Revisiting History and the Special Autonomy for Papua

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

by Agus Sumule

First of all, I would like to thank the symposium organizer for inviting me to speak in this special occasion.  Indeed the issue of the political history of Papua is an important one, which requires proper attention of the concerned and related parties.  I hope that what I am about to share this afternoon would positively contribute to the current debate on the issue, but most importantly would allow the people of Papua to continue exercising their rights within the context of the Law No. 21 of the year 2001 on the Special Autonomy for the Province of Papua for their own dignity and prosperity. 


Before going further, I would like to use this opportunity to first state my deepest respect to the late Bapak Viktor Kaisiepo. As to many of us, I was deeply saddened when I learned about his untimely decease.  Two days before he passed away, he rang me to Jayapura and asked me whether I could still travel to Oxford to attend this symposium.  I assured him that I would come.  Viktor Kaisiepo was one of the finest sons of Papua, who had worked tirelessly for many years for peace, justice, democracy and prosperity in Papua.  As many of us, I certainly would miss pak Viktor’s friendship, wisdom, and great sense of humour.

I was given the task by the organizer to talk about the revisiting of the history and the special autonomy for Papua.  Or, if I may express this theme in other way, I am basically asked to answer the following question: Does the Special Autonomy of Papua, as per the Law of the Republic of Indonesia Number 21 of the year 2001, provide an opportunity for revisiting the history of Papua, in what way, and for what purpose?

Demand for Pelurusan Sejarah
Pelurusan sejarah, or rectification of the history of Papua, was the most important theme raised by the people of Papua in various occasions after the downfall of President Suharto in May 1998  Reformasi brought opportunities for people, not only in Papua but across the archipelago of Indonesia, to discuss issues which were taboo in the past.  The legitimacy of Papua as a part of Indonesia was challenged.  The peak was when the 2nd Papua Congress was held in Jayapura in the year 2000, and a special commission to discuss the political history of Papua was formed.  President Abdurrahman Wahid gave his blessing for this Congress to be held.

In the year 2001 the formal process for the introduction of Special Autonomy status for Papua was started  .   It was based on Decree Number 4 of the year 1999 of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) which partly stipulates that “… the nation’s integration shall be maintained under the umbrella of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia by respecting equality and diversity in the social cultural life of Irian Jaya people by designating special autonomy regulated by the law …”.  It also stated that the human rights violations in Papua should be solved through “… a fair and dignified judicial process …”.  

With the assistance of academics mostly from Cenderawasih University (both in Jayapura and Manokwari campuses) and a number of Papuan intellectuals, the Provincial Government of Papua under the leadership of Governor Solossa, developed the draft of the law of Special Autonomy for Papua Province which was then submitted to the national parliament and the President of Indonesia in 16th of April 2001.  The draft was accompanied with an academic paper contained analysis and reasoning on issues which were important to be included in the Special Autonomy Law for Papua.

Of the 16 aspects of basic framework for the Special Autonomy of Papua, it was proposed that “Human Rights and Rectification of the history of Papua’s integration into the Unitary State of Indonesia” should be included.  The academic paper for the draft of Special Autonomy for Papua states the followings on the issue of Papuan history  .

“One of the most important issues is to have a complete and overall solution for the difference on opinion on the history of Papua integration into the Republic of Indonesia.  This is actually the most fundamental problem which have caused many of the Papuan people aspire to separate themselves from the Unitary State of Indonesia.

Since reformasi, this aspiration has been openly and peacefully articulated, which therefore can not be ignored or even crushed using the violent method.  In other words, as far as there are principle and sharp differences on the understanding of the indigenous people of Papua and the national government of Indonesia on the issue of whether the people of Papua has been given a just opportunity to exercise their rights of self-determination as stipulated by international convention, this problem will continue the source of antagonistic relationship between Papua and central government.”

The draft of the Law of Special Autonomy of Papua proposed from Papua to Jakarta contained the following stipulation in its Article 43: “…  To solve the difference of opinions on the history of the integration of Papua into the Republic of Indonesia once and for all, the Commission on Rectification of Papua History shall be formed.”

