Having officially assumed the chairmanship of ASEAN, Indonesia brings forth an agenda of making ASEAN a people-centered community. This has proved that the widely held cynicism that views ASEAN as merely a forum for the Southeast Asia’s government elites is baseless.
But what does this new approach really mean? What then is the role played by the government elites and notably the ASEAN Secretariat? And, with a very specific interest, does will the new agenda have any impact on Papua?
Indonesia’s agenda of people-driven ASEAN aims at two central points. First, as Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa contends, ASEAN should address Indonesian interests and bring benefits to the people. The beneficiaries are the people, and no longer the states’ elites.
Second, in line with Marty’s statement, Indonesia’s director general for ASEAN Djauhari Oratmangun emphasizes that Indonesian people groups, including in the business sector, academics, civil society groups and ordinary individuals, would likely become significant players. In other words, instead of being passive spectators, Indonesian people and the peoples of ASEAN member states should actively participate in making ASEAN truly a community of and for the people of Southeast Asian countries.
The people-centered ASEAN agenda, however, is not new. Asia and ASEAN history has plenty of evidence of various kinds of businesses that have operated beyond territorial borders for decades or even before ASEAN was founded. Cross-border movements of agricultural and industrial products (legally or illegally), capital and investment, workers, and even religious propagation, have made ASEAN one of the most dynamic regional associations.
Their movements have contributed significantly to local, national and regional economic growth. As the media reported tens of thousands of migrant workers from West Nusa Tenggara in Malaysia sent home US$1.1 million in remittance in 2009 alone.
Trade volume and value among ASEAN country members is growing steadily. Cultural interaction and understanding is developing. Positive growth is also found in the education sector shown by the increasing number of students and exchanging scholars across national borders within ASEAN.
The story is not all positive, though. Illegal migrants, smuggling, and various kinds of organized crime are also part of such regionalization. Many people move across cross-national borders without proper conditions and legalities. Not even sometimes with good intentions. This fact has partly contributed to the fact that conflict and insecurity in a country is likely to worsen because of “bad neighbors”, to borrow one of Michael Brown’s triggering factors of internal conflict.
There is no question that in the newly proposed agenda, the ASEAN country members and the ASEAN Secretariat are likely to focus on handling the unexpected practices by setting up tougher regulations while at the same time encouraging people to constructively participate in ASEAN.
It is in this context that we raise a crucial question: Is there any chance for civil society groups to help resolve the problems in Papua under Indonesia’s agenda of a people-centered ASEAN?
The problems in Papua are not limited to independence or separatist claims made by a small group of indigenous Papuans, which the Indonesian government deems a non-negotiable issue. There are many issues that civil society groups are likely to be constructively engaged in to seek peaceful, democratic and just solutions in Papua.
Central to these are human rights problems. Different groups of local Papuans are still prone to continuing civil and political rights abuses, whereas the long-standing demands for investigating and trying human rights violations in the past have not been properly addressed. A number of political activists remain in jail as political prisoners without fair trial.
Some tribal groups are still grieving for their social and economic rights and cultural rights as well. As more and more business organizations — either national or international, run by civilian or non-civilian units with or without legal permits — come in and compete to extract the rich natural resources of Papua, the more likely local people will suffer by losing their land and cultural values.
Not only are they being marginalized by the large influx of people either from Indonesia’s other provinces or foreign countries, indigenous Papuans are likely to be alienated or uprooted from their sacred land and environment.
Securing national integration, protecting economic interests, nationalizing different ethnic groups, and developing the region are the common political and legal arguments used to justify the entire “integration and development policies” in Papua which unfortunately have caused different local Papuans to be deprived of their basic rights.
There is no doubt that making ASEAN a people-driven organization also means giving space for civil society groups to work in Papua. Human rights activists, national and international journalists, and developing and empowering NGOs need to have access to visit and work safely and assist people in need in the region. This would be the very first instance for Indonesia’s chairmanship of ASEAN.
We highly appreciate the Indonesian government’s initiatives, promises and consistency in leading ASEAN by encouraging people to get benefits and to play a crucial role in the New ASEAN agenda. The Do What You Say You Will Do (DWYSYWD) formula (Kouzes & Posner, 2003) is one of the basic principles of international leadership. It surely will not be another lie.
The writer is director of Parahyangan Centre for International Studies (PACIS), Parahyangan University, Bandung..