ISEAS PERSPECTIVE - The Papuan Question in Indonesia: Recent Developments



• Papuan nationalist agitation and violent protests escalated in mid-August 2019 within Papua and in various Indonesian towns, especially after video footage of security personnel calling Papuan activists “monkeys” were widely circulated. Such footage revived longstanding allegations of discrimination against Papuans in Indonesia. Papuan protests have increasingly called for an act of self-determination or independence as a solution to racism against Papuans.

• The Indonesian government has responded firmly with troop and police reinforcements in Papua, blocked the Internet in the province, and arrested activists who called for a referendum or independence. At the same time, it has called for dialogue and pledged to punish security personnel who were guilty of racist behaviour.

• Amidst this heightened Papuan nationalism, the West Papuan Governor has become more assertive in championing Papuan interests, to the extent of asking for the withdrawal of TNI troops and calling for an international role in negotiating the continuation of Papua’s Special Autonomy status. • Some Papuan community leaders have called for Papuan students to return to Papua and at least one demonstration wanted non-Papuans to leave the province. However some Papuan nationalists have counselled restraint, saying that non-Papuans living in Papua are “not the enemy”.

• Given the irreconcilable differences between the demands for self-determination and Indonesia’s insistence on Papua’s inclusion within the country, the tension over Papua’s status is likely for persist for some time.

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Max Lane is a Visiting Senior Fellow with the Indonesia Studies Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute, Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Gajah Mada University, and NYSEAN Member.

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