Special Report – By Paul Benseman
The West Papuan farmer showed me scars on his head he claimed police caused nearly two years ago.
His eyes were still bloodshot after a beating by rifle butts, boots and rattan sticks. The left eye, scarred on its edge, seemed slightly out of place.
The 35-year-old still gets headaches and has a partial loss of sight. After the beating, he said he was locked in a paddy wagon with 14 others, and left without food, water, medical attention or a toilet for 26 hours.
Local independence leader Buchtar Tabuni, 34, said he has had to live and hide in the jungle after police stopped him on the way to a soccer game last June. They kicked him and beat him with rifle butts and threatened to bury him alive in a cemetery. Because he has not stopped politicking, he fears a police “killing team” may shoot him in the street.
Both men were talking about a provincial police force in the Indonesian territory that New Zealand trains.
Some Papuans say that by helping local police, New Zealand is party to the brutal suppression of human rights in the region, where the United Nations has urged Jakarta to hold accountable those responsible for violence.
The farmer seemed what he claimed: a market gardener hosting young people from his former highlands village while they studied in Jayapura, the largest city. Nothing he said was critical of Indonesian sovereignty.
Speaking through translators, the farmer said: “They broke the door in. They fired pistol shots into the sky outside and two policemen inside shot pistols into the ceiling. There were 15 of us in the house – me and 14 students.
‘You are OPM’
“They used their boots to jump on me. I was beaten on and off from 3am to 10am with rifle butts and wooden sticks. They were yelling, ‘You are OPM. You are stupid’.
“At 11am we were taken to police headquarters. I had blood all over my face. They kept us in the police van at the back. No food, no water, no toilets. Next day at 1pm we were let out.”
Unlike the farmer, Tabuni was radically political and said he was threatened to make him stop speaking out.
“There was a Polisi [police officer] on each side and they pinned an arm each with their backs. Behind me another one was grabbing my hair and pulling my head back. When we drove past a cemetery they said they could easily bury me alive in there.
“They said, ‘You Papuans are not capable of creating anything but you want freedom. Why you want to be free? Papuans can’t even make good food – you can’t even make spices.’
“Maybe it is time New Zealand is thinking about Papuans. New Zealand government funds to Indonesia should stop.”
For “spreading separatist propaganda” he had been jailed twice.
Victor Mambor, chairperson of the Alliance of Independent Journalists of Papua said one of his employees, Ardiansyah Matra’is, was killed at Merauke in 2010. The journalist had written a series of articles about illegal logging by military officers.
“His motorbike was by a bridge. Police say he jumped into river to commit suicide. But when his body was found in the harbour … hands tied together, feet tied together, his body beaten. Ardiansyah was dead before going in the river.”
Mambor summed up New Zealand’s police training as “aid that kills”.
“The Polisi here kill the people – they don’t make investigations. New Zealand needs to stop.”
Few independent accounts of alleged human rights abuses in West Papua exist because Jakarta restricts access to observers. A 2005 report Genocide in West Papua? by John Wing, co-ordinator of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Sydney University, claimed more than 100,000 Papuans had died since Indonesia took control from the Dutch in 1963.
And eight months ago the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay said that “serious allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement officials persist.”
The New Zealand aid project started in 2009 when police officers set up programmes in six West Papuan centres.
‘Walking the beat’
New Zealand’s Jakarta Embassy website quotes senior police liaison officer Tim Haughey saying that for the past four years, officers had been “talking with and ‘walking the beat’ with their Indonesian counterparts, sharing the Kiwi style of community policing …”
“It means talking to business owners and pedestrians, meeting with community groups and organisations and finding out their concerns and issues for many of the local community this is the first time that they would have sat down with the police and discussed issues affecting them.”
In West Papua I could not quiz local police or speak to other officials because I was interviewing illegally on a tourist visa, having arrived on the pretext of bird watching.
But several Papuans raised disturbing claims about the effect of the programme.
Paul Mambrasar, of the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy of Papua said he had seen “no evidence police were applying the knowledge” of New Zealand training.
Referring to the June 2012 killing of Mako Tabuni, secretary general of National Committee for West Papua, or KNPB, Mambrasar said: “A doctor said when they [the police] took Mako from the hospital there was only one bullet hole. When they took him back, there were many holes.”
Mambrasar and others described how West Papuan police chief Inspector General Tito Karnavian was carrying out a new and brutal crackdown on Melanesians seeking self-determination. Karnavian received part of his military training in New Zealand, and has a masters degree in security studies from Massey University. Septer Manufandu, co-ordinator of the Civil Society Coalition to Uphold Law and Human Rights in Papua said that in September 2012 he discussed community policing with New Zealand Ambassador David Taylor and questioned whether it was helping Papuans.
Manufandu had been investigating alleged torture to KNPB members around West Papua after police raids last year. He said police pulled suspects fingernails out with pliers or squashed their toes with table legs. Complaints his group made had been ignored, with the Jayapura police commander saying it was a “normal situation to get information”.
During my visit, a church leader and mediator, Dr Neles Tebay, said although Indonesia had committed to improve dealings with Papuans, the problem was local military and police. Aid to these agencies was often counter-productive.
“Generally speaking the Indonesian Government is closer to New Zealand than to Australia. Australians are considered as a more arrogant neighbour. Kiwis are more friendly.”
Talks with the pro-independence Free Papua Movement (OPM) was the only way of settling the conflict, he said. New Zealand was in a good position to back that.
The New Zealand government has taken a cautious approach towards Papua. Prime Minister John Key said after meeting Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan in April 2012 that West Papua was “a very complex issue”.
Behind the scenes, however, concerns have been raised about the programme.
A January 2011 diplomatic cable released under the Official Information Act to Auckland human rights activist Maire Leadbeater and headed “Indonesia: Aid Monitoring Visit to Papua 18-23 November 2010” stated: “We highlighted the community policing project as a flagship in the province … This was welcomed by the heads of police and the military in Jayapura, by the police commander in Wamena and by the Governor and other political figures. One Wamena non-government organisation argued that as the police were agents of ‘violence against Papuan children’ we should expect criticism if we engaged with them.
“We responded that we had registered a variety of concerns about police; our view was that it was better to try and find ways to improve their performance and lift community understanding of their role also, rather than ignore extant problems.”
Asked for comment, the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington did not address specific Papuan claims but described them as “a collection of negative opinions by sources that are mostly unreliable”.
“In the words of New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully, community policing is one of the aspects that New Zealand is world-class at,” the statement said.
McCully said in a statement a review of the pilot work found it “supportive of the Indonesian National Police’s reform efforts and provided practical skills and training.
“The NZ government believes it is better to work with Indonesia to help instil principles of civil policing and community engagement rather than to observe and criticise from a distance. We welcome the Indonesian government’s instructions for the police and military to work in accordance with the law and with respect for human rights.”
Paul Bensemann is an independent journalist and author who recently visited West Papua in secret. This article was originally published in The New Zealand Herald and Pacific Media Centre Online and has been reprinted here with the author’s permission. Other reports are on PMC Online.