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Peace building in West Papua

Dialogue versus violence

Michela Noonan

The West Papua Project is an initiative of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), a non profit organisation which seeks to facilitate dialogue between individuals, groups and communities. CPACS was established in 1988 as a specialist research and teaching centre within the University of Sydney. Since its inauguration in 2000, the WPP has been one of the Centre's main projects, hosting a major conference and three previous international workshops to date, full details of which are available on the CPACS website: Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

The fourth 'West Papua Project' workshop, held at the University of Sydney August 16-17, 2004 focused on two areas. The first day investigated the issue of Dialogue, posing some fundamental questions: What is dialogue? How can an understanding of dialogue help create the conditions of peace? And what are the prospects of dialogue over the conflict in West Papua? The second day examined the critical issue of Development, exploring the pressing needs in West Papua's health and education.

Over fifteen experts from Indonesia and Australia offered their insights. Their perspectives were varied - eight West Papuans joined indigenous representatives from the Pacific, experts on Indonesia, human rights activists, lawyers, doctors, academics, historians, peace and dialogue practitioners, members of the clergy and religious organisations, military experts and politicians. Each day about eighty attendees, many of whom were experts in their fields, contributed to discussion. The workshop was a successful if sobering insight into a near neighbour that unfortunately remains little considered in Australia.


Professor Stuart Rees introduced the workshop and urged consideration of dialogue not as a 'question and answer session' but rather as a process that relies on four main ingredients: respect, genuine interest, active listening and practical questioning. Courage, cosmopolitanism and access to reliable information are essential in order to start the process.

Reverend John Barr of the Uniting Church reinforced these principles, asserting the need to: inform ourselves, open ourselves to other people, create ethical and moral principles that are not based on a childish vision of 'good and evil' but rather on respect based on community--above all an understanding that we need the people of West Papua just as they need us: We are one human family.

Jason Field, applying his experience as an indigenous person, felt that to maintain constructive dialogue it is important to assert yourself without losing your audience. He also felt an framework for dialogue can be established through policy change: it is necessary to have a political outcome that cannot be readily overturned by a government.

However this also means we must insist people are made accountable; that non violent action is seen as the only strategy-thus acknowledging that risks and sometimes suffering comes at a cost to us all. The only way to initiate a dialogue process in West Papua is to be present there and working with the people.

Dialogue between Indonesia and West Papua

Unfortunately, processes of dialogue are vexed for West Papuans because Indonesia is wary and antagonistic. As Geoff Mulherin reminded us, 'for Indonesia, West Papua is a non-negotiable issue'. Rex Rumakiek stressed that as a West Papuan he felt strongly that negotiating justice was the only way forward for West Papua. Both he and Richard Chauvel felt that violence has restricted the space for dialogue and negotiation. The OPM armed struggle has not threatened the Indonesian TNI, which has a near monopoly over violence.

After September 11, and the result that 'terrorism' can be invoked in relation to the OPM, there is unlikely to be any change to this in the near future. Since 1963 there has been continuing violence in West Papua, with tens of thousands of people dead. Jason Field paid his respects to the Papuans because, whilst an indigenous person in Australia faces many problems, including health problems, being an activist here doesn't put your life in danger.

Many speakers outlined the potential for change that seemed possible post Soeharto. The younger generation of Papuans, some of whom are members of the national parliament, also felt a strong desire to negotiate. This was outlined by Simon Morin who explained how the parliament's Decree no 4 of 1999 promised special autonomy to Papua and Aceh and on that basis all interested groups in Papua, including intellectuals and Church authorities, worked very hard, presenting a draft to this end to parliament. A modified version of this was passed in October 2001, but soon afterwards President Megawati effectively reneged on special autonomy. In February 2002 she issued a Presidential Instruction (judicially weaker than the parliament's legislation) to divide the province in three. This meant that whilst many Papuans were willing to compromise and accept an autonomy package (substantially less than independence) all dialogue and negotiation were nonetheless halted.

Richard Chauvel argued that three dynamics are visible in Papua - a democratic impulse, a regional autonomy impulse and a nationalist determination. This latter accounts for why, particularly after East Timor, there is an unwillingness in Jakarta to allow Papuan aspirations to be realised.

