United Nations – WHO
Indonesian President Joko Widodo – Jokowi – has shown himself to be generally less interested in international affairs than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). He has also been less committed to the Indonesia-Australia relationship.
Nonetheless, Australia’s invitation to Jokowi to address the parliament, and his acceptance of that invitation, suggests the bilateral relationship is strong, at least at the governmental level.
Both Morrison and Jokowi referred in their parliamentary addresses to the fact this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia. Morrison reflected backwards, noting Australia had been an early supporter of Indonesian independence, and had been chosen by Indonesia to represent its interests on a UN committee involved with the Indonesia-Dutch dispute then underway.
Jokowi chose to look forward, to 2050 and the 100th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations. He identified four major steps he suggested the two countries should take together to strengthen their bilateral relationship, and to contribute to regional peace and security.
Two of these steps were fairly predictable recitations of established policy.
The first was cooperation in furthering democracy, respect for human rights, counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation strategies. He spoke against identity politics, disputing the idea it was cultural clashes that divided the world. Implementation of these principles remains fraught with difficulties, but the parameters of the problems are well-known in Jakarta and Canberra.
Second, Jokowi argued for free and fair trade, both bilaterally and regionally, in the face of increasing protectionism. Here he welcomed the conclusion of the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which he described as opening opportunities for economic growth in both countries.
But there were two other steps Jokowi wanted the two countries to take, which were perhaps different from what might have been expected.
First, he called for collaboration on protection of the environment. Some of his remarks were predictable, such as protection of forests and rivers. But he also argued for collaboration on lowering carbon emissions and handling climate change.
Jokowi did not explain what he had in mind with joint action to lower carbon emissions, or managing climate change. Indonesia is a major exporter of coal, and annual forest fires have substantially reduced forest cover. Its political and business leaders are even more divided than those in Australia on climate-related issues and how to deal with them.
What Australia and Indonesia seem to share, it might cynically be suggested, is internal disagreement over the nature of the problem being faced, and steps that might be taken to address it.
Second, Jokowi called for Australia and Indonesia to be “anchors for development programs” in the Pacific region.
Like Australia, Indonesia has recently been paying increased attention to the nations of the South Pacific. Last October, it established the Indonesian Agency for International Development, with a focus on the South Pacific. Speaking at the launch of the agency, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi noted assistance had already been provided to Tuvalu, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Fiji, as well as Myanmar and the Philippines.
Australia’s renewed interest in the South Pacific is linked to the increased Chinese presence in the region. But Indonesia’s concern is less with China than with the status of its easternmost provinces of West Papua and Papua. The movement seeking the independence of this region from Indonesia has its greatest support in the south Pacific, particularly in Vanuatu, though support has also come from Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.
Indonesia has formally denied the establishment of the agency was aimed at countering international criticism of Indonesia’s position in Papua. But the suspicion there is a link will be hard to shake off.
Australia’s formal position on the Papuan provinces is made clear in the 2006 Lombok Treaty, which committed each party to supporting the territorial integrity of the other, and not providing support to separatist movements. There is, though, considerable support for Papuan separatism in the Australian community, reflected in the parliament particularly by the Greens. The Greens’ new leader, Adam Bandt, is reported to have told Jokowi, after his address:
Thank you for your speech, thanks for your comments on climate change, now please get something done on West Papua.
There is nothing new in the dilemma facing the Australian government on Papua, but the increased Indonesian focus on the Pacific region could well provide more opportunities for the two countries to differ than to work together effectively.
Finally, Jokowi’s speech was notable for what he did not say.
There was no mention of China’s increasingly activist foreign and defence policy position, especially in the South China Sea. However, given the issue was explicitly considered in the joint statement of the two leaders, the president may have deemed that sufficient.
The other significant omission was any mention of easing conditions for the issuing of visas to Indonesians to visit Australia. This had been widely discussed in Indonesia before the president left for Australia. Scott Morrison did commit to reviewing the visa situation, but Jokowi would be well advised not to hold his breath.
One evening last month, the young man from Afghanistan, of Hazara ethnicity, arrived in Jakarta. His people-smuggler dropped him at the UNHCR entrance reserved for refugees, where he was told to wait.
The next day, mid-morning, he was still outside waiting to speak to someone. He was too afraid to give me his name or even his age, but he appeared to be in his early 20s.
He had been fleeing for 20 days, ten days hiding in wait in Kabul, then another ten days in transit through three countries. His choice to come to Indonesia was based solely on escaping immediately.
Through a translator he said:
I needed to get out quick. I just wanted to come as soon as possible so I came through an agent. My agent brought me here, I have no shelter so I am just waiting for the UNHCR for information.
