Dispute over Highland Papua Governor’s Office site: Disagreement among indigenous tribes with some parties rejecting Komnas HAM findings

The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) took steps to address the ongoing dispute over the construction of the Office of the Governor of Highland  Papua Province in Wamena, Jayawijaya Regency. The conflict revolves around a 108-hectare area of customary land claimed by the Wouma, Welesi, and Asolokobal Tribe Alliance. Key developments:

  1. Komnas HAM’s Investigation: Komnas HAM initiated an investigation into the contentious construction site. This move came in response to complants filed by indigenous communities affected by the project. The commission aimed to gather direct information from all parties involved to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the situation.
  2. Visit to Wamena: Komnas HAM officials visited Wamena from 4 to 6 October 2023 (see photos) to inspect the disputed location in person. This visit was part of a pre-mediation effort to seek clarity and gather first-hand information.
  3. Potential for Conflict: The preliminary findings of Komnas HAM revealed several critical insights. Firstly, the investigation confirmed the existence of de facto plantation and economic activities on the disputed land, with 70% of the area being utilized by local residents. This highlights the complexities of the situation.
  4. Horizontal Conflicts: Komnas HAM has identified the potential for latent conflicts, not only between and inside the Wouma and Welesi communities but also involving neighboring tribes. These conflicts could escalate if not addressed properly.
  5. Government Officials’ Involvement: The investigation also indicates the involvement of certain state officials in the dispute. Komnas HAM has witnessed evidence of this and field reports from the affected community members.
  6. Cultural and Indigenous Aspects: Komnas HAM has had the opportunity to witness the customary culture, particularly in the Wouma area. This has shed light on the cultural and historical significance of the land in question.
  7. Community Support: The visit by Komnas HAM has dispelled the notion that those opposing the development are not indigenous or lack grassroots support. The indigenous communities continue to assert their rights and concerns.
  8. Alternative Land Options: Komnas HAM has identified other potential locations for the Governor’s Office building, suggesting that there are alternative lands available that do not involve contested territory.

Komnas HAM Commissioner Dr. Prabianto Mukti Wibowo said that a Komnas HAM visit to the Wouma and Walesi chiefs confirmed that they were never invited to dialogue or deliberation. Only certain parties from the Walesi and Wouma groups, those who support the construction, were invited. And those who participated in the dialogue agreed in the minutes they signed that did not represent the tribe of the Walesi or Wouma people. Not all Walesi Indigenous Tribes agreed to the acquisition of their territory’s land. In Walesi, of the 8 clans, only 2 clans agreed, and in Wouma 2 out of 12 clans agreed. Prabianto said Komnas HAM would continue to oversee this issue. 

In the ongoing controversy, five major tribes from the Walesi Customary Territory, members of the Welesi Indigenous People’s Territory Institute (LMWAW), have taken a strong stance against Komnas HAM. In a press conference on 11 October 2023 at the Walesi District Office, the tribes, which collectively own the land in question, rejected the reports issued by Komnas HAM. Main points:

  1. Firm Rejection: During a press conference at the Walesi District Office on October 11, 2023, leaders of the five major tribes of the Walesi Customary Territory, namely the Yelipele Tribe, Yelipele-Elopere Tribe, Lanni-Matuan Tribe, Lanni-Wetapo Tribes, and AssoYelipele tribes, expressed their unanimous rejection of Komnas HAM RI’s reports. They emphasized their support for the government’s plans to construct the Mountain Papua Governor’s office on their land.
  2. Unilateral Data Collection: The leaders of the Walesi indigenous tribes accused Komnas HAM of collecting data unilaterally during their visit on 4-6 October 2023. They claimed that there was no communication or coordination with them or the parties in favor of the development of the Walesi customary territory.
  3. Support for Government: Ismail Wetapo, chairman of LMWAW, asserted that the government did not approach the Walesi indigenous people to acquire the land; rather, LMWAW offered the land for development. This offer culminated in a Notarial Deed of Agreement on 30 August 2023, between LMWAW and the Mountain Papua Provincial Government.
  4. Land Ownership Rights: Wetapo emphasized that the customary land’s management falls entirely under the rights of the Walesi indigenous people and does not require approval from other indigenous territory communities, contrary to claims made to Komnas HAM.
  5. Preparation for Laying the First Stone: The Walesi community was actively preparing to welcome Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia, K.H. Ma’ruf Amin, who was scheduled to lay the first stone for the construction of the Highland Papua Governor’s Office in the Walesi customary area on 12 October 2023. This visit and the visit to Merauke, which were part of a 5-day official visit to Papua, were ultimately cancelled. The reason given was that the Vice President had to attend a meeting with the President in Jakarta. 
  6. Divided Opinions: The issue of the Governor’s Office construction continues to divide opinions within the community. Some argue that the government’s actions could potentially violate human rights and disrupt the lives of local residents who rely on the land for agriculture and sustenance.
  7. Concerns about Government Actions: Ambrosius Mulait, secretary general of the Central Highlands Papua Student Association throughout Indonesia (AMPTPI) expressed concerns that the government’s unilateral actions in land acquisition could violate the rights and livelihoods of indigenous communities in the Wouma and Welesi areas.

Related articles: https://humanrightsmonitor.org/case/military-secure-clearing-of-customary-land-for-establishment-of-papua-pegunungan-governors-office/ and https://humanrightsmonitor.org/news/controversy-surrounds-indonesian-vice-presidents-meeting-with-human-rights-activists-in-papua/