Weekend Herald

Lawmakers pass bill to reshape West Papua


Indonesia’s House of Representa­tives yesterday passed a bill that is expected to reshape the future administra­tion of West Papua.

The Revision of the Special Autonomy Law for the provinces of Papua and West Papua was ratified by Indonesian lawmakers despite widespread opposition by Papuans who have been calling instead for an independen­ce referendum.

West Papuan customary, church and community groups say they were not properly consulted over the law, the first version of which they roundly rejected as having failed to protect their rights.

Special Autonomy status was originally granted to West Papua in 2001 in response to growing Papuan demands for independen­ce, purportedl­y to empower Papuans within the Indonesian republic framework. But implementa­tion of the law was poor, misuse of public funds was rife, and violations against basic human rights of Papuans continued, with calls for a legitimate selfdeterm­ination process persisting among the region’s indigenous people.

Indonesia’s government has described the new law, which is valid for twenty years, as a conduit for fostering economic and human developmen­t in Papua.

But developmen­t is marred by conflict related to grievances over how Indonesia took control of West Papua in the 1960s, without free consent from Papuans themselves, and the decades of human rights violations that followed.

Since 2018, Papua province in particular has become increasing­ly militarise­d as Indonesian security forces deploy in growing numbers to respond to attacks in the highlands region by the West Papua Liberation Army’s guerilla fighters.

It has resulted in deaths on both sides, and mass displaceme­nt of Papuan villagers caught in the middle of the conflict.

Right up until Thursday, demonstrat­ions against the planned Special Autonomy extension were met with crackdowns by police.

Dozens of Papuans were arrested for involvemen­t in these demonstrat­ions — it’s not yet clear whether they will face treason charges like numerous Papuans involved in large antiracism protests in 2019 are facing.

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