The Special Autonomy1 for Papua province was granted as a policy initiative of Indonesian government to the people of Papua in 2001 when Papuan Leaders met with the then President of Indonesia Mr Abdurahman Wahid with a request to break away from Indonesia. Down to Earth (2001) posited that the Special Autonomy was an Indonesian government’s strategy to “undermine independence movement” in Papua.
The policy appeared to be a reactive policy that does not have well-structured and well-planned development policy like any other usual government policy initiatives. Super U. (2001) listed 20 major points in the autonomy package
that were meant to develop Papua province in all sectors with particular focus on education, health, economic development and infrastructure.
After twenty (20) years of implementing the special autonomy policy in Papua and West Papua provinces; major sectors of development still need improvement.
Human Development Index (HDI) for example is very low in the two provinces one measuring 60.84 and the other measuring 64.7 in 2018 which are lower than the national ranking. Poverty ranking is very high in Papua including lack of access to quality education and health by most Papuans, a situation that questioned the legitimacy of Indonesian presence in Papua region. When Mr Thaha Alhamid the General Secretary of Presidium Council2 was asked by the journalists to differentiate Papua and Indonesia in 2001, he said that;
“Papua and Indonesia are two completely different realities…. It is clear that Papua is a subjugate territory captured by Indonesia for economic and geostrategic purposes ….. Evidently, after 48 years of being forced to integrate with Indonesia, Jakarta failed to Indonize Papuans, but devastatingly, Jakarta managed to Indonize Papuan gold, Papuan oil, forests, and other natural resources.”
The establishment of Special Autonomy policy was not without opposition from the Papuans though; Down to Earth (2001) mentioned among other issues the rejection of the first draft by the government of Indonesia and its consequences.
Indonesian government actually edited the first draft of the autonomy law drafted by Papuans. The government deleted points that were not aligned with the wishes of the central government. As a result, Papuan leaders rejected the Special Autonomy package
saying; “another example of the way in which the fate of Papuan people has been
decided by others.
” which appeared to be the start of the rejection rhetoric against the Special Autonomy policy within the people of Papua over the years. Aisha Putri one of the researchers on Papua studies attached with Indonesia’s State research institution (LIPI) quoted by Jakarta Post (2020) as saying; “expression of opposition to the Special Autonomy status occurred in 2005 and 2010 when Papuans symbolically returned the system to the government.”
The government is now repeating the 2001 experience by consolidating all the support from within the government departments and to seek legitimacy from the Papuans who are pro-government while avoid getting views from those who are on the opposition side. The Jakarta Post (2020) posits that the government should not reject the opposition views but integrate them and use those views as a lesson learnt over the 20 years implementation of the special autonomy policy. People are generally divided between supporting the government to extend the Special Autonomy and rejecting the Special Autonomy calling for an independence referendum for the people to decide through the ballot whether to remain with Indonesia or independence.
Kopeuw (2020) stated that the “support for the rejection of the extension of Special Autonomy is coming from all sectors of Papuan society” from Governors of Papua and West Papua provinces down to students, women, customary leaders, churches
and youth organizations. The Governor of Papua Mr Enembe complained about him being often “intimidated” by the Indonesian intelligence and “suspicious” of his moves which reflect the micro-management of the Special Autonomy Policy from Jakarta.
