THE BLOG

Papua, Peace, and Development

21/03/2016 12:02 GMT | Updated 18/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Recently, four construction workers in Papua were shot dead by an unknown armed group. The individuals were shot while carrying out roadworks in Sinak, a remote area of Papua.

To date, the police have not identified the party responsible for the shooting. However, many contend that the alleged group has a close association with the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which continuously issues threats against Indonesian security forces.

This allegation makes sense because, in December last year, a group of gunmen shot dead three policemen and seized their weapons in the same area.

The continued assassinations of security forces and construction workers in Papua is ironic given the Indonesian government's efforts to accelerate development in Papua. The government in Jakarta is currently working on the completion of a 3,985 Trans Papua highway to speed up the island's development.

If examined further, a significant increase in attacks against construction workers and security forces in Indonesia are carried out by separatist groups that cannot be detached from the vigorous public campaign by pro-Papuan independence movements, both within the country and overseas. These groups often accuse Jakarta of committing human rights violations in Papua and of neglecting Papuan development. If studied deeper, these campaigns are actually the cause of widespread violence in Papua. The question is whether it is true that the two aforementioned accusations depict the real situation in Papua.

First, it is important to note that the human rights issue is not the bottom line of the problem in Papua today. It cannot be denied that many human rights violations were perpetrated by the Soeharto government during the new order era. However, after the fall of the authoritarian regime in 1999 and the implementation of a democratic system and the special autonomy in Papua, cases of human rights violations have decreased significantly.

It is true that there were allegations of human rights violations by Indonesian security forces that killed four individuals who attacked a security office in Panlai in 2014. But there was an error in the handling of the conflict when there was a mass riot. It has not been reported that the incident took place as the result of a fight between two young individuals, rather than Papua's development issues.

If we look at the data on violence perpetrated by the separatist movement from 2009 to 2014, there were 166 cases of violence involving the OPM.

In 2012, three policemen were killed in Lanny Jaya. In 2013, an ambulance carrying several patients was fired on in Puncak Jaya, causing the death of one volunteer from the Indonesian Red Cross. Furthermore, two policemen were assassinated in Lanny Jaya in 2014 while carrying out a community empowerment programme. Two more police officers were killed in Puncak Jaya while helping to lift chairs and tables in a church. Last year, three policemen were killed in Sinak, while the most recent incident was the killing of four construction workers.

These conditions should open the eyes of various parties, especially the Papuan Independence Movement as well as other groups, in order to place the issue of human rights violations in Papua in a more proportionate position. Over the years, human rights violations in Papua have been voiced as a justification to support their intention for Papuan independence. Nonetheless, those who call for independence prefer to remain silent when violence is committed against police officers and construction workers in Papua.

Secondly, with regards to accusations made by pro-Papuan independence groups that the government in Jakarta has neglected the island's development, this issue remains debatable; particularly in midst of the polemic of Freeport's license renewal and the failure of several development programs in Papua. However, it should not be forgotten that since the implementation of a decentralised system following the breakdown of Soeharto's regime, the economic heart of the Papuan society is entrusted to the provincial government and parliament. This means that local institutions play an important role in the efforts to accelerate development in Papua.

The problem is that although Jakarta pours a significant amount of its budget into Papuan development, the provincial government has not been able to manage them properly.

This year, Papua will receive a 5 trillion Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) special autonomy fund, a significant increase on last year. Nevertheless, these funds are often misused. In 2015, the Financial and Development Supervisory Agency (BPKP) in Papua noted 33 cases of corruption that resulted in the loss of 49 billion IDR. Meanwhile, in 2014, BPKP discovered 30 cases of misused funds in all districts, with a state loss of 49,5 billion. Furthermore, these are cases that can be disclosed; they do not include other alleged cases of misappropriated funds.

Within the last few years, at least eight Regents were listed as corruption suspects. In addition, the Governor of Papua for the period of 2006-2011, Barnabas Suebu, has been imprisoned for a corruption case that cost the state 10 billion IDR.

This series of corruption cases involving many political leaders illustrates the failure of development in Papua in the true sense. The provided funds are not used for the benefits of society; rather, they are abused for personal gain.

Another point also worthy of note is the lack of human resources of local governments. This is not apart from the increasing number of districts and towns in Papua since 2009, from 11 regencies in 1999 to 38 in 2009. Therefore, the majority of local government employees in Papua is still relatively new and has a dearth of experience.

In addition, another obstacle of development in Papua is inseparable from the contours of the area, which is very difficult. The costs of road construction only reach 6 to 10 billion per kilometer. This is exacerbated by the fact that populations in Papua are relatively small and dispersed, resulting in the difficulty to undertake the construction of roads and other infrastructure facilities, such as clean water, education and health.

These analyses and dates show clearly that, in reality, the problem in Papua is no longer one of human rights violations, as is often claimed by certain groups. What is happening is much more complex. The most substantial issue in Papua can be found at the grassroots and local government levels.

There is, indeed, potential for developing Papua as funds are available to local government. But as long as the local government fails to implement programmes that are of benefit to the society, these funds will be vain. What Papua needs now is assistance and supervision, both from government institutions and politicians.

Hence, it is truly strange when pro-independence activists continue to voice the issue of human rights violations but have little, if any, understanding of the real problem in Papua.

As is widely known, there is currently a number of Papuan independence supporters who continue public campaigns in various countries, whether by the international community or Papuans themselves; for example, Benny Wenda in the UK or Amatus Douw in Vanuatu through the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

Our message for those individuals is that rather than spreading rumours and triggering conflicts and polemics in Papua, it is wiser to come home and start working together with local governments and communities to develop Papua.

Papua is in dire need of human resources already qualified with an international perspective. Papua needs peace and development. It cannot be denied that the most disadvantaged group of the shooting perpetrated by the Papuan separatist movement is Papuans themselves. The construction costs in Papua will increase considerably due to security risks. Consequently, the special autonomy funds will be wasted.

All parties, including the government in Jakarta, the local government, public figures, as well as the international community, must unite to accelerate the development in Papua. It is difficult to see when all of this will end, but one thing must be made clear: if we all remain silent, Papuans will continue to pay a heavy price.

This article is co-authored with Media Wahyudi Askar, a Ph.D scholar at the University of Manchester and the President of Indonesian Student Association in the UK. He is also a contributing writer of a book on Papua.