In West Papua since the fall of Suharto in May 1998, Papuans have relied primarily on civil resistance to oppose Indonesian rule. I investigated this nonviolent resistance using a ‘solidarity research’ approach which involved facilitating a programme of activist education in partnership with Papuan resistance groups and civil society organisations over an eight year period. In addition, I used participant observation and interviews, and compared three campaigns of nonviolent action. The result is the first in-depth examination of civil resistance in West Papua. Using strategy as a lens, the study also contributes to broader understanding of the dynamics of nonviolent self-determination struggles, a branch of civil resistance studies that has been under-researched and under-theorised.
Through documenting the results of engaging with Papuan resistance groups and in dialogue with the literatures on civil resistance, contentious politics, Foran’s theory of revolution and the literature on West Papua, I show that civil resistance provides a promising strategic framework to realise Papuan aspirations for greater political freedoms. Nonviolent strategies and tactics employed by Papuans to enlarge the prospects of self-determination are examined at macro and micro levels. I investigate the root causes of violence and oppression, unpack the multiple Papuan meanings of merdeka (freedom) and provide an overview of nonviolent struggle. I then analyse the campaign for dialogue and its antecedent, the Papua Land of Peace campaign, as well as worker resistance to the giant Freeport gold and copper mine, and the campaign to hand-back Special Autonomy. Although their gains have been partial, Papuans have employed civil resistance to enlarge the contours of freedom.
To secure further advances, Papuan challengers need to increase participation levels and enhance strategic skilfulness within three domains: inside West Papua, inside Indonesia and in the societies of Indonesia’s international allies. Not only will more Papuans need to move from passive sympathy to active involvement in the struggle, the circle of dissent needs to be enlarged. This requires more Papuan politicians, civil servants, Papuan church congregations, and Papuan workers to actively and collectively oppose Indonesian governmental rule by nonviolently raising political and economic costs for the Indonesian government’s continued refusal to enter into a comprehensive problem solving process. At the level of strategy Papuans need greater consensus about how freedom will be won and a coherent plan for achieving it.