Parliament passes controversial bills to create new provinces in Papua

Victor Mambor and Dandy Koswaraputra
2022.06.30
Jayapura, Indonesia, and Jakarta
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Parliament passes controversial bills to create new provinces in Papua Demonstrators protest outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta following passage of bills to create three new provinces in its underdeveloped region of Papua, June 30, 2022.
Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters

The Indonesian parliament on Thursday approved the creation of three new provinces in the restive Papua region, despite opposition from many indigenous Papuans who fear an influx of outsiders, and criticism from rights groups that the move is a “divide-and-rule” strategy.

The action paves the way for the formation of South Papua Province, Central Papua Province and Papua Highlands Province, in addition to the existing provinces of Papua and West Papua.

“The division is aimed at accelerating equitable development, the improvement of public services, people’s welfare and dignity,” lawmaker Ahmad Doli Kurnia Tandjung said in parliament.

The plans to carve up Papua have been widely opposed by indigenous people. Protests involving thousands of people against the plans have been held in Papuan cities including Jayapura, Wamena, Yahukimo, Timika, Nabire and Lanny Jaya.

Ika Mulait, an activist with Papuan People’s Petition, a group which organized rallies against the creation of new provinces, warned of worsening human rights violations with the presence of more security forces.

Jakarta granted special autonomy for Papua in 2001 to mollify desires for independence, but Indonesian security forces have been accused of human rights abuses during anti-insurgency operations there.

A special autonomy law for Papua, which was passed last year, allows Jakarta to create new administrative units in Papua without the approval of the provincial government and the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP).

“These three new provinces will certainly result in more many military personnel entering Papua and the Papuan people are already traumatized by the presence of the security forces,” Ika told BenarNews.

Activists and Papuans said the bills were drafted without consulting the indigenous people who are represented through the MRP and the Papuan People’s Representative Council (DPRD).

“The government really has mastered the art of finding solutions to Papuan problems without listening to Papuans,” Ligia Giay, a Papuan studying in Australia, told BenarNews.

Legal challenge

Veronica Koman, an activist with Amnesty International Australia, said the creation of a new provinces was a “divide-and-rule” tactic.

“New security bases and posts will be built in each new area, exacerbating conflicts and human rights violations through increased militarization,” she said on Twitter.

“As an Indonesian, I am deeply ashamed that a new chapter of Jakarta’s settler-colonialism project in West Papua has been officially legalized by the Indonesian parliament today,” she said.

Edho Gobay, director of the Papua Legal Aid Institute, said his organization would challenge the bills at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta.

“We will mount a legal challenge because Papuans also have constitutional rights guaranteed by the 1945 Constitution,” Gobay told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, Sebby Sambom, spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the separatist movement, said the creation of new provinces was to serve only the interests of the elite.

“We never asked for special autonomy or new autonomous entities. That’s what Indonesia wants through the Papuan elite,” Sambom told BenarNews .

“That is the nature of colonialism. Indonesia will impose its will on Papua using the hands of the indigenous Papuans,” he said.

Clashes between rebels and government forces have intensified since December 2018, after rebels killed 20 people who worked for a state-owned construction company building a road in Papua.

Papua has been home to a separatist insurgency since the 1960s. In 1963, Indonesian forces invaded Papua – like Indonesia, a former Dutch colony – and annexed the region that makes up the western half of New Guinea Island.

Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a United Nations-sponsored vote, which locals and activists said was a sham because it involved only about 1,000 people. However, the United Nations accepted the result, essentially endorsing Jakarta’s rule.

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