End police power to punish everything under the sun
The Jakarta Post
Jakarta / Tue, October 15, 2019 / 09:02 am
A policeman’s abuse of a motorcycle taxi driver who was mistakenly about to enter the palace grounds in Bogor sparked public anger. Although the traffic policeman who beat and kicked the Gojek driver apologized after the video of the abuse went viral on Oct. 5, the outburst perfectly reflects growing anxiety about Indonesia moving closer to becoming a police state. More than 20 years ago, people demanded an end to the military’s “dual function” because of its repeated abuse of power, but over the past decade or so the police also seem to have been enjoying their privileges too much.
We hope to rely on the police for our safety, but instead we’ve become rather nervous as police duties and tasks have come to cover almost everything: from policing bedrooms and petty crimes to dealing with any kind of corruption, terrorism, treason and defamation allegedly committed even just through an updated social media status. The National Police has become a super-body with little control from the outside.
Therefore, in forming his new Cabinet, scheduled to be announced after taking office for his second term on Oct. 20, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will hopefully complete the security sector reform by placing the police force under the Home Ministry, as many have demanded. To realize it, of course, some legal technicalities should be settled.
Jokowi can assign the current National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian to be home minister if he is worried about police resistance, although he might also spark a public outcry. The military may welcome Tito’s move into the Cabinet if it is part of a plan to move the police force from directly answering to the President to being under the direction of the Home Ministry.
Gen. Tito has led the police force since July 13, 2016. As the top graduate from the Police Academy in 1987, the former counterterrorism chief was more academically qualified than his predecessors. Under his leadership, the police have been hailed among other things for foiling a terrorist plot following the April general elections.
The choice of then-Insp. Gen. Tito to lead the police starting on July 13, 2016, seemed bold of President Jokowi, as the country’s most powerful politician, Megawati Soekarnoputri, had signaled that another was her favorite for the job, her former adjutant Comr. Gen. (ret) Budi Gunawan, who was then nearing retirement age.
The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) had declared Budi a graft suspect shortly after Jokowi proposed to the House of Representatives in January 2015 that Budi succeed then-National Police chief Sutarman. The court annulled the KPK’s decision but Jokowi finally chose Tito, a younger, much less controversial and more popular officer.
Indeed, according to the 2002 National Police Law, the police are under direct control of the President and the House must approve the appointment or dismissal of a police chief. However, more importantly, we need Jokowi’s political will and courage again to put the police on par with the Indonesian Military (TNI), with both having minimum potential to abuse power.
The harsh, if not militaristic, approach of the police in dealing with mass protests in Jakarta and elsewhere last May and September, the numerous arrests of demonstrators and the death of a number of them have increased resentment against the police’s show of force.
Like the military of old, the police enjoy virtual impunity.
A number of police generals now lead posts normally given to civilians, such as the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). It’s all legal, too a National Police chief decree dated April 12 makes police ranks for the civilian positions compatible with high echelons of civil servants.
Cynics say the police are now enjoying the ‘dwi fungsi ‘(dual function), along with increasing powers and welfare. Occasional clashes involving the police and the TNI reflect the excess of reduced financial opportunities for the military compared to the police.
These range from large security jobs to extorting couples in a romantic embrace in public parks. The military policy and budget are controlled by the defense minister while TNI’s role is limited to defense, although there is considerable leeway in “operations other than war”.
The removal of the police from the president’s direct line of command should also reduce the apparent jealousy of TNI soldiers and officers toward the police. Police personnel are generally more prosperous than those in the three forces. Just visit the houses of police and military officers of equal rank and check for yourself.
Many Indonesians may find it quite hard to quickly answer when asked to identify one aspect of their lives where police cannot interfere. Dealing with the police is among the last things Indonesians want these days, despite experiencing improved services. Many of us feel uncomfortable when a police officer is nearby, like under the old regime.
Ahead of the new government set to begin later this month, this is the right time to reevaluate, again, the position of both the police and military.
The military has long faced temptations to regain its role in politics. This is very dangerous; I cannot imagine active officers regaining civilian positions. However, while foreign enemies have never (yet) come to our front door, which is the main threat the TNI should deal with, it is probably wise to give the military more additional jobs.
Whatever is decided, we should not let our nation become a police state. We need a professional police force, not one that can enter your house anytime it wants.
President Jokowi, please end the police’s power to punish everything under the sun
On a Sunday evening, after considering various advice from colleagues, I decided to fly to Jayapura – just 10 days after violent protests rocked the city. There were friends to visit and people to meet to understand the current circumstances.