I’ve been working with a refugee-run school in Indonesia for the past year. There, refugees aren’t allowed access to education or work, and asylum seekers can be arrested at the whim of authorities. This, compounded with chronic waiting, has led to a straining relationship with the UNHCR, the key institution in their lives.
Only 509 of 14,016 people (3.5%) were resettled in Indonesia last year. Of those , only 84 came to Australia. And so far this year, the number of people resettled from Indonesia to Australia is just eight.
Figures like these explain why, for many months now, the UNHCR office in Jakarta has been the subject of ongoing protests made up of street protests outside the building in the city centre and civil disobedience in the upscale suburb of Kalideres. Refugees and asylum seekers have refused to vacate a disused military building temporarily allocated to them.
Refugees argue the very existence of the UNHCR Jakarta office is a kind of false advertising.
Twenty-four-year-old Ali Jawad Haidari has been in Indonesia for over seven years. He said:
If you cannot support refugees you should close your office. You should say we cannot support refugees, announce in the media we cannot do anything.
At Kalideres, the broken trust is visceral. People question the staff’s willingness to prosecute cases, and why they visited Kalideres with security guards when there was never a hint of violence in the months of protest (and for that matter, why they were not allowed to enter the main UNHCR building through the front door).
They also questioned the ethics of the UNHCR, when the institution offered a one-off payment of roughly a month’s living expenses to the refugees in exchange for leaving the Kalideres site. The refugees initially thought this would be the beginning of ongoing UNHCR support.
And they questioned why the agency supposed to protect them would turn off their electricity and water.
In fact, “The UNHCR is making me sick” is a refrain I heard multiple times during interviews.
Hassan Ramazan, a spokesperson for the Hazara refugees at Kalideres, said the sit-in protests exist because their community and the relatives who support them by sending cash, are at breaking point. He said:
There are people here since 2009, 10, 11, 12, 13, their supporters can not support them any more.
Ramazan also points to the seeming arbitrariness of resettlement. Interview wait times to determine refugee status vary, with some who arrived more recently resettled than those who’ve been waiting for years.
What’s more, single men believe they are treated with suspicion in western countries. Twenty-eight-year-old Muhammad Hanif is one of those single men, who received his refugee registration in 2013. He said:
Lots of singles have been here seven or eight years, we also pray for families to be resettled, but also for us, it should be fair.
And Haidari points out people may have arrived alone but are still family members – brothers, sons, fathers.
My friend arrived alone and is still waiting. Recently his 13-year-old son was injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, spent two months in hospital, and still the UNHCR said they can’t do anything.
My friend when he came here his son was six, now he’s 13-years-old and injured.
Waiting is a contemporary strategy of migration management.
But chronic waiting must be taken into account in refugee policy, as it causes and prolongs psycho-social damage and changes the nature of societal and institutional relationships.
For the majority of refugees, chronic waiting is unlikely to result in effective protection unless a refugee’s country of origin becomes safe to return to. This is unlikely in the foreseeable future for the major refugee producing countries.
Even in countries with major refugee populations, their plight is mostly ignored.
But not always. In Malaysia – where the refugee population is ten times that of Indonesia and work has been informally accessed for years – there are moves to make work legal for refugees.
Work could help alleviate economic pressures and restore agency and dignity lost in waiting. But the refugees are keenly aware of Indonesia’s local poverty and insecure work conditions. And because Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it is not obliged to look after refugees.
Nevertheless, ways for refugees to sustain themselves are supposedly being discussed in Indonesia.
For Haidari, a martial arts champion, work would solve many of his problems. But the authorities have stopped him from competing. He said:
If I could just fight I would never knock on the UNHCR door again.
Refugee spokesperson Ramazan doesn’t see work rights as the ultimate solution, but he does ask what sort of generation is being created. They’re living on the streets, without access to education or the example of seeing their parents work.
Thirty-seven-year-old Masooma, who is in the Kalideres complex with her husband and two-year-old daughter, has another, pointed, question.
They say the first priority is for people with critical problems, who are sick, and that’s the reason resettlement is slow.
Since they don’t give us support and assistance of course we will get sick, and then what should we do with that process? What will we do if we get sick and then go to another country?
Essentially, there is no point in breaking people, then helping them.
Last weekend, the Indonesian police took 43 West Papuan students into custody for allegedly disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an independence day celebration (an allegation the students deny).
Police stormed the students’ dorm and used teargas to force them out, while bystanders and officers called them “monkeys”, a derogatory term for ethnically Melanesian Papuans.
West Papuans have long been cast by Indonesians as primitive people from the Stone Age, and this racist treatment continues to this day. West Papuan author Filep Karma described the extent of racism against West Papuans in his 2014 book, As If We Are Half-Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land, saying he often heard Indonesians call West Papuans monkeys.
