Building the Trust of the West Papuan People Despite Their Painstaking History

West Papua

Since the beginning of bilateral conflicts between the Netherlands and Indonesia, the West Papua had been an extremely high-valued price worth competing for. Its extensive natural resources worth billions of dollars are priceless gems any country would wish to possess.

Not only the orebody in Mount Carstensz of Mimika regency, its timber has also been one of the top-valued commodities of the region. Both national and international enterprises have successfully struck profitable deals to take advantage of the sales values of those commodities.

The question is, who has benefited from all those multi-billion-dollar deals? Have they significantly boosted the development of the people and their homeland?

Despite the special autonomy, the separatist movements are still persistent in their acts of rebellions to push the West Papua’s independence from Indonesia. Why is that so?

The History of the Resentment of the Separatist Papuans

The Dutch and Indonesian Conflict

West Papua

When Indonesia declared its independence from the Japanese colonization in 1945, the Dutch reattempted to penetrate into the regions. Despite several aggressions and retaliations that managed to send numerous Dutch officials and civilians fleeing the country, the Dutch refused to let go its occupation in the region.

Promising decolonization, the Dutch managed to build hope of independence among the people in the 50s. Somehow, with the conviction that the West Papuans are ethnically different than the rest of the Indonesians helped to stipulate this desire of freedom. The Indonesian Government on the other hand believed that upon the nation’s independence, its territorial right encompassed all East Indies, which definitely included the West Papua.

Fortunately for Indonesia, the US’ political fear of potential communism in Indonesia persuaded the Kennedy’s administration then to push the Netherlands to let the UN settle this territorial dispute. Thus, through a number of mediations, lastly finalized through the New York Agreement in 1962, followed by the Act of Free Choice in 1969, the West Papua was officially a territory of Indonesia. This upset some people who had strongly desired for independence from any country, as promised by the Dutch.

To add to their disappointment even further, the Act of Free Choice was deemed unjust. This is because there were very little West Papuans involved, only about 1,025 people, and they were under the pressure of Indonesian military who oversaw the act.

Within this period of territorial dispute, in 1965 those who were inclined towards independent Papua set the Free Papua Movement, or Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM). This movement has been coined the separatist till today.

The Human Right Abuses

West Papua

It is unfortunate though that after this one disappointment of not securing independence, the OPM and its supporters went rogue, doing one violent act after another. Those actions were deemed disruptive to the Suharto’s regime’s initiative to boost Indonesia’s economy through foreign investment in the 70s. Thus, the regime used its military power to retaliate in a hope of teaching the OPM a lesson.

However, what the OPM and its supporters saw was instead terrible human right violations, in what they labeled as attempts after attempts of ethnic cleansing through mass killings and genocide. Their violent protests went more extreme through the years and the Indonesian military struck back even worse.

This prolonged conflict between the separatist and the Indonesian Government and military lasted even until today.

Accumulated Distrusts

West Papua

Despite having special autonomy status, the indigenous people have now witnessed the destruction of their natural habitats and homes due to irresponsible deforestation and mining operations. Operational licenses have been granted to both domestic and international enterprises easily without conducting proper analyses on the environmental impacts.

It is true that the profits are shared with the Indonesian Government too, which have definitely been used for the development of Indonesia. It is also true that many of those enterprises, Freeport for example, have contributed significantly to the regional development. But, how much of it have been channeled for the development of the province and its people? How committed have both the capital and regional government to pursue a progressive development?

Yes, transmigration has given more exposure to the natives to learn more from other ethnicity and cultures. However, how much opportunity do they really have? Will they be preferred over the rest of the Indonesians despite how they look?

Encouraging Trust

West Papua

The Indonesian Government has a huge task ahead to gain the trust of the West Papuans. A holistic approach has to be implemented, evaluated and improved systematically, together with the people of West Papua themselves.

Dialogs after dialogs with community and tribal leaders are required to understand their concerns and aspirations. If underdevelopment, discriminations, environmental destructions and past human right violations are what they most concern of, then those are aspects that should be highlighted in the strategic approach in developing West Papua.

How to make amends despite those past painful history and move forward on a clean slate hand in hand? The Government has indeed a gigantic undertaking ahead, because for sure the West Papua is an integral part of what makes Indonesia!