Jakarta – Persecution and racial discrimination towards Papuan students in Malang and Surabaya cannot be justified for any reason whatsoever. Those responsible must be prosecuted. Justice needs to be upheld, not only to assuage the anger of the Papuans but also to bring about a deterrent effect.
The constitution guarantees all citizens equality before the law, no matter what their ethnicity, religion, race or other identities. The authorities have an obligation to protect Papuan students from persecution and racial discrimination. However, in Malang, the police allowed a group of intolerant people to attack students. In Surabaya, when a mob surrounded a dormitory for Papuan students, individuals thought to be law enforcement officials joined in shouting abuse that was an affront to human dignity.
The attacks on the students in East Java lay bare the hypocrisy of a section of Indonesian society. On one hand, Papua, which is rich in natural resources, is seen as very important to Indonesia, but on the other, the people of Papua are often looked down on and stigmatized.
After failing to prevent clashes in East Java, the government was then too late in anticipating the wave of demonstrations and violence in a number of cities across Papua and West Papua. President Joko Widodo eventually ordered the National Police chief and the commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces to go directly to Papua. But the violence had already started. Papua now stands on the brink of horizontal conflict.
The conflict must not be allowed to spread further in Papua. The government must show extra caution in reducing tensions. Sending more than 1,200 personnel from the Mobile Police Brigade and the Army Strategic Reserve Command to Papua has the potential to make matters worse. So far, the security approach has proved to be a failure in dealing with the conflict there.
This long-running conflict must be resolved from the roots. A two-part investigation by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences in 2009 and 2017 mapped out four roots of the Papua-Jakarta conflict. First, there is history and status of the still controversial integration of Papua into the Unitary Republic of Indonesia. The second is the human rights abuses and violence by the police and the military, which have not yet been resolved fairly. Thirdly, there is marginalization and discrimination of Papua's original inhabitants. And the final root cause is the failure of development in Papua, especially in the fields of education, health and local economic empowerment. None of these problems has been solved.
Since the reformasi era began, Jakarta has changed the way it looks at and approaches Papua. From 2001 to 2018, the central government poured Rp75 trillion of special autonomy funds into Papua. Since coming to office in 2014, president Jokowi has paid repeated visits to there and has continued to push for the development of infrastructure.
However, the affirmative policies that emphasize physical development have not yet done much to change the lot of the Papuan people. Papua's human development index is still the lowest in Indonesia. The rate of poverty is still the highest at 27.53 percent, compared with a national figure of 9.47 percent for March 2019.
There is much that needs to be done to end the Papuan conflict down to the roots. The state must own up and admit to its past wrongdoings. Those responsible for human rights violations must be put on trial. Affirmative action for local people needs to be continued. And above all, Jakarta and Papua must keep open a dialogue based on the determination to find a solution.
[Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine.]