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  • Writer's pictureMerdeka Secretariat

Papua Autonomy ends 2021; what’s next for Papua?

Papuan Autonomy: A Ripe Banana Remedy for Papuans Painful Trauma

Papua Autonomy was given on the basis of Law Number 21 of 2001 on Papua Autonomy alongside Law Number 18 of 2001 Aceh Autonomy establishing the two provinces as the autonomous provinces within the Republic of Indonesia. The two sister provinces with the two sister laws started off from 2001.

A. The Background

Papua autonomy was given on a golden plate on a dark background of 40 years military occupation by Jakarta to Papuans as a gift without any reason whatsoever but with lots of strings attached to it. Papua and Aceh inclusive of former Timor Timur provinces were categorized as “daerah daerah rawan” conflict zones at the time. The Asian economic crisis made the central government difficult to maintain the conflict within the three provinces at the same time which resulted in granting of independence to East Timor as Timor Leste and giving other two provinces the autonomy package each to calm the conflict.

The revised format of the law and their application in the two provinces were different, Aceh autonomy has 273 Articles (117 pages) with a binding agreement signed [1] between GAM and GOI on the 15th of August 2005 with a clause specifically states that, (1.1.1) “A new Law on the Governing of Aceh will be promulgated and will enter into force as soon as possible and not later than 31 March 2006.” Papua Autonomy on the other hand had nothing of such binding agreement signed between OPM and GOI, only 79 Articles (23 pages) with mostly incomplete sections were the content of the Autonomy Law. It makes one wonder in legal terms how Indonesian government view Papuans and Acehnese under the 1945 Constitution, one treated as their own while the other treated as ‘monkeys’ that deserve nothing but a whip to make him learned and a ripe banana to make him happy and submissive. The Papuan autonomy was that ripe banana to ensure the monkey seat up straight in the cage and eat it with ease to stop him from breaking off the fence.

B. Papua Autonomy and International Law

The word ‘autonomy [2]’ is derived from Greek words; ‘auto’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘nomos’ meaning ‘law’ which according to Yoram Dinstein [3] “denotes self-rule or self-government.” In international law the term is “loosely” defined and has lots of “nebulous speculations” according to John C. Gray one of the experts in International Law. In essence, there is no such thing as ‘the right to autonomy’ in the international law. The autonomy or self-rule is a prerogative of a member state of the UN under domestic constitutions and it is more of a political decision than a legal one for that matter if a country decides to grant autonomy status to a sector of its own population.

If autonomy would be an International Law [4] in some sense Professor Douglas Sanders [5] gave three perspectives; “(1) autonomy for specific population is a principle of customary international law, based on an assertion of a common practice of leading states, (2) assert autonomy as a distinctive right of minorities and (3) based on the principle of self- determination of the people.” Dinstein asserts few circumstances that may lead a state to grant autonomy to its own population two of which suits the Indonesian government’s practice.

First scenario, a state may decide to grant autonomy to a particular region or group of people based on a binding agreement or “a treaty (whether multilateral or bilateral)” or by a recommendation of an organ of an international organization like the UN or ASEAN. Aceh autonomy fits this description which was established by a binding agreement known as Helsinki Agreement of 15th August 2005 with a body of a monitoring team under the leadership of EU and ASEAN known under the acronym (AMM). The second scenario, a state may decide to grant autonomy to a particular region or group of people on its own free will under its constitution to fulfil certain differences. Papua autonomy fits into this description when Indonesia decided to give autonomy to Papua alongside giving autonomy to Aceh in 2001.

Papua autonomy was given based primarily on 1945 constitution Article 5 (1) for the sole purpose of equitable distribution of nation’s wealth in other words it was solely established for development purpose, as vividly stated under MRP RI Decision No. XV/1998 of 1998 and no other reason. This apply to mean that Papua autonomy does not fits the description of Professor Douglas’ given in number (3) based on principle of self-determination and (2) given based on distinctive rights like ‘minorities’ ‘indigenous people’ or other categories that are applicable that could be defined under existing international law.

C. Do Papuans have the right to say yes or no to lengthened the Special Autonomy Package?

Legally speaking, Papuans do not have the right to decide about the status of the Special Autonomy. The right to decide about what to do and what not to do lies with the Indonesian government in Jakarta as per the established laws within the country upon which the Special Autonomy was based upon. Unlike the Aceh’s Autonomy where there was an independent monitoring body to review the work of both the national and the provincial governments on the implementation of the autonomy like AMM, Papuan autonomy does not have such arrangements that Papuans or the central government have to turn to for their independent opinion.

