Pacific Scoop

ANALYSIS: West Papuans Hope Obama Will Create Change During Indonesia Visit

Supporters of self-determination with the Morning Star, the West Papuan liberation flag. Indonesia considers it a criminal offense to raise the Morning Star inside West Papua. (Photo by PMC)

Pacific Scoop:
Analysis – By West Papua Advocacy Team.

SPECIAL FEATURE: West Papua Report June 2010

The West Papua Advocacy Team editorially notes that Papuans are welcoming the June visit of President Obama to Indonesia with the hope that the administration will seek to build a new U.S.-Indonesian relationship not based on military and commercial interests but rather founded on common respect for human rights and democracy.

That hope fuels Papuan beliefs that such a transformation in the U.S. perspective could bring about fundamental change in their plight, an increasingly desperate situation in which the U.S. is historically complicit. A military ultimatum to a rebel leader in the Papuan central highlands and thus far small scale military operations there are raising fears of a massive “sweeping operation” when the ultimatum expires in June.

Initial reports indicate that operations may have begun ramping up at the end of May. In the past such operations have uprooted thousands of civilians and led to many civilian deaths.Leading U.S. legislators have strongly cautioned the U.S. administration against resuming training and other assistance to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus).

Those forces are among the most prominent violators of human rights, especially in West Papua. Also in the U.S. Congress, Congressman Patrick Kennedy has launched a resolution in the U.S. Congress which expresses the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the human crisis facing Papuans.

The resolution, now gaining support in the U.S. House of Representatives, calls on the Government of Indonesia to address human rights concerns, including the abuse of detainees. An editorial by a senior official in Human Rights Watch has again called attention to extraordinary abuse of prisoners in West Papua and decried the unaccountability of the abusers.

Indonesian authorities have again prevented international journalists from documenting peaceful civil dissent in West Papua.

An Amnesty International report is strongly critical of the Indonesian government’s continued repression of dissent noting in particular the use of torture against peaceful demonstrators.

The Indonesian government is moving forward with plans for a massive “food estate” in the Merauke area of West Papua.

The plan has drawn strong criticism from Papuan and international observers concerned that the government-organized in-migration of very large numbers of non-Papuans to work in the estate will further marginalize Papuans, amounting to what could be described as creeping genocide.

Environmentalists have also voiced concern about the destruction of vast stretches of forest and peatland which will significantly increase carbon emissions.

PACIFIC SCOOP EDITOR’S NOTE: For background to the plight of West Papua’s indigenous peoples’ struggle for independence, view the following two video reports that broadcast on BBC in 2009 (WPAT Anaysis follows beneath the video items:

This film shows, the extremely committed West Papuans, in their desperately brave efforts, in resisting the brutal & illegal Indonesian occupation of their land. Filmed undercover in West Papua 2008. A film made with fPcN interCultural: assistance & co-operation.

WPAT Analysis Contents:

    Editorial – West Papua Advocacy Team: The Audacity of Hope in West Papua

    New Bloodshed in Papuan Central Highlands

    Prominent U.S. Senators and Congresspersons Urge No Assistance to Kopassus

    New Congressional Resolution on “Crisis in Papua and West Papua” Gaining Support

    Leading International Human Rights Voice Decries Thuggery in Indonesian Prison

    Press Freedom Again Under Assault in West Papua

    Amnesty International Annual Report

    “Food Estates” in West Papua Raise Fears of Systematic Marginalization.

Editorial – West Papua Advocacy Team – The Audacity of Hope In West Papua

President Obama’s upcoming visit to Indonesia presents an opportunity for the American leader to inaugurate a new U.S.-Indonesian relationship, heralding what could be a key Asian Pacific partnership. But such a transformation of a long-troubled relationship will require a fundamentally new basis for that relationship. Through the administrations of nine U.S. Presidents, the U.S.-Indonesian relationship has been shaped by the self-serving ambitions of U.S. strategic defense planners and U.S. corporations. U.S. military planners and corporate interests, for decades, allied with a brutal dictator and his corrupt entourage in an amoral bargain that traded U.S. political and military support for Indonesian allegiance to the West in the Cold War and Indonesian willingness to serve as a platform for corporate exploitation of its vast natural resources.

