Perspectives of Indonesia: Tina Barton Reports on a Talk by a Nongovernmental Organization Representative on the Situation in Indonesia

By Barton, Tina | New Zealand International Review, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Perspectives of Indonesia: Tina Barton Reports on a Talk by a Nongovernmental Organization Representative on the Situation in Indonesia


Barton, Tina, New Zealand International Review


Sidney Jones served as the Indonesia Project Director for the International Crisis Group from May 2002 to May 2004, and was based in Indonesia for virtually the whole of this period. The New Zealand Centre for Strategic Studies invited her to Wellington in March 2004 to give a talk on human rights and conflict in Indonesia, a topic in which New Zealand maintains a continuing interest.

Jones spoke to an audience comprising members of the diplomatic corps, academics, public servants and officials from the Indonesian Embassy, in a meeting held at Victoria University's School of Law. After the conference she said she intended to keep her position as Project Director for as long as the Indonesian government was happy with her.

Jones has since been deported from Indonesia by the Indonesian government in June, along with her colleague Francesca Lawe-Davies. Threats from Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono accompanied the expulsion. He warned that the government could use 'old measures' against outspoken critics from non-governmental organisations, referring to past uses of violence to reprimand and intimidate government critics. (1)

Jones's critical reflections on Indonesian democracy and human rights violations have become increasingly relevant in light of her deportation and such comments.

During her visit to Wellington, Jones had outlined recent developments in Indonesia, including the emergence of an independent state in East Timor, the conflict in Aceh and the unresolved secessionist struggle in West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). The ethnic and communal divisions in Indonesia were also reflected in the increased number of sub-national administrative units, whose prospects Jones regarded with some scepticism:

   In some areas it may lead to better
   prospects for conflict management,
   to the extent that it's producing
   some leaders that are more
   accountable than leaders were in
   the past. On the other hand it is
   also producing potential for new
   conflict that is based on ethnic or
   communal lines.

Papua was seen as a different story with its own characteristically unique outcome. Over the last twelve months the Indonesian government in Jakarta has decided to divide the one province of Papua into three.

Jones was particularly critical of the Indonesian government for transforming the role of the Papua People's Council (MRP). Initially intended as the upper house for a proposed Papuan Parliament, the MRP was designed to serve in that capacity as a body to protect indigenous Papua rights. Whilst Article 76 of the Autonomy Law gave the MRP the sole power to rule on any further division of Papua, this article has now effectively been bypassed by the Indonesian government, which has concerns about foreign intervention on behalf of the Melanesian people of West Papua.

The Dutch government is due to release a report assessing The Act of Free Choice, which was issued with UN approval when the territory was still under Dutch rule. Jones said the report was likely to inflame pro-independence sentiment in Papua and could form the basis for international action to take Papua away from Indonesia.

Papuan nationalists have been given some symbolic support through the renaming of Irian Jaya as Papua, and by allowing Papuans to fly their national flag in conjunction with the Indonesian flag. Jakarta is evidently feeling threatened by the current climate.

Jones talked of the Indonesian government's response.

   It pulled back by issuing this presidential
   instruction in January 2003
   which said Papua is now divided
   into three provinces: Western Irian
   Jaya, Central Irian Jaya and Papua,
   and it was completely contrary to
   the Special Autonomy law. It created
   outrage in many parts of
   Papua and undercut many of the
   moderates in favour of independence
   but willing to give autonomy
   a chance. … 

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