The main problem and overriding issue is that West Papua wants to negotiate and Indonesia doesn't. Chauvel argued that Indonesian nationalism is at the heart of the rationale for the state's very existence. The disinformation and human rights abuses that beset Papua are echoed throughout the archipelago, with Chauvel finding there have been very few years in which there wasn't a separatist movement active in the nation.

John Rumbiak felt the inability to listen to the demands for independence is predicated on racism. This goes with a strong belief that Papuans are few in number and recalcitrant in nature, with the media deliberately misleading to this end in Indonesia.

Geoff Mulherin argued that Papuan independence was a non-negotiable issue for Indonesia. Rather than being for merely cynical economic reasons, through the impact of nationalist 'narratives', Papua has, for at least 50 years, been embedded in the minds of most Indonesians as being an essential part of how they conceptualise the Indonesian nation.

Chauvel argued that the democratic impulse in Papua must be mobilised in the democratic spaces available to put pressure on Jakarta and demand new initiatives for peace and dialogue. Jim Elmslie argued that Papuan demands are creating results - albeit non verbal and convoluted responses--from Indonesians. He has seen enormous changes: from a completely repressed and 'underground' Papuan people, who as recently as 1988 were mentally colonised, to a population which has taken advantage of technological advances including the Internet. Papuans are able to demand the truth, independence, land rights, respect, human rights and dignity. The change of name from Irian Jaya to Papua in 2001 is also an enormous achievement, if it can be defended. Furthermore even the autonomy package could be considered negotiation. At least there is now a Papuan Working Group in the Department of Foreign Affairs and we have seen UN rapporteurs active on the ground.

Other obstacles for dialogue

Stuart Rees felt other obstacles for dialogue in West Papua result because of the complex commercial realities there, including the Freeport mine, the BP gas development and uncontrolled logging and their environmental depredations. Furthermore the religious tensions that exist between Muslim migrants and Christian West Papuans are cause for concern,accentuated by the social and economic gaps that are encouraged by a paternalistic Indonesian culture. There are 1.5 million Papuans and already almost one million Indonesian transmigrants. This is clearly a challenge to the Papuans. John Rumbiak believes there is a need to create a movement that will unite the two groups and fully acknowledge the rights of the migrants.

International pressure

Many speakers felt international mediation could be a potential for this difficult process. Garth Nettheim felt that while international law is viewed by many as just 'lawyers' talk' with no accompanying mechanisms for follow through, it nonetheless creates a language on which to base negotiation. The UN Charter and the UN Declaration on Human Rights are two instruments of potential persuasion. Others include economic sanctions. Rex Rumakiek felt one potential international avenue is a review of the 1969 so-called 'Act of Free Choice', the sham referendum which gave a legal justification for Indonesia's official takeover of West Papua.

Jim Elmlsie argued that the major problem is Australian government foreign policy which gives no support to Papuans. Over East Timor activist pressure and public mobilisation encouraged the Howard government to act. This was also a result of a perception that it was in Australia's best interest to help Indonesia to overcome the stigma of East Timor. However it is unlikely that the governments concerned could have imagined the eventual outcome. Geoff Mulherin argued that international pressure is really US pressure; however Jim Elmlie felt that the issue transcends the US role. It is in nobody's interest - US, Indonesia's, Australia's to allow the time bomb that is West Papua to explode.

John Rumbiak felt that Papuan meetings with the European Council this year had been positive and may point to potential future mediation. NGO support and greater ties with other indigenous peoples were also seen as an important opportunity to be harnessed, with this aspect highlighted by Jason Field and also John Otto Ondawame who examined the new impetus for Papuan self-determination in the Pacific, including Vanuatu's call for peaceful dialogue and mobilisation of support in PNG, Fiji and Kanaky. He nevertheless regretted that this year the Pacific Islands Forum failed to initiate an investigation of the Papuan special autonomy law. Justice Elizabeth Evatt felt that the Australian government had sold out the Papuans and we all have an obligation to actively support the human rights agenda there.

