An email by a New Zealander of regarded as Kiwi just came to our team that shows how she, say Vinny (not the real name), is worried about Indonesian military harassment and threats towards West Papuan civilians and journalists. Using a non-credible (no date, no explanation) video, this NZer implied that all West Papuans in general continuously live under suppression where all they see are violent behaviours of ‘Indonesian police against civilians’.
A clear, comprehensive response the email seems necessary. For privacy purposes, we do not show the original email. We in fact do not know the real name of the emailer, either. The email was shown to us by a legitimate Indonesian authority in the context of seeking help for clarification.
Vinny mentioned that in this social media era, ‘As a citizen of democratic New Zealand’, she thought that the type of media helps expose the unseen injustice against the free press that is happening in West Papua, Indonesia. He/she then tries to resonate her opinion with the claim that ‘Indonesia remains in the bottom tier of the World Press Index on Journalistic Freedom’.
Vinny then went on to suggest that ‘your security forces should be told to STOP trying to silence West Papuans through violence/house burning/jail/death’. She provided a few links from English speaking media telling the world that there are severe problems in West Papua.
Lastly, Vinny suggested that Indonesian government may want to take “a fresh approach” that they probably should consider a third party to broker a peace dialogue in West Papua. She went on to describe how NZ was a great peace broker for the ‘lasting peace’ in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, after the 10-year deadly civil war.
We took a deep, deep breath when reading the email. We want to appreciate Vinny for her such a brave, genuine move in defending what she believes in the first place. But, going forward, we shook our heads because we realized how misled she was and how she needs a better, fresh way of thinking before making such judgement about a country that she may have never been to.
Selective information sourcing
Well, in this digital and social media era, people are facing a dramatic change in information access. The flow of information is just unbearable, and it keeps flowing whether you like and want it or not. To some extent, almost all types of information cannot be controlled by any authorities that make almost of individuals have access to information they want.
By ‘they want’ we mean that people can access their preferable information and spare them themselves from ‘unwanted’ information. For example, if you want to keep looking for information about your country’s great achievement, like successful policies, impactful development and social movements, all related links will be there in a matter of seconds (as long as you have fast internet).
And conversely, if you do want only the negative information probably about violence or corruption in your country, with one click, and there you go see all the ‘unwanted’ news.
Sometimes, other constraints may prevent you from the info you are looking for. The first possible constraint would be the info you are looking for is not available in your language. People who have the necessary info may be unable to speak or write, say, in English. So there will be insufficient coverage about the info you look for.
The second potential limitation could be that the country, where the info should be sourced, has starkly different contexts socially, culturally, politically and so on. For example, you may have looked for any positive info about a particular situation from a country, but people there are not accustomed to telling others about positive achievement, being afraid to be called arrogant.
In this sense, there is a vast potential of misunderstandings among people from developed and developing world in understanding any happenings in each other countries. On the one hand, developing world people often see that the established world communities are a bunch of arrogant and impolite people since they consistently feel free to voice their opinion whenever they want. On the other hand, developed-world people may see that developing country people are a society that never feels freedom since they rarely voice their opinion publicly.
Good news from West Papua
Of Vinny’s ‘sincere’ letter aforementioned, we have to agree that the bad things such as killings and abuses that have happened and is still happening right now, in the whole world including in West Papua. We could agree that the presence of the military in West Papua is not the best option Indonesia has and they are not serving their best there. We agree that some military members commit violence against civilians.
However, those bad occurrences are not a daily happening. They are not happening throughout West Papua. The number of military forces deployed in West Papua has been decreasing since the ‘Reformasi’ era, and the remains are the local military and police in Papua. The presence of military forces in West Papua is as based on the Indonesian Law as that in other provinces in Indonesia. Even, military force members who committed violence against civilians have been tried and sentenced in the Military Court.
In fact, aside from the news about killings and abuses against civilians, there is a great deal of good news from West Papua that the world and especially Vinny do not know or unfortunately do not want to know. Let us provide some examples of good news in the education and health fields.
For the last five years, there are more and more schools and health centres are developed in West Papua. Many volunteers mostly Indonesians, regardless of their races or ethnicities, came to West Papua to help with the development. These volunteers also include teachers and health practitioners (doctors, nurses and midwives) who help provide better education and healthcare for West Papuans voluntarily.
Other volunteers help build libraries and children play centres, so young generation of West Papuans have a way better access to knowledge. Some foreigners even come to establish schools in West Papua so West Papuan kids have a better education for their better future.
It also the fact that these volunteer educators and health practitioners are from the military forces. They help build schools, libraries, and medical centres. These particular military forces come not to exchange fire with some separatist, but to establish a better and well-prepared West Papuan communities in this competitive era.
The government has recently come with a massive infrastructure development plan for West Papua and the implementation is arguably progressing well. The government also provides significant scholarship opportunities for young West Papuans to study abroad from their secondary study level, some of whom are studying in NZ. This scholarship scheme is limited only for young West Papuans.
