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Analysis

Order and Adat in the forests of West Papua

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The building of simple fences bring a new sense of order to the village of Syukwes, perhaps as a way to invite in or conjure services and progress – blog.castac.org/Jonathan

By Jonathan McLeod*

Papua is Indonesia’s poorest and least populated region, but, as they say, rich in natural resources.

It is developing quickly in the era of pemekaran, an Indonesian word that literally translates as “blossoming,” or “subdivision”. It describes the rapid proliferation of local government institutions that is happening throughout Indonesia, penetrating regions that just a decade ago were totally bereft of infrastructure or public services (McWilliam 2011).

Even in the few months that I have spent researching in the district of Tambrauw, on the Bird’s Head of New Guinea, I’ve watched the pipes being laid and the roads being built, slowly reaching out from the main coastal town to the mountainous interior. Throughout the rural regions of Papua, development and pemekaran are more or less synonymous, people seem to want it, and it’s happening quickly.

Whereas in the Suharto Era, or the New Order, economic progress and indigenous culture were considered mutually exclusive, Papuans are increasingly empowered to document and formalize indigenous rights, especially after a landmark legal decision in 2013 (The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia 2013).

Throughout Indonesia, regional and local governments are launching initiatives to incorporate customary land rights and local traditions, or adat, into policy and governance frameworks. Rather than this being a merely technical problem, it means there is a simultaneous push to “develop”, and yet also to revive adat and embrace cultural identity (Davidson and Henley 2007).

For decades in Kalimantan and Sumatra, massive deforestation and the disenfranchisement of indigenous peoples have gone hand in hand. So far Papua has mostly avoided a similar fate, but there is also no clear alternative model Papuans are following.

Sustainable development pathways like carbon credit trading and ecotourism are frequently discussed, but mostly still just a vision. Ambivalence ensues, but also the possibility of something new.

Inviting the state in

As autonomous as many of the tribes of the Bird’s Head still are, rarely do we see an effort to evade the state (Scott 2009). Rather, people are eager to create a more “Papuan” one (Slama and Munro 2015).

In Tambrauw, many villages nestled in the rugged forest terrain take days to reach by foot from the nearest dirt road or river. People in such places eagerly anticipate the arrival of infrastructure, yet also want to protect their forests from exploitation.

Parents send their children to the closest town or the port city of Sorong for schooling, where they live with relatives or in boarding houses. Or the whole family simply moves. Social and cultural changes accelerate as the next generation grows up in a bustling urban environment, increasingly reluctant to pulang kampung, or return to the village.

The main way that adat is transmitted in this region of West Papua is through traditional education or initiation, where boys or young men live in the forest for years at a time with a teacher, learning skills such as how to hunt, use plant-based medicine, perform rituals, and practice wuon, or sorcery.

Nowadays only a small minority of the boys in Tambrauw receive this education (there is a similar, though much shorter equivalent education for women). Most people seem to lament this fact, even as they readily embrace modern education, a cash economy, and consumer goods. It appears very difficult to combine the two, even though the core of their cultural identity – as they describe it –  is on the verge of disappearing.

Beside goods and services, roads bring what people refer to as pengaruh, or “influences.” Down the river and in the coastal communities, school children are considered more nakal, or naughty. Young men more commonly drink heavily, and fight. In general people feel less safe, and lament the disruption of calm, traditional village life, and the loss of adat.

There seems to be no guide and little established discourse on how to reconcile the gains and losses in the push to modernize.

Shortly after I moved to Syukwes, a small Abun village that is accessible only by river or on foot, the men starting building fences. In the older part of the village there is a cluster of traditionally built homes, with bamboo walls and sago palm roofs.

But the most visible manifestation of pemekaran in the interior is the recent construction of “permanent” houses – a standardized design using sawmilled wood, corrugated iron roofs, and oriented to face the “road”, which is now just a grassy lane.

Why was it so important to build the fences?, I wondered, and asked. They are primarily aesthetic, and do nothing to keep animals or people out of their yards. But they do neatly define boundaries and, along with the new houses, make Syukwes look a little more like a coastal town than a forest village.