The final version of the draft after the internal deliberation of National Parliament of Indonesia and before being deliberated with the Executive (Central Government) was as follows (Article 43): In order to strengthen the national unity and integrity in Papua Province, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission shall be formed;

The mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are:
1. To clarify the history of Papua for the strengthening of national unity and integrity within the Unitary State of Indonesia;
2. To identify and develop steps for reconciliation.

Aspect of History of Papua in the Law of Special Autonomy for Papua Province

The political status of Papua has changed.  It is now a Special Autonomy region of the Republic of Indonesia as per the Law Number 21 of the year 2001 (Law No. 21/2001). In the Article 4 of the law it states that “The authority of the Papua Province shall cover the authority within all sectors of governance/administration, except the authority in the field of foreign politics, security and defence, monetary and fiscal, religion and judicature and certain authorities in other fields stipulated according to statutory regulations.”

With regard of the History of Papua, the Law No. 21/2001 acknowledges “that the natives of the Papua Province is one of the groups of the Melanesian race, which is a part of the Indonesian ethnic groups, and who have their own variety of culture, history, customs, and languages” (letter e of the Consideration part).  The rectification of the history issue was placed in the Human Rights chapter of the Law, which read in full as follows:

Article 46

1. In order to strengthen the national unity and integrity in Papua Province, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be formed.
2. The mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission referred to in paragraph (1) are:
a.         to clarify the history of Papua for strengthening the national                                  unity and integrity within the Unitary State of Indonesia; and
b.         to identify and develop steps for reconciliation  .
3. The composition, position, regulation for the performance of the mandates and financing of the Commission referred to in paragraph (1) shall be stipulated in a Presidential Decree after proposal from the Governor.

Making the most from the Special Autonomy Status of Papua
The discussion presented above reveals that under the Law No. 21/2001 on the subject of Special Autonomy of Papua, the rectification of the Papua history is not a taboo.  Philosophically, this is explained better in the third paragraph of “General”(Umum) section of the Explanation Part of the Law No. 21/2001:

The violation of human rights, the disrespect toward the fundamental rights of the indigenous people of Papua, and the contradictory opinion about the history of the integration of Papua into the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia are problems which need to be resolved.  The attempts to solve these problems so far have not really touched the root of the problem and the aspiration of the people of Papua, which trigger various forms of disappointment and dissatisfaction.

Therefore, the proper and serious implementation of the Special Autonomy Law in Papua is the key to provide a solid foundation of the above mentioned problems to be resolved properly.  As was stated in the ending of the paragraph four of the law,

The introduction of the Papua Special Autonomy Law is a positive first step in order to develop the trust of the people toward the Government, as well as a strategic step to lay a solid foundation for various necessary attempts to solve the problems in Papua Province once and for all.
Furthermore, the eighth paragraph of the “General” section of the explanation part of the law explains as follows:

This law places the indigenous people of Papua, and the general population of Papua, as the main subject.  The existence of the Central Government, provincial government, district and municipality governments, with their lower echelons, are all directed to provide the best service and empowerment to the people.  This law also contains the spirit of solving the problems and reconciliation, part of it by the forming of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  The formation of the Commission is to settle the past problems with the aim of strengthening the national integrity and unity in Papua. 

To realize the above mentioned vision, since June 2006 the focus of the Provincial Government of Papua has been on realizing four main development agendas:
1. Government Reform, aiming at creating good governance and strengthening the government structure, especially at the district (kecamatan) and village level;
2. Prosperous Papua, by focusing in improving the socio-economic condition of the people at all villages, especially in the area of nutrition and health, basic education, people’s economy, and micro-infrastructure (transportation, energy, water, telecommunication);
3. Papua Land of Peace: aiming at creating a Papua where its people are living in peace, respecting law and Human Rights, and in obedience to God;
4. Acceleration of Infrastructure Development: transportation, energy, water and telecommunication at the macro and micro levels.

