Benny YP Siahaan, Geneva | Thu, 08/07/2008 10:08 AM Jakarta Post
Separatism in Papua is now perhaps the only remaining serious and long-standing separatist problem in Indonesia after the issue of Acehnese separatism was finally and successfully resolved. Following the Aceh peace deal in 2005, it is expected that the Papuan rebellion will follow in the footsteps of Aceh.
However until now there has been no indication that separatist sentiment in Papua is dwindling, in spite of the Indonesian government’s offer of a special autonomy package and various other efforts to win “hearts and minds” of Papuans.
There is a growing nonviolent separatist movement in Papua. In the last few years, we have noticed an incremental change in the strategy of the Papuan separatist movement. This strategy is two-pronged.
First of all, its members often resort to acts of open defiance deliberately designed to provoke the security forces to retaliate. When this tactic proves successful, violent clashes occur, with obvious negative consequences.
A clear example is the violent demonstrations in Abepura in 2006, in the course of which several members of the Indonesian police lost their lives.
Demonstrations are now a fact of life to the Papuan people. The question is how long can the state security apparatus refrain from using a heavy hand when facing clear provocation or violent demonstrations.
Secondly, separatism is driven by allegations that genocide and ethnic cleansing are taking place in Papua. On this particular issue, so far there are at least two studies alleging the existence of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The first is by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, and the second is a study by the West Papua Project of the University of Sydney.
This new strategy is tantamount to a “time bomb”. At any moment, it can yield results, particularly if violence occurs as a result of provocation.
In the latter case, one should be thankful for the fact that, in the Abepura tragedy, the police were not provoked to resort to brutal retaliation as in Santa Cruz, East Timor in 1991.
Indeed, after realizing that their legal argument claiming that Papua is not a legitimate Indonesian territory has little future, the separatist movement has looked to the human rights approach and the concept of the responsibility to protect (R2P) as one of the more effective means of attaining their goal.
Based on previous experience, the human rights approach proved successful in East Timor, particularly after the Santa Cruz incident in which Indonesian soldiers shot demonstrators, leading to widespread international condemnation.
After that, attention in East Timor became focused on human rights rather than on decolonization, which the separatists thought would take too long.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is one of the most controversial concepts in the field of international relations and human rights in the more than a decade. In recent years R2P has become a source of inspiration to many separatist groups.
According to this concept, a country or group of countries can intervene to resolve a dire situation in a country in the event that it fails to fulfill its responsibilities, particularly if the state in question is unwilling or unable to prevent or stop genocide, mass killings or other major human rights violations.
Although the proponents of R2P claim that support for the R2P concept is increasing, up to the present there is no consensus as to when such an intervention can legitimately occur, under whose authority, or how it can be carried out. The opponents of R2P argue that it is a breach of sovereignty.
Furthermore, the existence of the R2P concept entails the risk of “moral hazard”. Moral hazard, according to Kuperman and Crawford (2006), can be defined as being similar to a situation when people are protected by insurance.
Some of them may behave recklessly or act irresponsibly because the negative consequences of their act are borne by the insurance company.
This is the logic behind the recent shift in the strategy of Papuan separatists. For example, if we look at the aim of the above-mentioned West Papua Project of the University of Sydney, whose study claimed that genocide is taking place in Papua, the aim is to…”raise public awareness of the conflict between West Papua and Indonesia, with particular reference to human rights implications and the threat to the stability of the South Pacific region.”
Hence, all they need is an incident such as happened in Santa Cruz in East Timor to turn everything upside-down and where possible on a bigger scale than Santa Cruz.
Defining the separatist problem in Papua is not an easy task, particularly after it has lingered over a span of more than 35 years, during which time it has evolved into a very complex issue. Over-simplification can be hazardous.
Furthermore, from what we have learned in East Timor and Aceh, repressive security policies have themselves contributed significantly to the increasing of secessionist sentiment and have thereby generated insecurity. In other words, violence generates violence.
On the basis of these considerations, we should seek, even at some cost, to find alternative approaches and in particular, examine the nonviolent solutions to the complex contemporary problems in Papua. The strategy of restraint and to continue to educate the military and police on human rights are vital in this respect.
The writer is an Indonesian diplomat based in Geneva, Switzerland. The views expressed are solely his own.