Gloomy news greeted me as soon as I landed in Sentani. A brief meeting with a local human rights lawyer at the airport provided me a vivid illustration of the widespread arrests and detentions in the cities of Jayapura, Fakfak, Deiyai and Timika by security forces in the aftermath of the demonstrations in each city. In Timika, the lawyer cited data showing that 33 people had been arrested with 10 still in detention since Aug. 21. Some of them experienced violence and excessive use of force including being shot during their arrests.
Moreover, although human rights organizations in Papua and West Papua are trying to organize legal aid and court monitoring, some more remote areas such as Deiyai will be too expensive to cover as police used to maximize the detention periods prior to trial.
Without intervention from civil society, the public will never know what happens there. There is a small likelihood of a fair trial, with virtually no obligation from the government for transparency. After a depressing one-hour talk, the lawyer flew to Timika to provide assistance for those 10 people.
On the way to a hotel, my driver, who had personally observed the protest on Aug. 29, described how chaotic the situation was. “It was very different from the peaceful rally on Aug. 19,” he said. “People looked more hostile, angrier and seemed prepared to make trouble.” He wished the central government was quicker in taking the right steps to calm tensions. He praised the swift move by Jayapura Mayor Benhur Tommy Mano who prevented further escalation of violence by announcing local government readiness to cover the physical damages and financial losses from the riot.
However, I spotted three trucks of the Mobile Brigade Corps (Brimob) parked in the streets of the Waena area. Dozens of armed Brimob officers stood on alert along the roadside within a 200-meter perimeter, while some entered houses, climbed stairs and knocked on doors in search of new suspects under the anxious glances of Papuans outside the perimeter. I imagined the implications and the psychological effects of this scene toward fellow Papuan witnesses.
Later I joined a press conference held by the Papua Civil Society Coalition, which opened a pos pengaduan (help desk) in Jayapura for families of riot victims who were looking for information and wanted to submit reports. The initiative aims to provide the public with independent and reliable information regarding the Aug. 29 incident, as the government tended to monopolize and control the flow of information by temporarily shutting down the internet in Papua.
The statement from coalition members showed how the police restricted access to victims in the hospital even for organizations with church affiliation. The coalition also criticized government unwillingness to disclose the number of those killed or injured as represented by the previous statement of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto while being so fast to estimate the cost of physical destruction and financial loss in the city.
American statesman Thomas Jefferson once said that “information is the currency of democracy”. The people’s government requires a free flow of information – when data can be exchanged deliberately to provide citizens with choices, best options and a push for government accountability in addressing policy problems. Problems arise when information is controlled and its absence results in disinformation, state propaganda and repression.
Unfortunately, the government opts for the opposite way to handle the Papua issue. A security approach requires control. Control is easier to achieve through fear and there is no breeding ground of fear more fertile than secrecy.
As I turned on the television for the evening news, Wiranto was on screen to inform the public that the government has mobilized 6,000 security officers in Papua. Why so many? No explanation. For how long? No exact period was unveiled. How will the expense be covered? Zero information.
Similar patterns of strategy have been seen over and over again. In the eyes of the government, citizens-cum-taxpayers do not have the right to know. For Papua, the “why” is out of the question. After the news, my phone rang. Buchtar Tabuni, a member of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua was arrested earlier in the evening. A chill crawled up my spine. It could be anyone, anytime, for any reason as the morning scene in Waena returned to my brain.
Maybe Jefferson, as well as the journalist Edward Murrow, were right once again: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” But we are not sheep, are we?
2) Australia does not rule out handing over human rights lawyer to Indonesia
UPDATED 3 HOURS AGO BY VIRGINIA LANGEBERG
Australia has not ruled out acting on a Interpol red notice threatened against an Indonesian human rights lawyer amid political unrest in West Papua.
Australia has refused to rule out handing over a well-respected human rights lawyer, who specialises in West Papuan matters, to Indonesian authorities.
Veronica Koman is being threatened with an Interpol red notice, which is due to be issued Wednesday, if she doesn’t turn herself in to an Indonesian embassy in Australia.
The human rights lawyer, in hiding in Australia, is being pursued by Indonesia for disseminating evidence of security forces carrying out violence in the troubled provinces of Papua and West Papua.
The move has outraged human rights groups across the world and drawn criticism from a group of UN experts.
Human Rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson told SBS News Ms Koman is being targeted by Indonesian authorities over her work for West Papuan activists.
“This is a human rights lawyer who has been defending West Papuan dissidents, she is now being prosecuted by Indonesia – that is an outrage. And the Australian government should have nothing to do with it,” Ms Robinson said.
Australian authorities have not ruled out acting on an Interpol red notice.
When asked if the Australian Federal Police (AFP) would take action on such a request, a spokesperson said it could not comment on the matter:
“INTERPOL’s Constitution prohibits progressing matters of a Political, Religious, Military or Racial nature,” the statement said.
