Behind the Cries for a Second Referendum in Papua

Shouts of yell yell and spirit burning orations were raging among the determined faced crowds who call themselves brothers and sisters. Several hundreds of people to be exact have been gathering to voice out their protests in cities around the country on 18 December of 2016. That Monday was the 55th anniversary of West Papua being formally and internationally acknowledged to be a part of the Republic of Indonesia through UN supervised referendum of 1969. However, this was not the narrative that the protesters cry out.

The protests chime with the same rhyme throughout the protesters. The day was commemorated differently as the time when Indonesia military campaign has taken control over West Papua from the Dutch colonizers. The UN-supervised referendum it self is criticized by the protesters as a sham for involving only a tiny proportion of the population. Hence they demand for a second unfettered referendum for West Papua.

The chants are also filled with other issues, pressed on to emphasize the separatism narrative. Whether the human rights issues, the exploitation of mineral rich regions, or the argument of their ethnic uniformity with the Melanesian.

Indonesia has for a long time fought a separatist movement in the Papua and West Papua provinces and has faced various accusations. In an Annual UN General Assembly, Geneva, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Moana Carcasses Kalosil, accused Indonesia of human rights abuses in Papua. Carcasses asked UN to send a special unit for human rights watch to investigate on Papua. These arguments are leading to amplifications towards internationalizing issues of Papua which even lead to issues of genocide.

Second Referendum in Papua
Flag ceremony of the Republic of Indonesia in Papua on 1963 via

These arguments are then being brought upon to rationalize their protests, that demanding independence is not crime against the sovereign state and over the citizens in that region, and such referendum can be re-established. Issues that are sell-able in the international arena are maintained and echoed time and time again. While in reality, there are layers of hidden reasons and truths, muddled among the plays of parties with interests.

According to the population census of 2010, the population in Papua province has reached 2.83, and from that number, the amount of  Papuan native are 2,159,318 while non Papuan native are only 674.063. Therefore, there’s an increase of 1.2 million population in 40 years (1971-2010). That is more than twice the increase of population. In West Papua province, the 2010 census shows 570,000 number of population. From that number, 51.67% are Papuan native, not to mention other factors that has to be dealt with in Papua, such as infant mortality rate, challenging access, tribal war, and so on.

Other arguments are even less convincing, such as what’s being appealed by Forkorus Yaboisembut, a convicted criminal for crimes against the state. He blames the government family plan program and transmigration as the reasons for the lack of Papuan native population.

There are also claims of wealth generated in the resource-rich of Papua province that is not well distributed. These special autonomy provinces do have wealthy resources, which can attract external interests. Other information also show that external interests come from powerful international actors, whether corporations or nations, that have their eyes on West papua resources without any intention whatsoever in the welfare of its people. Interests such as the Van Gold Resources Inc. which been reported to have saved company’s acquisition of future contingent assets and negotiation rights in West Papua, which they call as “the new emerging nation”.

Van Gold Resources Inc. is a giant multinational corporation, which in its report only acknowledged that currently West Papua province is not a part of Indonesia but under Indonesia’s occupation. The Company has obtained an assignment of future mineral and hydrocarbon negotiation rights to West Papua from a stakeholder who entered into an agreement in 2014 with local groups seeking independence. The corporation acknowledges that West Papua is home to the world’s largest gold mine at Grasberg and according to them, is subject to a long standing dispute with indigenous peoples seeking independence from Indonesia.

Van Gold Resources is a powerful multinational company who also has obtained negotiation and future contingent rights to oil, mineral, forestry and agriculture concession in the emerging nations such as Cabinda, Biafra and Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) Cabinda, Matabelel. Biafra and the adjoining Niger Delta have recently been in the headlines as self-determination movements attempt to assert control over this resource rich region in West Africa.

According to a Competent Person’s report available at the Company’s website, the value of these contingent rights could be as high as $150 million. In each case, Van Gold Resource’s assets are contingent upon these regions obtaining national self-determination and have no production value at present.

It is also important to note that in the report, local activists in West Papua have hailed the recent agreement between Van Gold Resources and the West Papua Liberation Organization as a first step in taking control of the world’s largest gold mine at Grasberg. Pro-independence rallies have taken place in June with more than a thousand independence activists detained by Indonesian police according to the Guardian newspaper, which furthermore maintain the narrative of the internationalized West Papua liberation issues.

The nation wide protests were ended with a report of less than favorable facts. The West Papua National Committee and youth affiliations that are pro of West Papua separation were heard of  forcing their cause by ways of threats, persuasions and deceits. They are also known to lure people with Batu Bakar (traditional Papuan feast) to gather mass where they will carry out oration.

In the end, the soul of a nation is as elusive as that of a human. It does not depend on location, rhetoric, not even the same genetic designs. It lies on what echoes through the souls of its people. What makes them feel connected even when they are thousands of miles away. The same thing that will bring them back home. Indonesia is a land where people differ but are still bound with the same longing to live peacefully as one. To sever a part of Indonesia is like to separate an arm from the body.


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