Those who want to speak about Papua should first know the facts

Puguh Sadadi, London | Thu, 11/24/2011 10:06 AM

Jakarta Post

The call by Eni F. H. Faleomavaega and Donald M. Payne in The Jakarta Post on Nov. 18 on Indonesia to “Step up and end systematic abuses in ‘West Papua’” is another example of one those apparently eloquent opinion pieces, full of emotion but short on facts, produced by supporters of secession of the Indonesian part of the island of Papua.

Let’s try to deal with Faleomavaega’s and Payne’s arguments, where emotion and misinformation, either due to ignorance or as a deliberate move, have replaced the facts.

There is no country, and there has never been a country, called West Papua; neither has there been a country with a similar name.

Historically, there was the Dutch — or western — part of the island of New Guinea, as it was called, of the former Netherlands East Indies (NEI), in the same way as there is now an Indonesian part of the island of Papua. The eastern half is now the independent state of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Inhabitants of both halves of the island are now being called Papuans, who are indeed related to the Melanesian peoples of the South Pacific. But, over the centuries and increasingly in recent times, other peoples from nearby East and Southeast Asia and Europeans have settled in both parts of the island of Papua.

Without any substantiation, Faleomavaega and Payne allege that on Oct. 19, “Indonesian security forces opened fire” on so-called “West Papuans”, killing “at least three”, who had gathered at the third Papuan People’s Congress. The facts regarding these tragic deaths are still under investigation. Such an isolated incident cannot be regarded as systematic abuse without substantial evidence.

In contrast, systematic attacks by the Free Papua Movement, which have killed many Papuan police officers, were never raised by Faleomavaega and Payne.

Indonesia’s media and public relations in regard to its domestic problems might not be as thorough as the US media management in detailing the cases of military abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Indonesia is indeed moving forward to strengthen its democracy and protect its own people.

Other people were apparently detained after the Papuan Peo-ple’s Congress, including Forkorus Yaboisembut, the self-styled, newly elected “President” of the so-called “Republic Federal State of West Papua”.

People who are intent to start an insurgency and a secessionist movement can expect a firm response under the jurisdiction of any state; Filep Karma was imprisoned in 2004 for raising a flag that symbolizes insurgency and secession.

For instance, in the respective federal republics of Germany and Austria, displaying flags and symbols of the former “Third Reich” is illegal and is a punishable crime! In this particular case, the level of punishment may need further judicial review to create balanced justice and security.

Faleomavaega and Payne continue with the usual misrepresentation of the historical facts to suit the narrative of the supporters of the secessionist movement, the minority in the Indonesian part of the island of Papua, and their equally small but vociferous foreign supporters.

So-called “West Papua” was not “handed over to Indonesia” by what some are trying to ridicule as the 1969 “Act of No Choice”.

On the contrary, this was the end of a long, slow and painful — for all those concerned — process of decolonization in the former NEI, following the proclamation of Indonesian independence on Aug. 17, 1945, because of Dutch intransigence and obstructionism in recognizing that the Republik Indonesia was the legitimate sovereign successor of the territory, including the western part of the island of Papua, under the principle of uti posseditis juris, which was endorsed by the UN as the guiding legal principle for decolonization.

The Dutch authorities had to be brought kicking and screaming by the UN, the US and Australia between 1945 and 1949, and again during 1959-1962, before accepting the legally and historically inevitable.

And it is equally unhistorical by Faleomavaega and Payne to suggest that prior to the Dutch colonial conquest there were no historical and cultural ties between the peoples of Papua and those of Sumatra, Java and Bali; archaeological, historical and anthropological evidence, in fact, point to long-standing and lively contacts.

It was the Europeans, such as the Portuguese and the Dutch, who gave the name of New Guinea to the island of Papua because the skin color of its inhabitants reminded them of the peoples they had met on the Guinea littoral of West Africa.

Indeed, the peoples of a Pacific (Melanesian and Polynesian) ethnic and cultural background live in the “Great East” of Indonesia, as they have historically done so in the past; in the same way as people with cultural and ethnic links to Southeast Asia and beyond have historically lived in the western part of the Indonesian archipelago.

It is Western colonialism and imperialism that ultimately divided peoples of similar ethnic and cultural backgrounds, such as, for instance, the Malay of Sumatra and the Malaccan Peninsula, or the peoples of northern Kalimantan, all of which now make up the Malaysian federation, from the rest of Kalimantan, as much as the peoples of the island of Papua became divided.

The desire to undo the course of history unilaterally and through physical force will only create mayhem and havoc.

It is therefore disingenuous and duplicitous of Faleomavaega and Payne to allege that whatever grievances as exist in Papua are caused by “racism”, invoking as they do the words of Nelson Mandela to support their argument, when he fought tooth and nail against the division of South Africa along racial lines and for the establishment of the Republic of South Africa as a “Rainbow Nation”!

The Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia equally cherishes diversity and officially guarantees equal rights, culturally and otherwise, for its people of different cultural traditions.

Whatever grievances may exist in the present, or may have taken place in the past, about the “1969 Act”, or allegations of human rights abuses, environmental degradation and economic underdevelopment, they must be solved peacefully and constitutionally within that context.

The writer is an Indonesian diplomat based in London, UK. The views expressed are his own.

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