“Each enquiry is considered and assessed on its merits and the information available.”
A Red Notice is a request to worldwide law enforcement agencies to locate and provisionally arrest a person, pending extradition to the country issuing the notice.
The two governments made a statement which also noted that Indonesia had not yet given access to Papua for the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
The statement was delivered at the council’s latest session by Sumbue Antas from Vanuatu’s Permanent Mission to the UN.
It followed weeks of protests and related unrest in Papua which left at least ten people dead and dozens of Papuans arrested.
The Melanesian countries told the council of their deep concern about ongoing rights violations against the freedoms of expression and assembly, as well as racial discrimination towards Papuans in the Indonesian-administered provinces of Papua and West Papua.
They echoed last week’s call from the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, for Indonesia to protect the fundamental human rights of Papuans.
“Related to this agenda item, we are concerned about the Indonesian Government’s delay in confirming a time and date for the Human Rights Commissioner to conduct its visit to West Papua,” Mr Antas said.
For years, the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s office has been trying to secure permission from Jakarta to visit Papua region.
Indonesia’s government has indicated that, for the time being, access to Papua would remain restricted because of the security situation created by the recent unrest, which was triggered by racist harassment of Papuan students in Java last month.
Six thousand extra Indonesian military and police personnel were deployed to Papua to respond to the widespread protests. The government also implemented restrictions on internet coverage in Papua, although this was gradually being eased as of last week.
However, even before the current surge in unrest, Pacific Islands countries voiced frustration that Jakarta had not responded sufficiently to repeated requests by the UN Commissioner for access to Papua.
At the recent 2019 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit in Tuvalu, regional countries called on both Indonesia and the UN Commissioner to finalise the timing of a visit to West Papua, and to submit an evidence-based report on the situation before the next summit in 2020.
“We call on the High Commissioner and the Government of Indonesia to expedite this arrangement so an assessment on the current situation is made, and a report can be submitted to the Human Rights Council for its consideration,” Mr Antas said.
Up to six protesters and one soldier have been killed in clashes across the restive West Papua and Papua provinces, although protesters and police dispute how many have died.
A source at one protest in the Deiyai Regency told The Guardian on Thursday that police had fired lived rounds into a crowd of demonstrators outside the regency offices on Wednesday. Six people were killed and two seriously injured, the source, who requested anonymity fearing reprisals, said.
“Shots were fired at the protesters, but people continued to sit in protest.”
Al Jazeera also reported that six protesters had been killed.
However, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said the protest by about 150 people at the Deiyai district chief’s office turned violent when more than a thousand others tried to storm the building with arrows and machetes.
Prasetyo dismissed reports of six protesters being killed as “a provocation”, but said one soldier had been killed and three police officers injured in clashes.
“Security forces are trying to control the security in the area,” he said.
Papua military spokesman Eko Daryanto said in a statement that security forces managed to restore order and found two protesters had been injured, one with an arrow piercing his stomach and the other shot in the leg. Both died at a nearby hospital. A soldier died at the scene and five police and military personnel were injured, mostly by arrows.
A group of 50 Papuan students in the capital, Jakarta, staged a second protest on Wednesday and called for independence for Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. Jakarta maintains Papua and West Papua are in integral and indivisible parts of the Indonesian state.
In recent years, some Papua students, including some who study in other provinces, have become vocal in calling for self-determination for their region. Protestors told The Guardian they are demanding the UN be allowed to visit the province immediately – a fact-finding mission has been agreed to by Jakarta but has not eventuated – in order to report on alleged human rights abuses. Protestors say local and provincial government officials are unrepresentative, describing them as puppets of the Jakarta administration.
Protests in several cities in Papua and West Papua provinces have turned violent over the past week, but Prasetyo said the situation is now under control and activities have returned to normal in recent days. Students have marched in the capital Jakarta, and in West Papua’s largest city Sorong, waving the Morning Star flag, representative of the Free West Papua movement.
Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda, who is exiled from Indonesia, said racist discrimination against Papuans in Indonesia had fuelled Papuan desire for independence.
“Now my people are launching a second wave of demonstrations and the time has come for us to reclaim our country.”
The Indonesian government has blocked internet access in the region since last week to “accelerate the process of restoring security and order in Papua and its surrounding areas,” he said.
Verifying news from Papua and West Papua has been made difficult by the internet shutdown.
Thousands displaced due to conflict in restive Indonesian province are suffering and dying in camps, Franciscan group says
A church group in Papua has called on the Indonesian government to actively seek an end to clashes between the military and rebel groups in Papua that have displaced thousands and left at least a hundred people dead in the last eight months.
The Solidarity Team for Nduga, which helps care for the refugees, said last week that about 5,000 people from about dozens of villages have yet to return to their homes.
