After 19 years of special autonomy, trust between Jakarta and Papua is in tatters

Otsus failed protest
A demonstration against special autonomy in the West Papuan region. The banner reads "Otsus has failed, Papuan people’s right to life threatened" – Image: Tabloid Jubi

SPECIAL REPORT: By Victor Mambor in Jayapura and Marchio Irfan Gorbiano in Jakarta

As it approaches two decades in force, the special autonomy status of Papua and West Papua has been making news following increased calls for the rejection of its renewal from several civil groups in the two provinces.

They contend that the arrangement has strayed away from the initial vision and now serves as a pretext for the central government to exert control over the region.

The special autonomy fund, which was set out in the 2001 Special Autonomy Law, is set to expire in November 2021, and the House of Representatives is now discussing whether to renew it.

Many Papuans believe the fund, which was established to accelerate development in Papua and West Papua, has not addressed the root causes of the provinces’ problems. They have also criticised the implementation of law, for example, the failure to set up the National Commission for Human Rights, the Human Rights Ad-hoc Court and the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation.

Central government officials in Jakarta, however, have said the special autonomy status works well and have claimed that the policy is proof that Jakarta has done good for Papua. They have denied allegations of racial discrimination and human rights violations.

With trust between Jakarta and Papua in tatters, the central government and local political elites have significant challenges ahead to bring peace, prosperity and justice to the two provinces.

Jakarta’s intentions
Against the backdrop of #PapuanLivesMatter, an antiracism campaign that was inspired by the global #BlackLivesMatter movement, two Jakarta officials contended in separate opinion pieces that the government had been doing its best to develop Papua.

This was proven, they claimed, by the existence of the special autonomy status and funds, among other measures.

“It is important to highlight that in both Papua and West Papua, the special autonomy law gives locals the privilege to administer their provinces. In other words, a structured effort is being made to promote development centered on Indonesians of Papuan origin. This contradicts the so-called structural racism behind the #PapuanLivesMatter campaign,” Teuku Faizasyah wrote in The Jakarta Post on July 13 last year.

Faizasyah is a political and security affairs adviser to the foreign minister and a former Indonesian ambassador to Canada.

On July 16, Executive Office of the President’s deputy head of politics, law, security and human rights affairs, Jaleswari Pramodhawardhani wrote in Kompas that the campaign to protest racism and human rights violations against native Papuans was “biased” and was not supported by data.

She closed the article by noting that the ongoing revisions to the special autonomy law would serve as an opportunity to change the country’s stance toward Papua.

“The law’s revision should be seen as an opportunity to change the paradigm on managing Papuan issues. Papuan issues are our nation’s litmus test. Besides looking at them with our hearts, we should also look into the issues using data,” Pramodhawardhani wrote.

Pramodhawardhani did not, in the article, mention data presented by Amnesty International in 2018 on extrajudicial killings in Papua or the June 2020 recommendations of the National Commission on Human Rights regarding alleged gross human rights violations in Paniai regency, Papua, released a month before the article was published.

Papuan activists’ views
Some Papuan self-determination activists and civil groups believe the special autonomy law has become a tool for Jakarta to advance its own political interests, rather than the empowerment of Papuans.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) chairman Benny Wenda said the special autonomy status was an attempt by the central government to control Papuans.

“Jakarta sees special autonomy as a win-win solution, but we Papuans see it as a problem that was never fully addressed by the government. The special autonomy has strayed from its original mandate and has become a tool to control Papuans,” Wenda said.

In July, 16 civil groups in Papua voiced their rejection of the special autonomy status, saying that after almost 20 years, it had yet to improve the provinces’ political conditions.

“Since before the special autonomy status until today, almost 20 years after the status [came into effect], racism toward Papuans, land grabbing, military operations, rights abuses and social and economic inequality have continued to occur in Papua,” Papuan Students Alliance head John Gobay said in July.

The 16 groups, under the Petisi Rakyat Papua (Papuan People’s Petition), said they had collected 1.8 million signatures in opposition to the special autonomy status. They claimed that the status served only to “legitimise colonialism”.

