Conference “Autonomy for Papua – Opportunity or Illusion?”, 04-05 June 2003

 by Siegfried Zöllner on behalf of the publishers



Siegfried Zoellner

Foto: Hans-Georg Gaul

After the fall of Suharto in May 1998, his successor President B.J. Habibie initiated a number of reforms to tackle the numerous problems of the world’s fourth most populous nation. One key element was the launching of a decentralisation programme, which President Habibie, as someone familiar with German federalism, considered as an important part of the restructuring process. With Law No. 22/1999 on Regional Government and Law No. 25/1999 on Fiscal Balancing between the Central Government and the Regions two key pieces of legislation were adopted. Aceh and Papua were initially excluded from this legislation as ‘Special Autonomy’ was envisaged for both provinces. The People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) in Jakarta took the decision on this in October 1999, with its Decree No. IV/1999, which not only promised Special Autonomy, but also legal measures to address human rights violations. At the same MPR Session, President Habibie was voted out of office, with Abdurrahman Wahid elected to succeed him and Megawati Sukarnoputri as Vice President.

In both Aceh and Papua, there are strong independence movements. The Central Government had previously failed to solve the decade-old conflicts; numerous military operations to break resistance had been carried out. And force was not only used against armed rebel groups, but increasingly also against the civilian population. In doing so, the Indonesian military has become guilty of countless human rights violations, which in turn nurtured the resistance to the Central Government in the provinces concerned. With the introduction of wide-ranging Special Autonomy, the attempt was now made to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in both Aceh and Papua.

During his 18 months in office, President Abdurrahman Wahid continued the decentralisation course of his predecessor. When after his impeachment Megawati Sukarnoputri was elected President in July 2001, both laws on Special Autonomy were almost ready to be signed. The law for Aceh, Law No. 18/2001, was enacted in August 2001, and the law for Papua, Law No. 21/2001, three months later, i.e. in November 2001. The latter came into force on January 1st, 2002.

The evolution of the Special Autonomy Law for Papua makes an exciting reading. When towards the end of 2000 it transpired in Papua that the Central Government had drafted new legislation which was to be brought before Parliament shortly, leading figures in Papua quickly went into action. They drafted their own version of a Special Autonomy Law, intended as a counter-draft to that of the Government. It was to take full consideration of the concerns of the Papuan people, something the Government draft was not expected to do. The Governor of Papua, Drs. Jacobus P. Salosa, M.Sc., set up a working group, which, under the leadership of the Rector of the State Cenderawasih University in Jayapura, Frans Wospakrik, compiled a document entitled “The Basic Rights and Responsibilities of the People of Papua”. In January and February 2001, the group then drew up the first draft of what was to become Law No. 21/2001. Numerous independent experts acted as advisors. Germany also assisted in the development of the draft through an advisor from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ, German Association for Technical Co-operation, a government-owned corporation for international co-operation). Members of the national Parliament (DPR) were also included in the discussions. But it was still uncertain whether Parliament would opt for the Papuan or the Government draft as the basis for its deliberations.

In Papua, work on a Special Autonomy Law was very unpopular, since many people favoured independence and had hoped that Jakarta would act as it had in East Timor, i.e. that it would allow the population to decide for itself in a “popular consultation”. Thus, the working group did all it could to incorporate representatives from all spheres of society and to encourage contributions to in-depth discussions. The official hearing on the draft legislation took place on March 28th and 29th, 2001. This ended in uproar when a militant group left the discussion chamber in protest and destroyed several vehicles in front of the building. The police intervened. One person was killed and many others injured. However, there had been constructive discussion at the hearing, which led to a new and improved – by now 14th (!) – draft. This was unanimously passed by the Provincial Parliament and submitted to President Abdurrahman Wahid on April 16th, 2001. The Papuan working group celebrated it as a political ‘victory’ when the national Parliament (DPR) decided to accept their draft – rather than the one of the Government – as the basis for its deliberations. But during the difficult Parliamentary debates so many points were amended and/or watered-down, that many of the fundamental concerns of the Papuan people were no longer, or no longer sufficiently, addressed in the Law. When President Megawati finally signed the Law, it was no longer what the Papuan people had hoped for. Once again they felt cheated by Jakarta.