A people’s campaign demanding “reformasi” succeeded in 1998 in ousting the brutal Suharto dictatorship, but failed to reform the corrupt elite-based system, backed by an abusive military which continues in power. The incompleteness of “reformasi” is reflected in today’s Indonesia, where a powerful and unaccountable military continues to play the role of enforcer for a corrupt elite which colludes with international corporate interests for profit. U.S. government/corporate political and economic support for the old corrupt elite and especially for the ousted dictator’s military have been an important constraint on democratic progress in Indonesia.

Nevertheless, the popular democratic reform movement, despite intimidation, has scored important gains. Largely democratic elections have empowered Presidential administrations which have broadened freedoms and given vocal if not always substantive support to popular calls for respect for human rights and military reform and accountability.

This progress is strikingly absent in one part of the Indonesian archipelago. In West Papua, the old Suharto Dictatorship rules still apply. Security forces rampage through rural areas in purported search of armed militants but in the process displacing thousands of civilians. Popular dissent in West Papua is met with the “security approach” through which security forces use Dutch colonial and Suharto era laws and regulations to criminalize free speech and peaceful dissent. Peaceful demonstrators are imprisoned for years on charges of “subversion” or “treason” for peacefully displaying the Papuan “morningstar” flag or for challenging the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” annexation of West Papua, widely viewed abroad as coerced and undemocratic. Critics of the central Government’s policies are labeled as “separatists” and subjected to extra-legal security force intimidation or incarceration in facilities which the UN and other human rights monitors have described as health and even life threatening.

The Suharto era policy of “transmigration,” through which millions of Indonesians were transferred from one archipelago island to another, creating generations of social conflict between the migrants and local peoples, has been re-initiated in West Papua. As in the past, people on the receiving end of these policies suffer the unreimbursed seizure of property and economic and political marginalization. New oil palm and food “estates” pose the prospect of accelerated destruction of forests and, ultimately, transformation of Papuans into a powerless minority within their own homeland.

Papuans see in the visit of President Obama, an innovative leader who is himself a member of a racial minority, hope for change in what has been over four decades of privation and abuse. They are keenly aware that the U.S. conspired in the transfer of their homeland to Indonesian control under the aegis of the infamous 1969 “Act of Free Choice.” They are also aware that U.S. corporations have been among the most destructive of their natural resources and that the U.S. long backed some of the most abusive elements of the Indonesian military, notably the special forces or “Kopassus.”

Their hope that President Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, might bring fundamental change to their plight rests on the simple but powerful expectation that this President will seek to establish a new relationship with Indonesia, based on respect for human rights and genuine democratization. It is an audacious hope.

New Bloodshed in Papuan Central Highlands

Tensions are again intensifying in Mulia area in the Papuan Central Highlands region of Puncak Jaya. On May 21, unknown personnel attacked Indonesian military (TNI) near Yambi, 75 kms from Mulia. That attack followed a May 17 TNI attack on a purported base of the Papuan Independence Organization (OPM) near Goburuk village in which one alleged local leader was killed. The spokesperson for the police, Senior Commander Agus Rianto, claimed that the victim was shot while trying to escape. Although Rianto claimed the victim had been involved in an earlier OPM attack, the police spokesperson appeared to contradict himself by noting that the body of the victim was being held for identification.

This violence follows the killing of three construction workers in April, purportedly carried out by the OPM. Separately, Papuan human rights defenders have reported that the Indonesian military have been launching sweep operations during the third week of May in the Tingginambut district. According to the report, homes in three villages have been burnt, two people killed, one woman raped, and all livestock in the three villages killed by Indonesian military.