Bruce Childs gave an insight on how to engage and influence 'elite' level Australians. A regional approach by the government of the day is necessary. A Labor Party election win in Australia may see a change in approach. [Unfortunately its loss to the Coalition on October 9 may mean this is less likely.] Indeed an ambiguous approach to Indonesia by successive Australian governments means relief for Papua is a very difficult proposition - however the approach to East Timor can be built on. The range of parliamentarians that grouped in opposition to French nuclear testing proved very effective in getting world publicity. Specific interest groups including Australian churches and trade unions can also be very effective in supporting (and pressuring) their counterparts in Papua and Indonesia.

The terrible problem of militarisation was starkly illustrated by John Rumbiak with the area around the Freeport mine an exceptionally distressing one - he also insisted on the need for international governmental mediation as well as international public pressure. He argued that the links between the Indonesian military and its supporters and condoners worldwide must be more widely publicised.

Dialogue among West Papuans

John Rumbiak said: 'We have to start with ourselves'. In 1990 human rights education started with civil society groups and then, with the fall of Soeharto, the Papuans began to feel able and free to speak out. However it is clear that with 250 tribes the need for unity is paramount. That is why in 2000 the peaceful movement for self-determination was initiated. However the Papuans are also lucky because they can learn from other struggles.

Moses Havini was able to shed light on one of these struggles. He was very informative in explaining the Bougainville constitution and the dynamics involved in achieving it after 15 years of struggle. While the BRA were roaming freely in three quarters of the province and had won many battles, they realised that it was simply not possible to go on. Therefore the leaders held a one month summit of 'talk and talk the Pacific way'. It was reluctantly decided to try the negotiation road and within twenty four months, and due to extraordinary circumstances in PNG, some incredible developments took place - culminating in a New Zealand supported and hosted ten days of often very tense and overheated discussions among all Bougainville factions. This led to the Burnham Declaration - the bedrock of the peace process, followed by a countrywide exercise of interviewing and listening to people, leading in turn to a draft constitution from which a legislature is emerging.

Dialogue - an incremental process

The peace process must be conceived of as an incremental one - with the first stage including 'militant' Papuans laying down their arms and Indonesia grant some real autonomy and demilitarisation to the province.

Geoff Mulherin told of his experience when stationed in the highlands of Papua in 1988. He was one of 120 Australian soldiers coordinating supplies for drought relief. The very fact that a third party was present meant that where elsewhere killings were taking place because independence supporters were protesting publicly, the soldiers were able to 'mediate' - an impromptu soccer game was played between the TNI, Australia and West Papuans whilst the West Papuan flag (normally outlawed) flew overhead.


Justice Evatt's keynote speech focused on the plight of the Papuan refugees living over the border in PNG without proper legal status or the right to land. The International Commission of Jurists reported on this, and she believes there is a real need for further independent experts to become involved and for the UN to take a greater role. In the meantime an agenda for dialogue ought to have a primary focus on human rights.

Dr Benny Giay believes that the Papuans cannot wait until independence; development must be fully prioritised and the idea of self-determination must be broadened in order to include this. The daily violence that Papuans live with must be countered -

Our traditions and culture are considered primitive and we must revitalise our beliefs and values and give a honourable place to our tradition. We mustn't take our assessment of ourselves from Indonesia - or our solidarity will be eroded. We need to counter the corruption in Indonesian elites, and we need to rewrite our history so that we can start to dream again of a future and be given a motivation to work for change. To this end later this year we plan to have a Papuan awareness week.

A reflection by Benny Giay summed up for many the West Papuan story: 'The Indonesians not only took our future, they took away our dreams for our future'.

Professor Peter King examined development in Papua from an Indonesian perspective. The fundamental issue is to convince the powerful that rather than a well developed Papua equating to a stronger bid for independence, treating Papuans with dignity will mean they may be less likely to need or want independence. The recent win by Susilo Bambang Yudoyono may play a significant role in a changed approach.

