Response to a Call to Apply Indonesia's Anti-Terrorism Law in West
by Ed McWilliams
Edmund McWilliams is a retired U.S.
Foreign Service Officer who served as the Political Counselor at the
U.S. Embassy in Jakarta 1996-1999. He received the American Foreign
Service Associationís Christian Herter Award for creative dissent by a
senior foreign service official. He is a member of the
West Papua Advocacy Team
and a consultant with the East Timor and
Indonesia Action Network
January 31, 2013 --
In a December 5, 2012 lecture at Stanford University's International
Policy Studies program (revised
and posted by the International Crisis Group on January 22, 2013), the respected Southeast Asia analyst Sidney Jones
discussed the Indonesian government's unwillingness, thus far, to
categorize the Papuan "ethno-nationalists/separatists" as "terrorists."
Jones identifies these Papuan "ethno-nationalists" and "separatists" as
the armed Papuan opposition, Operasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) and what she
describes as "an extremist faction of KNPB, the West Papua National
Committee, a militant pro-independence organization." Jones cites
various incidents of violence in West Papua that she claims were
committed by these "ethno-nationalists and separatists."
The authors of violence in the
Indonesian archipelago, especially violence with complex motives, are never
so clear cut as her lecture implies. This is especially true of West Papua
where police-military rivalries over access to resources and sources of
extortion monies is well known.
Her analysis focuses on the different
approaches employed against the West Papuan
"ethno-nationalists/separatists" and against Islamic militants
("jihadists") by prosecutors and the security forces (police, military
and Detachment 88). Jones contends that
"the discrepancy between the way the two groups are treated by the legal
system is untenable." She considers two alternatives: One would be to
employ anti-terrorism law in West Papua, and the other would entail
moving away from the use of anti-terror law against "jihadists." She
argues extensively against the latter approach of "pulling back from the
use of the anti-terror law."
Jones contends that pressure for use of the anti-terror law against
"ethno-nationalists/separatists" is growing among Islamic observers. In
particular, she cites Harits Abu Ulya, director of the Community of
Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA): "If the government is consistent,
then it should acknowledge that attacks motivated by ethno-nationalism
and separatism be considered terrorism because they are carried out by
an organization with a political vision that uses terrorism to influence
the security environment and challenge(s) the sovereignty of the state.
Why aren't we seeing forces being sent en masse to cleanse Papua of
Jones' argument warrants a more detailed
critique than space here allows, but even a brief review reveals a
number of problems.
Jones summarily credits recent violent acts in West Papua to the
"ethno-nationalists and separatists." This is surprising insofar as
Jones is a highly regarded observer of the Indonesian political scene
with a deep human rights background. She knows, or should know, that the
authors of violence in the Indonesian archipelago -- especially violence
with complex motives -- are never so clear cut as her lecture implies.
This is especially true of West Papua where police-military rivalries
over access to resources and sources of extortion monies is well known.
Jones should know also that military, police and intelligence agencies,
have long played the role of provocateur, orchestrating acts of violence
which advance agendas that are invariably obscure.
Jones cites what she claims is recent "ethno-nationalist" pressure on
the giant Freeport McMoRan mining operation. She ignores the reality
that such pressure in the past has
frequently been orchestrated by the military,
the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). To
be fair, Jones alludes to this complexity but largely dismisses it. Her
analysis similarly ignores the reality that the Indonesian state has
long blocked international monitoring of such security force
skullduggery and manipulation of the security environment in West Papua
by restricting travel by international journalists, human rights
researchers and others to and within the region.
Jones also fails to acknowledge the reality, widely noted in
international and local human rights circles, that the Indonesian
government has long sought to smear peaceful dissent in West Papua as
"separatist." Jakarta, through the aegis of a corrupt court system and
often criminal state security forces, has repeatedly employed the
"separatist" label to arrest and prosecute or detain peaceful political
dissenters, such as those who display the Papuan morning star flag.
Courts regularly resort to charges of treason that date to the Dutch
colonial era and widely used by the Suharto dictatorship to intimidate
dissidents. Jones' call for Indonesia to define "separatism" as
"terrorism" would deepen Jakarta's targeting of peaceful dissent and the
intimidation of Papuans generally. Use of the anti-terror law would
enable the police to detain "separatist" suspects, including those
engaging in peaceful protest, for a week rather than 48 hours. The law
also empowers the police to employ electronic surveillance. Ongoing
efforts would strengthen the anti-terror law to give the police even
broader powers to limit the freedom of speech and assembly.
The argument to employ the "terrorist" label against "ethno-nationalist and
separatist" groups and individuals in West Papua could have direct legal
implications for international solidarity movements.
Jones claim that the West Papua Nationalist
Committee (KNPB) is a "extremist," is without substantiation. Criminal
activity by some alleged members of the KNPB is generally not well
corroborated and usually reflects efforts by the State
to undermine the
organization. The KNPB, and many other Papuan organizations and
individuals are indeed ever more strongly pressing for Papuan rights,
importantly including the long-denied
to self determination. But these efforts are largely nonviolent.
In recent years, this struggle has found growing support within the
international community. Employing the "terrorist" label against
"ethno-nationalist and separatist" groups and individuals in West Papua
could have direct legal implications for international solidarity
movements. In the U.S., groups or individuals who advocate on behalf of
groups designated by the U.S. government as "terrorists" are subject to
criminal prosecution. Given the close relations among governments,
including those of the U.S. and Australia and Indonesia's security
forces, Indonesian government labeling dissidents in West Papua as
"terrorist" could have dire implications for the solidarity network. How
long would it be before the U.S. and other governments themselves begin
to label various Papuan groups and individuals as '"terrorist." U.S. and
other international groups acting in solidarity with Papuans seeking to
attain their rights could be criminally targeted and charged.
In sum, the Jones analysis is hobbled by the very term "terrorism" which
is so poorly defined international law and procedure as to threaten and
intimidate even those groups and individuals engaged in peaceful
In a final note, Sidney Jones, who was the Asia Director for Human
Rights Watch from 1989 to 2002, should at a minimum explicitly reject
the call by Harits Abu Ulya that she cites in her lecture for the
Indonesian government "to cleanse Papua of separatism." Such rhetoric
gives license to the kind of atrocities already visited on the people of
the Indonesian archipelago, including Timor-Leste, for far too long.