The Human Tragedy of West Papua
Image Credit: Korowai woman, West Papua © Survival International
The Human Tragedy of West Papua
Image Credit: Student demonstration, Cenderawasih University 12 June 2013 © Private, via TAPOL
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The Human Tragedy of West Papua

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The people of West Papua have been calling for self-determination for half a century – a struggle for liberation from an Indonesian military occupation that has seen as many as 500,000 Papuans killed. A recent development in this long campaign is the suspicious death of a commander of the rebel Free Papua Movement (OPM), Danny Kogoya, on December 15. The cause of death, as described in the medical report, was liver failure, bought on by the presence of “unusual chemicals in his body,” raising concern that he was poisoned.

At the time of his death, Kogoya was at Vanimo hospital, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), receiving treatment for his leg. His leg was amputated in 2012 – without his consent – at a police hospital in Jayapura, West Papua, after Indonesian security forces shot him during an arrest. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a doctor at Vanimo hospital alleged that the chemicals were administered while Kogoya was at the police hospital in Jayapura and that he had been slowly poisoned to death by the Indonesian state authorities.

When Kogoya’s family submitted a request, with the medical report attached, to Vanimo Court House, asking for his body to be buried in West Papua, the Court decided to treat the death as a murder and called for an autopsy. AHRC reports that when the autopsy was scheduled, four individuals – two of them identified as Indonesian consulate staff – met with hospital management and prevented the autopsy from taking place.

A series of subsequent negotiations between family members, Indonesian consulate officials and PNG local authorities resulted in the autopsy being agreed to. But latest reports indicate the autopsy is yet to happen.

Whether foul play is proven in the death of Kogoya or not, the incident is another in a long line in the liberation movement in West Papua, which has seen civilians with suspected links to separatists tortured, political activists murdered and perpetrators act with impunity.

Geographically, West Papua sits beside PNG, forming the western half of the resource-rich island of New Guinea, about 300 km from the northern tip of Australia. The West Papua region is split into two provinces: West Papua and Papua. Its indigenous people have Melanesian roots, making them culturally and ethnically similar to their counterparts in PNG, but the formers’ turbulent colonial history and ongoing struggle for self-determination sets them starkly apart from their neighbors.

After WWII, the Dutch, who colonized West Papua, began making preparations for its liberation, while Indonesia continued to lay claim to the territory. In 1961, Papuans raised their flag – The Morning Star – sang their national anthem and declared their independence. Soon after, Indonesia invaded, supported and armed by the Soviet Union. Fearing the spread of communism and with mining interests in West Papua, the U.S. intervened, and along with the UN, brokered the New York Agreement, giving interim control of West Papua (under UN supervision) to Indonesia in 1963, until a referendum could take place granting West Papuans a vote for either integration into Indonesia or self-determination.

Over the next several years, before the vote, it’s estimated that 30,000 West Papuans were killed by Indonesian military, in a brutal silencing of dissent and suppression of liberationist ideals. In 1969, the vote – ironically called “The Act Of Free Choice” was fraudulent, the outcome controlled. Just one percent of the population was selected to vote, and those chosen were intimidated by security forces, resulting in a unanimous vote for West Papua to be ruled by Indonesia. A man claiming to be part of the one percent who voted describes the scenario in a documentary, his face obscured, saying that a gun was held to his head, as he was given the ultimatum – vote for Indonesia or be killed.

Since then, mass atrocities have been carried out by Indonesian security forces and human rights abuses continue to this day. West Papua is the most heavily militarized region of Indonesia, with an estimated 45,000 troops presently deployed, and an extra 650 soldiers to patrol near the PNG border from February.

Paul Barber, coordinator of TAPOL, which works to promote human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia, told The Diplomat that members of the military have committed horrific human rights violations in West Papua over the last fifty years, and have enjoyed complete impunity. A recent example occurred in June 2012, when security forces stationed in Wamena (in the Central Highlands), ran amok, bayoneting civilians and burning houses and vehicles.

‘’Violations often occur in remote areas, including the border area, and many go unreported. Troops tend to be unwelcome and underpaid, and their arrival usually precedes military business rackets, illegal logging, and human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and girls.’’