West Papua: a beautiful, safe place
West Papua is a safe place to visit. It has one of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world. It is a safe, vibrant place for visitors to enjoy the beauty of nature and get immersed in the local indigenous cultures, for businessmen to do businesses, and for academics to study.
See this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvyFM9luFJM
West Papua is not a horrible place as Vinny describes and other international news agencies tell the world about. You may wonder, how on earth are there mostly bad news about West Papua in the media?
We admit that there are social problems due to the presence of Freeport, one of the biggest gold miner in the world, in West Papua. But that does not necessarily legitimate any foreigners including Vinny to make a quick negative judgement about Indonesia and Indonesians and tell the Indonesian government what they should do.
It is a fact that Vinny and other NZers, in general, have done almost nothing to help build West Papua. No NZers, either individuals or organisations have contributed significantly in helping with West Papuans’ education and health care.
Even worse, many NZers, who never come to West Papua, think that that region is a land full of abuses and harassments. They believe that it is an unsafe place to even think about to visit. We have talked about this way of looking to some West Papuans, and in fact, they are very disappointed by that.
For West Papuans, well not all of them, this negative issue raised by Vinny and other developed world activists do nothing but scare people away from visiting West Papua. When the region needs people to visit for tourism and businesses to boost its economy, Vinny and the activists freely voice their baseless negative opinion about West Papua. It sounds like as if they wanted to help West Papua develop, but they are, in fact, ruining the future of West Papua by letting the region suffer from negative images about it.
A fresh approach for Vinny and other activists
It is interesting, though, to think about how these NZers keep thinking negatively about West Papua. The reasons might be the followings.
Firstly, they heavily consume the information provided by the international news agency. For this matter, when knowing this fact, we came to a moment of ‘aha, that’s why’. It is generally known in the world of journalism bad news is the news. In this sense, we understand that there is an urgency to tell the world that there are abuses and other unfortunate occurrences happening in West Papua. However, these international media agencies seem to turn away from many positive things like teaching movement, libraries establishments, and many capacity building programs for West Papuans. They seem to deliberately choose not to report the positive news for specific purposes like keeping up with their ratings.
Secondly, they use their developed world perspective to judge Indonesia. For many Indonesians in general, telling their positive actions could be deemed as socially unethical. Many volunteers that come to help develop West Papua seem to be relatively reluctant to say to the world about what they have done and the positive impacts they may create.
Some individuals and organisations, though, like Biru Kira, Subhan, Chelsea Islan, Wahana Visi Indonesia, Kitong Bisa, and Indonesia Mengajar (please google them if you have time) do tell their stories because they are well-trained to do so to inspire others to follow their paths. Unfortunately, from those great stories, only a few are presented in English.
We have found many great endeavours to developed West Papua have been done both by Indonesians citizens both civilians and military members and organisations. They come to West Papua to help people with capacity building activities, education and healthcare services, farming, and event humanitarian work assistance.
However, even though some have tried hard to write their positive activities, there are way fewer stories that are written in English because most are in Indonesian only.
See this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISbyCB46heU
We have been working hard to translate these great stories but we also have limited resources too. To this end, you may have an idea why positive stories about West Papua are rare to find.
To this end, when many people, including those NZers, look at the problem in West Papua by using their developed world perspective, West Papua is undoubtedly looking a problematic area and is not the level of prosperity like what developed worlds’ people have experienced.
Therefore, we humbly and sincerely suggest that those people and other developed-world citizens to take some time to dig more information before making judgement on developing countries home situations. For the matter of West Papua mainly, we will not stop people to come up with their opinions that West Papua is problematic.
West Papua needs your real actions
West Papua does have problems, and so do other areas in Indonesia. Other provinces also have complex situations regarding the relationship between the military and the civil society. There are ups and downs just like in West Papua.
Regarding the fresh approach of peace broker aforementioned, Vinny may have never heard that Indonesia is well-experienced in such matter. That fresh approach may not be ‘fresh’ for Indonesia since it had done that at least three times when the country ended three deadly conflicts namely Poso, Ambon, and Aceh. She could have never heard of those. That is fine. She may feel that the momentum is there now but the government of Indonesia, with a broader perspective, does not think so.
So we suggest that Vinny and other NZers and also anybody else to also take a ‘fresh approach’ when they think they need to voice opinions on West Papua. If they feel that something should be done for West Papua, please start with a clear head that is not occupied with prejudice that West Papua is a land of abuses and stuff like that. Join all the volunteers that have created valuable and meaningful real actions in West Papua.
Please retain yourself from reading one-sided looking news about West Papua and start making an open, warm discussion with Indonesians. There is bad news about West Papua, but we undoubtedly assure you that there is much more good news about that beautiful and safe area you all may want to contribute to making it even better. (*)
Below is some information about West Papua you all may want to check out.
Trials for violence committed by military forces in West Papua (unfortunately, all in Indonesian)
Good news from West Papua
A different perspective from a West Papuan
News you may never hear