Indonesian security authorities have given the local OPM commander Goliat Tabuni until June 28 to surrender to authorities. Papuans in the area have expressed fear that the Indonesian military (TNI) will launch broader “sweep operations” on or soon after that date on the pretext of searching for Tabuni’s OPM personnel. In the past such sweep operations have forced civilians to abandon their villages and seek shelter either with relatives or in the surrounding jungles where food shortages and lack of medical care have led to illness and death. Such sweep operations often continue for months, disrupting local trade and preventing villagers from tending local gardens. Despite desperate circumstances, security forces have also prohibited humanitarian relief operations from reaching the besieged civilian populations.

Local officials, without offering evidence, speculated that “intellectual activists” could have inspired the alleged OPM attacks. Puncak Jaya District Chief (“Regent”) Lukas Enembe claimed that government efforts to win the support of the local community against the pro-independence forces had been unsuccessful because “activists” had “provoked” the community. Such claims, in the past, have been used to justify military pressure on NGO, church and other personnel in the area.

Note: As this report was being finalized there were reports from West Papua of Indonesian military attacks in Jambi, Sinak Ilu and Tingginambut districts in the Puncak Jaya. Although details in this initial reporting are lacking, the accounts from West Papua indicate that seven people have been killed in these military operations which include military use of rockets, bazookas and grenades.

Prominent U.S. Senators and Congresspersons Urge No Assistance to Kopassus

Thirteen U.S. Congressional leaders, including Chairs of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs Committees, have written to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates strongly urging caution with regard to purported Administration plans to resume U.S. cooperation with the Indonesian Special Forces or “Kopassus.” The May 13 letter stated plainly: “we do have serious concerns with the Administration’s intention to reengage with Unit 81 of the Indonesian Special Forces, known as Kopassus.” The letter questioned the Indonesian military’s “willingness to cooperate with the United States and Indonesian civilian justice institutions in permanently removing human rights violators from military ranks and in holding senior officers accountable for past abuses.” The senior legislators also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the “vetting process” which allegedly would screen out individual human rights violators from any U.S. programs.

The letter called into question Indonesian government assurances regarding Kopassus reform and insisted that the Administration engage with the Congress before any final decision is taken. It called for “prior consultation with Congress before engagement with Kopassus and an annual review … to ensure that our assistance meets the requirements of U.S. law and fulfills our broader interests.”

The unusually strong Congressional reaction to the prospect of U.S. military assistance to Kopassus coincides with persistent criticism of the proposal from U.S. and Indonesian NGOs who, inter alia, have noted the June 2009 Human Rights Watch report “What Did I Do Wrong” which detailed Kopassus abuse of Papuan civilians. The letter also has prompted a statement from Papuan elders that strongly commends the U.S. Congress for its May 16 letter.

Sign the petition opposing U.S. cooperation with Kopassus.

New Congressional Resolution on “Crisis in Papua and West Papua” Gaining Support

Congressman Patrick Kennedy has launched a resolution in the U.S. Congress expressing the sense of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the “Human Rights Crisis in Papua and West Papua. The resolution, now working its way through Congress, calls on the Government of Indonesia to report to the international community specific progress made regarding:

    (A) the end of abuse of those detained by authorities in Papua and West Papua and prosecution of those guilty of that abuse;
    (B) actions taken by the Government of Indonesia to improve conditions of incarceration, especially in Papua and West Papua;
    (C) measures taken to protect the right of its citizens to peaceful assembly and association as well as the freedom of speech and specifically symbolic speech, such as raising banners or flags;
    (D) compatibility of Indonesian law that criminalizes peaceful political dissent and conflicting Indonesian commitments concerning the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by international covenants to which Indonesia is a party, to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
    (E) provision to or access to detention facilities in West Papua by recognized human rights monitoring institutions, including the International Committee of The Red Cross; and

