacific Islands are resilient. They are the descendants of the survivors of European colonisation – they are still fighting with all kinds of influence of a modern world that wants to wipe out their history and culture. Indonesia cannot go to countries in Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia and the aboriginal continent of Australia and say “we are one family, Oceania is our home, we are one culture” while simultaneously annihilating the indigenous cultures that they are supposed to protect.

All the noble diplomatic ideas expressed by the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister such as building a connection with the Pacific Islands via political forums, academics and business cannot be realized while terrorising them and striking fear and distrust into their hearts.

The brutal and inhumane images of Papuan agony at the hands of the Indonesian colonial rule that spread via social media throughout the world have created a distasteful public image of everything associated with this entity called “Indonesia”. It is unlikely that Pacific Island communities will accept Indonesia as a harmless and nurturing member of the “family”.

These memories of fear and anger instilled in Pacific Islanders by Indonesia’s oppressive forces cannot be forgotten through bribing the people with trinkets, or by blocking West Papua from international media attention.

Restoring the relationship between the nations will require a fundamental shift of understanding from hearts to minds on the part of Indonesia.

Yamin Kogoya is a West Papuan academic who has a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development from the Australian National University. From the Lani tribe in the Papuan Highlands, he is currently living in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.


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