Since the Megawati Sukarnoputri presidency, it has become increasingly obvious that her Government has no interest in the decentralisation programme. A strong Central Government is its preferred option. Not even the already ‘watered-down’ Special Autonomy Law for Papua is to the Government’s liking. Many newspaper editorials have accused the Government of being half-hearted. This has all led to the absurd situation whereby laws are now in force that from a Government point of view have taken decentralisation too far, but that from the people’s perspective do not go far enough. Aceh has been under martial law since May 19th, 2003. In Papua, the Special Autonomy Law is not being properly implemented. Many of the implementing regulations, which must be approved by Jakarta, have been put on hold. Most importantly perhaps, a political institution which the Special Autonomy Law provides for, the so-called Papuan People’s Assembly (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP) – stipulated to comprise representatives from adat (customary law) groups, religious groups and women – has not yet been established due to lack of approval from the Central Government.

On January 27th, 2003, then, the President issued Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003 (Inpres 1/2003) making the partition of the Province of Papua into three separate provinces a priority. The Instruction contravenes the Special Autonomy Law in that it ignores Article 76 of the same. This Article stipulates that any partitioning of the Province is to be subject to a specific procedure. Most Indonesian constitutional lawyers regard the President’s Instruction as unlawful. It is a clear indication that the Government in Jakarta – or at least elements within it – are not at all concerned with strict adherence to the Special Autonomy Law. The Instruction relates to Law No. 45/1999 on the Establishment of the Province of Central Irian Jaya, the Province of West Irian Jaya etc., i.e. a law containing provisions for the partition of Papua into three provinces. Law No. 45/1999 had been passed in the final days of the Habibie administration, provoking huge demonstrations in Papua and the occupation of Government offices for several days. The Provincial Parliament in Jayapura rejected the Law at a special session. Constitutional lawyers believe that the new Law on Special Autonomy is ranked above that from 1999 which should therefore be brought into accordance with the new law.

Conference planning

It shall be emphasised here that the conference “Autonomy for Papua – Opportunity or Illusion?” had already long been in the process of preparation at the time the Presidential Instruction was issued. Partners from Papua had repeatedly pointed out to the organisers the need for an evaluation of the Special Autonomy Law after its first year. This led to the idea of holding an expert conference on the subject. Initial planning was carried out jointly by the West-Papua-Network, Watch Indonesia!, the United Evangelical Mission, the Human Rights Desk of the Diakonisches Werk, Misereor, the German Commission Justitia et Pax, misso Aachen and Missionszentrale der Franziskaner. The Friedrich Ebert Foundation quickly expressed its willingness to host the conference. The conference aimed at making the debate more objective. It sought to discuss the extent to which autonomy actually realises the Papuans’ right to self-determination, to consider its advantages and disadvantages and, first and foremost, to present a forum for discussion between the different parties on measures required to overcome the obstacles on the path towards peaceful conflict resolution.

In order to realize these objectives, the organisers aimed at bringing together representatives from the following different spheres: Officials from the Indonesian Central Government and national Parliament (DPR), from the Papuan Provincial Government and Parliament, German officials and furthermore representatives of Indonesian, especially Papuan, as well as German civil society organisations and academics. The conference was very well received. Eventually, participants comprised representatives from civil society organisations from other European countries; unfortunately, in the end not all who wanted to attend could do so.

Conference opening and background presentation

After the opening of the conference by the host and the organizers, Counsellor Stephanus Yuwono, Head of the Political Section of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Berlin, read out the welcoming speech by H.E. Ambassador Rahardjo Jamtomo.

