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 would otherwise end in 2021. Papuan students launched peaceful protests against it 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', consisting of at least 102 organisations, announced in November that 520,261 people had signed their petition against OTSUS vol. II.

More states call for UN High Commissioner's 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), with its 79 members -some belonging o the PIS and vice-versa- echoed the call in December 2019, and last November, the United Kingdom added its voice. This year the Netherlands and Spain have also added their voices. Now, with 84 countries calling for Indonesia to grant UN access, the pressure on Jakarta is growing. 

Churches and MRP call for negotiations between ULMWP and Jakarta

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

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 achieve a referendum on independence, which Indonesia rejects.

COVID-19 reduces civil society freedoms

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

Omnibus law

The Omnibus law, intended to boost foreign investment and economic growth in Indonesia, has been criticised by many civil society groups. The bill adopted by the parliament on 5 October 2020 promotes non-sustainable economic growth and abandons fundamental rights to protect workers and the environment. The message behind this 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 Peoples Assembly (MRP), are against it. They argue this partition 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 revize 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 aim to  weaken the mandate and role of local political institutions, giving Jakarta the power to enforce decisions over financial matters and adminstrative partitions.

Jokowi appoints HR perpetrators as officials in the Ministry of Defence

President Jokowi has appointed perpetrators of human rights violations, who were sentenced for participating in the enforced disappearance of 13 activists in 1998, as high-ranking government officials. 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 heading Kopassus.

Investigations on killings in Intan Jaya

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Human Rights, Mahfud, 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) in the team. So, Komnas HAM conducted its investigation. Many stakeholders in West Papua rejected the team (TGPF). Thus, the Papuan Governor also established an investigation team called the humanitarian aid team. In February 2021, The victim's relatives agreed to an autopsy of the victim’s body with the condition that the autopsy is done by an independent medical team under 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 legal processing of 13 alleged gross human rights violations in Indonesia. Its establishment followed President Jokowi's pledge during a meeting on 10 December to resolve past cases. Komnas HAM has carried out investigations, but 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 alone to fight against the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB), maintain public order and secure government interests. The Indonesian Government is holding on to its position to seek a violent solution to the West Papua conflict. The deployment of non-organic security forces who are not familiar with Papuan culture have resulted in repeated violent acts against indigenous peoples in the central highlands.

Government plans to label OPM as 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 a peaceful talks between West Papua and Jakarta even more unlikely. Human rights observers argued that the labelling was “too broad”. The government could use the same strategy to persecute religious or socio-political oppositional groups under the banner of fighting terrorism.