Indonesian Govt labelling Papuan resistance groups as terrorists earns widespread criticism

Following the Indonesian Government’s (Govt) announcement on 29 April 2021 to label the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) and associated groups as terrorist organisations, multiple observers and stakeholders have voiced criticism. Churches, political organisations and NGOs expressed concern about the new move by the Indonesian Govt.

On 30 April 2021, the Free West Papua Movement (OPM) diplomatic board declared in a counter statement that Indonesian security forces are committing crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in West Papua. The statement emphasises that the integration of West Papua into Indonesia in 1963 violated international law governed by the Charter of the United Nations. The OPM invited the Govt to ratify the Rome Statute, acknowledging the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction (ICC) and seeking a ruling as to whether Crimes Against Humanity or Genocide are occurring in West Papua. They also invited the Govt to seek a decision from the International Court of Justice regarding the legality of West Papua’s integration. The OPM reemphasised that the TPN PB does not attack Indonesian civilians, whereas the ongoing atrocities against indigenous Papuans illustrate Indonesian security forces’ incapability to cope with the TPN PB.

Markus Haluk (see photo, source: Suara Papua), Executive Director of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), explained that the labelling of the TPN PB as a terrorist organisation would not stop the Papuan Nation from demanding their right to self-determination. He stressed that labels like terrorists or armed criminal groups are designed by the Indonesian colonial powers in West Papua, including the police and the military. The TPN PB is simply following the same path that Indonesia already took during their fight against colonial occupation by the Dutch.

Joe Collins of the Australian West Papua Association (AWPA) said it was counterproductive to label the TPN PB as a terrorist group. In an interview with Papuan news outlet Suara Papua, he expressed concern “that any West Papuan could be arrested on the whim of security force personnel. It could also be used against civil society groups in West Papua protesting against human rights abuses, environmental destruction and to curb free speech and the media.” Warpo Wetipo, the representative of the largest pro-independence movement organisation in West Papua, the West Papua National Committee (KNPB), shared this view. According to Wetipo, the lack of a clear definition will serve the Govt as justification to silence and criminalise civil society in West Papua. The KNPB urged President Joko Widodo to withdraw the label.  

Various Catholic institutions, such as the Timika Diocese and the Archdiocese in Brisbane, Australia, published press releases in response to the recent political developments. The Brisbane Archdiocese media statement echoed the calls of Papuan church leaders for international intervention to set an end to the violence which has aggravated in the Papuan highlands throughout the past years. The intervention was necessary to provide humanitarian support to internally displaced victims and investigate human rights violations. It called upon the Govt to accept the intervention of the United Nations and arrange humanitarian aid for the victims of armed conflict. “We urge the Australian Government to play its part in encouraging the Indonesian Government to end its security approach in West Papua and to work with the United Nations and other Governments to end the conflict.”

In its press release dating 1 May 2021, the Timika Diocese emphasised its rejection of the terrorist label, arguing that the statement will cause further restrictions on fundamental freedoms and democratic space in West Papua. The diocese urged the Govt to identify the armed group(s) under the terrorist label to avoid further civilian casualties and urged President Jokowi, the Indonesian armed forces and the TPN PB to enter into negotiations immediately. President Jokowi was asked to seek new approaches to seek a dignified, peaceful solution to the West Papua conflict. Neither the security-based approach nor intensified economic development has successfully brought peace and prosperity to West Papua.