The first speaker was then international law expert PD Dr. Hans-Joachim Heintze from the University of Bochum, Germany. In his presentation entitled “Realising the right to self-determination of people within existing states: advantages and disadvantages of autonomy solutions”, Professor Heintze elaborated on the framework of international law in which debates such as on the conflict at hand take place. He gave a detailed overview of the current state in international law concerning the right of peoples to self-determination, concerning autonomy and minority rights. In his exemplary case studies he covered autonomy solutions in different parts of the world. The time left for discussion, comments and questions was predominantly used for the latter, as conference participants were eager to get a clear picture on the legal framework and the stand the international community has taken towards situations such as Papua. The questions centred on the distinctions in international law between minority rights and the rights of peoples and on the viewpoint manifest in international law as regards independence vs. autonomy as options to realise the right to self-determination which often clashes with the concept of territorial integrity.

One and a half years of Special Autonomy for Papua

The next panel had as speakers Professor Harun Alrasid, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Indonesia, Simon P. Morin, Member of the national Parliament (DPR), and Father Theo van den Broek, Director of the Office for Justice & Peace in Jayapura. Professor Alrasid spoke on the topic “The Special Autonomy Law and the Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003”. After a brief critical overview over the development of the relevant pieces of legislation, he emphasised that the Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003 contravened the Special Autonomy Law which derogated the earlier Law on the partition of Papua on which the Presidential Instruction was based.

The topic of Theo van den Broek’s presentation was “The important elements of the Special Autonomy Law”. Comparing the Papuan Draft Law with the Law itself, he presented the provisions that were of utmost importance to the Papuan people and pointed to the changes made by Parliament. The presentation showed how a number of essentials were removed or watered-down during the Parliamentary deliberations. Nevertheless, in van den Broek’s opinion, the Law still provides opportunities for Papuan self-determination and improvements of the situation in the Province – but only on the condition that it is properly implemented.

In his presentation on “Popular participation since the Law came into force“, Simon P. Morin talked about the reception of the Law in different social spheres as well as in government circles on the different administrative levels. Little knowledge and thus mistrust of the new legislation can be observed. MP Morin called for a better socialisation of the Law and its implementation. The Central Government should regard the Law not as an “instrument for separatism”, but as a breakthrough that offers a new perspective on relations between the Papuan people and Government in Jakarta.

Topics addressed in the ensuing lively discussion circled around the question on the legality of the Presidential Instruction No. 1/2003 and on the possibilities for judicial review of legislation. Key elements of the Law that were debated were the role and function of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) and the Law’s provisions for the coming to terms with human rights violations.
The lack of understanding of the situation in Papua on the part of the central authorities and in Indonesia in general was bemoaned. The new Law should also educate the Indonesian people, make them aware of their perception of the Papuans.

Autonomy in Papua – opportunities – illusions

In the round table discussion “Autonomy in Papua – opportunities – illusions”, all the issues mentioned in the previous presentations and discussions were taken up and elaborated on. The panel comprised Counsellor Stephanus Yuwono, Wolfgang Kessler, Deputy Head of Division Southeast Asia and in charge of Indonesia at the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Professor Heintze and Professor Agus Sumule, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Agricultural Socio-Economics of the State University of Papua in Manokwari. Each of the panel members gave a short statement before the floor was opened for the general debate. Professor Heintze gave his impressions of the discussions so far: the Law was an improvement, but its implementation was obviously inadequate. As regards the general stance in Papua towards the Law, he stated that he considered a wait-and-see attitude as dangerous. Professor Sumule underlined that the Presidential Instruction was destroying the Papuans’ trust in the Central Government. And not only did experts consider it as not in accordance with the Special Autonomy Law, but also factions in the national Parliament were against the Instruction. Counsellor Yuwono emphasised the national integrity of Indonesia and stated that support from European Governments in this respect was very important. Kessler stated that the German Government supported Indonesia’s national integrity, but that it would address human rights violations.

The ensuing controversial discussion centred once more on the question of the legality of the Presidential Instruction concerning the partition of the Province. Whereas a number of participants called for its repeal and urged the German Government to put corresponding pressure on its Indonesian counterpart, Counsellor Yuwono defended the Instruction. The administration of this large area would become easier and there would be new job opportunities for Papuans in the administration. The partition of the Province aimed at the empowerment of the local people and was intended for their benefit. Yuwono said that dialogue was the key to finding a solution to the problems and that the Government was ready for it.