One of the men told me: it’s to prepare for the asphalt road (which could be years away for arriving), and that “it will be easier for the government to inspect us.” This is a striking statement, considering how independent and egalitarian Abun people are in their daily lives, even compared to the other ethnic groups in the region.

As much as Abun value their cultural identity, autonomy, and the peacefulness of village life, they also enjoy the order modernity seems to promise, both in terms of services and, for a lack of a better word, the aesthetics.

Mapping tradition

Many outsiders with resources – particularly sophisticated conservation NGO’s backed by global climate change funding  – are encouraging and empowering people to embrace, document, and legally encode their traditions, which are now admired and considered an asset.

This is complicating both the future of development in the region as well as the evolution of Papuan identity. Currently the most concrete and technical outcome of the indigenous rights movement is the mapping of customary lands. This entails clan meetings where community members discuss and draw boundaries for clan territories and also the location of sacred places; once agreed upon, the territory is mapped with GPS units and later uploaded to a national database that eventually, it is hoped, the government will formally recognize in the course of development planning.

The mapping of customary land, as well as the recognition of an official clan leadership structure, is a new and much more systematic way of thinking about land, power, and social relationships in general.  Land rights – such as the building of a new house, clearing a forest garden, or hunting – is based on clan affiliation, but permission and actual use is informal.

At times it seems to me as if all roughly 4,000 Abun people are related in some way or another, and through their wide social networks (that also connect through marriage to adjacent tribes) people can ask a relative’s permission to enter and use an area of forest, even if they are not part of the same clan. Moreover, clan leadership until very recently has been unclear and weak, and tribal leadership essentially non-existent.

Abun traditionally live in small settlements, until at least World War II primarily in clusters smaller than what we would call a village (the word for “village” in Abun, as in many places in Papua, is borrowed from Indonesian), and they still frequently move about the landscape.

Men head out alone into the forest or travel to nearby relatives for weeks at time, often alone, unannounced, and simply because they feel like a change of scenery. My sense from talking to people is that many Abun enjoy the experience of the city, of traditional village life, and the quietude of the forest, so they simply move back and forth when they miss the benefits of one over the others.

It’s not difficult to imagine that a process of territorialization, with the precision of a GIS system and the power of nationally recognized laws, will change this dynamic, and the landscape itself. Nevertheless, people want security of land access in the face of social conflict, and the constant development pressure by the Indonesian government and outside business interests which have literally torn apart other regions of the country.

In other words, they are embracing the technological conversion of adat as the most promising way to both modernize and protect their land rights.(*)

*Jonathan is a PhD candidate in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and currently conducting fieldwork in West Papua, Indonesia on indigenous land rights and sustainable development planning.

Source: blog.castac.org

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Analysis

The on-going conflict in West Papua has many facets

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Graphics supplied

By : Sandra Ivanov

RWANDA, Bosnia, Cambodia – All of these countries have had internationally recognised events of genocide take place in their history which has, in turn, shaped the way the world deals with the horrors of mass casualties and the difficult, but vital task of post-conflict reconstruction. But genocide is not a thing of the past, it is occurring right now in the Asia-Pacific. West Papua, a region which occupies half of the island of New Guinea is under Indonesian government authority, with most of the 2 million indigenous inhabitants living in remote areas across mountainous and forested territory. The people have been subject to systematic oppression, human rights violations, degrading indigenous culture and exploitation of resources. With restricted access of foreign media into the region, it is critical that there is continual attention given to an obscured case of government abuse.

History: the confiscated freedom of a people
The on-going conflict in West Papua has many facets, however, the main reason for the violence has been the denial of the right for self-governance and autonomy. Under the conditions of colonialism, the people of West Papua have rebelled against the rule of the Dutch East Indies – since 1867, a desire for liberation was expressed, and continued prominently in 1906, 1921, 1926, and 1935. The granting of Indonesian independence in 1949 began a process of decolonisation for the Dutch in the 1950s – Indonesia wished to obtain West Papua as part of the independence deal, claiming it was part of their territory, but the Dutch refused.