    (2) the Government of Indonesia should allow an independent, third party human rights organization to review prison conditions with special attention to Papuan inmates and on the basis of that review, formulate a series of recommendations to the Government of Indonesia that would facilitate prison and legal reforms especially to :

      (A) address deficits in facilities, personnel training, and procedures for the purpose of improving the humanitarian treatment of those detained;
      (B) formulating procedures, including judicial reform and legal remedies to ensure that prison authorities face appropriate punishment for mistreatment of those detained; and
      (C) encourage reform of the Indonesian criminal code and sentencing procedures to ensure that they reflect Indonesia’s commitments under international undertakings and Indonesia’s own legal obligations to protect fundamental human rights, including the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly and association.

Leading International Human Rights Voice Decries Thuggery in Indonesian Prison

In a May 18 piece appearing in the Jakarta Globe, Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia chief, wrote a scathing commentary that focused on the brutality that persists in Indonesia’s prisons. Pearson drew specifically on a recent rampage by guards at a prison in West Papua. In early May, a government move to replace the widely condemned brutal Abepura (West Papua) prison warden Ayorbaba led to a rampage by prison guards who severely beat prisoners. HRW and others had specifically condemned Ayorbaba for his failure to control prison guards who have beaten prisoners, in some instances causing permanent injury. In a widely condemned incident, Ayorbaba has prevented prisoner of conscience from obtaining urgently needed medical attention.

Ayorbaba’s much delayed removal was finally prompted by a recommendation by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham). Pearson emphasized that while welcome, Ayorbaba’s removal was insufficient to address the gravity of the crimes that have transpired under his watch. He and others who have violated human rights – and Indonesian law – should be prosecuted. Pearson also called for the Indonesian government to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to resume its visits to prisons in West Papua. The Government expelled the ICRC from West Papua in April 2009.

Human Rights Watch has been a perceptive and persistent observer of the human rights environment in West Papua. Its fact-based analyses and recommendations have an important audience in Washington and internationally.

Press Freedom Again Under Assault in West Papua

The Indonesian Government has detained and expelled two French journalists from West Papua. The two were detained May 26 while filming a peaceful political protest in the Papuan capital, Jayapura (aka Port Numbay). Indonesian authorities said neither of the two journalists had the special permits required for foreign journalists to work in West Papua. Indonesia prohibits foreign journalists from working in West Papua without a special permit. The practice has been roundly criticized internationally, including by members of the U.S. Congress, human rights organizations and others.

One of the French journalists, Baudoin Koenig, protested the Indonesian action noting, “I completely complied with all the rules and have all the necessary documents,” he said, adding that he had a valid journalist visa and a foreign journalist press card issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Indonesian journalists have joined in criticism of this latest example of constraints on press freedom in West Papua. Victor Mambor, chairman of the Papua chapter of the Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI), said the government had crossed the line. “We are condemning the government move to keep the journalists from doing their work. There should not be any limitation to what the reporters can or cannot cover as long as it does not violate press laws,” he said.

Indonesian efforts to obscure the behavior of its officials, notably its security officials, have also extended to diplomats, who must notify the government of plans to go to West Papua. The Indonesian government, in April 2009, expelled the International Committee of the Red Cross from West Papua, after that Nobel Peace Prize laureate visited a prison in West Papua.

Amnesty International Report

Amnesty International’s annual report shed light on continued violence and discrimination targeting Indonesia’s minority and religious groups. The report included an account of police excesses in West Papua where, it said, “Police torture was widespread during a series of arrests, interrogations and detentions.” It also noted in West Papua, “Security forces also allegedly committed unlawful killings.”

According to the report, the Indonesian government continued to repress basic democratic rights, and Indonesia has limited freedom of expression detaining 114 people in 2009 (throughout Indonesia) for public statements or demonstrations of dissent. The Amnesty report assessed: “The overwhelming majority [of those detained] were peaceful political activists who were sentenced to terms of imprisonment for raising prohibited pro-independence flags in Maluku or Papua.”

