10 Sep 2010

Indonesia bans another leading international agency from Papua

3:03 pm on 10 September 2010

Indonesia's government has been accused of clamping down on the most prestigious and well-established NGOs operating in the Papua region following its decision to ban another leading agency from working there.

Jakarta has refused to renew the agreement under which the Dutch Catholic development agency Cordaid has been operating in Papua for over three decades.

Cordaid programmes in Papua have focussed on accessing social and economic development for the poor as well as providing better access to health care and education.

Johnny Blades reports:

Indonesia's Ministry of Social Affairs voiced suspicion about Cordaid supporting Papuan separatism.

The agency has denied this but the government is refusing to extend permission for Cordaid to continue its work.

Ed McWilliams of the West Papua Advocacy team says there is no truth to the separatism link.

"Cordaid, like most organisations operating in Indonesia, have been very cautious to avoid any kind of connection to such organisations. So I think it's much easier to understand this as we understood the expulsion of the International Committee of the Red Cross, as an attempt to reduce the amount of international activity and of course observation of what is going on in West Papua."

As well as banning the International Committee of the Red Cross from Papua last year, Jakarta recently forced the Interchurch Organisation for Development Co-operation out of the region.

But Indonesian Human rights observer Andreas Harsono says the need of Papuans for humanitarian assistance is more critical than ever.

For instance the HIV infection rate in Papua is 15 times - one-five times - higher than the national figure. You go to Merauke, you go to Wamena, and you walk just an hour from the main urban areas and you will see clinics without anyone, without medical staff, without moreover a doctor or even a nurse. So it (the decision to ban Coraid) is going to make the suffering of the Papuan people more and more severe by banning such organisations from operating in Papua.

Ed McWilliams says Cordaid's microfinancing programmes have been very effective in helping grassroots Papuan communities rise above poverty.

A lot of the money that's been going from Jakarta into West Papua essentially has gone to the elites and, frankly, found its way into corrupt channels pretty consistently. Whereas this Cordaid assistance was going directly to the people so it had a very good impact.

Andreas Harsono says the emerging picture for international development agencies looking to run programmes in Papua is that they must operate through Jakarta.

So this programme is going to be more or less shaped by Indonesian NGOs in Java. They're the ones who are now receiving the money, and they do the programmes in Papua because it is easier (for Jakarta) to control the Java-based NGOs than the Papua-based NGOs.

Meanwhile, the prominent Indonesian human rights lawyer Totung Mulya Lubis says the decision to ban Cordaid was taken "too hastily" and without sufficient evidence.

He says that to stop foreign social funding is akin to killing off Papua-based NGOs, which almost entirely depend on overseas funding.