The autonomy in Papua was given solely for the purpose of balancing the practice of unfair distribution of wealth existed between the central government in Jakarta and Papua provincial government over the 40 years integration of Papua into the Republic of Indonesia at least from the government’s point of view. It has nothing to do with “minority”, “indigenous people” or “distinctive race” features found in Papua where the argument could easily be extended to the international law particularly the UNDRIP and the minority laws. That has been the reason why Morning Star flag, and other symbols which were in fact labelled as ‘cultural symbols’ were allowed to be displayed in public in the autonomy law as cultural symbols of the area yet in practise they were still illegal.

For the last 20 years under Papuan autonomy, Papuans misunderstood between the two types of autonomy that were granted by Indonesian government to Aceh and Papua, one requested while the other was given freely by the state party. For Papua, it was a free gift but for Aceh they fought for it and they rightfully deserve to enjoy their hard work. Acehnese enjoyed the freedom of raising their flag, establishing their own political party and other benefits attached with their autonomy while for Papuans, begging for more freedom was the culture of the day since 2001. As the saying goes, “beggars cannot be choosers”, Papuans have never fought for it nor requested for it. Autonomy was granted unexpected by Indonesia like Netherlands in 1962 that suggested for a plebiscite in 1969 in the New York Agreement of which Papuans never even ask for it yet they were forced to took part in it.

Papuans never requested and fought for autonomy [6] and so were not prepared to implement the autonomy law for the last 20 years. The autonomy package was like a drop of water dropped on a surface of hot rocks that evaporated within a span of 20 years yet the rocks are still hot. Like in the 1960s the demand for self-determination established in 1961 was still hot and Papuans never felt the effect of 1969 Act of Free Choice, the same spirit of ‘self- determination’ existed since 1961 was so hot that Papuans can’t even satisfy the freedom given under autonomy law of 2001.

It remains to this day a real challenge for the government in Jakarta given that autonomy package has failed to turned Papuan’s mindset of having a desire to have their own country through self-determination as per 1960 UNGA Resolution on Decolonization. Indonesia will eat its own vomit if it changes its mind to review Law Number 12 of 1969 to allow for a ‘referendum vote’ for Papuans after appeal for review by Dewan Adat Papua (DAP) was thrown out last year. Papuans demand for a ‘referendum vote’ is unlikely given the fact that Law Number 12 of 1969 cannot be reviewed.

As it stands, it is a real nightmare for the policy makers in Jakarta to decide what will be their next move for the autonomy package either to lengthen or to withdraw the autonomy law. Papuans do not have the right to do any changes because there was no existing binding agreement between Jakarta and Papua.

D. What is next for Papuans?

The government of Indonesia is in limbo, either to open up to the demands of Papuans or to continue make decisions for Papuans like they used to do and make the people of Papua suffer for another 20 years. To Papuans, lengthening the Autonomy package would mean another 20 years prison sentence and by the look of it Papuans this time cannot take no for an answer. As Neles stated and I quote,

The internal problems of Indonesia today are of its own making, Indonesia’s desire for breathing space, strategic and wealth lead to claiming other territories that should have been left alone to decide for their own destinies at the first place. The solution to the problems also lies in the hands of Indonesian government alone, either to open up and admit its mistakes or continue to cover up and make the people suffer. Indonesia had a positive negotiation experience with GAM, and it has all the power on its side to decide to accept OPM’s appeal for negotiation in the same manner. The continuous uncompromising posture being displayed by Indonesia is not good for the future cooperation of both the people of West Papua and positive growth of Indonesia’s democracy in general. Indonesia needs to decide its positon to accept negotiation for a better future as already shown from the Aceh’s GAM experience.

Solidarity for Indigenous Papuans is network of NGOs and activists advocating for Indigenous Papuans. This statement written for the purpose of information for the readers and policy makers alike as debate is getting hot on the topic of Special autonomy in Papua as it is getting to its end in 2021 some six months from now.

This article is written by the Solidarity for Indigenous Papuans (SIP) Secretariat.


[1] Helsinki Agreement could found here:

[2] More about Autonomy could be read here:

[3] More info found here:

[4] Questions about autonomy in the international law:

[5] More could be found here:

[6] More info in here:


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