This readiness for dialogue on the part of the Central Government was questioned by participants who pointed out that Jakarta sent conflicting signals: On the one hand new legislation was being drafted, that – despite all its watered-down provisions – was still a step towards conflict resolution, and the Government was offering the opportunity for talks, while on the other hand military operations were carried out in the highlands of Papua and Papuan leaders were arrested and held in prison. In this context participants also pointed to the crucial role of the Indonesian army in the Province who had its own economic interests there.

Autonomy and economic development

“Autonomy and economic development” was the topic for the panel which saw Professor Sumule and Mrs. Agustina Iwanggin Tanamal, MP of the Provincial Parliament in Papua, as speakers. In his presentation “Social and economic changes since the Law came into force”, Professor Sumule elaborated on the economic provisions of the Law and analysed in how far they have indeed been implemented during the first year. Amongst others, he showed that for many crucial programmes no funds had been allocated in the Provincial Budget. Professor Sumule provided a number of reasons to sustain his observation that little socio-economic change had so far taken place. A business-as-usual-attitude among the bureaucracy who, nevertheless, had more funds at their disposal now, was one, another was the poor knowledge about the Law among officials. Furthermore, there was a lack of effort to get input from Papuan civil society. Also Agustina Iwanggin Tanamal in her talk on “Education and health services in Papua since the Law came into effect” stressed the need for more popular participation. She outlined the serious problems Papuans were facing as regards to education and health issues and the programmes to which money had been allocated under the Special Autonomy Law.

In the ensuing discussion, the rampant corruption was a key topic. In this respect, also the immense problem of illegal logging was addressed. Furthermore, already here human rights issues were discussed, i.e. topics that would be the focal point of the following panel. MP Iwanggin Tanamal shared here with the audience her experience as member of the Committee for Human Rights of the Papuan Provincial Parliament saying that in most cases of human rights violations the Committee was powerless when it came to investigation or possible intervention, as the military terrorised Committee members. Also the Papuan Provincial Government was powerless to stop the actions of the military.

Autonomy and human rights in Papua

The following panel on autonomy and human rights had as speakers Rev. Neles Tebay, Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Jayapura, and John Rumbiak, Supervisor of the Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (IHRSTAD – ELSHAM Papua). In his presentation “Human rights in Papua – an overview”, Rev. Tebay gave a detailed account of the human rights situation from 1963 up to the present day. He underlined that also during the so-called era reformasi after the resignation of Suharto the human rights situation in Papua was still reason for grave concern: According to ELSHAM, 136 Papuans had been killed by the security forces between 1998 and 2002.  Rev. Tebay urged that the prevailing impunity needed to be ended and perpetrators of past and present human rights violations be brought to justice. John Rumbiak also underlined this point in his talk “The Special Autonomy Law – a chance for human rights”. He stated that the hopes that people had had for an improvement of the human rights situation with the coming into effect of the Special Autonomy Law have not been met, the people remained deprived of various rights. Rumbiak furthermore stressed that the deplorable human rights situation was also rooted in racism and xenophobia. Indonesians regarded Papuans as primitive and believed it was there responsibility to ‘civilise’ them. As regards to the provisions in the Special Autonomy Law concerning a Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Courts and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Rumbiak said that neither had so far been established and pointed out the structural and legal limitations of the mentioned mechanisms which would be branches of the respective national institutions, not independent Papuan ones.

In the discussion, human rights violations were unanimously condemned, and the Indonesian Government was called on to take immediate measures against human rights violations and to ensure that perpetrators of past and present human rights violations be brought to justice. Human rights violations were not to be regarded as a country’s own ‘internal affairs’, but as a concern of the whole international community. The issue of linking financial aid for Indonesia to compliance with human rights principles was raised several times. Furthermore, the necessity of a human rights commission for Papua which is not under the jurisdiction of the national commission Komnas HAM as envisaged in the Special Autonomy Law was underlined.