It also said 139 refugees — mostly children under five years of age — have died due to disease and a lack of healthcare in refugee camps in Jayawijaya and Lanny districts, while sporadic clashes have left a number of troops and rebels dead.
Hipolitus Wangge, a Solidarity Team for Nduga volunteer, said at least 17 soldiers have been killed in clashes since December.
Yuliana Langowuyo, deputy director of Franciscan’s Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation said the regional and national governments must cooperate to end the conflict.
“The government needs to form an investigation team to find out the current situation in Nduga,” Langowuyo told ucanews.com.
“The government must take necessary steps to end the conflict between the military and Free Papua Movement, because in the end, it is the civilians that suffer most,” she said.
The Indonesian president must withdraw troops to bring peace back to Nduga so that civilians can return home, she said.
“However, whether they return or remain in camps, the government must preserve their rights to education and health care,” Langowuyo said.
Arim Tabuni, a Nduga refugee in Wamena, in Jayawijaya district said there are no health teams to handle sick refugees.
“What we have to do is contact nurses or doctors who work with us if someone gets sick,” he said.
Emus Gwiyangge, a local legislator bemoaned what he called half-hearted aid for the displaced people.
“Initially, the provincial government provided help in the form of food,” said Gwiyangge.
“But later, assistance was discontinued. Discussions to try and build peace were also stopped,” he said.
Another local lawmaker, Aman Jikwa, called on the government to immediately re-evaluate the presence of security forces in Nduga, because a strong military presence was deterring people from going home.
“When the soldiers come, people are scared,” he said.
Saur Tumiur Situmorang of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, echoed Jikwa’s comments.
“Sometimes they damage homes left by residents and open fire on livestock,” Papuan news portal Jubi.co.id quoted Situmorang as saying.
Military spokesman Muhamad Aidi, denied claims the military were a threat to people.
“Refugees yet to return to their homes are being threatened and intimidated by rebel groups, not the military,” he said.
“Many refugees who have returned to their homes have received assistance from the military,” he said.
A Written Submission to the 41st Regular Session of United Nations Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre
INDONESIA: Protection of peaceful assembly and association needs serious evaluation
Under the Indonesian Constitution (UUD) of 1945, the right to peaceful assembly and association is fully protected and guaranteed without any distinction. Moreover, Indonesia also has national laws that govern and ensure protection of peaceful assembly and association such as Law No. 39 of 1999 on Human Rights, and Law No. 9 of 1998 on Freedom of Speech in Public. Further, the police also have an internal police regulation in favour of human rights such as the National Chief Police Regulation No. 8 of 2009 on the implementation of human rights principles for the Police.
Despite all this protection on paper, Indonesia sees many cases of violations of the rights to assembly and association. Furthermore, since the government’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2005, no effective mechanism to examine serious violations against peaceful assembly and association has been put in place.
In the past year, the Indonesian police remain the most frequent actors violating the right to peaceful assembly and association. In particular, the police are prone to forcibly dissolve peaceful public protests. Several such incidents occurred against indigenous students who organized peaceful public protests to advocate and promote human rights in Papua and West Papua province. The latest case occurred on April 15, 2019 in Bali, where the Papuan Students Alliance (AMP) called for the public to abstain from voting in the presidential and legislative elections on April 17. This protest was part of a reflection of the human rights situation in Papua and West Papua, with students concerned about impunity and rampant human rights violations committed by the Indonesian police and armed forces.
Previously, on April 7, indigenous students associated with the Indonesian Peoples Front for West Papua (FRI WP) also organized a peaceful public protest in Malang regency, East Java province. The students called for self-determination and to stop the Freeport mining company in Papua and West Papua Province. Suddenly police officers from the Malang Police Office (Polres Malang) and some people wearing civilian clothes (some also wearing masks) attacked, beat, kicked, pushed and threw stones at the protesters. They also threw coffee mixed with chili at the students. Then, the police forced the protesters to board police vehicles and brought them to the bus terminal at Landungsari.
A similar case also occurred on Friday, 6 July 2018. At 6 p.m., students of Papua and West Papua Province living in the student dormitory in Jalan Kalasan, Surabaya, East Java province organized a movie screening on the bloody tragedy in Biak Papua 1998 (Tragedi Biak Berdarah). While the discussion regarding the movie was ongoing, police intelligence officers came to the dormitory, immediately followed by other police officers and personnel of the Civil Service Police Unit (Satpol PP). The police officers and Satpol PP suddenly stood in front of the dormitory’s door and told the students that they will break the door. Two Papuan students standing near the door tried to speak with the police and inform them about the discussion, but a student named Hendri was dragged out and intimidated by the police. Hendri was even asked by one of the police to fight, but Hendri did not respond.