Barber said that political activists and human rights defenders are frequently branded as separatists and traitors and that the Indonesian Government continues to “isolate, silence and stigmatize its critics” as a means of denying the political nature of the problem.

The Security Approach: Silencing Voices of Dissent

The liberation movement comprises both violent and non-violent groups.

Militant group OPM, (which Kogoya was involved in), leads a low-level insurgency, and have attacked military, police and occasionally civilian targets over the years. A 2002 Amnesty International report found that counterinsurgency operations by Indonesian security forces have resulted in: “gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detentions.”

Given the omnipresent suspicion that all West Papuans are separatists, or support separatist movements, the response of Indonesian troops has often been the same whether groups use peaceful tools, like demonstrations, or guerilla tactics. In other words, West Papuans need not be armed fighters to be persecuted, arrested, tortured or executed.

The shocking prevalence of torture by Indonesian security forces was revealed by a recent study, which found on average, one incident of torture has taken place every six weeks for the past half century. Of the 431 documented cases reviewed, just 0.05 percent of those tortured were proven to be members of militias – the vast majority of victims were civilians, most commonly farmers and students.

The PhD thesis of Dr. Budi Hernawan concludes “that torture has been deployed strategically by the Indonesian state in Papua as a mode of governance…with almost complete impunity.”

Some are tortured after being arbitrarily detained – TAPOL documented 28 political arrests involving torture in 2012 – while other cases have taken place near villages.

Take the example of Yawan Wayeni, a tribal leader and former political prisoner, whose killing in 2009 was filmed and leaked online the following year. AHRC reports that Indonesian Police (Brimob) shot Wayeni in the leg, before plunging a bayonet into his belly, spilling out his bowels. He utters the word “independence,” while slowly dying in the jungle, to which a police officer responds, ‘‘You Papuans are so stupid, you are savages.’’ In an interview with Aljazeera the police chief dealing with the case, Imam Setiawan, said that his men did not violate Wayeni’s human rights and had to stop him from talking about independence and tell him, ‘’You will never get your independence. We are the unified state of Indonesia. Don’t ever dream of your freedom.’’

This is not the only torture video to be leaked.

In October 2010, a video of Indonesian military personnel torturing two West Papuan men, who human rights group describe as simple farmers, surfaced online. They are accused of having information about weapons caches. One man, Tunaliwor Kiwo, is kicked in the face and chest, his genitals seared with a burning stick. The other, Telangga Gire, is threatened with a knife, the blade pushed against his throat and dragged across his face. Kiwo later recounts in a recorded testimony, that he escaped on the third day of the ordeal, and describes how he was also suffocated with plastic bags, had his toes crushed with pliers, and chillies smeared in his burns and cuts.

In January 2011, three soldiers involved in the abuse were sentenced to terms of eight to 10 months for “not following orders.” Despite Indonesia ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture in 1999, the military criminal code does not recognize torture as a punishable crime. In a speech to military and police forces just days before the sentences were handed out, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dismissed the case as a “minor incident” and claimed that “no gross violations” of human rights have happened since he took office in 2004.

It’s true, he was not in power when the Biak Massacre took place in 1998, in which scores of peaceful demonstrators allegedly shot at, tortured, raped and mutilated, survivors loaded onto navy ships and dumped at sea to drown, their bodies later washing up on shore. Crimes against humanity, for which, according to the findings of a citizens’ tribunal held in Sydney last month, none of the perpetrators have been held accountable.

And it’s correct that Yudhoyono was not leader in 2003 when, Amnesty International reports, nine civilians were killed, 38 tortured and 15 arbitrarily arrested during a series of police raids in Wamena, which displaced thousands of villagers, dozens later dying from hunger and exhaustion.

But he was certainly in power in October 2011, when security forces were filmed opening fire at an independence rally, reportedly killing six protestors.

And in June 2012, when political leader, Mako Tabuni “was gunned down by police in broad daylight” in a killing that allegedly involved Densus 88 (aka Detachment 88) – a counter-terrorism unit funded and trained by Australia and the U.S. following the Bali bombings. Tabuni was deputy chairperson of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), a non-violent organization, campaigning for a referendum.