Potential for international actors to enhance peace and welfare in Papua

During the panel on the role of international actors, the speakers comprised the German MP Petra Ernstberger, and Dr. Günter Gruber, Head of Division Southeast Asia at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both left no doubt that for the time being independence for Papua was unthinkable for the German Government and that it remained committed to the unitary state of Indonesia. For MP Ernstberger, the Presidential Instruction on the partition of Papua was a wrong move. Dr. Gruber underlined that the Special Autonomy Law could become a model – and successful models were important for attracting investors. Security of German investors was of utmost importance for the German Government. As under different circumstances investors could also turn to other countries such as China, this issue was also in the interests of the Indonesia. In contrast to other Asian countries, the Indonesian Government was prepared to talk and also to listen when human rights issues were being discussed.

During the discussion, appeals were repeatedly made to those in positions of political responsibility in Germany. The “German interest in security for investment” was challenged by participants. Experience had shown that military security for foreign investments had, up to now, led to conflict with the Papuan people and ultimately to serious human rights violations. Furthermore, it was stressed that the situation in Papua had not yet escalated as much as that in Aceh and that there was, thus, still time to take preventive action. In this respect it was suggested from participants that the German Government should consider to what extent it could offer its Civil Peace Service to get engaged in Papua.


Professor Heintze and Professor Alrasid as legal experts had agreed to sum up the outcome of the conference. Professor Heintze summarised the positive aspects of autonomy solutions. He stated that the Special Autonomy Law for Papua still had its shortcomings and listed a number of preconditions that needed to be fulfilled in order to overcome the same, such as the rule of law, institution building, mechanisms for the coming to terms with the past, participation of the people/civil society and tackling the problem of corruption. He furthermore underlined the need for implementation of the Law and the promises made by the Central Government. Professor Alrasid reiterated his earlier statements and underlined that the Special Autonomy Law was issued to satisfy the people of Papua – a path hat should be followed.

In a closing round of discussions the question of the so-called “Act of Free Choice” – the UN sponsored vote of Papuan delegates on the future of their country in 1969 – was raised. A recent investigation by historian John Saltford showed that the vote was carried out in a manner contravening the guidelines of the 1962 New York Agreement. An international campaign was currently under way to lobby the UN into reviewing its actions at the time. The question was brought up whether such a campaign was helpful to Papua. Some participants cautioned against too high expectations as to the reaction on the part of the UN. They held the opinion that, given a rather likely negative outcome, such a campaign was a risky game as expectations raised by it could turn into frustration among the Papuan people.

Closing statement

A draft committee presented a closing statement, intended to inform the public and the press about the conference and to convey the spirit and ideas of the same. This closing statement/press release in the name of the nine organisers contained neither a resolution nor recommendations. The draft was discussed and corrected during the last panel of the conference.

Among other things the closing statement stated:
 “As was amongst others underlined by academic experts from Indonesia, Germany and other countries, there is no long term alternative to a comprehensive policy of autonomy which enables economic and social development as well as the realisation of the rich culture of the people of Papua. The view prevailed among conference participants that all sides should understand the Special Autonomy Law as a means to enhance democratisation and the realisation of human rights.”
“The need for mutual trust and mutual understanding was strongly felt among participants. A constructive dialogue process between the Government of Indonesia and representatives of the people of Papua was considered essential. In this respect participants noted the need for an
institutionalised platform for dialogue between the Central Government and the people of Papua.”
“The conference was perceived as a step on this path which should be followed up. All sides welcomed the international community to play a role in supporting the constructive dialogue, the confidence building process and the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law.” 

Building on the latter, Erwin Schweisshelm closed the conference with a look ahead: A similar conference in Jakarta – under the auspices of the FES – could be the beginning of such dialogue process between the Indonesian Government and the people of Papua, a dialogue that could lead to more justice, respect for human rights and peace in Papua.

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