Indonesia’s ‘boulder’

Andrew Hecht

In July 2010, the United States resumed military ties with Kopassus, a secretive anti-terror unit in the Indonesian military after a 12-year hiatus. Ties were cut off amidst human rights violations in East Timor, where Kopassus was attributed with the killing of over 200,000 East Timorese (or one-third of the Timorese population) in a mere 23 years. Kopassus has a noticeable presence on West Papua, where similar human rights violations are occurring as they once did in now independent East Timor. The University of Sydney estimates that over 100,000 Papuans have been killed since Indonesian occupation in 1963.

Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense, stated in the Jakarta Post that “there are dramatically declining numbers of incidents of violations of human rights (in West Papua).” Because West Papua is isolated from international media and organizations, reports of abuse are few and far between. But as history dictates, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The reason for the resumption of military ties with Indonesia is presumably an attempt by the United States to “beef up” Indonesia’s internal defense against terrorism. However, I would like to argue that “terrorism” is defined differently in the Indonesian context than it is in the United States, and that resumption of military ties will only progress the genocide and human rights abuse in West Papua. The United States has the ability to bring awareness and an end to West Papuan oppression, but so far has haphazardly and coyly confronted the issue.

Indonesia is a country consisting of 13,000 ethnically, culturally and politically different islands. On West Papua alone, for example, there are over 200 different languages spoken. Historically, Indonesia has always been held together by the notion that all of the islands subscribe to the same Indonesian identity. That being said, separatism has been dealt with an iron fist in places like East Timor, Aceh and West Papua.

Separatism threatens the governmental contingency of Indonesia; in Indonesia, separatism is terrorism. The U.S. definition of terrorism is different than Indonesia’s. Terrorists aren’t as much separatists in the U.S. context as they are people who are explicitly trying to disrupt the integrity, stability and well-being of Western society

Buchtar Tabuni, a political prisoner in Papua, hits the nail on the head: “Indonesia follows the U.S. lead and…the U.S. (is) complicit since….(Indonesian) troops in cities and villages all over West Papua treat the (Papuan) people like terrorists.” It was the same in East Timor during the Cold War. Fretilin, the Timorese separatist movement during Indonesian occupation, was painted as Marxist through an Indonesian smear campaign. The U.S. was complicit with the illegal occupation in East Timor partly for this reason.

East Timor was once described as “a pebble in the shoe of Indonesia.” As Jason Tedjasukmana so nicely puts it, West Papua is a “boulder.” This is not a comment on U.S. association with Kopassus as much as it is intended to emphasize the extreme importance for the U.S. to put substantial and legitimate pressure on the Indonesian military to ease out of West Papua. A peaceful resolution through a legitimate means is necessary in West Papua, and can and should be preempted by U.S. influence. Eventually, this “boulder” will be too heavy to support, not just for Indonesia but for the international community itself. People will wonder how it ever got so big.

Andrew Hecht is a senior political science major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].