On 7 and 8 September 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues and the Tom Lantos Institute organised the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum. Its topic was conflict prevention and the protection of the human rights of minorities. The insights gained from this conference will be incorporated in the report by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues for the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2022.
Mr. Jeroen Zandberg held the following speech on 8 September 2021 which highlights several aspects of the dire human rights situation of the Papuans in West Papua:
I wish to briefly highlight several human rights issues which affect the indigenous population on the western part of the island of New Guinea, West Papua, which is part of Indonesia.
The Papuans have lived in their homeland for thousands of years and it was only in the 19th century that Dutch colonial rule entered the territory, which lasted until 1962 when the New York Agreement was signed and the Indonesians took control over the territory, under a UN mandate. According to the agreement an act of self-determination needed to be held in which the Papuans themselves could decide their future political status. However, in 1969 the Act of Free Choice was held in which a group of one-thousand men selected by the Indonesian government voted to be part of Indonesia. This Act was contrary to the spirit of the United Nations charter and the people of West Papua rightfully rebelled in outrage against this unjust decision.
Since this time, the Indonesian armed forces have suppressed, through violence and intimidation tactics, any Papuan movements who strive for various forms of self-determination. Recently, the Indonesian army intensified their military operations in West Papua. This was aided by a declaration of the Indonesian government on 29 April 2021 that any criminal, armed group can be labelled as being terrorists and it thereby officially declared armed Papuan resistance groups to be terrorists. However, the activities of the Papuan groups who struggle for self-determination should not be labelled terrorism. Instead these activities should be seen in the light of reactions to human rights violations by the Indonesian government. The declaration causes an escalation of possible future violence, while it would be beneficial for all to start a dialogue in order to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Another issue that has made the human rights situation for the indigenous people of West Papua recently even more severe is the renewal on 15 July 2021 of the Special Autonomy Law for Papua for another 20 years. The Special Autonomy Law was first introduced in 2001, and instead of providing genuine autonomy for Papua and empowering the indigenous Papuans, it divided the region into multiple administrative areas and in practice favoured the economic development of non-indigenous people over the indigenous Papuan population. The original law of 2001 also brought increased conflict and greater human rights violations, instead of peaceful conflict resolution and self-determination. The renewed law only increases these injustices. The Papuans therefore vocally denounced the renewal of the Special Autonomy Law until the Papuans had been adequately consulted and could have meaningful input. However, their voices went unheard and demonstrations against this renewal were violently struck down.
- The Government of Indonesia should retract the declaration labelling Papuan freedom fighters as being terrorists.
- The Government of Indonesia should repeal the renewal of the Special Autonomy Law until the Papuans are properly consulted.
- The Government of Indonesia should start a dialogue with the Papuan groups who struggle for self-determination to come to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
(Contribution to the Asia-Pacific Regional Forum on Minority Issues 2021 – 8 September 2021)