This report begins with a response to ICG Report No. 188, Radicalisation and Dialogue in Papua, released in March 2010. It finds that the ICG report is flawed in declaring the KNPB (Komite Nasional Papua Barat –the West Papua National Committee) responsible for several recent acts of violence in West Papua. These include: an attack on the police station in Abepura in April 2009; arson at the Cenderawasih University in Abepura in April 2009, and killings around the Freeport mine since June 2009 through to January 2010. The ICG’s evidence supporting these assertions is examined in detail and found to be insufficient.
The evidence the ICG relies upon includes selective quoting from Indonesian tabloid press reports, hearsay and discredited interrogation testimonies. A major omission of the ICG’s report is that its authors did not interview the person they identified as the main actor in these events, Victor Yeimo, to give him a chance to respond to the allegations made against him.
The ICG report characterises the KNPB and its vice chairperson Victor Yeimo as militantly radical, promoting the use of violence for achieving the political goal of a referendum on Papuan independence. We have found instead that the KNPB is primarily a media and information clearing house that expresses mainstream views held by a wide spectrum of Papuan civil society and political organisations, as well as the armed wing of the OPM. The KNPB also organises peaceful demonstrations promoting such developments as International Parliamentarians for West Papua, launched at Westminster in 2008.
All this matters because the ICG is widely considered to be a definitive voice in conflict analysis internationally, and its findings are therefore to be taken very seriously. Only weeks after the ICG report was released, major military operations commenced in the highlands of Papua, with very grave consequences for civilian populations living in those areas. The ICG report strengthens the Indonesian government’s position that they are fighting violent guerillas in West Papua rather than a legitimate, popularly backed resistance movement and the ICG’s views have been echoed in international reporting on the conflict. Furthermore, Victor Yeimo himself is facing serious charges of rebellion for exercising his democratic right to peaceful demonstration, and the ICG report can be seen as compromising the legitimacy of his trial by dangerously skewing perceptions of him and his organisation.
In fleshing out the reality of the KNPB, we have interviewed various key Papuan activists, both in country and in the diaspora, to canvass their views on the KNPB and the level of support for its goals. We have found a high level of support for the organisation and its aims, which undermines the ICG claims that the KNPB’s views are somehow extremist. All this was brought into sharp relief on June 18, 2010 when a landmark meeting of the peak Papuan representative bodies including the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua—the all-Papuan upper house of the Papuan parliament in Jayapura) and leading West Papuan intellectuals and theologians issued 11 recommendations rejecting Special Autonomy and calling for a referendum on independence in West Papua. A march of some thousands of people formally delivered these findings to the Papuan People’s Representative Council, the lower house or DPRP, demanding that the legislators in turn ‘give back’ Special Autonomy to the central government in Jakarta.
Reflecting the level of West Papuan internal and external coordination, almost simultaneously in Vanuatu, which hosts a representative office of the West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation, a motion was passed in parliament explicitly supporting independence for West Papua and committing the Vanuatu government to work towards that goal, regionally and internationally. This latter commitment would include sponsoring a motion at the United Nations General Assembly to ask the International Court of Justice for an ‘advisory opinion’ on the legality of Indonesia’s official takeover of West Papua in 1969.
The above events taken together represent a huge challenge for the international community which to date has endlessly repeated its support for the Special Autonomy package as a legitimate, viable way to resolve the West Papua conflict. Indonesia’s obstinacy in failing to implement much of the package has shredded any credibility it may have had in the eyes of Papuans. While not universally dismissing the Indonesian Institute of Social Sciences (LIPI) Papua Road Map that advocates dialogue, mainstream West Papuan opinion, as evidenced by the June demonstrations and recommendations, is calling for a referendum for independence in addition to dialogue with Jakarta. This will prove a considerable challenge for President Yudhoyono.
In this pressure-cooker situation, the simmering discontent of the West Papuans may well explode. The ICG report has correctly identified the spectre of a civilian massacre along the lines of the Santa Cruz cemetery massacre in Dili, Timor Leste, in 1991. The Papuans have already indicated they intend to push their demands further through non-violent mass protests, which in the past have incurred a heavy-handed military and police response. However the Papuans feel a sense of desperation in their need to attract international attention to their cause in the face of stonewalling by Jakarta and the ongoing massive inward migration by Indonesians from other provinces. The problems in West Papua were initially created through colonial interference. Should the situation in West Papua deteriorate radically, there would be profound implications for Indonesia as well as Australia, the United States, Papua New Guinea and the European Union. West Papua has become a serious and seriously neglected international issue. It is time to treat it accordingly.