In 1961, the Dutch prepared for the self-determination of West Papua by setting up a council of mostly indigenous Papuans to create a national anthem and a flag, in which the Morning Star flagwas flown for the first time on December 1st 1961 – West Papua’s full independence was aimed to be established in 1970. But Indonesia would not stand for this. On December 19th 1961, Indonesia launched a campaign to return West Papua as part of Indonesia’s rightful territory, and violence between the Dutch Empire and the newly established nation-state ignited. The West Papuans who pursued their right to autonomy were dismissed by Indonesia as they believed the act of independence was a cover up for creating a new Dutch puppet state.
 
The brute military force of Indonesia attracted international attention where the Cold Warsuperpowers poked their heads in to figure out where their strategic goals fitted into this predicament. The United States stepped in, in 1962 to broker a deal which would be called the New York Agreement – a plan to win over Indonesia and quell the lingering Soviet influence in the country. With Indonesian interests in mind, the agreement negotiations contained no indigenous representation of West Papuans. The decision was made to place West Papua under United Nations control while preparations were made to transfer ownership to Indonesia in 1963.

The New York Agreement involved holding an “Act of Free Choice“, which would give the Papuan people a chance to decide their future. However, this is now more popularly known as the “Act of No Choice”, as the representatives chosen to speak for the West Papuans were picked by Indonesian officials and were gathered under Indonesian military supervision while they made their verdict on integration into the territory. Not surprisingly, the result was unanimously in favour of integration. The West Papuans desired a referendum, a “one-person-one-vote2 system, instead, formal control was handed to Indonesia, beginning a period of military control and human rights abuses.

Enduring human rights abuses and claims to genocide
Once the “Act of Free Choice” concluded, the United Nations General Assembly accepted the results, and West Papua became part of Indonesia. The Under Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1969, Chakravarthi V. Narasimhan, confessed many years later that the Act “was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible. Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who had their fundamental human rights trampled. Suharto was a terrible dictator. How could anyone have seriously believed that all voters unanimously decided to join his regime? Unanimity like that is unknown in democracies” (Clinton Fernandes, “Hot Spot: Asia and Oceania (Hot Spot Histories)“, 2008), p. 106).

It is estimated that over 500,000 West Papuans have been killed through a range of policies and organised killings. Over time pro-independence organisations began to sprout all across the West Papua region – the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka; OPM) being the most prominent group. OPM, along with its non-violent actions, has also carried out attacks on military and police targets. However, in retaliation to OPM’s early actions, the Indonesian government carried out mass military operations between 1977 and 1978, claiming these operations were required to counter attacks launched by organisations such as OPM. It is reported that over 4,000 people were killed in the highland region of West Papua during this period alone.

Other acts include the use of napalm and chemical weapons against villagers in 1981, and the massacre of 32 West Papuans in Wamena in October 2000. The area of Wamena was targeted once again in 2003 when police raids resulted in killing 9 people, torturing 38, arresting 15, and leaving thousands displaced from their homes to refugee camps where at least 42 people died from hunger and exhaustion.

Even in the last few years, non-violent action has been targeted by authorities. In 2016, the Legal Aid Institute Jakarta reported that over a period of 6 months, government authorities arrested more than 2,280 Papuans for non-violent demonstrations, and in December 2016, a series of pro-independence demonstrations in many locations across the country resulted in 500 arrests and multiple charges of treason. In 2017, Freedom House reported that more than 2,000 people were arrested for participating in non-violent demonstrations supporting independence (“Indonesia“, Freedom House, 2017).

Academic analysis has demonstrated that there is evidence to claim genocide of West Papuans through the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. A paper published through the Yale Law School outlines examples of the crimes committed in West Papua, against the articles in the Genocide Convention. It concludes that acts such as torture, disappearance, rape, systematic resource exploitation, labour transmigration schemes, and forced relocation taken as a whole appear to bring about the destruction of West Papuans. These acts “individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law”. The International Lawyers for West Papua, a non-government body of legal professionals, also support the findings of intent of genocide against the people of West Papua.

In 2017, the Asian Human Rights Commission released a statement saying that violations of human rights remain unaddressed, that the Indonesian government does not have a strong policy of human rights protection in Papua, and that these frequent violations are caused by the security approach applied. In February 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Indonesia stating concern “about increasing reports of the excessive use of force by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua”.

