Tri Indah Oktavianti, Jakarta – Last week, Indonesia's handling of insurgencies in Papua took a new turn, eliciting a strong response from rights watchdogs and experts.
The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), a state institution that had previously taken mostly precautionary and rehabilitative approaches to countering violent extremism, pitched the idea of designating armed criminal groups (KKB) linked with Papuan separatists as terrorists.
BNPT chief Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar told lawmakers at a hearing that these groups had been using violence to spark conflict and instill fear among civilians, suggesting that such activities could be regarded as acts of terror.
BNPT was "proposing discussions" with relevant ministries and state agencies to ascertain whether it was possible to designate these groups as terrorist organizations, he said.
For the most part, lawmakers agree with the agency and support a hard approach to unrest and conflict in Papua. Romo Muhammad Syafi'i, a Gerindra Party legislator who sits on House of Representatives Commission III overseeing legal affairs, said acts of terrorism in Indonesia were not only disruptions of public order but also threatened "sovereignty, unity and national defense".
House Deputy Speaker Azis Syamsuddin of Golkar said the KKB redesignation plan was a political approach that could ease the tension brought about by Papuan separatism, tribunnews.com reported.
But critics have said the proposal undermines many non-security aspects that can help authorities remedy the lack of trust that residents of Papua have in them.
Amnesty International Indonesia (AII) executive director Usman Hamid said, "[The redesignation] won't do anything to help end the numerous human rights violations and abuses suffered by the Papuan people, many of which are suspected to be at the hands of state security forces."
Indonesia has been widely criticized for the cycle of violence in its easternmost provinces, and certain countries have openly backed Papuan separatists. Experts say the unrest is the consequence of outdated, security-oriented attitudes toward Papuan issues.
For nearly 60 years, this hard approach, characterized by the mass deployment of military and police forces, has not led to long-lasting peace in Papua. Despite the heavy presence of forces, conflict has continued to occur, killing both armed combatants and unarmed civilians.
Adriana Elizabeth, an Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) researcher with expertise on Papua, said the heavy-handed military approach would only further complicate attempts to "break the cycle of violence".
"Changing out the label of separatism for terrorism won't resolve the core problems in Papua, which include racial discrimination, poor access to public service facilities, human rights violations and the debate surrounding Papua's history of integration," she told The Jakarta Post last Thursday.
Adriana called on the government to pursue a political solution to the problem of separatism but said that if it did designate KKB as terrorists, the state had an obligation to make clear to the general public – both national and international – what its motives were.
Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) chair Asfinawati has compared the BNPT's proposal to that of the Myanmar military junta, which considers civilian protesters and dissenters terrorists.
She said she feared that once KKB were stigmatized as terrorist groups, there may no longer be any room for dialogue, as terrorist groups are normally subject to dismantling.
"The case of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) showed that two-way dialogue could be very effective at resolving conflict. So why is the government turning to a militaristic means of solving conflict in Papua?" Asfina said.
The government announced on Tuesday that it would not seek to renew Papua's special autonomy (otsus) status, which is set to expire in November after two decades in force.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said that only the disbursement of special autonomy funds would continue and noted that they could even increase.
"[But] the law itself won't be extended," he said during a workshop with the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) on the management of otsus funds for Papua and West Papua.
The special autonomy law has been a bone of contention among Papua experts, who insist that the government has largely failed to achieve the objectives laid out therein – political compromise, conflict resolution and development – especially with regard to gross human rights violations and the region's contentious history.
The head of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), Ahmad Taufan Damanik, has said that while physical infrastructure development was being aggressively pursued by the government, this approach was not accompanied by a cultural approach that could bring the central government closer to the people of Papua.
He suggested that security operations be transformed into "welfare operations" to address the complexity of issues. "Komnas HAM is deeply concerned about the idea that KKB [is to be called] as a terrorist organization. This will make it even harder to take a peaceful approach to Papua," Taufan said recently, as quoted by tribunnews.com.
Mahfud acknowledged that the state's development drive in Papua had not been effective, due in part to the dire security situation, the prevalence of corruption and the lack of integration among government programs.
The minister did not address the terrorism designation plan but said the government was working to solve a number of pending issues. He asserted that the question of Papuan integration into Indonesia had long been laid to rest and was final. "It is inviolable and [the government] will maintain it at all costs. Whether social, economic, political or financial – we will defend it," Mahfud said in a statement.
After being incorporated into Indonesia through the controversial United Nations-sponsored 1969 Act of Free Choice referendum, Papua and West Papua have been caught in persistent violence between armed groups loosely associated with the Free Papua Movement (OPM), which seeks independence, and Indonesian security forces.
According to Amnesty, at least 49 cases of suspected unlawful killings by security forces occurred in Papua and West Papua from February 2018 to March 2021, resulting in 83 casualties. The fatal shooting of Papuan pastor Yeremia Zanambani in Intan Jaya regency last year, which the military has been accused of being responsible for, has created another a major rift with Papuans and has posed an extra security challenge.
Human rights watchdogs and activists have long called on the government to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Papuan people by prosecuting the military personnel suspected to be behind Yeremia's death.
However, the case has yet to be brought to court and the investigation has seen little progress.