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The One-Sided and Sensation-Seeking NGOs: Free West Papua Movement and Amnesty International in Indonesia


The resource-rich West Papua region has one of the lowest levels of human development of Indonesia’s 33 provinces, with about 34 percent of Papuans living on less than US$1 per day, according to government statistics. The region has a land area nearly twice that of the UK but a population of only 3.5 million. “There are multiple issues facing Papua and West Papua today,” said Dini Sari Djalal, Head of Communications at the World Bank’s Jakarta office. “Among the most vital are poverty, maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS. These two province rank worst in these indicators in all of Indonesia, not to mention the political turbulence caused by the separatist groups.” Therefore, due to various challenge faced by Papua and West Papua, the collaboration between public and private sector is extremely needed to support the development of the region. For instance, from SMERU Institute, it is counted that there are at least 80 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) listed working and supporting the Papua and West Papua provinces with different focuses. Due to high numbers and activation of NGOs in the province, this article will therefore examine the effectiveness of NGOs movement in West Papua. We will focus on the London based human rights NGO, Amnesty International in dealing with separatist issue in the region. The objective of this article is to see the impact given by NGOs in the region and to see the possibility of some NGOs contributing to the separatist movement.

Before we go further, we need to understand and raise the same perception on NGO itself. NGO is a citizen-based association that operates independently of government, usually to deliver resources or serve some social or political purpose. The World Bank classifies NGOs as either operational NGOs, which are primarily concerned with development projects, or advocacy NGOs, which are primarily concerned with promoting a cause. Both types of NGO work together with the government officials for one specific goal: better life for the citizens. In some countries, NGOs are major contributors to development processes. This is not uniform, however. In a number of countries, NGOs are weak or play more of an oppositional rather than operational role and governments are highly suspicious of them. A healthy relationship between NGO and state is the ideal stage where collaboration is developed for better result. However, what is happening between Indonesian government and NGOs working in West Papua, specifically Amnesty International has shown us that there are some barriers for it.

Amnesty International is a London-based non-governmental organization focused on protecting human rights. It has several offices around the world. In Indonesia, Amnesty International Indonesia (AII) supports the Indonesian human rights movement to strengthen the security system reform agenda in particular to ensure that there is accountability of the state when violations of human rights occur, both in basic independence clusters in the form of respect for civil-political rights and social justice in the form of economic, social and cultural rights. AII has actively perform in doing research and advocating for West Papuan issues in the last eight years. AII stated clearly in their website that they were opposed with the way Indonesian government treats West Papuan through several cases on human rights violation.

The AII report is often quoted by international media in various international news. In August 2018, the issue with the highest distribution in online news was the case of Jakub Fabian Skrzypski that are under arrest in Indonesia. On August 26, 2018, Jakub Fabian Skrzypski (Polish National Journalist) used his visiting visa to do weapons transactions with 7 (seven) suspected networks of from the separatist group (Kelompok Kriminal Separatist Bersenjata). It is often misleading that the arrest was about the sentiment of Indonesian government to the foreign journalist. It is clear that the discourse was overshadow by the misleading information. There are 30 media reports with a reach of 295 million readers for Jakub’s news.

On September 26, 2018, the continuation of the Jakub Fabian Skrzypski Law case in West Papua again became a major issue in online media. Media exposure is quite high where with a total of 200 news coverage, the number of readers reaches 161 million people. International Media does not forget to quote report AII with the following statement: Amnesty International said in July that Indonesian police and military are unlawful killings in Papua since 2010. Without clear elaboration and checking statement, the figure looks fantastic and makes Indonesia image international eyes were paralyzed.

Amnesty International Indonesia in TNI and Polri’s Point of View

Amnesty International’s report is not only a matter of controversy in the local media, but also international media. The TNI and POLRI which were the main spotlight also voiced their concerns. The Head of the Indonesian National Police, Mohamad Sabrar Fadhilah, claimed he was ready to conduct a transparent trial to the public. Sabrar stressed that all TNI officials had agreed that the legal process against its members could be opened to the public.

“Look, the military court of the TNI Commander, Commander, Chief of Staff has assured the trial process to be followed openly. Please understand that we will provide the data, but do not follow unilaterally,” Sabrar Fadhilah told Tirto, Thursday (07/07/2018) . “I ask colleagues to see this on a case-by-case basis. Again, the police have a duty based on law, have a clear SOP (standard operating procedure),” said Head of the Indonesian Police Public Relations Division Inspector General Setyo Wasisto, Jakarta, Monday (06/06/2018) .