The above-mentioned cases are merely a small sample of violations against the right to peaceful assembly and association. In the last one year, according to the Commission for the Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KontraS), a prominent national human rights organization, there have been 22 cases of force dissolution, violence and discrimination against peaceful public protest organized by Papuan students across the island of Indonesia.
In order to ensure that violations against peaceful assembly and association are seriously addressed, the Council must urge the Government to:
Ensure protection and guarantee to all people to exercise the right to peaceful assembly and association without any discrimination. 2. Stop dissolution and various patterns of human rights violations against the right to peaceful assembly and association. 3. Ensure that any pattern and form of human rights violation against the right to peaceful assembly and association must be investigated and prosecuted before the criminal court. 4. Invite and cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.
In May 2016, Petrus,* a 3-year-old Marind boy from West Papua, Indonesia, died of dysentery after drinking river water contaminated with pesticides from a nearby oil palm plantation. Petrus’ grieving parents, Marina and Bernardus, carried their child to the company headquarters some 20 kilometers away. They asked that the young boy be buried in their clan’s ancestral graveyard, located within the newly established oil palm concession. The company refused. The land was now their property, they argued. Burying the child within the plantation would attract pests that would harm the oil palm trees.
Bernardus and Marina then pleaded for Petrus to be buried in the concession’s conservation zone—a 10-meter-by-20-meter patch of sago palm grove amid a sea of monocrop oil palms—so the child could rest with his plant and animal kin. This request, too, was denied. In the interest of protecting local flora and fauna, access to the conservation zone was prohibited for non-company personnel.
Finally, Bernardus and Marina buried their child a few miles outside their village and plantation, by the side of the Trans-Irian Highway. Since then, the couple told me, their nights have been haunted by nightmares of Petrus’ frail body being trampled by trucks overloaded with palm oil fruit and by bulldozers clearing the forest to make way for oil palm. The parents wept as they described how isolated and frightened Petrus appeared in their dreams, alone by the dusty highway and severed from his plant and animal kin, never able to find rest.
“Since oil palm arrived,” Marina explains, “we Marind people have been robbed of our forest. The oil palm companies cut the forest. They also protect some forest. But now, all of the forest belongs to the companies, and we Marind have no place to live or die in peace.”
Yet despite their purported benefits, “green” palm oil initiatives are often criticized by Indigenous peoples, who find themselves dispossessed or displaced by agribusiness. Among Marind communities in the Merauke district of West Papua, where I have been carrying out fieldwork since 2013, these projects give rise to consternation, frustration, and sadness. They disconnect the Marind from their ancient relationship with forest organisms they view as kindred spirits and as companion species in both life and death.
“People think palm oil is green because there are conservation projects. But no one sees the blood and the violence,” says Perpetua, a young Marind woman. “Protected, not protected—it doesn’t matter. All that land was taken from us without our permission.”
A Marind elder named Pius points out that in so-called sustainable palm oil projects, conservation scientists from outside the area who “have never lived with the forest” are hired by palm oil companies to evaluate the plantations. These conservationists compartmentalize the landscape into zones of high and low conservation value based on guidelines set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Areas of high conservation value include forests that house threatened species or protect watersheds, as well as sites that satisfy the needs of local communities—though this latter aspect tends to get neglected. Companies are then required to demarcate, monitor, and enhance areas deemed to be of high value.
But what distinguishes high and low value zones is unclear to the Marind. The “experts,” Pius says, do not understand that plants and animals depend upon diverse ecologies—swamps, marshlands, mangroves, savannahs, forests—that are all equally important to their subsistence, reproduction, and growth. When only certain ecosystems are considered worthy of conservation, those that fall outside this category become “sacrifice zones” assumed to be available for exploitation. Meanwhile, the absence of ecological corridors connecting conservation patches limits the capacity of organisms to travel in search of food, water, and mates.
While plants and animals are restricted to bounded zones, the Marind find themselves excluded from areas where they once hunted, foraged, and fished. Conservation areas are often caged by barbed wire and remain strictly out of bounds for non-company personnel. This limits the capacity of the Marind to access forest foods and resources.
More importantly, this segregation disconnects the Marind from their relationships with plants and animals, just as Petrus was separated from his forest family. These sylvan organisms, described by my interlocutors as “grandparents” or “siblings,” are believed to share common descent with the Marind from ancestral spirits. They are considered agentive, sentient beings, with whom the Marind entertain relations of mutual care and respect.
Plants and animals provide humans with food and other resources. In return, humans support the growth of their non-human siblings by enhancing their environment. Villagers open pathways in the forest for wild pigs to access water sources, scatter seeds to promote tree growth, and periodically burn vegetation to enhance soil nutrients. These reciprocal acts of care—celebrated by the Marind in myths, stories, and songs—enable humans and their non-human kin to survive and thrive.
