INDONESIA : What are you going to do for Papua, Mr. President?

Since Suharto stepped down in 1998, and political reform occurring for the last 18 years, Papua has yet to enjoy real reform, as enjoyed by other provinces in Indonesia. While there have been initiatives to address human rights problems in Papua and West Papua provinces, they have not resulted in significant improvements on the ground. Former President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) for instance, changed the name of Irian Jaya province to Papua, when he was in power. Unfortunately, Gus Dur’s effort occurred in a very short period; after one year he was forced to step down by the Parliament. 

Subsequently, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration made a commitment to organize peaceful dialogue between Papua and Jakarta, but nothing ever materialized. There was merely some dialogue conducted by church organizations, such as the Indonesian Communion Churches (PGI). Although President Yudhoyono established a special unit for Papua, the Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B), it was an ad hoc unit concerned with infrastructure and economic development, without any focus on legal and human rights problems faced by indigenous Papuans. After President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) came to power, the new government decided to discontinue the UP4B.

With President Widodo starting his presidential campaign from Papua, many people had high expectations about the future of Papua under his administration. Up to his inauguration in October 2014, President Widodo showed concern towards Papua: he ordered his subordinate to develop a market for local Papuan mothers; he released some political prisoners; and for some time he even visited Papua.

In the last two years however, President Widodo has not shown any serious effort to address problems in Papua. The government has no clear agenda or policy related with law and human rights in the province. The perpetrators of past human rights abuses continue to enjoy impunity, such as in the cases of Puncak Jaya 1977-1978, Wasior and Wamena 2001 and 2003, as well as the Abepura case of 2000. Despite the Abepura case being prosecuted in the Makassar district court in 2005, the court failed to find evidence and finally released all the perpetrators. The government has also failed to address various recent cases of human rights abuse, such as the Paniai case, and the brutal attack and murder of Vijay Pauspaus in Sanggeng Manokwari Barat. 

In the last one year, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) collected references and case reports concerning human rights violations in Papua, one of which is the report concerning allegations of genocide in Puncak Jaya Papua 1977-1978, published by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a regional organization based in Hong Kong. There has been no progress however, regarding the Komnas Ham’s initiative.

One of the cases that occurred under President Widodo’s administration and gathered a lot of public attention, is the Paniai case. In this case, five students were shot to death and 17 others were seriously injured, when police and military officials allegedly attacked and shot local residents. Ironically, even though Komnas HAM established an investigation team (pro justitia) based upon Law No 26 of 2000 on the Human Rights Court, as well as based upon the Decision Letter of its Chair (No 009/ Komnas HAM/ III/ 2016), until now the Commission has not issued any investigation report.

The investigation team for Paniai started its work on 1 May 2016, but the military and police have not shown any seriousness or commitment to cooperate with Komnas HAM. This goes against President Widodo’s statement, “I want this case [Paniai case] resolved as quickly as possible, so it does not reoccur in the future,” of 28 December 2014.

The government’s seriousness towards Papua is being questioned internationally as well, with six Pacific countries raising human rights in Papua in the UN General Assembly’s 71st Session, on 26 September 2016. The six Pacific countries of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Tonga called for the Indonesian government to address human rights violations in Papua, and for West Papuan self-determination rights to be respected. In fact, widespread international attention upon Papua indicates the lack of progress in Papua.

It is therefore high time to ask President Widodo, what are you going to do for Papua, Mr. President?

About the Author: Mr.Chris Biantoro is Indonesian human rights lawyer and currently working as aprogram officer of Indonesian Desk at the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). He can be contacted at

For further information see

For further information see

For further information see