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Jakarta Post

Building Papua anew

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, September 29, 2020   /   08:25 am
Building Papua anew Papuan Student Alliance (AMP) members stage a protest in front of Merdeka Palace in Central Jakarta on Aug. 28, 2019. They demanded that the government restore internet services in restive Papua and West Papua provinces and hold a referendum on Papuan independence. (JP/Donny Fernando)

In the last few years, Indonesia has entrusted its young diplomats with countering attacks predominantly from Pacific countries over alleged human rights abuses against Papuan people. The government’s tactic has naturally earned applause at home, as it might show Indonesia only needs little effort to fend off accusations from nations that do not qualify as “representatives of the people of Papua”.

On Saturday, Silvany Austin Pasaribu took center stage at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly as she delivered Indonesia’s response to Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman, who in an address during the general debate session asked Indonesia to solve the alleged atrocities against indigenous people in Papua.

Vanuatu, in the name of solidarity among Melanesian people, has been campaigning for an independent state in Papua.

In the future, Indonesia must look for some clever way to trick those rallying support for Papua’s independence, given the open era that will sooner rather than later allow the world to watch over what is really happening in Papua. The government will likely think twice about isolating Papua after in June the court ruled as unlawful the internet shutdown in Papua and West Papua last year, even though it was done for security reasons.

Thanks to information technology advancements, more information will stream from Papua to the rest of Indonesia and the world as an alternative to the government’s claims and official statements regarding the easternmost province.

After previous president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono offered a new deal, his successor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo realized the old promise of developing basic infrastructure on Papuan soil. More roads have been built to connect the many dots across the natural resource-rich province, but it turns out the gap between the local people and their leaders in Jakarta is widening.

Racial discrimination against indigenous Papuans has continued unabated, as the government has not done enough to stop it. In the eyes of government critic Benny Giai, racism served as the basic building block of national development in Papua. Last year’s mass protests in Papua and West Papua, which followed racial slurs against Papuan students in Java, show the fragile relationship between Jakarta and outlying Papua even almost 60 years after the latter’s integration with the Republic.

The #PapuanLivesMatter campaign, which came just after the racial incident in the United States in June, is a further reminder that Papua will remain a burning issue unless the government takes the right action to end the decadeslong conflict once and for all.

The government recently offered to extend the special autonomy status for Papua as a dignified measure to bring peace and prosperity to Papua. Pros and cons have marked the plan, which if materializes, will continue the huge transfer of money to Papua and West Papua.

But as had been demonstrated in the period of special autonomy so far from 2002 to 2020, during which Rp 94.24 trillion (US$6.3 billion) went to the two provinces, money does not result in peace, let alone prosperity, in Papua. To build Papua anew, Jakarta needs to listen to voices that have so far been left unheard.