In contrast, species severed from their relations to humans in the name of conservation are a source of great sorrow for the Marind. Most notable is the sago palm, which yields their staple carbohydrate, sago starch. The plant holds central significance in Marind myth and culture, and is associated with invigorating “wetness” (dubadub) and fertility. Humans sustain the sago palm through a range of direct and indirect actions.
For instance, villagers help parent palms and their suckers access nutrients and sunlight by pruning suckers, clearing dead fronds and weeds, thinning the canopy, and burning excess vegetation. Transplanting suckers, or “sago children,” helps them grow by giving them access to water and light while allowing parent palms to regain their regenerative capacity. These suckers are often given the name of the individual who transplanted them, so that, in the words of Evelina, a young Marind woman, “suckers and humans remember each other and share the same story.”
Sago palms that grow in conservation zones are an object of pity among many Marind. No humans can help them care for their sago children or make their environment more conducive to healthy growth. Since selective felling and transplanting cannot take place, palms reproduce sexually rather than vegetatively. This ends the life cycle of the parent palm, whose seeds disperse across great distances and germinate far away from their sago kin. Exiled from each other, seeds and parents become “dry,” “lonely,” and “sad,” many Marind say.
Sequestering palms to conservation zones also means community members can no longer hunt within the forest or process sago flour. This negates the possibility of creating shared memories and relations between people and palms. As another Marind elder, Gerfacius, explains, “When sago and humans grow apart, they suffer because they can no longer share wetness. They can no longer make stories together. They can no longer support each other’s lives.”
Conservation practices in agribusiness are problematic for the Marind—and for many other Indigenous communities—because they assume humans are agents of ecological disturbance, so biodiversity can best be protected by divorcing ecosystems from people. This model is premised on an image of nature as an untouched zone of “wilderness” that should be kept pristine and free of human influence. Conservation efforts then snatch these landscapes away from the local communities who know them intimately.
These projects are designed and implemented by scientific experts from outside Merauke who rarely consult the Marind. These specialists ignore the fact that human partnerships with forest ecosystems may enhance biodiversity while fulfilling the needs of Indigenous people. In short, the violence of conservation in this arena lies in its failure to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between humans and the multispecies society that constitutes the natural world.
In addition, the sustainable palm oil sector perpetuates colonialist-like top-down, extractive violence—in an environmental guise. In Merauke, oil palm expansion is taking place without the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous landowners. Many community members have been forced to surrender their territories to oil palm companies under duress and in exchange for derisory compensation. Collusion between the Indonesian military forces and local oil palm corporations is rampant. Promises of social welfare have rarely materialized. With most companies bringing in their own labor force or hiring non-Papuan settlers, few Marind can make a living from working in the plantations.
Local communities’ understanding of their rights under national and international law is also limited. Customary land rights, while enshrined in provincial laws, are not recognized or respected on the ground. Villagers who voice their opposition to agribusiness projects are routinely harassed, intimidated, or accused of bearing independentist aspirations. At the time I wrote this piece, people in the community reported to me that more than a dozen members had been incarcerated for refusing to surrender their lands to oil palm corporations and had their ID cards confiscated indefinitely.
Against this backdrop, sustainability-driven conservation initiatives offer little solace to the Marind because they obscure the dispossession and disempowerment suffered by Indigenous communities as a result of oil palm expansion. It comes as little surprise, then, that many Marind consider protected areas and agribusiness projects to be two sides of the same coin. As Yosefus, a Marind elder, says, “Capitalism, conservation—they both exclude us. Capitalism, conservation—it’s the same thing.”
How, then, can conservation work more effectively in the palm oil sector? A key step is giving a voice to Indigenous peoples in the design, implementation, and monitoring of environmental protection schemes. Conservation practices should be informed by the traditional ecological knowledge of locals, who have learned over many centuries how to sustainably use forest resources. These practices should also acknowledge that, for communities like the Marind, the forest is more than just a material environment to be either exploited or preserved. Rather, the forest is a living space shared by plants, animals, and humans who are bound by emotionally charged and morally valued forms of kinship and care.
Palm oil conservation initiatives must acknowledge the right of Indigenous communities to give or withhold their free, prior, and informed consent to oil palm development. Unless this consent is sought and respected, sustainability will mean very little to those who end up excluded from natures both exploited and preserved.
Greening the palm oil sector requires that agribusiness corporations, governments, and conservationists rethink the place of humans within the natural environment and the meaning of nature itself across different cultural and geographic contexts. Doing so may bring the palm oil sector one step closer to reconciling the social and environmental dimensions of cash crop sustainability. As Marcelina, a young mother of three, puts it, “Conservation is not just about nature. Conservation is also about people.”
