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Since Papua, Indonesia’s easternmost area, was granted special autonomy in 2001, the role of civil society has become more salient. Local civil society organizations (CSOs) bridge the lack of a state presence to advocate for pressing issues and promote the interests of indigenous Papuans, seeking a response from the state. However, civil society in Papua operates within a paradox. On one hand, the 2001 special autonomy law provides significant funds and greater authority to local governments in Papua. On the other, a political context marked by enduring repression constrains the role of local CSOs to work on pressing issues in Papua, such as political and human rights issues. How do local CSOs in Papua respond and identify strategic opportunities within this political context?
My proposed research explores the changing political landscape in Papua since the Papuan Spring in 2001, and the spaces either opened up or closed for local CSO activity. Financial opportunities in the form of special autonomy funds have raised concerns about the extent to which local developmentalist non-government organizations (NGOs) orient their work in order to access financial resources from the state. What are the relations between such NGOs and local and central governments; and what effects do the special autonomy funds have on the advocacy of local Papuan interests? The repressive approach adopted by the central government in containing secessionist aspirations among indigenous Papuans appears to have provoked an increase in militancy and civil resistance among youth and student organizations, church-sponsored NGOs, and local media. The recent riots and demonstrations in Papua also affect a relationship between the central government and local CSOs that advocate human rights and political issues in the area. How have local CSOs developed in response to and operated within al of these different constraints in Papua since 2000?