B. Theoretical underpinnings
The presence of Team 100 led by the Papua Presidium Council to meet President Abdurahman Wahid in Jakarta to negotiate for independence in November 2001 was not necessary and not sufficient to establish causation that the Team 100 and or
Papua’s struggle for independence in general had some influence on the Indonesian government to grant the Special Autonomy to Papua province. That is because no minister or even the President recognized the meeting as a dialogue for peaceful resolution to the conflict in public media at the time. This problem fits the description of “straw in the wind test” under the theory of process tracing. West Papua struggle for independence has been going on for almost 40 years at the time but Indonesian government was forced into giving autonomy to Papua by external forces not the presence of Team 100 or their request for independence. The Papuan leaders were called by the President to meet with him to discuss the options for the Special Autonomy to include them in the process of legitimization and ownership of the Special Autonomy policy just to fit them into the Indonesian program and not as partners in the policy being initiated. Papuans in fact occupied the weakest position on the negotiation table because
Indonesian government in the end changed all the important points in the policy and forced Papuans to accept the Indonesian version. Papuans as a result, rejected outright and did not participate fully in the Special Autonomy policy. The end result
was a failed Special Autonomy policy that does not have impact in the lives of Papuans and have not even suppressed the desires for independence by the people of Papua. Theoretically speaking, the policy violated change theory, inclusive of all the theories that comes with it such as outcome mapping theory, contribution analysis theory, most significant change theory, outcome harvesting theory, scenario planning theory and the logical framework theory. This happened because Indonesian government sidelined the important stakeholder in the policy that is the “people of West Papua” from the beginning. It was a reactive policy which the government did not envisioned the type of change that was expected to bring into Papua and did not have parts for each stakeholder to play in the implementation of the policy – but all was micro-managed from Jakarta. It does not synchronized with any of the existing change theories mentioned above and reality on the ground in West Papua.
C. Papua Autonomy and International Law
The word ‘autonomy6
’ is derived from Greek words; ‘auto’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘nomos’
meaning ‘law’ which according to Yoram Dinstein7
“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 Law8 in some sense Professor Douglas
Sanders gave three perspectives;
“(1) autonomy for specific population is a principle
of customary international law, based on an assertion of a common practice of
(2) assert autonomy as a distinctive right of minorities and
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 MPR RI Decision No.
XV/1998 of 1998 and no other reasons. 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. It does not even fit the descriptions of point
number one, (1) autonomy for specific population under customary international law.
D. Comparison between Aceh and Papua Autonomy
The type of autonomy in Papua is not like the types of autonomy found in Aceh,
Bougainville or elsewhere that one would expect to find local features on some
institutions, procedures and establishments. The Papua autonomy is so special; a
kind of unique autonomy within Papua region because it is out of touch with reality
and dose not even aligns with any existing theories of change. When one compare
the autonomy in Papua to Aceh, one would begin to wonder, if the Papuans are sub-
humans not same human beings as Acehnese that they should be treated differently
The revised format of the law and their application in the provinces of Aceh and
Papua were different, Aceh autonomy has 273 Articles (117 pages) with a binding
agreement signed10 between Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) and Government of
Indonesia (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 Organisasi
Papua Merdeka (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 learn 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
E. Appeal to the International Community by Solidarity for Indigenous
Papuans on behalf of the people of West Papua
In the 1960s the international community watched from the sidelines cheering on
Indonesia trampled mercilessly on the so called “primitive” Papuans under the barrel
of the gun without keeping due diligence on the democratic processes and
procedures established under the International system to annex West Papua. Sadly,
the situation is somewhat being repeated under the so called ‘Special Autonomy’ for
the Papua region at the moment, and international community continue to cheer
Indonesia from the sidelines like they did in the 1960s covering their shame with
“national sovereignty tag”. Some important questions about the people of Papua; are
the Papuans human beings? Are they worthy of being protected under international
human rights law? Do the Papuans deserve to be left alone ruling themselves in their
Papuans are human beings, they may not have guns to fight like Kurds or the
terrorists in Afghanistan and elsewhere to be known and feared by all the people in
the region and the world but they are peaceful and understanding people. They show
their disapproval of issues peacefully without violence, a culture that they have built
over the years since the 1960s. They have rejected the Special Autonomy from the
beginning and have not been cooperating with Indonesia to implement the policy in
Papua as the experience shows. West Papuans really need support, extra voices
from the international community would be enough to at least compel Indonesia to
do what is right and proper under international law.
10 Helsinki Agreement could found here; http://www.acehpeaceprocess.net/pdf/mou_final.pdf
We therefore appeal to the International community to write to Indonesian
government urge them to;
- Allow United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit West
Papua to verify the allegations of human rights violations in the Papua region,
- Open up restrictions on International journalists and International Non-governmental Organizations (INGO) to visit West Papua,
- Resolve West Papua conflict through Peaceful means as per Article 33 (1) UN
- On this note, we also appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council to
establish a Special Rapporteur for West Papua to monitor and report on
human rights situation in West Papua.