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  • Papua
  • Budi Hernawan (bio)

It was the most violent year. This phrase would encapsulate the year 2021 in Papua, as various sources documented. The International Coalition for Papua summarized the state of armed violence in Papua by stating that "as of 15 December 2021, the coalition documented 85 armed clashes, causing the deaths of 18 security force members and 23 members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (tpn pb). At least 28 civilians were killed due to armed clashes, while more than 60,000 [End Page 473] indigenous Papuans continue to be internally displaced" (icp 2021a). If the number of armed clashes was eighty-five, that means around seven incidents occurred per month, which was higher than in previous years. While the average number of civilian casualties was relatively low, the number of internally displaced persons (idps) increased exponentially in comparison to the previous year. Throughout the year, there were six elements, described in this review, that indicated that the conflict might reach the level of non-international armed conflict under the International Humanitarian Law because of the intensity and level of organization of the non-state armed group (icrc 2008, 5). Further, one should not forget that the ongoing armed violence occurred in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, with minimal access to vaccines.

The first indicator of the intensity of violence was the increasing number of idps. By Papua standards, the number of idps in 2021 was massive since the population of each district of Papua is only around 12,000–15,000 people (see Badan Pusat Statistik Provinsi Papua 2022). Having sixty thousand people fleeing their homes for safety means we are dealing with at least four empty districts. Yet there was limited mobilization of humanitarian relief to respond to this crisis. Church-based humanitarian organizations were the only ones to provide relief to the idps in the regencies of Intan Jaya and Maybrat, and only for a short period of time. The Indonesian Red Cross (Palang Merah Indonesia) of Intan Jaya delivered relief in conjunction with the Catholic Diocese of Timika to the idps who took refuge in the Catholic Church compound of Bilogai. But it is unclear whether the relief operation was conducted in all affected districts of Papua and West Papua Provinces.

The second indicator was the Indonesian government's decision on 29 April 2021 to label the tpnpb as terrorists based on the 2018 antiterrorism law (Arnaz and Andriyanto 2021). This decision was driven by the killing of Papua Intelligence Chief I Gusti Putu Danny Nugraha Karya during an exchange of fire with the tpnpb in Beoga, Puncak Regency, on 25 April 2021. The incident was a big blow for the Indonesian security forces and immediately prompted President Joko Widodo to order the military and police to arrest all perpetrators. Further, the government stepped up its military operation across Papua, which gained overwhelming support from the Speaker of the People's Assembly, who even emphasized that the government must eradicate the tpnpb without respecting human rights (cnn Indonesia 2021a).

The government's decision drew fierce criticism from Papua Governor Lukas Enembe, human rights observers, Papuan church leaders, and Papuan political leaders. Enembe called for the central government to review the decision and adopt a humane approach (cnn Indonesia 2021b), whereas Beka Ulung Hapsara, a member of the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas ham) rejected the government's position outright, stating that the labeling would not stop the cycle of violence. He affirmed that the presidential order to arrest perpetrators [End Page 474] and bring them to justice was correct but that Papua's conflict should be resolved through peaceful dialogue (Ramadhan 2021). Similarly, Usman Hamid, director of Amnesty International Indonesia, insisted that "the designation showed the government's failure to address the root of Papua's problems and could lead to more human rights violations in the country's easternmost provinces rather than helping the Papuan people" (Gorbiano 2021).

The church leaders of Papua joined the choir. In an official statement, the Catholic Diocese of Timika rejected the government's decision, arguing that "the label will definitely kill democracy in Papua" (Nugroho 2021). Fr...