On Just Peace in West Papua
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for calm following a series of massive protests in several cities of West Papua and Indonesia. The protests are triggered by consecutive cases of police abuse of Papuan students in the past week which included cases of physical assault, arbitrary arrests, and racial slurs. Late on Monday, August 19, the first day of the protests, Jokowi stated, “It's OK to be emotional, but it's better to be forgiving. Patience is also better."
Jokowi's statement unjustly weighs the state violence carried out by the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) and the Indonesian National Police (POLRI), as equal to the Papuans’ expressions of dissent and call for justice. Jokowi also had the gall to say that the Indonesian Government will look after the “honour and welfare of all people in [West Papua]” while his administration continues to fester lies about the real situation in West Papua, and actively tries to cover-up the atrocities of Indonesian security forces, especially by the TNI and the POLRI.
Instead of addressing the issues and criticism thrown at them, the Indonesian Government has yet again desperately tried to muffle the discourse on West Papua as they have always done through black propaganda and media repression. Even in various parts of the archipelago, many Indonesians, and even Papuans grow up believing that West Papua is a legitimate territory of Indonesia - anyone who says differently is anti-nationalist and separatist.
Forgiveness comes after justice. What needs to be understood from these protests is that Papuans demand for more than just apologies from the police, military, or from the government. The growing protests are an expression of more than 50 years of exploitation and oppression by the Indonesian state. The Indonesian state represents the Indonesian ruling class which colludes with Imperialist states to maintain its economic and political control over West Papua. A concrete example of this collusion is the use of Indonesian military and police to secure the operations of US-owned Freeport in Papua. In return, these Indonesian mercenaries receive military aid and “support costs” from the US. As long as West Papua remains under a rule of a state that does not genuinely represent its interests, its people and resources will continue to be exploited for the benefit of a few.
West Papua supporters from the international community are also being smeared by the Indonesian Government through personal attacks and red-tagging. Solidarity groups from the Philippines, which included the Merdeka Network, recently held a protest in front of the Indonesian Embassy in Metro Manila to condemn Indonesia’s historical atrocities in West Papua and to call for the pull-out of the TNI in West Papua. Indonesian Acting Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah vilified the action by referring to the demonstrators as representatives of the Philippine communist group.
Ultimately, the peace, security, and development that the Indonesian Government allegedly wishes to achieve in West Papua will only be realized by genuinely upholding the West Papuans’ right to self-determination - the right to decide for themselves their fate as a sovereign people, the same right that West Papuans have long been deprived of since Dutch colonization until Indonesian occupation.
Even when these protests have settled and calmed, we must remain vigilant and critical of the situation. The Merdeka Network will continue to call for international solidarity to rally behind the West Papuans in their pursuit of justice and liberation. Papua Merdeka!
Deewa Dela Cruz