Setyo assessed, Amnesty International should have opened its eyes that threats also targeted Polri and TNI personnel in Papua. Therefore he questioned the report which did not record the Police and TNI personnel who were killed at the hands of armed groups in Papua. “Yesterday there were people who were shot and there were children who were hacked (by armed groups), what should be done? Is it not violating human rights?,” Setyo said. “Does Amnesty only see (victims) activists? What other communities?Does the police are not there? Is the police not human? Is TNI is not a human? It’s unfair,” he continued.

The Relationship between Indonesian Government and AII

As it mentioned earlier, this article aims to seek the impact given by the NGO in contributing to the improvement of West Papua and its society as well as to seek further possibility on NGOs that promote separatist movement in West Papua. A social scientist focusing on democratization issues, John Clark (1991) said that there is a number of factors influence the development impact of NGOs; many of which are determined by the relationship between the NGO sector and the State. In his writing titled “The Relationship Between the State and the Voluntary Sector”, Clark argue that there are at least six barriers to a healthy state-NGO relationship. Here, we will examine the three barriers that are most relevant to what is happening in West Papua and AII today.

    1. A highly political policy environment.
      NGOs often fall in the opposition camp and the government or ruling party may see itself as the sole legitimate voice of the people. The root cause of such political polarization warrants study. The same condition pictures in West Papua. The nature of region is in highly political environment since Soekarno gain its independence from the Dutch. The dynamics in West Papua is closely related to political interests. The conflicting interests between the government and people of Papua have created a deep sense of distrust between the two. In this case, AII has worsen the condition by giving the separatist group chances to rebel on the Indonesian government. The MOFA’s spokeperson in 2010, Michael Tene, stated clearly that human rights are indeed an important issue in Papua and all of Indonesia, but NGOs (the AII) must not engage in political activities and must convince the government they do not intend to do this. Their work has to support and benefit the people of Papua and West Papua.
    2. The NGOs constituency.
      If as frequently is the case it is a narrow constituency (such as one kinship group, or even just the poorest farmers) the government may consider it too selective since it must consider the common good. Similarly, NGOs have the “luxury” to pick one or two issues which dominate their attention, while governments must juggle with a multitude of concerns. The same thing goes for AII. They only just focus on human rights issues without really looking at the complexity that comes with it. There are a lot of initiative by the government on improving the livelihood in West Papua. Development is not just about human rights issues. There is different concern that needs to be addressed, such as, health and infrastructure issues, for instance. This situation is not realized by AII. They only advocating the human rights issues without really concerning to the other aspect of development.
    3. The dependency on foreign donors.
      Clark explains that a government might be more suspicious of NGOs which are highly dependent on foreign funds and therefore might impugn their motives as “guided by a foreign hand.” In AII cases, there is an indication that some reports written by AII has biased view and unreliable data. In one of the interview recently with Colonel Muhammad Aidi, the Head of the Communication Division for the Papua military office, it is found that AII deliberately presented the biased report to attract donor organizations to keep funding. They are seeking sensation in the media so donors could see how attractive they are as an organization that looks having a concern about West Papua. As Colone Aidi explains, the twisted facts presented by AII in their report entitled “Sudah, Kasi Tinggal Di Mati” are, unfortunately, for a mere financial gain. Aidi said that the high number of civilian death tolls is the excess of military defensive acts due to deadly provocations by the armed civilian groups. In many cases, the armed civilian group cruelly uses civilians as their living shields. That situation has caused civilians to get involved in the conflict arena and that most likely end up with civilian casualties. Apparently, with this biased, careless report, AII is currently looking for a political stage in the international world and financial benefits from international donors.

Since this article aim to focus on the effectiveness of NGOs movement in West Papua and the possibility of some NGOs contributing to the separatist movement, we can conclude that it is indeed needs further research to see the possibility of unreliable research presented by AII in contributing to the Free West Papua Movement. However, we can be sure that the strategy of AII in presenting biased and careless report could promote to the robust separatist movement as well as negative international perception towards Indonesian government. In this moment, AII and all NGOs working in West Papua should realize that we all have one goal in developing better West Papua. Every stakeholders need to set up this common goal so then we will have inclusive and effective strategy for our brother and sister in West Papua.


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