Dian Septiari, Jakarta – As Indonesia gears up for voting day at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), lawmakers have raised concern over the "internationalization" of the unrest that erupted in Papua in recent weeks.
During a meeting on Wednesday with House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees defense and foreign affairs, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reported on Indonesia's campaign to become a member of the UN rights council for the 2020-2022 period, which will be put to a vote at a session of the UN General Assembly in New York, the United States on Oct. 16.
Lawmakers were keen to see Indonesia win a seat at the UNHRC next month, so as to put a damper on attempts to sway public opinion on the issue of Papua.
Evita Nursanty, a lawmaker from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said she expected the Foreign Ministry to easily win a seat at the UN body, with only five countries vying for four open seats at the council.
Indonesia intends to fill the seat representing the Asia-Pacific, with 97 votes from UN member states needed to secure a seat in the secret ballot.
"Hopefully we can use the membership in the UN Human Rights Council to get international support for the sovereignty of Indonesia, especially for the issues of Papua that [some parties are] currently seeking to internationalize," she said.
Papua and West Papua have been rocked by protests and rioting since Aug. 19, sparked by a case of racial abuse in Surabaya, East Java. The government has responded by deploying Indonesian Military personnel to maintain public order and imposed a temporary internet blackout across the region.
The tension has become a boon for a small-scale secessionist cause in the region, which Jakarta has flatly rejected.
United Development Party (PPP) lawmaker Lena Maryana Mukti said the ministry should be at the forefront in preventing the internationalization of the Papuan issue, which had been widely covered by international media.
"Last week we saw a discussion aired by Al Jazeera [...] on Papua, pitting Benny Wenda against Yenny Wahid and a journalist from Australia," Lena said at the meeting.
Benny Wenda, the exiled leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, who now holds British citizenship, has been making the rounds on international news programs voicing what the Indonesian government has labelled a separatist cause.
Lena took issue with the government's decision to block internet access, which has resulted in a negative and authoritarian portrayal of the government in the media.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement last week that she was "disturbed" by escalating violence in Papua and West Papua. She also criticized the blanket internet shutdown, saying it likely contravened the freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Syarief Hasan said the government should intensify its diplomatic approach to island nations of the South Pacific or risk pushback from nations like Vanuatu that would become the "pebble in Indonesia's shoe" on the global stage.
Previously, members of the Pacific Islands Forum have called on Jakarta to show its commitment in resolving human rights issues in Papua, especially in organizing a visit to allow the UN human rights chief to investigate the situation in Papua in an "evidence-based, informed report".
Some experts have said the people of Papua could not legally demand a referendum based on violations of human rights or their political, economic and social rights, as Indonesia had granted them special autonomy in 2001. On Tuesday, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo invited Papuan and West Papuan leaders to discuss solutions to their recent grievances at the Presidential Palace.
Jakarta notes that Papua and West Papua are legally acknowledged territories of Indonesia, based on the 1962 New York Agreement with the Netherlands.
During the meeting, Retno requested to discuss the Papua issue behind closed doors.
A researcher from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Vidya Andhika Perkasa, said there had long been efforts to internationalize the Papua issue and that the current situation reflected just how far it had been discussed on the global stage.
"International recognition is very dynamic and can change. Chaotic riots and protests can indicate the government's inability to maintain order," he said. (tjs)