At the end of 2014, thanks to the strong commitment of Vanuatu's elders, Papuan leaders signed the Saralana Declaration that served as the basis to establish the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ulmwp) in Vanuatu. This step symbolized the unification of Papuan leadership, which includes the Federal Republic of West Papua (frwp), the West Papua National Coalition of Liberation (wpncl), and the National Parliament for West Papua (npwp). Since then, the umbrella organization has become the rising star in representing the Papuan resistance movements at international fora, especially in the Pacific region.
Five Papuan leaders from different generations and time zones were unanimously appointed to run the secretariat: Octo Mote, Benny Wenda, Leonie Tanggahma, Rex Rumakiek, and Jacob Rumbiak. Despite an ongoing struggle within the organization over leadership, challenges are not being lodged against these individuals personally. Rather, the leader of the frwp, Forkorus Yaboisembut, questions the legitimacy of the ulmwp to represent Papua as a nation, even though his organization signed the declaration. He claims that only the frwp holds the status of a state and thus has the legitimacy to deal with Indonesia as an equal.
While the claim remains unresolved, it does not hinder the operations of ulmwp in representing Papua at international fora. In 2015, the ulmwp gained further historic momentum when it was granted observer status at the Melanesian Spearhead Group (msg), a subregional diplomatic forum. This status signifies the first international recognition of Papua as a political entity and has galvanized grassroots support both inside and outside Papua.
Developments in the Pacific have profoundly reshaped relations not only between Indonesia and the Pacific but, more broadly, between the Pacific and the rest of the world. Pacific nations have become much more assertive in expressing their identities and interests. They are aware of their potential as key players in the region and are able to negotiate with major regional and global players, such as Australia, China, and the United States, to promote their own national interest. For instance, despite its exclusion from the Pacific Island Forum by Australia and New Zealand, Fiji managed to surmount its isolation and secure a presence at one of the most prestigious United Nations (UN) fora by chairing the g-77 (Group of Seventy-Seven Developing Countries) in 2013 (regarding Fiji's more recent international leadership roles, see Nic Maclellan's review of issues and events in the region, this issue). [End Page 347]
Within the msg, New Caledonia and Bougainville have raised agenda items concerning their rights to self-determination in relation to France and Papua New Guinea, respectively. In 2018 New Caledonia will hold a referendum on self-determination, with two other votes possible up to 2022 (Maclellan 2016, 278–279), and in 2019 Bougainville will decide whether to separate from or remain with Papua New Guinea (abc 2016). Thus the geopolitics of the Pacific may become more dynamic over the next five years as national boundaries are possibly redrawn.
This context is necessary to understand developments in Papua over the last two years. The rise of the Papua issue is not a single and isolated event. Rather, it is rooted in a broader trend of emerging power on the part of Pacific nations as well as the dynamics of Indonesia's democracy.
If ulmwp is Papua's rising star on the international scene, the Komite Nasional Papua Barat (knpb, the West Papua National Committee) and the Aliansi Mahasiswa Papua (Papua Students Alliance) are the two game changers at the domestic level. These two Papuan youth organizations share the common agenda of self-determination for Papua. Mis interpreted by Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Groups as "radical" (Hernawan 2010), knpb takes the lead in mobilizing the Papuan grass roots to take to the streets expressing their support for the ulmwp. Inside Papua, knpb organizes peaceful rallies in Jayapura, Wamena, and Dekay. Outside Papua, the major Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Manado, Semarang, and Denpasar have become hubs for their rallies.
In contrast to other mass demonstrations such as the self-proclaimed "Defending Islam" marches in Jakarta, the police have exhibited zero tolerance for Papuan rallies. Despite Indonesia's constitutional guarantees of...