A TAPOL report notes that of 20 people charged under the treason law (Article 106) in 2012, their alleged activities ranged from carrying documents associated with KNPB, or guerrilla group OPM, to organizing a celebration of the UN Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to raising the Morning Star flag, to suspected involvement in the National Liberation Army (TPN).

Paul Barber, Coordinator of TAPOL, commented that, ‘’The security approach is still in full swing.’’

“Protests should be welcomed as a sign of a flourishing if noisy democracy, but security forces feel threatened and crack down. This approach is trapping Papua in a futile cycle of repression and fear.”

According to figures by Papuans Behind Bars, the number of political arrests in November last year rose by 165 percent from the same period in 2012. A November report puts the total number of arrests in 2013 (up to that time) at 537 and the number of political prisoners at 71. Filep Karma is one of these prisoners of conscience, serving a 15-year sentence for raising the Morning Star flag.

Former head of Densus 88, Tito Karnavian, was appointed as Papua Chief of Police in late 2012 – a move that corresponded with a sharp increase in the number of political arrests and a spike in reports of abuse and torture among detainees.

Barber explains that activists and peaceful protestors are routinely subjected to surveillance, threats, harassment and beatings, and are sometimes killed or disappeared. “Speaking out against injustice in Papua is extremely risky. At best you may lose your dignity, at worst you will lose your liberty, your mind or even your life.”

Foreign journalists and international non-government organizations are barred from accessing West Papua. In recent years, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been expelled and Peace Brigades International forced to close its offices, when restrictions made carrying out work impossible. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are also routinely denied visas. Fortunately, the spread of mobile phones is making it harder for human rights abuses to go unnoticed.

Economic “Development”: Entrenching Poverty

WikiLeaks released cables in 2010, revealing that U.S. diplomats blame the Indonesian Government for “chronic underdevelopment” in West Papua, and believe that human rights abuses and rampant corruption are fuelling unrest. Still, military ties between the two countries were renewed.

The cables also confirmed that U.S.-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which owns the word’s largest gold-copper mining venture – called Grasberg – in Papua province, has paid millions of dollars to members of the Indonesian security forces to help “protect” its operations.

Concessions for this company were granted by Indonesia in 1967, two years before the dubious independence vote. Declassified U.S. policy documents divulge its support for Indonesian rule – this arrangement meant the U.S. could carry out its plans to carve up Papua’s rich natural resources. The then-national security adviser, Henry Kissinger wrote to President Richard Nixon just prior to the vote, that a referendum on independence “would be meaningless among the Stone Age cultures of New Guinea.” Kissinger later became a board member of Freeport. He is described in a 1997 CorpWatch article as being the “company’s main lobbyist for dealings with Indonesia.”

Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, reportedly channeling $9.3 billion to Jakarta between 1992 and 2009. And yet, Papua, where Freeport’s Grasberg mine is located, is the poorest province in Indonesia, with one of the “most alarming food insecurity and malnutrition rates.” About 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, compared to 13 percent in East Java and the infant mortality rate in West Papua is at least twice the national average.

Survival International’s Asia Campaigner Sophie Grig told The Diplomat: ‘’The mine has caused environmental devastation by discharging waste directly into the local river, on which the local Kamoro tribe depends for drinking water, fishing and washing, and Indonesia employs soldiers to protect the area resulting in reports of grave human rights violations such as torture, rape and killings of Papuans.’’

She notes that the HIV/AIDS rate in Papua province is up to 20 times higher than the rest of the country.

Years of Indonesia’s transmigration policies have resulted in non-ethnic Papuans forming 50 percent of West Papua’s population. With development and urban influences comes a change to the traditional way of life, the influx of workers and security personnel, for example, resulting in the emergence of karaoke bars and prostitution. In 2011, the Papua AIDS Prevention Commission revealed that the area with the highest increase of cases and overall infection rate was Mimika district, which is home to the Grasberg mine.

The latest “development” project, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), is already showing signs of entrenching poverty in the region.