* All names except the author’s have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu (background) and UN Secretary General Anotnio Guterres during a visit to Port Vila’s seafront. Mr Regenvanu confirmed that he had raised the issue of West Papua during a bilateral meeting, but little seems to have come from it.
During his visit to Port Vila last weekend, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was confronted with questions about West Papua. The matter was on the agenda during a bilateral meeting held between Mr Guterres and key Government officials, including Prime Minister Charlot Salwai and Foreign Affairs Minister Ralph Regenvanu.
In a joint press conference, Mr Salwai was unequivocal about Vanuatu’s continued commitment to support and help drive the decolonisation process globally, and especially in West Papua.
The UN head did little more than acknowledge the PM’s words in his own prepared remarks.
Mr Guterres also responded to questions on the topic from the media. The following exchange occurred during an interview with Agence France Presse. He had little more to offer there.
The most serious deforestation, the most serious ecological trouble, as well as the most serious human rights abuses in the whole Pacific are happening in West Papua, the interviewer said. Shouldn’t the UN be doing more to try and stop the human right abuses, and the ecological disaster that is unfolding there?
Mr Guterres did little to raise expectations of a resolution to this crisis any time soon.
“There is a framework in the institutions, namely the human rights council… there are special procedures, there was a panel, That recently made a report on those issues, a report that was then presented internationally. Indonesia also responded. So the UN is doing its job, with a major concern that there and everywhere, human rights are respected.”
The problem is, he was told, that Indonesia is blocking Pacific island delegations, and they also appear to be blocking the UN Human Rights Commission from visiting West Papua. At the moment, all international media is banned. Again, shouldn’t the UN be doing more to open up West Papua?
The Secretary General appeared to grant that there were indeed concerns about access to the area.
“The Human Rights High Commissioner has reaffirmed availability to visit the territory, and that remains our concern, and our objective.”
So, if Indonesia says no, he was asked, there’s nothing anyone can do, even the UN?
“As I said, we had the institutions working, we have a panel of experts, but there are also from our side strong commitments there and everywhere.”
Little evidence of those commitments was on display in Port Vila.
As Indonesia prepares to head to the polls, the crackdown in West Papua continues
By Nithin Coca 12 March 2019
With increasingly regular protests and a violent crackdown by police and the military, the contested Indonesian region of West Papua is currently seeing the highest levels of agitation it has experienced in years. Against a backdrop of Indonesia’s forthcoming general elections in April, tensions are rising over long-standing human rights violations, pro-independence agitation and lack of accountability for crimes committed by security forces.
“The situation is not improving for the better, it’s getting worse,” says Ronny Kareni, an Australian-based activist of West Papuan origin. “There is a divergence between Jakarta and locals, and that is deeply rooted in the historical status of West Papua.”
On 1 December 2018, more than 500 people were arrested in cities across Indonesia for commemorating the 57th anniversary of Papuan attempts to declare independence from Dutch colonial rule. Raising the pro-independence Morning Star flag or publicly expressing support for Papuan self-determination is considered a criminal offense against the Indonesian state.
The following day, on 2 December, pro-independence militants are reported to have killed up to 31 workers on the Trans Papua Highway construction project in the Nduga region of the Papuan highlands. Although the ongoing independence conflict in West Papua has resulted in the deaths of approximately 500,000 Papuans since 1969, this was the deadliest attack by militants in recent years.
The government response has been fierce, with activists reporting that military action has forced thousands to flee their homes.
With the media and civil society prevented from independently visiting the region, these reports are difficult to verify, but international human rights organisations have made pleas for calm. “We call on all parties, the Indonesian army, police and the Free Papua guerrilla fighters, not to target civilians,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
West Papua, which forms about half of the island of New Guinea, was not part of Indonesia when it gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. It was annexed in 1969 in a military-run election approved by the United Nations, in which about 1,000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote against independence. West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s New Order era under General Suharto (1966-1998), before being granted special autonomy status in 2001 in a bid to quell the independence movement. The island’s population, estimated at around three million, are mostly Melanesian and follow either Christianity or indigenous religions, unlike the rest of Indonesia which is mostly Polynesian and Muslim.
Natural resources have played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of Papuan history. Shortly after the rigged election of 1969, Freeport McMoRan, an American mining company, began operating in the region. This marked the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company and the Indonesian government. However, tax revenues mostly go to the western part of Indonesia which is much more developed; West Papua, in the east of the country, is the poorest region in Indonesia and its people see few benefits from resource extraction.
