What’s next for Papua after the MSG diplomacy?

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The 2013 Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) summit undoubtedly marked a historic moment on the long journey of Papua's international diplomacy. During the top diplomatic gathering of the Melanesian countries, the Papuan representatives were invited for the first time.

While this political decision constitutes a breakthrough for the political impasse in Jakarta, the decision is still pending a follow-up visit by a foreign ministerial mission to Jakarta and Jayapura. The visit, however, is subject to the Indonesian government's approval, not the MSG's (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 26, 2013).

Papuan international diplomacy is not novel. If we look back to the second Papua Congress in 2000, it is one of the mandates that some 500 Papuan representatives entrusted to the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP).

 

This body consists of Papuan leaders who live inside and outside Papua. Over the last decade, however, the body has lost its key figures, who used to undertake international diplomacy.

The chairman, Theys Eluay, was kidnapped and assassinated by the Indonesian Army Special Forces. Viktor Kaisiepo, the PDP spokesperson for Europe, died in Holland, while Willem Zonggonau and Clemens Runawery, the PDP spokespersons for the Pacific, died in Australia and Papua New Guinea, respectively. Similarly, Agus Alua, who then became the speaker of the Papuan People's Council (MRP), and Beatrix Koibur died in Jayapura.

In engaging the international diplomacy, we know that Papuans use the term "rectifying the history" to reclaim their silenced history of the transition of power of Papua in the 1960s. This part of history remains a contentious subject of dispute between Papua and Indonesia.

Supported by historical research, Papuans believe that the transition of power through the 1969 UN supervised plebiscite, PEPERA or the so-called the Act of Free Choice, was flawed. On the contrary, Jakarta holds the opposite narrative. It states that the transition was legal and internationally recognized due to the blessing of the UN General Assembly over the result of PEPERA.

The positions are not only at odds with each other but also have generated the history of violence in the last half-century.

Rectifying the history also suggests an element of demanding accountability of the international community for their participation in endorsing the result of PEPERA in 1969. While many may think that this call is utopian and unrealistic, the political landscape that enabled the second Papuan Congress was down-to-earth and real.

Indonesia was under President Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid who endorsed reconciliatory initiatives across the nation. There was a narrow window of opportunity for Papuans and they did not wait. Instead, they convened the Congress and interrupted the status quo of the world's silence over the silenced Papuan history.

The reclaiming of the Papuan history is not limited to the area of diplomacy. It covers a broader sphere of Papuan lives. It translates into the revival of the Papuan indigenous culture. It inspires the integration of Papuan religious beliefs into formal religions. It inspires the ways in which Papuan rename their places of history and interest.

Let's go back to the issue of diplomacy to see what would be the key challenges for Papuan diplomacy in the coming years. At least three major challenges we can identify.

The first is the existing Pacific diplomacy. Toward the end of the year we haven't heard any further news about whether Jakarta has extended any specific date for MSG to visit.

Jakarta's failure to receive an MSG visit will delay the deliberation of the membership of the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation (WPNCL). While the postponement would not stop the Papuan leaders, it would cause a major setback to their efforts to secure a formal position within the MSG.

The second challenge is the national political landscape. We know that both Jakarta and Jayapura have been busy in drafting the Special Autonomy Plus. It is framed to be an advancement of the existing Special Autonomy. Both the President and the governor of Papua believe that this package will provide greater room for improvement and it has to be done before the 2014 elections.

That is why both leaders sent their special envoys to travel overseas to persuade the Papuan leaders living in exile and also to inform the Indonesian diplomatic missions. This whirlwind will certainly suck most of the energy out of Jakarta and Jayapura. As a result, they may not want to get distracted with other issues.

This situation is likely to impede any further engagement with the Papuan peace initiatives promoted by the Papua Peace Network (PPN) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

Similarly, the MSG proposal and requests from the UN Special Rapporteurs may not get any further traction.

The biggest challenge would be the global justice market itself. This market is already crowded and chaotic with wars in Syria, Libya, Central Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. We may ask a hard question: How can Papua compete with these issues, if it should?

While some would argue that the Papuan conflict is not able to attract world attention because of its low number of casualties, the world's history shows the opposite.

We learn from the history of genocide in the 20th century that world leaders disgracefully failed to respond in time, even though they were bombarded with detailed information from the field.

For instance, currently the Central African Republic faces an imminent threat of genocidal killings between the Muslims and Christians. Four hundred people were already killed. Instead of using the word "genocide", the world leaders prefer the term "mass violence" to label the ongoing carnage (New York Times, Dec. 9, 2013). This framing illustrates the reality that publicizing carnage will not necessarily mobilize the world leaders to take action to stop it.

When they do take action and even the UN Security Council deploys a UN peacekeeping force, this force does not necessarily have all necessary power and capacity to end violence and protect civilians.

Let's take another example from today's world: the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It took two years before the Security Council equipped the UN Peacekeeping force with the authority to fight back, which constitutes the first mandate that has ever been established.

In other words, Papuan diplomacy remains challenging. It has to navigate domestic, regional and international politics with different and often conflicting interests.

The Papuan leaders, however, are not naïve. They know the reality as they have struggled with it in the last half-century. They will continue working for the pelurusan sejarah of Papua regardless of their limited capacity and resources.

On the other hand, the Indonesian authorities are also well aware of the complexity of the world's diplomacy. Given the strength of the state, they are in a much better position to continue their work to safeguard the state narrative of Papua.

Since the two positions remain at odds with each other, what can be done to solve it? There is no other option left but peaceful dialogue between Jakarta and Papua as the PPN has tirelessly promoted. Given the challenges mentioned above, the question is who will buy it this time?