Amnesty International also noted that those who sought to defend the rights of others were often themselves the targets of abuse. It reported that the government continued to intimidate and harass human rights activists and that “at least seven [human rights defenders] faced criminal defamation charges.” It concluded that “most past human rights violations against [human rights defenders], including torture, murder and disappearances, have remained unsolved and those responsible have not been brought to justice.”

“Food Estates” in West Papua Raise Fears of Systematic Marginalization

A study compiled and released by Septer Manufandu of Papua NGOs Cooperation FORUM includes a highly skeptical review of plans for a “food estates” to be created in the area of Merauke. The report, only the latest of a series of negative reviews, underscores the consequences for Papuans of a migration of vast numbers of non-Papuans into the area to work the estates.

The fate of Papuans who now inhabit and work the targeted land according to the report is dire with expectations that they will be pushed aside to make way for newcomers and “development,” as had been the plight of Papuans in the past. The Government itself has estimated that as a consequence of the “estate” project in Merauke, the local population could grow from a current figure of 175,000 to 800,000, most of these presumably non-Papuan migrants. Reputable Papuan NGO’s have calculated inflows of migrants as a result of central government-planned ‘development” projects in West Papua will grow to millions, easily overwhelming the Papuan population of approximately two million. Papuan Governor Suebu has spoken of his concern about uncontrolled migration into Papuan territory and has urged the local Parliament to explore legislation that would impose some degree of control over the influx.

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) is but the first of seven such food-producing estates being planned for West Papua. It will encompass an area of 1.6 million hectares. Thus far, 32 companies have expressed an interest in investing in the project, and six of these have already been granted licenses.

The Estate was also the subject of sharp criticism by the Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN) which delivered a statement April 23 to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in New York. The statement, endorsed by 26 Indonesian and international NGOs, noted in part:

    “This kind of large-scale business in Indigenous Territories, without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) will only exacerbate the human rights situation, leading to forced evictions and other human rights violations.” The statement included several recommendations, among these that “the Government of Indonesia invite the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Food, to visit and to make a report concerning the situation of Indigenous Peoples in Merauke and West Papua in general, affected by MIFEE and other business development.”

Although the Forestry Ministry has said the project would utilize “idle forestlands in Merauke,” environmentalists worry that the projects would add to massive deforestation and harm efforts to cut carbon emissions. In this context, the estates could jeopardize an international agreement between Indonesia and Norway intended to protect forestlands. The Governments of Norway and Indonesia in late May signed an agreement that requires Indonesia to desist from destruction of forests and peatland in exchange for a $1 billion grant from the Norwegian government.

WPAT Comment: WPAT fears that these planned food estates will deprive Papuans of their traditional resources for hunting and fishing and destroy the very basis of their livelihoods. This would follow the pattern of other such “development’ schemes, most notoriously the Freeport McMoran copper and gold mine, which has displaced thousands of Papuans and has destroyed vast stretches of pristine forest. The mine has transformed an entire river system, the Ajkwa, into a disposal system for mine tailings, in the process destroying vast stretches of trees and polluting the riverine environment.

The massive influx of government-organized, non-Papuan migrants to this “estate” in Merauke, and to other planned “development” projects could fundamentally alter the Papuan-migrant balance in West Papua. Considering the massive migration envisioned in the government planning, the projects could hasten the impact of past government policies and actions that have had the effect of a creeping genocide that relegates Papuans to a politically and economically disempowered minority status in their own homeland. Investors, particularly foreign investors, complicit in this planning could incur significant responsibility for such an outcome.

This is the 73rd in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published with the East Timor and Indonesia /Action/ Network (ETAN).


  1. Nadine F, 6. June 2010, 18:46

    some of the links don’t work. eg:
    and the other links to the etan website.

    It’s so shocking this is going on so close but we never hear anything about it.

  2. Clarence Shanklin, 1. November 2010, 12:14

    I’d come to give blessing with you one this subject. Which is not something I typically do! I love reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!