Jokowi’s promises of reform
In 2014, then Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (now president of Indonesia), an outside candidate in the presidential elections with no connection to Indonesia’s elite or military, made several campaign promises to address human rights in Papua. This included addressing the ability of the military to use its own internal trial mechanism rather than civilian courts, opening up the region to the foreign media and freeing political prisoners. Papuans saw hope in Jokowi, and he won the two provinces (Papua and West Papua, formerly Papua until 2003) that make up West Papua by more than 30 percentage points each. In an election where Jokowi won nationally by only 6.3 per cent, the region provided him with some of his best results.
Even months after his inauguration, President Widodo reiterated his promises directly to Papuans after a police shooting in Paniai killed five people.
“Jokowi made bold promises in front of Papuans attending Christmas celebrations, saying that he would investigate and solve this case, and bring peace to Papua,” says Papang Hidayat, a researcher at Amnesty Indonesia.
Jokowi initially made a few attempts to improve the situation in West Papua by releasing five political prisoners in 2015 and declaring the region open to foreign journalists, for example. But his power has been limited due to the role of security forces in West Papua, including the Indonesian soldiers who have maintained their presence in the region despite the fall of Suharto’s military rule more than two decades ago. As a result, most of his promises to make reforms remain unfulfilled.
“It became clear to many people that whatever [Jokowi] says, it will not be implemented,” says Kareni. “He is only a face for democracy, but [he is] not actually in power.”
Harsono agrees: “The situation on the ground, especially the resistance from the bureaucracy, is much bigger than his presidential authority, I’m afraid.”
Attempting to address political grievances through economic development
One area in which Jokowi has been able to push forward is on development. The government is investing massively in roads, airports and agriculture, including a plan to build 1.2 million hectares of palm oil and sugar plantations.
Following decades of underdevelopment, “the government feels the need to pay more attention to Papua,” says Arie Ruhyanto, a lecturer in the Department of Politics and Government of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. “Given the political setting, the option is limited to the non-political issues…hence, the Papua problem is always framed in the context of development issues, such as poverty and underdevelopment.”
In the end, this has only increased tensions, as many Papuans feel that development is either aimed at extracting resources or benefitting migrant workers from other parts of Indonesia. That’s one reason why the December attack by separatists was against the construction of the centrepiece of this new development plan – the 4,300 kilometre Trans-Papua Highway.
The response to the attack also highlights a major problem – that many in the Indonesian security apparatus do not distinguish between the peaceful protests and aspirations of the vast majority of Papuans, and a small minority of militants. In response to the Nduga attack, police arrested members of the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), a student-run organisation that coordinates peaceful protests, and forcefully closed their offices.
With the security forces entrenched and Jokowi’s power limited, many fear that the divide between the two sides is growing. Papuans know that the April elections are unlikely to change anything.
However, instead of waiting and hoping for action from Jakarta, more West Papuans are starting to agitate on local, national and global stages. In 2014, several West Papua independence organisations unified under the banner of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), headed by the renowned Papuan activist Benny Wenda. The entity has been active within the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, and the Melanesian Spearhead Group within it, which counts the four Melanesian nations of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, as members.
“In 2015, the ULMWP put in an application bid for a membership of observer status,” says Kareni. The bid was successful. “For Papuans it was a recognition of our cause. The movement has gained a lot of momentum, especially in the Pacific.”
In 2017, organisers in West Papua undertook an impressive effort, smuggling a petition across the island and collecting signatures from 1.8 million residents – 70 per cent of the population – in support of an independence referendum, as promised in the 1960s. The petition was delivered to the United Nation’s Special Committee on Decolonization, to which Indonesia responded by arresting Yanto Awerkion, a KNPB activist and organiser of the petition drive, and sentencing him to 10 months in prison.
One small opportunity to shine a light on the human rights abuses taking place in West Papua came when a UN human rights panel issued a statement condemning racism and police violence in the region, resulting in a rare apology from the Indonesian police for one incident in particular.
There is also hope in the expression by the Indonesian foreign ministry that it will allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West Papua. However, civil society are skeptical that the UN visit, if it takes place, will result in concrete changes.
“It is not new,” says Harsono, referring to previous invites that were not followed up with visas or details. “I won’t believe it until I meet them in Jayapura, until I see them in Papua.”
Meanwhile the election campaign is gathering steam, with the Nduga incident becoming a campaign issue, spurring increased nationalist sentiment against West Papuans. Unfortunately, there may be little that either Jokowi or his opponent – former military general Prabowo Subianto, who has a checkered record due to his involvement in East Timor – can do to change the plight of Papua.
“Whoever the president is, he will be in a difficult position since all political forces in Indonesia, whether the nationalist, the military or Islamic groups, seem to be reluctant to address the human rights issue,” says Ruhyanto. “It remains a marginal topic that only concerns a handful of activists and academics.”