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Assessment for Papuans in Indonesia

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Papuans in Indonesia, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Indonesia Facts
Area:    1,919,440 sq. km.
Capital:    Jakarta
Total Population:    212,942,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There have been massive protests and sporadic rebellions among West Papuans since 1999. Several factors suggest the likelihood of the continuation of future rebellion: the West Papuans' 1) territorial concentration, 2) high degree of group cohesion and organization, 3) Indonesian's unstable regime, and 4) Jakarta's ongoing repression. Jakarta began implementation of a Special Autonomy Law in 2001. While the law addressed many of Papuans grievances, the Indonesian military has resisted full implementation and continues to perpetrate human rights abuses in the province. Furthermore, while the full implementation of the law may lead to reduced violence, a number of West Papuans remain committed to independence and are likely to continue rebellion.

Analytic Summary

The Papuans reside in the area of western New Guinea, or West Papua, formerly known as the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya. At present they are distributed in small communities largely isolated from on another due to the rugged terrain in the area (GROUPCON = 3). The indigenous group arrived in Papua New Guinea from southeast Asia between 8,000 to 30,000 years ago, long before the establishment of Indonesia (TRADITN = 1). West Papua, the nation's geographically largest province some 2,500 miles (4,020 kilometers) east from Jakarta, became the 26th province of Indonesia in 1969 and was re-named Irian Jaya in 1973. It was renamed West Papua in 2001 as part of the implementation of a Special Autonomy Law.

Since its discovery by the Europeans in the 16th century, West Papua experienced Dutch rule from 1828, colonial competition between the Dutch and the British in the 19th century, Japanese invasion in 1942, the Dutch mandate after World War II, and finally Indonesian control, without much consultation with the West Papuans, via the United Nations from the Dutch in 1962. Although Indonesian authorities consulted the group through the so-called "Act of Free Choice" in 1969, the hand-picked community representatives were often brought to the assembly at gun point and forced to vote for the integration of West Papua and the Indonesian state. Conflicts between West Papuans and Indonesian government have resulted in the death of an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 Papuans since incorporation.

Papuans have faced severe human right violations and political repression. In 2000, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid displayed greater tolerance for free expression and offered to expand the area's autonomy; however, he also expressed that any attempts to create a Papuan state within Indonesia will not be stood. A Special Autonomy Law was passed in 2001, which gave Papuans greater control over the natural resources on West Papua, mandated greater funding for health services, education and infrastructure, and mandated the creation of a Papuan People's Council to be dominated by ethnic Papuans (ECDIS03 = 1, POLDIS03 = 1). However, as of 2003, the Papuan People's Council (in Indonesian, MRP) has yet to be established. Furthermore, the government in January 2003 moved to implement a 1999 law subdividing the provinces into three areas, with only one retaining the name West Papua. Strongly opposed by pro-autonomy and pro-independence Papuans, protests were immediately lodged, and riots broke out in one town, resulting in five deaths. In 2005, Indonesia's Constitutional Court found the 1999 law – and two of the three provinces – to be unconstitutional, but affirmed the legality of the third province, West Papua.

The West Papuans' greatest grievance, other than political and economic rights, regards West Papua's independence. However, many Papuan intellectuals have come to accept widespread autonomy as an acceptable alternative to independence. Other grievances include a desire for more control over West Papua's natural wealth, increased funding for social services, and an end to Javanese migration to the province.

The primary leading force of independence movement comes from the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Organization), or OPM, a political and armed guerrilla group. The OPM movement diminished in the 1970s; however the insurgency continues to the present (REB01-03 = 2). Protests also occur each year on Papuan Independence Day in December (PROT01-03 = 3).

Insurgency is curbed by the difficulties of communication due to geographic constrains of the area, chronic shortages of supplies and equipment, disagreement among diverse groups of the movement. OPM remains as a major problem between Jakarta and Papua New Guinea (PNG), as the island interior's border has become the locus of OPM activity and the significant influx of West Papuan refugees continues each year.

OPM's attacks on largely Javanese immigrants who come to West Papua under "Transmigrasi", Jakarta's policy to reduce the overcrowding population in Java and to populate remote islands, also reflects West Papua's economic problem. West Papua is home to one of the world's biggest gold mines and also contains deposits of oil, gas and minerals. Like Aceh, West Papua possesses significant economic resources for Jakarta. However "Transmigrasi" has brewed tensions and deadly clashes between many indigenous populations, including the West Papuans, and the immigrants (COMCON01-03 = 3). The West Papuans have long resented the presence of the immigrants, whom they consider as main beneficiaries of the economic development of the island, and dominating force of commerce and industry, as well as land appropriation, and the security forces of the area. In addition, the influx of immigrants, who are primarily Muslims, has rendered Christian indigenous West Papuans a minority. This fact exacerbates West Papuan resentment towards the immigrants.


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