“Papua is in a stable condition,” claimed Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa in his remarks regarding security sector reform, which formed part of the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
For the last three years I have lived among the Jayawijaya highland communities in Papua, and I know of several studies of conflict in Indonesia that have revealed a contradictory view to the minister’s statement.
In 2010, the World Bank published a research report as part of the Violent Conflicts in Indonesia Study (ViCIS) that focused on the period 1998–2008. The report concluded that Papua had the highest level of conflict among the provinces surveyed.
Meanwhile, the Peace Building Institute (ITP), a local NGO engaged in peace building and non-violent methods, also examined the level of violence in Indonesia.
Last year, ITP issued a Violent Conflict Analysis 2009–2010, which saw an increase in the number of acts of violence in Papua.
There were 29 cases recorded in Papua in 2010, up from 23 in 2009 and 10 cases in West Papua in 2010 from a previous level of zero in 2009. Papua has always been among the top 10 in terms of conflict and violence in Indonesia.
Last month the media reported six acts of violence in the Papua highlands since January, claiming 12 lives.
The number excluded those killed in conflicts in other parts of Papua or in conflicts involving tribes, politics or routine violence.
In February, the police reported that 11 people were killed and 201 injured during a prolonged clash between Democratic Party and Golkar Party supporters ahead of the regional election in Tolikara regency.
However, local people claimed the fatalities exceeded 30, not including people who were burned alive in arson attacks.
“The real story is far more terrifying. Mass unrest from Karubaga, the capital of Tolikara, spread to neighboring villages where the police were absent.
Arson attacks and the blockading of access roads to the capital lasted many weeks after the riot,” said Neiles Wanimbo, youth coordinator of Konda Klasis Evangelical Church in Indonesia (GIDI).
Unfortunately, in this very tense of war, we have ignored the fate of children and women, who are the most vulnerable to conflict either psychologically or physically.
“This war was unacceptably disgraceful. Women from the opposing side were raped and their houses were burned down. Meanwhile, there is no history of such disgraceful acts in Papua’s culture of war,” Neiles added.
I visited Karubaga in 2009–2010 and undeniably own an emotional attachment with the local communities there, especially children. It is heartbreaking to know that a small house where people used to reap knowledge has now become a target of mass rampage.
Even more distressing was the fact that barely literate civilians were forced to participate in the regional election without any proper political understanding.
Besides the political war, acts of violence related to separatism have claimed many casualties too.
Last October, many were wounded after the police dispersed the third Papuan People’s Congress in Abepura, Jayapura. Eventually five men were sentenced to three years in jail for treason.
On the contrary, justice has never been upheld against officers who shot congress participants and committed human rights violations as reported by the National Commission on Human Rights.
Both indigenous people and migrants share the same feelings of fear and trauma every time a crackdown on separatist rebels occurs. The reactions vary, like hiding under the bed, running for cover at the police station or, like me, praying so that the tragedy of the bloody Wamena incident in 2000 does not repeat itself.
Frightened students fled to Wamena downtown in Jayawijaya when political conflict erupted. In that very moment, I realized that my anxiety and fear were undeniably incomparable to the misery of children and communities whose future was undermined by conflict.
The fact that violence over the same issues — such as natural resources, separatism, local elections, and regional division — repeated itself showed the absence of significant and systematic conflict prevention from the government.
Referring to Papua as secure and stable has been weakening the government’s seriousness in developing an early warning system, mitigation and emergency response to reduce the impacts of conflict.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has even been denied access to Papua since 2009. Foreign journalists have also been restricted.
It is sad that Indonesians watch live reports of political movements in the Middle East rather than in-depth reviews and reports of dramatic events in Papua.
Up to now, military repression is a preferable solution to stopping the violence and keeping the peace.
There is a gap between the special autonomy law (Otsus), which should be explored as a method of conflict prevention, and its implementation because of vertical distrust between the state and local people that further influences horizontal relationships within the grassroots (Yulia Sugandi, Conflict Analysis and Policy Recommendations Concerning Papua, 2008).
The government should resolve not only structural conflict, but also prejudice and hatred and so-called social-psychological conflict through enforcement of the law and through the promotion of human rights as well as through providing genuine opportunities and trust to Papuans.
Not even in my wildest dreams is Papua stable. At the next UPR there is no need to cover up the mess in Papua or to be defensive. Papua needs genuine stability and peace.
The writer, formerly a humanitarian worker in Papua, is an intern at the Peace Building Institute (ITP).