The movement of solidarity
It was not until the end of Suharto’s rule of Indonesia in 1998 that the stories of West Papuans could be told and reported. During a period of significant democratisation of Indonesia, space was made for Papuans to express their concerns, and political movements were reinvigorated. However, over the decades different rulers of Indonesia had different stances and policies towards the freedom of exercising speech and political assembly. The ability of ordinary Papuans to voice their concerns has therefore been irregular and disconnected.

The Indonesian regime is well known for blocking international access to the West Papua region, including foreign media, international observers and United Nations experts. This makes it difficult for international watchdogs, organisations, and researchers to get objective and reliable information of what is occurring in the region. Those outside of West Papua rely on information from local interpretation and opinions of events, and due to the lack of official reporting on these events, empirical evidence and figures cannot always be collected. History and experiences of people are a valid form of evidence, but each anecdote must be read with an open-mind to understanding other viewpoints and perspectives.

But with the rise of technology and social media, West Papuans have been using creative methods to spread their messages so that the international community are aware of their situation. Their activities have mainly involved non-violent actions through flag raisings, demonstrations, and self-declared national congress meetings to form political manifestos for an independent Papua.

Using Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and with access to smartphones, West Papuan activists have uploaded violent acts towards people in the region, as well as showing the exploitation of natural resources such as mining and deforestation. The most common form of non-violent action has been the raising the Morning Star flag on December 1st to support an independent Papua. This action has been occurring for over thirty years, but at a cost of potentially receiving a severe 15 year prison sentence if raised within the Indonesian territory.

Movements of solidarity in West Papua – either through violent or non-violent means – are faced with extreme consequences which include beatings, torture, and unlawful killing. So far in 2018, West Papuans have been arrested for running a disaster relief donation collectionpro-independence groups have been raided with mass arrests, and individuals have been sentenced to treason for involvement in pro-independence activities. The latest changes to Indonesia’s counter-terrorism laws could also have an impact on West Papuan armed groups.

A wave of international support and current developments 
Activists in countries all over the world have formed groups in support of an independent West Papua, including international coalitions such as the International Lawyers for West Papua, and the International Parliamentarians for West Papua.

In 2016, the “Westminster Declaration for an Internationally Supervised Vote in West Papua” was launched in London, and supported by the International Parliamentarians for West Papua. The declaration has five provisions, with the main aim of redressing the wrongs from the 1969 “Act of Free Choice”, and “call for an internationally supervised vote on self-determination in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolutions 1514 and 1541 (XV)“. The declaration continues to circle the globe today in the hope for further support from world leaders.

In addition to the declaration, a petition smuggled into West Papua was reportedly signed by 1.8 million Papuans in support of holding an internationally supervised vote on self-determination. In September 2017, it was presented to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation and rejected because West Papua is not part of the 17 states identified as “non-self-governing territories” by the United Nations. In a statement by the chairman, the committee confirmed that it could not receive “any request or document related to the situation of West Papua, territory which is an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia”, as well as additionally stating that “Indonesia is a good friend of ours“. Whilst the legitimacy of the petition has been questioned, the increasing evidence of the ongoing abuses of West Papuans by Indonesian security forces cannot be ignored.

Investment over freedom and justice?
In a region where calls for international investigations over human rights abuses are not followed up, and with the United Nations bodies unable to act on the status of West Papuan independence, it becomes the duty of civil society, activists, journalists, non-government organisations and interest groups to continue lobbying governments and spreading the awareness about the conflict in West Papua.

Tied up in investments, governments are afraid to call out Indonesia for its abuse of West Papuans. Allies of Indonesia are benefiting from the resource rich areas in the West Papuan region where one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world is located. Digging up more than $40 billion worth of resources by U.S. mining companyFreeport-McMoran, the extraction of these resources is expected to continue satisfying investors until 2041 until the mines become of no value.