Mama Josepha Alomang works to address Papuan grievances especially for women victims of rape and torture. She told of how she hadn't always understood that the land is a human rights issue: 'we come from the land, we will die for the land'. However in the face of Indonesian violence, and the killing of innocent people she is very concerned. The deadly spread of AIDS is akin to genocide. The prevalence of HIV/ AIDS infection in West Papua is over thirty times the Indonesian national average. West Papua is the second poorest province, with the least capacity to fight the scourge.

Moussa Sombuk gave a very detailed overview of Papuan development issues. Papua's GDP is very low. The main formal production activities are mining, forestry and agriculture; however illegal mining and logging are commonplace. The rampant poverty is a result of economic bleeding - 70% of money generated flows directly to Indonesia. In the key area of public services - one of very few government hospitals has recently been closed. Education is poor especially outside of the major towns. Civil administration is scarce - many Papuans don't have an ID card and therefore gathering reliable key statistics is difficult. Electricity is found only in the cities, and this is generated by fossil fuel. Water must be boiled and transport outside the main towns is so poor it may be necessary to walk for a week in order to arrive at a destination. Income per capita is only $AUD 160 per annum, life expectancy is 50 years. There are 170 infant mortality deaths for every 1000 births (in contrast to the 50 in 1000 average in Indonesia).

While 70% of the population vote in general elections, politicians are mostly corrupt, and there is little discussion with constituents. There are 538 NGOs in West Papua for 2.3 million people. Alcoholism and drug abuse (particularly marijuana) are widespread and often lead to domestic violence. Street prostitution is common among Papuan women. Some obstacles to reform include the inconsistency of central government, the multidimensional crisis of Indonesia, geographical isolation and lack of resources.

Dolly Zongganau reiterated John Rumbiak's belief that 'health is hell'. In the surgical ward of a Jayapura hospital--where the need for cleanliness is paramount - patients are jumbled together and patients' relatives become responsible for cleaning. There is a lack of communication because of language difficulties between Indonesian nurses and Papuan patients. Dolly knows of one woman who had to walk so far to reach the closest hospital - six hours - that she lost her baby during the childbirth. Many Papuans are distrustful of hospitals - believing them to be a place of 'last breath'. General preventative health techniques are not applied: health inspectors have found people living next to sewerage. In terms of HIV, we need international support because of the difficulties of educating the population about condoms - this is particularly difficult because of alcoholism, violence (both domestic and military-induced) and prostitution.

John Scott Murphy said that whilst statistics are scarce, it may be that Papua has the highest levels of HIV in the region - higher than Burma, Thailand, Cambodia or Papua New Guinea. Furthermore compared to their western counterparts the life expectancy of HIV positive people is extremely short and lack of appropriate treatment and medication means a miserable quality of life for them in West Papua. The World Bank has argued that HIV-AIDS solutions are linked to development - that the more years of schooling you have the less likely you are to contract the virus. However he argues that where there is a widespread pandemic and people are unable to make decisions about their lives - as in Papua - this is irrelevant. We cannot wait for development - we need to help Papuans immediately, and particularly women, in this fundamental pressing concern.

John Rumbiak rounded up the two days by arguing that survival of the Papuan people is the paramount issue- that unless it is assured it will be impossible to achieve peace.

Future Directions

Professor Stuart Rees asked those participants able to stay on to discuss potential future directions for the West Papua Project--particularly whether dialogue ought to be persisted with or whether a more openly partisan, 'Human Rights Watch position' should be prioritised.

Whilst there was no binding decision taken, the Papuans were unanimous in their desire that the Project continue. Whilst peaceful dialogue is a lengthy project and positive results are not always obvious, there is no compelling evidence we should give up. In John Rumbiak's view the principled, independent and neutral forum afforded by CPACS is important. It may well be that, with changes in Indonesian or Australian leadership, dialogue could be accelerated and may create a real momentum for change.

However a program that upholds the vital need for education, awareness-raising and activism - particularly in terms of health, and HIV in Papua - should perhaps be incorporated into the West Papua Project in future.

