Papua and problem of structural injustice

Riwanto Tirtosudarmo, Jakarta | Opinion | Tue, June 19 2012, 9:25 AM

The problem confronted by Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia, is structural, rather than developmental as perceived by the current government.

The creation of the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B) was also based on an assumption that Papua suffered from developmental neglect and that its development should be accelerated to solve the problem.

Such a technocratic view was proved to be wrong as shown by the collapse of the Soeharto regime that was built on the “developmentalist” ideology.

Last week, I had a chance to visit Jayapura, Merauke and Boven Digoel, observing and talking with some experts and ordinary people about the latest developments in Papua. My visit coincided with daily mysterious shooting incidents, mostly in Jayapura. Intentionally or unintentionally, these random acts of violence looked to be perpetrated to create a specter of terror that would contribute to a climate of fear that has long characterized Papuan society.

Political relations between the center and the periphery are an old problem in this country. Following the end of Soeharto regime in 1998, the format of center-periphery relations was renewed with bigger autonomy given to regional governments. But the horror of disintegration, particularly among the military elites, was the reason for a halfhearted decentralization policy, as autonomy is given to the regency/municipality rather the provincial level of government.

Apart from this problematic decentralization, the post-Soeharto era was also marked by the Timor Leste partition in 1999, and a peace agreement in the rebellious province of Aceh in 2005. After Timor Leste and Aceh, Papua is now seen as the main problem of center-periphery relations in the republic. Armed rebels grouped under the Free Papua Organization (OPM) radically call for a separation from Indonesia.

Some argue that a healthy dialogue is urgently needed between Papuans and the central government in order to address the intractable tension and conflict in the province. Dialogue is important but I would argue that it will not be sufficient. Apart from the immediate problem of representation, a dialogue assumes the presence of two opposite but equal parties. Such an assumption is unlikely to be accepted by the Indonesian government.

As the basic issues in Papua are structural rather developmental, I would argue that a new perspective should be proposed to resolve the problem in Papua. From a structural perspective, the problem of Papua is not unique. By seeing Papua’s problems as Indonesia’s problems we look at the solution to Papua as a solution for the whole of Indonesia without any exception.

A structural perspective views the problem of the society as a result of structural injustices emanating from continuing economic and political inequalities between the center and periphery. The central government’s policies toward Papua have officially changed in the guise of special autonomy, yet the structural injustices persist.

These injustices are a problem facing not only Papuans but the majority of Indonesian citizens. Structural injustices are rooted in the wrong assumption in the Constitution that the state will unquestionably take care of the life of its citizens, but in reality we continue witnessing the state’s failure to protect its citizens from violence and the abuse of power.

What is currently happening in Papua is only a reflection of the state’s failure to resolve the continuing problem of structural injustices in this country. The difference between Papua and other places in Indonesia, including in the capital city of Jakarta, is just a matter of the degree of violence. In Papua the level of violence is higher than that in other places as the latest string of fatal shootings strongly indicated. The basic right of the Indonesian citizens to security protection from the state is simply violated. The climate of fear and the insecurities felt by ordinary citizens in Papua are growing unchecked.

From what I have witnessed, today, both sociologically and demographically, Papuans can no longer be divided into particular ethnic or racial groups. The movement of people, in and out-migration in Papua, has occurred for centuries. The latest population census (2010) clearly indicated the high level of in-migration into Papua.

Papua is in fact a pluralistic society, in which any attempt to distinguish between indigenous and migrants is becoming more futile. Every day, the number of people who move in and out of Papua is increasing as the number of daily flights and weekly ships obviously indicate. While certain Papuan elites and their organizations understandably try to reassert their claims about a pure Papuan identity, such a move runs counter to the reality.

Cities and urban areas in Papua have become the most pluralistic places, in which people from different social and economic backgrounds mingle and interact. In such urban settings, social tensions and conflicts normally occur, as people are competing for economic and political resources.

It is the constitutional duty of the state to protect its citizens from discrimination. Economic and political fairness should be the order of the day, where the state has to act as an impartial referee when tensions and conflicts arise between different groups and people in society. Yet as we are witnessing these days in Papua, the Constitution, which mandates the state to protect all its citizens, is simply being violated.

The writer is a researcher at the Research Center for Society and Culture, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) and the author of Looking for Indonesia 2: The Limits of Social Engineering (LIPI Press, 2010

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