Other groups have been more moderate in their opposition to the special autonomy status. Some believe the law has brought hope to Papuans but has fallen short in its implementation.

Benefits not trickled down
Papuan Regional Legislative Council (DPRP) deputy chairman Yunus Wonda said the benefits of the special autonomy status had not trickled down to indigenous Papuans, adding that even non-indigenous Papuans benefitted from provisions attached to the special autonomy funds.

“For example, there is a 20 percent quota for non-indigenous Papuans for the recruitment of civil servants. This quota does not exist in other provinces,” said Wonda.

Papuan lawmaker Yan Mandenas of House Commission I overseeing information and defence said the implementation of special autonomy had failed to prioritise the empowerment of indigenous Papuans.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD brushed off concerns regarding Papuans’ opposition to the special autonomy status, claiming that more than 90 percent of Papuans supported the status.

He based the number not on any survey but on his own conclusions after talks with the DPRP, the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) and community leaders in

“Almost no [Papuans] rejected the special autonomy status, only a certain number of people [rejected the status],” said Mahfud on October 2.

In the third week of November, the MRP held five sessions to evaluate the special autonomy status.

Mahfud said the government had proposed the revision of the special autonomy law so that transfers of funds could be extended beyond 2021.

Special autonomy funds
“There is no extension of the special autonomy status in Papua because it is already implemented since the legislation was signed into law,” said Mahfud.

“The government does not seek to end or extend the special autonomy status but to revise article 34 [of the 2001 Law] on the special autonomy funds, which are set to expire in 2021.”

Mahfud said the government wanted to increase the allocation of funds from the current 2 percent of the General Allocation Fund (DAU) to 2.5 percent, adding that the revision of the law would also aim to improve the transparency of the use of the funds to ensure they were effectively improving the lot of Papuans.

The Executive Office of the President’s Pramodhawardhani said the special autonomy status had achieved its intended goals in Papua and West Papua, citing improvement in key indicators such as in the Human Development Index (HDI) and the regional gross domestic product while poverty and unemployment rates declined.

“In principle, the special autonomy status is still within the course of its original mandate. It is understandable if there is some input on its current implementation; this is part of Indonesian democracy,” said Pramodhawardhani.

The Papuan administration, meanwhile, said the special autonomy status should be reviewed thoroughly, not only focusing on the funds but also on whether the special autonomy status had achieved its original mandate of protection, affirmation and empowerment of indigenous Papuans.

Papua governor Lukas Enembe said these three indicators were vital in reviewing the status.

“As long as indigenous Papuans feel protected, affirmed and empowered, the special autonomy can be considered a success,” said Lukas.

Feeling unsafe
Lukas said that while the arrangement had been established to empower Papuans, it ultimately failed to guarantee that they felt safe in their own lands.

He added that the failure to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was mandated by the 2001 Law, should be counted as another failure of the special autonomy status to live up to its original goals.

University of Papua lecturer Agus Sumule, who was involved in drafting the Special Autonomy Law, said the central government had yet to transfer the authority to implement the special autonomy to the Papua and West Papua administrations.

He suggested that the central government draft a government regulation (PP) or include a stipulation in the upcoming amendments of the 2001 law to ensure this transfer.

MRP chairman Timotius Murib said the assembly was reviewing the implementation of special autonomy.

“For the last 20 years, there were no evaluations of the implementation of the special autonomy. The evaluation should be conducted by Papuans because they are the beneficiaries [of the special autonomy], which is why the MRP is facilitating hearings to listen to Papuans’ opinions about the future of the special autonomy status,” said Murib.

He said that according to article 77 of the law, Papuans, through the DPRP and MRP, could request that the government or House amend the Special Autonomy Law.

In mid-November, an MRP evaluation meeting in Merauke was cut short as the police arrested 54 of the participants for suspicion of treason.

Victor Mambor is the founder of Tabloid Jubi in Jayapura. This article was first published by The Jakarta Post and is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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