This latest episode of discrimination builds on more than five decades of racism, torture, summary executions, land dispossession and cultural denigration of West Papuans by Indonesian security forces.
After the students were detained last weekend, riots erupted in the cities of Manokwari and Jayapura. Thousands of people turned out to protest against the mistreatment of the students and, more broadly, the mistreatment of West Papuans by the Indonesian authorities. Many protesters waved the nationalist Morning Star flag, an act punishable by a 15-year jail sentence (Indonesia is not just sensitive about how West Papuans treat the Indonesian flag – the state prohibits them from flying their own.)
In response to the deteriorating security situation, Indonesia has deployed more troops to the region.
When the politically moderate Indonesian President Joko Widodo came to power in 2014, West Papua observers had high hopes he might broker peace in the region, much the same way the government of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was able to quell a long-running separatist conflict in Aceh.
However, Widodo has not been capable of controlling the Indonesian military in West Papua. He also doesn’t seem to realise that economic development is not the solution to ending the armed resistance in the region – West Papuan leaders want a political resolution, not an economic one.
Part of Widodo’s development agenda in West Papua has been to commence building a Trans-Papua Highway to facilitate movement of goods and people across the astoundingly rugged terrain in the region.
But in December, West Papuan guerrilla forces attacked Indonesian workers constructing the highway, killing several dozen. There’s deep resentment among West Papuans toward Indonesian migrant workers, who they believe are taking their jobs and land and disrupting Papuan life in the region.
Violence by the Indonesian military and police against West Papuans has also increased during Widodo’s presidency. According to the International Coalition for Papua, a human rights organisation, more than 6,400 people were arrested for political activism in 2015 and 2016. The group has also documented more than 300 victims of torture or maltreatment and 20 victims of extra-judicial killings for those years.
In addition, local journalists continue to face harassment from security forces, while foreign journalists are still denied entry to West Papua. Preventable diseases and malnutrition have also had devastating effects throughout the region.
In 2017, Widodo finally reached out to West Papuans offering dialogue – a process West Papuans had been requesting since at least 2008. However, the leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) decided it was too little, too late.
West Papuans are now calling for a UN-supervised referendum on independence from Indonesia.
In 1969, seven years after Indonesia invaded West Papua, the United Nations oversaw a referendum in which West Papuans were to decide on independence or official integration with Indonesia. Indonesia handpicked less than 1% of the Papuan population to vote and threatened them with violence should they make the “wrong” decision.
The result has been a lengthy, often brutal colonial occupation of Papuans and their land.
Independence advocates have the support of at least seven Pacific island nations – as well as a number of MPs in New Zealand – as they pursue the possibility of a new referendum on decolonisation through the United Nations.
Through revived links with global Black Power and Indigenous movements in the Pacific and beyond, as well as the mass connectivity afforded by social media, Papuans are enjoying levels of solidarity from around the world they have never before experienced.
While independence is still unlikely for West Papua, it would be foolish to rule it out. Timor Leste, South Sudan and Kosovo have shown us that right to self-determination is one that is still honoured, even if infrequently.
Why should the world care about this little-known decolonisation movement?
The answer is simple: In the post-Rwandan genocide world, the international community has committed to a moral and political “responsibility to protect” people whose states are unable or unwilling to ensure them safety, or are perpetrating crimes against them.
The United Nations “responsibility to protect” mandate means that UN members are required, under international law, to protect anybody at risk of
genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
It is time the world lives up to its responsibility to demand that state-sanctioned violence against West Papuans stop, no matter how bad relations with Jakarta become. Ultimately, lives are worth more than politics.
The link below is to an article reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Indonesia.
The violent riots that shook Jakarta last week led to at least six deaths, over 700 injured and more than 200 arrests. Demonstrations and rallies are common in Indonesia, but street violence like this had not been seen since the fall of Soeharto in 1998.
Protests began peacefully in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on May 20, after the General Elections Commission (KPU) made the surprise decision to release its official count at 3am that morning.
By 9pm on Tuesday, rioters supporting the defeated presidential candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto, (including some apparently linked to Islamic State) were burning cars and buildings, and using rocks, petrol bombs and fireworks to attack police.
Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. They claim not to have used real bullets, although families of at least two victims claim they died of bullet wounds and the National Police Hospital says autopsies show four died this way.
The violence was repeated the next night and spread beyond Jakarta, with incidents in East Java and Potianak (Kalimantan) as well. The government called in the army to help control the situation. Obviously deeply concerned, it took the extraordinary step of slowing down the internet to obstruct the sharing of provocative material across social media sites. Two nights later, the government seemed to have the situation under control.
