Illegal Small-Arms Trade, Armed Violence, and Human Security at the land Border in Papua, Indonesia

By Melyana R Pugu – Border Researcher and senior Lecturer from International Relations Department of Cenderawasih University Papua Indonesia

The globalization has transformed national territory into borderless environment and increased cross-border connectivity, free flow of goods and peoples mobilization. At the same time, it equally offers similar opportunities for cross-border crime and others illegal activity that could endanger national and international peace and stability. The illegal small arms trade has attracted increased global attention from international organization, national government, policy analysts, and researchers. This attention mainly due to the misuse of small arms to cause death and injury, particularly from armed conflict. Definitely no single country is safe from this transnational threats and the possible effect. Small arms misuse increased from 171,000 peoples in 2004 to 210,000 peoples in 2016, in which 15% individual deaths are direct causalities from armed conflict.

Illegal small arms proliferations is commonly recognized as worldwide risks and occurred in numerous parts of the world. This type of weapons is most often used in conflict and this weapons are tremendously damaging to people. Studies in illegal small arms trade has been conducted in wide region, from Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, to Southeast Asia and pacific.

Just as other parts of the world, the illegal small arms trade in Southeast Asia has contributed to violent crime in Malaysia, insurgency in Indonesia, communal conflict in Maluku, Mindanao conflict, insurgency in southern Thailand, and hamper development in Cambodia. The risks of illegal small arms trade in the Indonesian case have been studied extensively and focused on insurgency in Aceh and communal conflict in Maluku and Ambon. However, little study has been conducted on Papua.

In the study we focussed on illegal small arms trafficking in Papua and its contribution on armed violence in Papua, and implications of the threat to human security.

Consequently, we begin this study with the description of small arms trade in both regions and its relations to illegal small arms trade in Papua and the proliferation of armed violence and human security in Papua. Human security is employed in the study as alternative conception for addressing this issue and the basis in conducting bilateral cooperation. As such, we tried obtaining information from news reports and international organization’s databases. We also spoke to government officials and academics for better understanding relating to Indonesia’s policy to tackle this issue.

Illegal small arms trade and armed violence in Papua

Papua is located in the eastern part of Indonesia and strategically between Southeast Asia and the Melanesian states of the Pacific. These regions include several developing countries with the history of armed conflicts and small-arms related issue such as Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam in Southeast Asia and the Papua New Guinea in the western Pacific. Following the armed rebellions and insurgencies in Papua, Indonesia, much of weapons was smuggled through the border that Indonesia shares with Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. These illegal small arms are being used by separatist and criminal armed group in Papua in recent conflict. This fact illustrates the ease of small arms entering into Indonesia through its border and serious misuse of illegal small arms in Papua.

The correlation between illegal small arms trade and armed violence in Papua is also facilitated by the economic condition at the border and the continuation of cross-border ethnic relations. As several studies of cross-border illegal small arms trade in Africa, particularly the Uganda-Rwanda border, have found that economic hardships and cross-border ethnic relations facilitates cross-border smuggling, including small arms and munitions. Similar to the arms smuggling along the Uganda-Rwanda border, the smuggling usually uses rat routes across the dense forest in Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border, which is used by indigenous people to go about their daily live and rarely monitored by border officials.

The small arms used in Papua conflict may be originating from Papua New Guinea, but it actually in small numbers. Several sources argued that the armed criminal group in Papua in 2018 used firearms originating from Papua New Guinea. The firearm originating from Papua New Guinea was illegally transported through the dense forest in land border between Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The same group also bought weapons from the southern Philippines which was smuggled in by the sea.
In addition, Free Papua Organization is also smuggled weapon from Papua New Guine border through Wembi, in Arso, Keerom district, and the border area of Skouw-Wutung. They were helped by the raskol gangs in Vanimo to smuggle weapons which originated from Thailand or the Philippines. Recently, in January 2020, armed criminal group smuggled in rifles with the munitions in Nifasi village, Makimi district, Nabire. Although the smuggling mainly used land border region in Papua, the long sea border around Papuan is difficult to monitor and is therefore another potential route to illegally transport small arms into Papua.

