The Jakarta Post
Celebrations are moments of joy to commemorate milestones in a person’s life, or a nation. Today, Papuans have a new commemoration: “Otsus Day,” or Papua Special Autonomy Day, as declared this week by Governor Lukas Enembe.
Some residents grumbled for not being notified that Nov. 21 was an official holiday. But others may be forgiven for wondering what there was to celebrate. Maybe the blessing in disguise is that the commemoration of the 16-year-old law brings to mind the pile of work that is progressing too slowly to catch up with numerous shouts of unaddressed grievances.
The 2001 Special Autonomy Law brought much hope to the nation and to the people of what is now Papua and West Papua; hope that they could be trusted to run their own government with the Papuan People’s Council representing customary groups, diverse faiths and women. The central government under then-president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid had hoped that a special autonomy, following the symbolic name change from Irian Jaya of the Soeharto era to Papua, would help tone down cries for independence following unresolved human rights violations and continued poverty despite Papua’s rich natural resources, including the world’s largest gold mine.
Since the granting of its special autonomy, Papua has received Otsus funds reaching almost Rp 60 trillion (US$ 4.4 billion) — yet natural-resources rich Papua and West Papua remain provinces with the lowest Human Development Index.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has stood out among his predecessors for showing more attention to Papuans. He pardoned political prisoners and is accelerating infrastructure development in the province. But efforts at winning over the hearts and minds of Papuans remain paltry to what is being ignored.
Among others, a special team set up last year to address major human rights violations has yet to announce any progress. Among the reasons law enforcers cite as hurdles in investigations are the refusal of families to exhume the bodies of victims for autopsies, such as those killed in the December 2014 shooting of civilians, including teenagers.
Papuan civilians have come to perceive that as Indonesia’s minority of non-Muslim Melanesians, they are valid targets as suspected supporters of the independence movement, while losing out to migrants economically.
Though Papua does not host a battlefield as in the war between the government and Aceh rebels in the past, Papuans are often subject to an insecure life with lowlevel eruptions of violence with unclear actors — the worst involving the recently reported hostage taking of 1,300 people in Mimika regency near PT Freeport Indonesia’s mine. That a separatist group claimed responsibility has not helped bring clarity over the incident as independent verification by media is restricted.
Papuans are not the only ones complaining about corruption and suspected rigging in local elections.
But addressing the wide corruption loopholes and repeated flaws in Papua’s local elections — including a glaring discrepancy between registered voters and population data, as cited again in the latest report of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict — are just a few of many urgent corrections, if indeed Papuans are considered equal to other citizens.