A Senior Indonesia vice-presidential advisor says the government is serious about protecting human rights in West Papua and Papua provinces.
Dewi Fortuna Anwar, who is the Deputy for Political Affairs to Vice President Boediono, says while there are issues of violence and undemocratic behaviour by the military in Papua region, it is not a clear-cut case of state being pitted against civilians there.
She told Johnny Blades the government's policy to take an holistic approach to development in the region is to ensure justice can be done for West Papuans.
DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: So now the emphasis is really on improving the welfare of all the Papuans in the two provinces, focusing firstly on primary health care, on education, on development of infrastructure, on giving affirmative action, especially giving special attention to university education for young Papuans, and also to ensure economic welfare that will not only reach the migrants to Papua, but also, particularly, the local Papuans. But this doesn't mean that the approach is only economic, because we also must ensure the democratisation side, the protection for human rights and ensure that no discrimination takes place there. So the government is really trying to ensure that justice is being done to Papua.
JOHNNY BLADES: A lot of ground reports emerging from there seem to depict a problem with the military. But from the government's point of view is it difficult to control the military's actions over there?
DFA: I think that report has been very biased on one side. There have always been reports of, for example, military repressions against separatists and so on. The fact of the matter is that violence has been going on in Papua and there are many perpetrators. The military has been the victim of violence, the police have been the victim of violence. There have been endless tribal conflicts. And there has also been violence by the state, by the military towards Papuans. But a lot of the victims are in fact not the result of state oppression against Papuans. A lot of the conflicts in the past years have taken place due to local conflicts related to local elections, for example. There have been some serious problems when candidates have come from two different tribes and when the results of the elections have been unsatisfying to one group, that led to violent conflicts. That has happened. Even within one party that nominated two different people from two different tribes, that led to a major clash just last year, which led to a number of deaths. So I think that one should be very clear that there is certainly violence in Papua, but it is not a clear-cut state versus society type of violence.
JB: With the military, though, the UN Human Rights Committee and other groups have voiced concern very recently that there's impunity for those military and security personnel who perpetrate violence on the West Papuan citizens over there.
DFA: Well, impunity is not the policy of the Indonesian government. As you know, since we have become a democracy, human rights and protections of democracy are very much part of our constitutional obligations. There are still concerns about undemocratic behaviours perpetrated by our military, but it is not the government policy to excuse them from their wrongdoing. We still have problems however. At the moment we don't have an independent civil court for the military yet. This is still something that we still have to work very hard on. This is one part of the unfinished reform of the military, you might say. At the moment, any wrongdoings by the military are punished through the military court, and many would argue that if the violence is not related to military disciplines, that the ones who committed the crimes should have been tried in a civilian court. Unfortunately, this is still some of the homework that we have to do.
JB: Why are the two provinces so closed to outside access, to NGOs, humanitarian groups and journalists?
DFA: Well, it seems that the NGOs overseas have shifted their attention after the independence of East Timor. They look at Indonesia - 'Hm. What's the next trouble spot for Indonesia?' Aceh is not terribly interesting for us because it's mostly a Muslim-majority province. And Papua is the one where the Muslims are not majority, they are different, so they focus their attention to it. To be fair, a lot of problems have taken place in many parts of Indonesia. We are still struggling to consolidate our democracy, our state institutions are still being reformed, and we have to admit that we have problems of injustices and violence, sometimes police and military violence in different parts of Indonesia. But I must say the people in New Zealand, people in Australia and in Europe have zoned in mostly on what is happening in Papua. So you explain that to me. They don't pay as much attention, for example, if violence were to take place in other parts of Indonesia.
JB: There's a Pacific regional link and it seems in the same region...
DFA: There is this Melanesian Spearhead Group and so on, but I think it would be interesting for people to know that there are more Melanesians living in Indonesia, not just in Papua, than in the Pacific. We have people of Melanesian origin living in Maluku and in Ambon and in the Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. So we, in Indonesia, are very seriously trying to repair the damages that have been done by the previous regime towards the handling of Papua, and I think we would appreciate very much all the support, as well as constructive criticism from the international community.
JB: On that count, wouldn't it help foster understanding from the outside community if there were some more openness?
DFA: I would agree. And I think that we are discussing this seriously with the Indonesian government.