Political Context: Key Developments by March 2021

Widespread protests against OTSUS vol. II

High-ranking government officials advocated prolonging West Papua's Special Autonomy (OTSUS), which is due to end in 2021. In response, Papuan students launched peaceful protests in Manado, Makassar, Timika, Nabire and Jayapura, demanding a referendum. Demonstrations were either dispersed or deterred by the government, limiting democratic space. The 'Peoples' Solidarity for West Papua', comprising at least 102 organisations, announced in November 2020 that 520,261 people had signed a petition against OTSUS vol. II.

More states call for UN High Commissioner to be given access to West Papua

Eighteen states in the Pacific Islands Forum (PIS) called for the UN High Commissioner to be allowed into West Papua in August 2019. The Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (OACPS), comprising at least 79 members - some belonging to the PIS - echoed the call in December 2019. Germany also expressed its support for an early visit by the High Commissioner or her office to review the human rights situation in the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat. The United Kingdom added its voice last November, followed this year by the Netherlands and Spain. With so many countries calling for Indonesia to grant UN access, the pressure on Jakarta is mounting. 

Churches and MRP call for negotiations between ULMWP and Jakarta

In February, the MRP advised President Jokowi to engage in dialogue with the ULMWP. Churches in West Papua support this path to a peaceful solution to the conflict. The call came in response to armed clashes in West Papua's central highlands, which have intensified since December 2018.

Government plans to label OPM a terrorist group

In March 2021, the Indonesian Government announced plans to add the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) to the list of terrorist organisations, a measure that would make peaceful talks between West Papua and Jakarta even more unlikely. Human rights observers argued that the labelling was “too broad”. The government could now employ the same strategy to persecute religious or socio-political opposition groups.

Self-declared Provisional Government of West Papua

On 1 December, the ULMWP formed a provisional government with exiled leader Benny Wenda as interim president. It aims to mobilise Papuans to call for a referendum on independence, which Indonesia rejects.

COVID-19 reduces civil society freedoms

Police and Military utilise COVID-19 health protocols to justify harsh actions and the increasingly excessive use of force against Papuans and government critics. Demonstrations against the prolongation of Special Autonomy have also been prevented or dispersed under the pretext of maintaining health protocols.

Omnibus law

The Omnibus law, created to boost foreign investment and economic growth in Indonesia, has been criticised by numerous civil society groups. The bill, adopted by parliament on 5 October 2020, promotes non-sustainable economic growth and abandons fundamental rights that protect workers and the environment. The underlying message is that economic growth remains the top priority of the Jokowi government at the expense of human rights and environmental protection.

Administrative partition of Papua Province

In September last year, Jakarta announced a plan to divide Papua into five provinces. The majority of stakeholders, including the Governor and the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), oppose this plan on the grounds it ignores the procedure described in the Papuan Special Autonomy Law (UU No. 21/2001) for forming new autonomy regions. In January 2021, the Indonesian parliament announced plans to revise the Papuan Special Autonomy Law, including Article 76, which regulates the requirements and procedure for the establishment of new autonomy regions. Papuan intellectuals argue that the suggested amendments weaken the mandate and role of local political institutions, giving Jakarta the power to enforce decisions over financial matters and administrative partitions.

Jokowi appoints HR perpetrators as officials in the Ministry of Defence

President Jokowi has appointed two perpetrators of human rights violations, sentenced for participating in the enforced disappearance of 13 activists in 1998, as high-ranking government officials in the Ministry of Defence. Dadang Hendrayudha and Yulius Selvanus belonged to the Mawar Group of Kopassus, which was implicated in kidnappings and disappearances of pro-democracy activists when now-Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto was leader of Kopassus.

Investigations into killings in Intan Jaya

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Human Rights Mahfud MD formed a team to investigate the deaths of a military member and a Papuan pastor in Intan Jaya. He did not include the national human rights commission (Komnas HAM), which therefore conducted its own investigation. Numerous stakeholders in West Papua rejected the team (TGPF). Consequently, the Papuan Governor also established an investigation team known as the humanitarian aid team. In February 2021, the victims’ relatives agreed to an autopsy provided that it was conducted by an independent medical team under the supervision of independent observers.

Special team to process gross human rights violations

The Attorney General's office formed a team of 18 Attorney General Staffers to accelerate the processing of 13 alleged gross human rights violations in Indonesia. This followed President Jokowi's pledge during a meeting on 10 December to resolve past cases. Although investigations have already been conducted by Komnas HAM, the Attorney General's office never processed the claims.

Deployment of more non-organic troops

Jakarta continues with the deployment of additional non-organic troops to West Papua. According to media sources, at least 1,800 additional military personnel and 100 special police force members were transferred to West Papua between January and March 2021 to combat the TPN PB, maintain public order, and secure government interests. The Indonesian Government is thus continuing to seek a violent solution to the West Papua conflict. The deployment of non-organic security forces unfamiliar with Papuan culture has resulted in repeated violent acts against indigenous peoples in the central highlands.