2003 - 2004 West Papua Project Coordination:

John Wing and Michela Noonan

John Wing has had an association with West Papua since 1990 and has traveled in the territory in 1991, 1997 and 2003. John completed an MA in Anthropology (Development Studies) in 1994, his minor thesis being entitled 'The Impact of Development on the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.' which was the basis of the West Papua Information Kit (pub. 1995, 1998 and 2003 by the Australia West Papua Association [AWPA].) He has worked in education and as a consultant for appropriate technology organisations in the provision of small-scale electric generation in remote areas. As a liaison for AWPA since 1993, and, since 2003, Coordinator of the West Papua Project, John has advised media, government, health and other non-government organisations on West Papua.

Michela Noonan has an Bachelor of Arts degree with Honours in Government from the University of Sydney and a Masters degree in International Relations from the University of New South Wales(UNSW), and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Laws at UNSW. She has been an intern at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva and works as a professional actress in both Italy and Australia. She has received an Australian Film Institute nomination for best actress in a feature film and has received the Gallio Film Best Actress award for an Italian feature.


Reverend John Barr is the Executive Secretary, Unity and International Mission, of the Uniting Church in Australia. John is involved in issues of social justice and development in Papua and returned from a visit to Jayapura just one week before the workshop.

Dr Meredith Burgmann is the President of the Legislative Council of NSW. She is a founding member of the West Papua Project and, along with Dr Tim Flannery, is the project's patron. She has been instrumental in forming a parliamentary West Papua support group in NSW and has been one of West Papua's staunchest friends.

Associate Professor Richard Chauvel is Director of the Australia Asia Pacific Institute at Victoria University of Technology, Melbourne. His research has focused on political and social change in eastern Indonesia, most particularly in Maluku and Papua. Dr Chauvel has been a consultant for the International Crisis Group in Papua and his major report was published as Indonesia: Ending Repression in Irian Jaya, ICG Asia Report No 23, Jakarta/Brussels, September 2001. Two volumes of essays on Papua have been published as The Land of Papua and the Indonesian State. He is writing a history of the West New Guinea Dispute under a Peter Hastings Memorial Fellowship. Prior to joining Victoria University, he taught at the University of Indonesia, 1987-1992.

Bruce Childs was an Australian Labor Party Senator from New South Wakles from 1981 until 1997. Previously, he was the Assistant General Secretary in the NSW Branch of the Australian Labor Party, an office he held from 1971 until 1980. During the 1980s he was convenor of the committee that organised the famous Palm Sunday Nuclear Disarmament Marches in Sydney. Recently, he was a co-convenor of the city's 2002 Palm Sunday March, the November 2002 Walk Against the War, and Sydney's historic February 2003 Peace March.

Dr Jim Elsmlie is a political scientist and tribal art dealer who has been keenly involved in the island of New Guinea since 1983. He has made more than 40 trips to Papua New Guinea and West Papua, collecting artefacts, leading treks and canoe patrols on the Sepik River, working with film crews and conducting research. His recently published book Irian Jaya Under the Gun - Indonesian Economic Development versus West Papaun Nationalism is based on a Ph D thesis completed in Sydney University's Department of Government.

Justice Elizabeth Evatt (AC) has been an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of NSW since 1998. She is a member of the World Bank Administrative Tribunal. She was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee from 1993 to 2000, and since 2003 she has been a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists.

Jason Field is a Yuin man (NSW South Coast). He is currently employed as the Research and Policy Coordinator with Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, Sydney. Since 1992, Jason has worked with community, public sector, and higher education organisations in the areas of policy, research, administration and project management on a range of indigenous issues, including human rights education and training, culture and heritage protection, and the Stolen Generation and the law.

Benny Giay is a lecturer at the Walter Post Theological College and chairperson of the Peace Task Force in Jayapura, as well as ELSHAM, Papua's leading human rights organisation. He is West Papua's foremost non-fiction author and a prophet of Papuan cultural renaissance. His books include Towards a New Papua (Jayapura, 2000) and a biography of Theys Eluay published after his murder by Indonesian Army Special Forces in October 2001 and subsequently banned.

Moses Havini represents the Bougainville Constitutional Commission internationally. In 1990, Moses and his Australian-born wife Marilyn and their children were forced to evacuate to Sydney when Bougainville was subjected to a blockade by the PNG Defence Force. As international representatives of the Bougainville Interim Government, Moses and Marilyn have worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the gross violation of human rights occurring on the island and to promote the cause of Bougainvillean independence.

