„All the Birds are Gone“– Indigenous women’s rights in Papua

2 februari 2022

The year 2021 could have marked a changing point for West Papua’s[1] future as the Special Autonomy Law dating from 2001 expired and therefore new regulations regarding the status of West Papua’s indigenous people in Indonesian law had to be decided upon. Unfortunately, repression from military and state police were reinforced early on before possible consultation about future agreements was to take place, with several deaths and West Papuan leaders being detained in prison.[2]

Shortly before the Indonesian Parliament passed a new, amended Special Autonomy law that does not meet the requirement of involving Papuan representatives as fixed by the law itself and even decreases their power in future decision making[3], the long term research prepared by Papuan Women’s Working Group (PWG) and Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) about the situation of Indigenous women in West Papua were published in the report “All the Birds are Gone”.[4]

For this participatory research project 100 Indigenous women from different regions in West Papua testified regarding the impact of land grabbing and forest loss on their lives and communities. As women they are often the most vulnerable members of the Indigenous community – and hold a very close relationship to their lands. Forests are of great importance as a primary source of livelihood for the majority of the women and part of their cultural identity. Thus, women are often the ones suffering the most from land grabbing executed against the communities’ customary land rights that are not only protected by the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)[5] but also supported by a decision of the Indonesian Constitutional Court in 2012.[6] Plantation companies invade Indigenous lands with the help of state police and military forces despite the court’s decision[7] and an Oil Palm[8] and Primary Forest Moratorium[9] in place. These actions lead to land loss, food insecurities, polluted water, a higher risk of flooding and various social problems in Indigenous communities – especially for women who are often excluded from negotiation with companies and have less say in traditional structures. At the same time, new plantation and in-migration programs of the central government lead to tensions between different ethnic groups since indigenous Papuans feel excluded from investments and job opportunities and have restricted access to the health care and education system.

Adding to the call for action of PWG and AJAR at the end of the report, Indonesian authorities and companies that are contravening legal provisions protecting primary forests and Indigenous rights alike have to be held responsible.[10] First steps are being made by communities defending their rights in court as successfully done in the Jayapura Administrative Court in December 2021.[11] The Indonesian Constitutional Court’s ruling and the international regulation of Indigenous lands in the UN treaty (UNDRIP), which was signed by Indonesia as well, have to be implemented throughout West Papua. [12] As the new Special Autonomy Law tightens possibilities for effective participation of indigenous Papuan people in governing processes[13] and military interventions are still going on, raising awareness for these topics is an important step in supporting the struggle of indigenous Papuan communities.

2 February, 2022

Author: Ronja Vollmari, law student at University of Münster, currently intern at “Schouten-Korwa”


[1] When this blog refers to “West Papua”, it refers to the two current Indonesian provinces Papua and West Papua together.
[2] https://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26551&LangID=E%3E
[3] https://humanrightspapua.org/news/2021/new-ipac-report-on-west-papua-diminished-autonomy-and-the-risk-of-new-flashpoints-in-papua/.
[4] Report of PWG, AJAR: “All the Birds are Gone“ (2021), https://asia-ajar.org/2021/03/30/all-the-birds-are-gone-indigenous-women-speak-out-against-forest-loss-in-papua/.
[5] UNDRIP, Art. 10, https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf.
[6] Indonesian Constitutional Court decision No. 35/PUU-X/2012, available at https://www.aman.or.id/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/putusan_sidang_35-PUU-2012-Kehutanan-telah-ucap-16-Mei-2013.pdf11
C.f. Report of PWG, AJAR: “All the Birds are Gone“ (2021) – Executive Summary, p. x. GP report “License to Clear” (2021), p. 77, https://www.greenpeace.org/aotearoa/publication/licence-to-clear/.
[8] Presidential Instruction on Postponement and Evaluation of Oil Palm Plantation Licenses and Increasing Productivity of Oil Palm Plantations (2018), available at: https://peraturan.bpk.go.id/Home/Details/92813/inpres-no-8-tahun-2018.
[9] Presidential Instruction on Moratorium on New Permits and Improving Governance of Primary Natural Forests and Peatlands (2011), version in force since 2019 available at: https://peraturan.bpk.go.id/Home/Details/116964/inpres-no-5-tahun-2019.
[10] GP report “License to Clear” (2021) p. 38f, https://www.greenpeace.org/aotearoa/publication/licence-to-clear/.
[11] https://news.mongabay.com/2021/12/papua-court-ruling-a-win-for-local-government-indigenous-groups-against-palm-oil/ .
[12] UNDRIP, Art. 10, https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf.
[13] https://humanrightspapua.org/news/2021/new-ipac-report-on-west-papua-diminished-autonomy-and-the-risk-of-new-flashpoints-in-papua/.