Yet even as mines are extracted, and forests are torn down, the battle of historical narratives and truths continue, and the people of West Papua have proven they will not rest until a declaration for independence becomes a reality. In the words of academic Nino Viartasiwi: “West Papua was the victim of a large political game played from the 1940s to the 1990s. In the political struggles between the world’s two political poles, the wishes of the Papuans did not matter. Nevertheless, the efforts of the Papuans to deliver their account of history in the 2000s proves that the narration of history no longer belongs solely to the powerful”.

Sandra Ivanov is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She was formerly a policy advisor in the New Zealand public service and now primarily works in the development sector

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Analysis

Deadly violence by security forcesstill a reality in Papua

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Victims of shooting by security forces in Paniai in 2014 – Supplied

By : Usman Hamid

THE tactics used by security forces may have changed across the country since the fall of military rule in 1998, but in Papua – Indonesia’s easternmost, restive region – the threat of deadly violence in the form of excessive use of force from police and soldiers remains a constant threat.

A new Amnesty International report Don’t bother, just let him die”: Killing with impunity in Papua, released today, details how unlawful killings remain at high levels. At the same time, we have documented how security forces are applying the same lethal tactics that they have used against armed groups for years in non-political contexts and there is no accountability for the deaths.

Before going into the present, it is worth remembering Papua’s troubled past. During the era of military rule of President Soeharto, the concept of human rights in Papua was virtually unrecognized. The integration of Papua in 1969 from Dutch rule under United Nations (UN) supervision was not accepted by all, and prompted some indigenous Papuans in the region to take up arms to demand independence.

Soeharto’s government responded brutally by launching decades-long military campaign to contain armed pro-independence groups, causing an enormous number of deaths, many of them unlawful. Disproportionate attacks on armed groups also claimed the lives of many civilians. However, there was no accountability for the unlawful killings. This fallout left people in the region reluctant to publicly express any desire for independence.

The fall of Soeharto in 1998, after 32 years in power, paved the way for greater respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, in Papua.

While armed groups continue to operate in the region, many Papuans, including representatives of churches, students and Indigenous People have voiced their political views peacefully to avoid further violence. This led to the birth of several peaceful political movements in Papua in the years after 1998.

However, despite an increased respect for human rights across the country, post-Soeharto governments have shown an uncompromising stance towards independence movements, even for those advocating through peaceful means in Papua.

As part of a commitment to reform, post-Soeharto governments separated the police from the military. Consequently, the police are tasked with maintaining internal security while the military solely focus on defence. However, both are present and active in Papua as of today.

Killings of members of armed groups still take place on a relatively small scale in Papua, but in the post-Soeharto era, unlawful killings mainly targeted peaceful political activists. The authorities say they fear such peaceful activism could lead to greater calls for independence and, eventually, the disintegration of the country.

What is alarming is that police and soldiers in Papua are applying the same ruthless and deadly tactics they have used against armed groups for years in public events that are unrelated to independence. As a result, members of the public voicing non-political grievances have also become victims of unlawful killings.

Amnesty International’s new report shows that the majority of victims of unlawful killings in Papua from January 2010 to February 2018 were peaceful protesters in cases unrelated to pro-independence protests. The perpetrators have been both police and soldiers and none of them have been subject to a criminal investigation by an independent institution. The total deaths recorded is 95, or about one person every month since 2010.

Security forces unlawfully killed 95 people, of which 56 died unrelated to independence. This includes incidents when security forces dealt with peaceful social protests and public disorder, when they attempted to arrest criminal suspects, or sometimes due to individual misconduct by security personnel. Meanwhile, 39 died as a result of unlawful use of force related to the issue of independence.

In addition, the fact that the vast majority of victims of unlawful killings, 85 out of the total 95, are ethnic Papuans possibly underlines the years-long resentment in over security forces associating any protesting civilians with separatist group Free Papua Movement (OPM) and applying repressive – including lethal –  measures when dealing with them.

In a visit to Papua in December 2017, a group of local journalists, who have Papuan ethnicity, told Amnesty International that they frequently suffered discriminative and repressive treatment from security forces.

“We are frequently stigmatized as OPM members because we have a Papuan look although we have shown them our journalist ID cards,” said a Papuan journalist in Jayapura.