August 2010 marked the launch of the mega MIFEE project, which Yudhoyono announced would “Feed Indonesia, then feed the World.” The venture earmarks 1.28 million hectares in southern Papua for crops such as: timber, palm oil, rice, corn, soya bean and sugar cane. Indonesia produces roughly half of global supply of palm oil and plantation expansions in other parts of the archipelago have been linked to rapid rates of deforestation and land conflicts. A report by the Asian Human Right’s Commission exposes MIFEE as being part of a “global land-grabbing phenomenon,” which strings together powerful state and private actors in a dubious chain of collusion. The report notes that specific to MIFEE is “the military-business-political framework and the climate of political intimidation and oppression present in West Papua.” The report highlights that key players in MIFEE are all politically connected, raising serious questions about the blurring of political, security and corporate interests. The Comexindo Group, for example, is owned by Hashim Djojohadikusumo, the brother of Prabowo Subianto, the ex-special forces general and son-in-law of former President Suharto.

Customary land tenures are being wiped out without the free, prior and informed consent of local villagers. Compensation given to communities that are duped into handing over their land is beyond inadequate; lured by empty promises of greater prosperity or intimidated by a company’s security personnel – indigenous people are left hungry and with deep regret. According to Awas MIFEE, a network of activists monitoring the mega project, the average rate of compensation to an affected community is about $30 per hectare, a “pitiful” amount considering the many generations a forest can sustain.

MIFEE is touted as a source of jobs for impoverished Papuans but numerous accounts contest this. Indigenous Papuans lack the knowledge and experience to gain meaningful employment in these plantations and are given menial jobs that pay below a living wage, while lucrative positions go to migrants. A massive influx of workers is expected. Government predictions, reported by The Jakarta Globe, suggest the population of Merauke could rise from about 175,000 to 800,000 as a result of the project, making Papuans the ethnic minority in their ancestral lands.

Papuans are traditionally hunter-gatherers, living on staples of sago starch and wild meat, foraging for tropical fruit, and cultivating plots of sweet potato and other plants in small gardens. Since chunks of forest in Zanegi were cleared to make way for acacia and eucalyptus plantations, the resulting timber destined for power stations in Korea, the villagers are having a harder time finding food. A local nurse, interviewed in the documentary Our Land is Gone, points to the rise in cases of infants suffering chronic malnutrition — from one a year in the past up to a dozen since the forest was destroyed. In the first half of 2013, five infants reportedly died of malnutrition. Pollution from fertilizers and wood-chipping has also caused a surge in cases of bronchitis and asthma. A man interviewed in the documentary laments that the company, a subsidiary of Medco Group, broke its promise to leave a buffer of 1500 meters around sacred sites and cleared sago groves and destroyed birds of paradise habitat. Another villager said, ‘’We thought they had come here to develop our village but in reality they are crushing us, to put it bluntly, they are stomping on us.’’

Two UN experts have warned that moves to convert 1-2 million hectares of rainforest and small-scale farming plots to export-led crop and agro-fuel plantations in Merauke could affect the food security of 50,000 people.

Survival International’s Grig said, ‘‘It is ironic that a project designed to ensure food security is robbing self-sufficient tribal people of their land and livelihoods – which have sustained them for many generations. The same human rights problems that have plagued the communities around the Grasberg mine are now beginning to emerge in the MIFEE area too. It is an emerging humanitarian and environmental crisis.’’

The struggle continues

The West Papuan struggle for self-determination is unwavering despite half a century of Indonesian security forces brutally muzzling independence sentiments.

ETAN, a group which advocated for the independence of East Timor from Indonesian rule, astutely wrote that by branding all Papuans as enemies of the state every time they try to exercise their right to freedom of expression, and by continuing to commit gross human rights abuses, the resolve of the Papuan people to be liberated will grow stronger – Indonesia’s fears will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This month, the Free West Papua Campaign (FWPC) opened an office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where the Mayor raised the Morning Star Flag alongside the PNG national flag in a show of solidarity. FWPC wrote on social media: ‘‘Indonesia can draw as many lines on the map as it likes, but it can never separate the spirit of the people of New Guinea. We are one people, one soul, one Kumul [bird of paradise] Island.’’

Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.

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