Besides small arms come from cross-border smuggling, non-state actors in Papua also acquired small arms from combatants in previous conflicts, such as conflict in Aceh, Poso, and Maluku. Even though these conflicts are now ended, the Free Papua Organization could still acquire weapons from them, because the weapons remain hidden. For example, the firearms from former Ambon riots were smuggled from Ambon to Sorong and then to Jayapura by the sea, in Jayapura the weapons was exchanged with marijuana.

In addition, Free Papua Organization and others armed group in Papua also acquired weapons from raiding munitions stockpile, attacking police and military post, and plundering Indonesia security forces. In March 2019, Free Papua Organization attacked and plundered 4 weapons from military at Windi village, Derakma district, Nduga regency. Furthermore, in February 2020, 10 weapons lost from the MI-17 accident in Mandala Mountain, Pegunungan Bintang regency which lost contact in June 2019. The missing of the weapons are suspected to have been taken by the Free Papua Organization. There is also a domestic supply of firearms. In January 2020, Papua Police found firearms that used by armed criminal group originated from East Java province.

The ease with which non-state actors to acquire weapons is made possible by limited development and limited law enforcement efforts in remote areas and land border regions. Furthermore, this situation strengthen by exploitation and undermining of traditional authority that stimulated communal identity and heightened conflict. The combination of proliferation of illegal small arms, unjust development, and misuse of small arms has significant implications for violence, spread fear in Papuan community, hamper development efforts, intensify social turmoil, and increase mortality rates in Papua.

As can be seen, between 2010 and 2014, armed violence in Papua has kill 122 people, which 75% of deaths were police and military casualties and government staff and 20% were civilians. The majority of separatist-related killings occurred in Puncak Jaya, Jayapura city, Jayapura city, and Paniai. In September 2019, proliferation of small arms stimulated the deadly riots in Wamena Papua, which killed at least 33 people. In this riot, armed criminal group burned down people’s houses and spread fear among Wamena residents. The riots forced thousands of Wamena residents to flee, not only to military headquarters, but they also fled out of Papua Province with the help of the Air Force.

In 2019, there was 23 cases security problems related to armed criminal groups in Papua, which killed 10 civilian and 10 military and Police officials. Even though, the number of victims decreased from 2018, where 22 civilian and seven military and Police officials was killed. Nineteen of 22 civilian victims in 2018 was construction workers in Nduga. In this incident, they were suddenly attacked by armed criminal group when they constructed bridge as a part of Trans Papua that connected Wamena and Mumugu.

The continuation of armed violence in Papua threatens human security in Papua and the government needs to respond this situation immediately. The greatest danger from the proliferation of illegal small arms is the erosion of state authority in guarding its border and protecting its citizens. Moreover, when separatist and armed criminal groups possess weapons that are as powerful as those used by police and military forces, it enhances separatists capability to cause more causalities and undermined central authority in Jakarta. Even though, the states is not the single actor in maintaining human security, but the state constitutes an essential precondition for human security in Papua. Consequently, in responding to illegal small arms issue, the Indonesian government should use the human security approach to secure its society, border, territorial integrity, national security, and to prevent armed violence in Papua.

The globalization has transformed national territory into borderless environment. In this circumstance, border management is a symbol of Indonesia’s responsibility to protect and assure the security of its society in Papua from misuse of illegal small arms. The illegal small arms trafficking across Indonesian borders in Papua is characterized by its particular aspects.

Firstly, small arms trade is related with other transnational crime, especially marijuana trafficking.

Secondly, the existence of cross-border ethnic and economic relations is contributing to this illegal activity, usually in small quantities and difficult to detect.

Thirdly, the dense forest in land border areas and a long maritime border has created safe havens for separatists to smuggle weapons and spread violence to wider community in Papua.

The continuous flow of illegal small arms to separatist and armed criminal group in Papua has led to armed violence that threatens Papuan human security.

Additionally, armed violence has interrupted the development, with many negative effects, particularly welfare-related issues such as the displacement of civilians, the restriction of economic activity, the spreading of fear in society, and slow down the economic development.

In order to solve the proliferation of small arms and assure Papuan human security, Indonesia government have strengthen its border management as well as cooperation with local communities in Papua.

However, without effective domestic enforcement and international cooperation, this issue will certainly need long time to solve. Currently efforts to address illegal small arms trade is ineffective because limited border cooperation with neighboring countries, particularly the Philippine and Papua New Guinea.

Indonesia needs to collaborate within international mechanism and encourage authorized cross border economic activity, which will bring mutual benefit.