On Friday, Prabowo’s campaign lodged protests against the election results with the Constitutional Court. They argue that the convincing 10%-plus margin of victory of his rival, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, was fraudulently obtained. To date, they have not been able to produce convincing evidence to back this up.
If, as likely, the court rejects the petition to annul Jokowi’s win, that may well spark another round of rioting. This is particularly so because Prabowo’s camp has been saying for weeks that the court is biased in favour of the government.
But even if the rioting starts up again, it is very unlikely to topple Jokowi, given the government, police and army seem to have closed ranks behind him.
Many members of the elite do not particularly like Jokowi, a provincial politician who made a spectacular leap to the presidency five years ago and remains somewhat of an outsider. But he has the huge advantage of incumbency. Leaders of the bureaucracy and security forces owe their positions, wealth and power to his administration. They fear being replaced in the purge of senior positions that would follow if Prabowo somehow took over.
Even though Prabowo’s fourth bid to become president seems doomed and Jokowi is doubtless confident of being sworn in on October 20, that does not mean Jokowi’s second and final five-year term will be smooth sailing. The riots seem to have fizzled out, but they are the product of tensions over the place of Islam in Indonesian life and what is now a deep cleavage in Indonesian politics.
To explain how this has happened, we need to go back to 2017 and the major crisis of Jokowi’s first term: the prosecution and conviction for blasphemy of then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok, or BTP, as he now prefers).
Ahok had been the deputy governor under Jokowi and stepped up when Jokowi resigned to run for the presidency. An ethnic Chinese Christian governor was seen as unacceptable to hardline Islamists. They used comments about the Qur’an made by Ahok while campaigning for re-election to launch a massive and bitter populist campaign against him. Hundreds of thousands took part in rallies that targeted Ahok and, eventually, his former friend and close colleague, Jokowi, at one stage even marching on the palace.
After Ahok’s fall, some of the Muslim organisations that had formed the so-called “212 movement” to tear him down began aggressively targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. He also backed criminal charges against figures he saw as leading public criticism of his government.
As a result, the disgruntled Islamist conservatives who loathe Jokowi lined up behind Prabowo, the only alternative candidate.
This split meant that many members of the world’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is generally more tolerant of religious difference, sided with Jokowi, particularly after he chose NU leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
The world’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, traditionally NU’s rival, was officially neutral. But many of its members clearly sided with Prabowo. So did other, more conservative, Muslim organisations, such as the Islamist PKS party, and more extreme groups like the thuggish Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – and, of course, the 212 alumni.
The result was a vicious social media campaign, full of trolling, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, fake news and online vilification. Rumours that Jokowi is a closet Christian from a communist family were circulated once again.
The election thus polarised Indonesia, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Jokowi prevailed in Javanese communities linked to NU and in areas where non-Muslims are a majority or a large minority, like Papua, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and North Sulawesi.
On the other hand, majority Muslim outer islands often associated with Muhammadiyah largely fell to Prabowo, such as West Sumatra. Likewise, Prabowo took back South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Bengkulu and Jambi from Jokowi, who won them in 2014.
West Java tells the story. Although part of Java, it has never been a NU stronghold but is seen as historically a centre for Islamist conservatism. It went for Prabowo. Jakarta, urban and more urbane, but on the cusp of West Java, was split.
Prabowo’s defeat does not spell the end of his supporters’ aspirations for a less tolerant Indonesia that privileges their brand of Islam. The election’s geopolitical polarisation is likely to be a continuing source of problems for Jokowi in the years ahead.
With NU in the vice-presidential office and very likely to continue its stranglehold on the Ministry of Religious Affairs, resentment from Muhammadiyah, PKS and others will be maintained. It will play out in conflicts in the legislature and in and around government.
The tough measures Jokowi’s administration – obviously worried – deployed in recent weeks to try to head off the riots has only exacerbated the situation. Former general Wiranto, now coordinating minister for politics, law and security, ominously formed a team to investigate “unconstitutional behavior”.
Twenty or so people linked to Prabowo, including two former generals, have been arrested on charges including treason and weapons smuggling. At one stage a warrant was issued to bring Prabowo himself in for questioning (although this was quickly rescinded).
These measures reflect a wider trend towards so-called “soft authoritarianism” in Jokowi’s administration, which has concerned many Indonesian and foreign observers. It also feeds the narrative promoted by his Islamist opponents of a president willing to use the full force of the state to marginalise them, and that simply entrenches the battlelines.
Jokowi is a pragmatic politician who values stability and cohesion above most other things. Once the riots die down, Jokowi’s instinct will be to “buy in” the Muslim right and Prabowo’s core supporters. He may do this by offering them positions in the incoming administration or access to resources.
If that doesn’t work, we can expect more trouble ahead.