In the area of government reform, since the fiscal year of 2007, the used to be upside down budget has been made pyramidal since the fiscal year of 2007.  This allows much bigger part of the budget can be utilized for the people’s related development.

The least portion is for the administrative purposes.  For better development planning and combating corruption, model of development projects management were adopted from the BRR (Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency) of Aceh which was acclaimed as the corruption free government institution in Indonesia until 2009.

As village development is now the main focus of the Provincial Government of Papua, since 2006 the RESPEK program has been launched.  RESPEK is an Indonesian acronym for Strategic Village Development Plan.  One of the key programs of RESPEK is the distribution of block grant to more than 3000 villages in Papua.

The total yearly budget of RESPEK exceeds USD 100 million.  RESPEK allows the villagers (almost all of them are indigenous people of Papua) to democratically decide what projects need to be implemented by themselves in the village, how the projects should be implemented, and what accountability should be in place for the fund utilization.  With the assistance of the World Bank, more than 1.000 development facilitators are currently being assigned to work with the villagers.

Since the fiscal year of 2008, free health service in all government health facilities have been introduced in Papua.  The same also apply for basic education.    It has to be admitted that these services are often lacking in certain areas, but the government continues to improve the coverage and quality of services.

The Provincial Government of Papua pays equal attention to realize Papua Land of Peace.  Taking into consideration that many of the conflicts in Papua are related to the dispute over ownership and utilization of the natural resources, in the year 2008 several by laws have been passed by the parliament.  One of them was the Special Provincial Regulation No. 21 of the year 2008 on the subject of Sustainable Forest Management.  In this regulation, the ownership rights of the customary communities of Papua over natural forest and its land are fully recognized.  That means, according to this special regulation, no more forest and forest land can be obtained or utilized without prior permission and consent of its traditional/customary owners.  The land owners should become equal partners in any type of business activities which utilize their resources.  Other provincial regulations were also introduced to limit the selling of the customary lands as well as to limit the in-migration.

The strong position of the indigenous people of Papua in the natural resource utilization can also be seen from the carbon-forest projects.  We are expecting that by mid 2010, there will be a commercial agreement signed with private investors on carbon credit program under the REDD (reduced emission from the deforestation and forest degradation) scheme.  The main benefiters of such a program will be the forest owners (read: the indigenous people of Papua), not the government.

Infrastructure development is one of the main challenges in Papua.  Not only that it needs significant amount of budget, but also the infrastructure should be developed in such a way that it will not become the easier vehicle for the outsiders to penetrate much deeper into the socio-economic and cultural system of the indigenous people of Papua.  That is the reason why key regulations on the protection of the indigenous people’s rights over natural resources and their cultures have been introduced.

Concluding Remarks

Revisiting of the history is very much in line with the spirit of the Special Autonomy Law of Papua.  But, it is not the only principle issues which need to be dealt with. The revisiting of the history should be seen as a part of the overall effort to realize a peaceful, just and prosperous Papua achieved by proper and genuine implementation of the Special Autonomy Law.  All concerned parties should work together to realize this goal.

See my article entitled “Swimming Against the Current: The Drafting of the Special Autonomy Bill for the Province of Papua and Its Deliberation in the Indonesia National’s Parliament” published in The Journal Of Pacific History, Volume 38 No. 3, 2003, pp 353 – 369.

For the complete information of this paper, see Sumule, A. (2003). Mencari Jalan Tengah: Otonomi Khusus Provinsi Papua. (Finding a Middle Way: Special Autonomy of Papua Province).  PT. Gramedia: Jakarta.

In the explanation part of the law, the steps for reconciliation referred to in the paragraph (2) letter b of the article 46 above includes aspects such as      “… revelation of the truth, admission of wrongdoings, asking for forgiveness, giving of forgiveness, upholding of the law, rehabilitation, or other alternatives which are beneficial, and with consideration toward the sense of justice of the people, for the strengthening of the national unity and integrity.”


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