Professor Peter King is a research associate in Government and International Relations at Sydney University and was founding convener of the West Papua Project in January 2000. His research interests include: Australia's relations with South East Asia and the South Pacific; the post-1998 independence struggle in West Papua, and disintegrasi more generally in Indonesia. He has recently launched his latest publication West Papua and Indonesia since Suharto (University of New South Wales Press).

Simon Morin is a West Papuan parliamentarian (Golkar Party member of the DPR-House of Representatives) residing in Jakarta. In June last year he presented a paper highly critical of the Indonesian government at a conference on 'Autonomy for Papua - Opportunity or Illusion?' held in Berlin by the West-Papua Netzwek (FES) of Germany.

Geoff Mulherin (CSC) has been the Director of the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales since November 2000. He is also an Associate of the Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific at the University of Sydney, and is a former Army Officer. He commanded the Australian Defence Force's humanitarian relief operation in West Papua/Irian Jaya in 1998, and is currently undertaking a part-time Ph D at the University Sydney examining the development of Indonesia's understanding of West Papua.

Professor Garth Nettheim is regarded by many as Australia's pre-eminent indigenous legal rights academic. Garth is Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of NSW and an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Faculty. He is the founding director of the UNSW Indigenous Law Centre and the guiding light behind the Australian Indigenous Law Reporter.

Dr John Otto Ondawame is one of West Papua's most important international spokespeople. An Amungme from the Freeport area he was forced into exile in 1978 after time in prison for his underground student activism. Now a member of the Papua Presidium Council as well as the OPM (Operasi Papua Merdeka), he was based in Australia from 1993 until 2002 and during that time completed his Ph D at the ANU on West Papuan nationalism. He was the West Papua Project founding coordinator and remains an important consultant. He now heads the West Papua People's Representative Office in Vanuatu.

Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus and Director of both the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney and the Sydney Peace Foundation. He is a well-known media commentator and is the author of the recently published Passion for Peace, as well as a number of other books and over one hundred articles in professional journals.

Rex Rumakiek is one of the best known and respected West Papuan activists, who has worked tirelessly on the West Papuan issue internationally, and particularly in the Pacific region, since the nineteen seventies. In 1975 Rex was a founding member of the NFIP, the influential organisation which campaigned for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific. In recent years Rex has been seeking international support from civil society organisations and foreign governments for a review of the 1969 Act of Free Choice.

John Rumbiak is West Papua's best-known human rights advocate. Born in Biak in 1962, John studied linguistics at Cenderawasih University in Jayapura in the 1980s, and since then has worked in several non-government organisations concerned with human rights. He is currently supervisor in absentia of ELSHAM, the West Papuan Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy, in Jayapura. In 1999 he studied human rights advocacy at Columbia University, New York, USA. He is presently based in the US and is visiting scholar at the Center for Human Rights Study at Columbia University. He has begun working on the international affairs of Papua (human rights, justice and peace) in conjunction with the Papua Resource Center (PRC), a New York based non-profit institution that deals with issues such as human resource development, cultural revival, justice and peace in West Papua.

Moussa Tombuk is an anthropologist and development specialist from West Papua, currently studying at the ANU.

Mama Yosepha Alomang is director and founder of the Foundation for Human Rights and Non-Violence (HAMAK) and was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2001. Mama Yosepha, as she is known to all, is a respected community leader and spokesperson for the Amumgme and Kamoro indigenous peoples. She has faced arrest and torture for her efforts to protect the indigenous peoples of the Freeport mining concession area and their lands, but continues to work tirelessly for ecological and social justice.

Adolfina (Dolly) Zonggonau is a West Papuan nurse, originally from the Paniai Lakes area. She is a member of the West Papuan Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

John Scott-Murphy is Advocacy and Public Policy Adviser for Caritas Australia, the official overseas aid agency of the Catholic Church in Australia. He has visited West Papua three times over the last 5 years and has had a long association with human rights and development issues there.


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