Amnesty International’s report reveals that most of the unlawful killings which took place in Papua in the last eight years have been at hands of the police. Officers from the police force killed a total of 39 people out of the 95 victims, while soldiers killed 27. In other incidents, both the police and military jointly killed 28 people. In addition, Municipal police (Satpol PP) also take part in the chain of the serious human rights violations by killing one person.

This is a serious stain on Indonesia’s human rights record. Now is the time to change course – unlawful killings in Papua must end, and those responsible for past deaths must be held to account before an independent, civilian court. All unlawful killings violate the right to life, a human right protected by international law and Indonesia’s Constitution.

The deadly tactics used by security forces remain the same as during the Soeharto era, but increasingly, victims of unlawful killings are peaceful political activists and non-political protesters in Papua. While it is rare for policing of public assembly in regions outside Papua to result in deaths, our report reveals that the use of unnecessary or excessive force, including firearms, in policing of non-political public assemblies and public disorder ended up with a total of 22 victims in Papua in the past eight years. Security forces must review their training, equipment, regulations and tactics in policing public assemblies in Papua.

After the deadly shooting by security forces in Paniai in December 2014 that killed four Papuan students – all aged below 18 – during a peaceful protest, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo – who took office on 20 October 2014, promised to prioritise human rights in the region and turn Papua into a “land of peace”.

However, three years later, there is still no justice for the victims and families of the Paniai incident. The investigation into the Paniai shooting remains in legal limbo, like many other human rights cases in the region. In addition, the unlawful killings have not stopped. This report recorded that unlawful killings have resulted in a total of 39 deaths in Papua  under Jokowi’s administration, a far from confidence-inspiring record.  All suspected unlawful killings, whether they took place before or after President Jokowi’s assumption of office, must be thoroughly and efficiently investigated by an independent body.

The current administration must not close its eyes to the unlawful killings that are still taking place even as the government is stepping up economic development in Papua. Sustainable development is welcome, but on its own is not enough – there must be justice and respect for human rights to heal the pain of people in Papua. Both should be done simultaneously. It is now the right time for Jokowi’s administration to work for the resolution of past human rights violations cases in Papua and to put an end to unlawful killings to make true the commitment to turn Papua into a “land of peace.” (*)

Usman Hamid is the Executive Director of Amnesty International of Indonesia

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Analysis

Activists fear Indian proposal for coal reserves in Indonesian-ruled Papua

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Forest clearance and plantation development in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya (PT MJR) palm oil concession in Papua. The region is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, but is facing intense pressure due to the logging, palm oil and mining industries. Image: Ulet Infansasti/Greenpeace

By Febriana Firdaus in Jakarta

As it seeks to diversify its sources of fuel, India is looking to get in on the ground floor of coal mining in previously unexploited deposits in Indonesian-ruled Papua.

In exchange for technical support and financing for geological surveys, officials say India is pushing for special privileges, including no-bid contracts on any resulting concessions a prospect that could run foul of Indonesia’s anti-corruption laws.

The details of an Indian mining project in Papua are still being negotiated, but Indonesia’s energy ministry welcomes the prospect as part of a greater drive to explore energy resources in the country’s easternmost provinces.

In future, the ministry hopes mining for coking coal will support the domestic steel industry, while also bringing economic benefits to locals.

Rights activists, however, fear the launch of a new mining industry could deepen tensions in a region where existing extractive projects have damaged the environment and inflamed a long-running armed conflict.

Indonesia’s new coal frontier

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jakarta last month, joint efforts to extract and process Indonesia’s fossil fuels, including coal, were on the agenda.

India’s interest in investing in a new coking coal mining concession in Papua can be traced to 2017, when officials from the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI) and Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR), both Indian government institutes, met with Indonesia’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jakarta.

The bilateral plan was announced by then-ministry spokesman Sujatmiko after the first India Indonesia Energy Forum held in Jakarta in April 2017. “The focus is on new territories in Papua,” he said.

To follow up, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources sent a team to India in early May. The current energy ministry spokesman, Agung Pribadi, who was part of the delegation, told Mongabay that officials from state-owned energy giant Pertamina, major coal miner PT Adaro Energy, and state-owned electricity firm PLN also joined the meeting.

The Indonesian team presented research outlining the potential for mining high-caloric content coal in West Papua province, and lower-caloric coal in Papua province.

According to the team’s report, only 9.3 million tons of reserves have so far been identified. By contrast, Indonesia as a whole expects to export 371 million tons of coal this year. However, the true extent of coal deposits could be larger, said Rita Susilawati, who prepared the report presented during the meeting and is head of coal at the ministry’s Mineral, Coal and Geothermal Resources Centre. “Some areas in Papua are hard to reach due to the lack of infrastructure. We were unable to continue the research,” she explained.

During the visit, Indian and Indonesian officials discussed conducting a geological survey in Papua, Agung said. India would finance the survey using its national budget. With Indonesian President Joko Widodo prioritising infrastructure investment, the energy ministry has few resources to conduct such surveys.

Expected privileges

Indonesia also anticipates benefiting and learning from India’s experience in processing coking coal.

In exchange, India expected privileges from the Indonesian government, including the right to secure the project without a bidding process, Agung said.

Indonesia denied the request, and the talks were put on hold. Approving it would have been too risky, Agung said, since the bidding process is regulated in Indonesia. “We recommend they follow the bidding process or cooperate with a state-owned enterprise,” Agung said.

India’s ministry of coal did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Energy and mining law expert Bisman Bakhtiar said there was still a chance India could get the rights to develop any resulting coal concessions without having to go through an open bidding process. “It can proceed under the G-to-G (government-to-government) scheme by signing a bilateral agreement,” he said.

This form of agreement would supersede the ministerial regulations requiring competitive bidding, Bisman explained, although he said any such agreements should emphasise that any projects must be carried out according to local laws.

There is precedent in Indonesia for G-to-G schemes bypassing the open bidding process, Bisman said. For example, multiple projects have been carried out on the basis of cooperation agreements with the World Bank and Australia. In another instance, Indonesian media mogul Surya Paloh imported crude oil from Angola via a bilateral cooperation agreement with Angola’s state-owned oil company Sonangol.

Draft law

A draft law currently being discussed in the House of Representatives could also smooth the path for India. It says that if there is agreement between Indonesia and a foreign government to conduct geological studies, the country involved will get priority for the contract.

However, this would still require the country to meet market prices. “We called it ‘right to match.’ If there are other parties who offer lower prices, then they should follow that price,” Bisman said.

Another option would be for India to appoint one of its local companies to work with Indonesian private sector giant Adaro or state-owned coal miner PT Bukit Asam. Such a deal could be conducted as a business-to-business (B-to-B) agreement, and would be legal according to Indonesia’s Energy Law.

Or, Indonesia could assign a state-owned firm like Bukit Asam to work with India based on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by both countries.

“But all these options have a potential risk,” Agung said. “They can be categorised as collusion by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).” He said a conventional bidding process should be prioritised.

Bisman said India needed to consider other risks, such as the social and political situation in Papua. The region is home to an armed pro-independence movement and has faced decades of conflict around the world’s largest and most profitable gold and copper mine, Grasberg, owned by US-based Freeport McMoRan.

‘Land grab’

Despite the presence of the mine, Papua remains Indonesia’s poorest province, with some of the worst literacy and infant mortality rates in Asia. Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), a state-funded body, has characterised Freeport’s concession as a “land grab,” for which the original stewards of the land, the Amungme and Kamoro indigenous people, were never properly consulted or compensated.

The Indonesian energy ministry’s own research says that any project must take into account the impact on Papua’s indigenous peoples, and must factor in specific local concepts of land ownership, leadership and livelihood.

Franky Samperante, executive director of rights advocacy group Yayasan Pusaka, said he was worried about the plan. “It is way too risky,” he said, pointing to the social and environmental fallout of the Grasberg mine.

“There should be communication between the mining company and indigenous Papuans,” he said, warning Jakarta to carefully calculate the social, environmental and national security impacts.

Local indigenous people need to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process, he said, especially since the mining would occur in and near forests where indigenous people live and gather and hunt their food. (*)

 

Source: asiapacificreport.nz

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