Spreading the Word

The International Community is Waking up to Human Rights Violations and Indonesian Military Impunity in Papua

Friday 28 October 2005, by Alex HILL

For over 40 years the world has looked the other way while Papua (the eastern-most province of Indonesia, formerly called Irian Jaya) has been ravaged in a program of repression by the Indonesian military. But that is starting to change.

The past three years have seen statements from US Congress and Senate condemning human rights abuses in Papua. Parliamentary committees in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand have spoken up in national and international forums against the military’s impunity toward the rule of law. Momentum is growing and the word is spreading, and due to the hard work and commitment of a handful of human rights defenders, the world is waking up to the tragedy of Indonesian military aggression against the indigenous peoples of Papua.

A series of events starting with the fall of the dictatorial Suharto regime in 1998, the liberation of East Timor, the Bali bombings (2003 and 2005), and last year’s devastating tsunami in Aceh have put Indonesia under an increasingly bright spotlight. What the world is seeing, according to Edmund McWilliams of the Indonesia Human Rights Network in his report last year to a US Senate Committee, is a “fragile, fledgling democracy whose government is not yet capable of protecting the fundamental human rights of its people.” He went on to point out that the US State Department’s own reports indicate that “the principal menace to rights... is [the military], a rogue institution with vast wealth and power that has committed crimes against humanity and perhaps genocide and which remains unaccountable.”

Papua is one of the Indonesian military’s primary areas of operations, and the state uses the specter of the largely peaceful independence movement to justify its actions. Papua was occupied by Indonesia in 1963, and incorporated into the Indonesian state through a controversial United Nations referendum in 1969.

Military violence against the domestic population

Since then various political groups have asked for a review of the process, and lightly armed guerrilla forces have struggled to establish an independent Papuan state. In response, the military has engaged in a campaign of terror, carrying out offensives against Papua’s indigenous people. In this campaign, the military follows three main directives, focusing on internal security, which translates into violence against the domestic population.

The military’s first directive is to protect major resource industries such as Freeport McMoran’s gold and copper mine (the largest in the world) and BP’s natural gas development projects in Papua. In these cases, the military seeks out lucrative “security” contracts from the companies. Reluctance on behalf of the company to hire the military’s services can itself cause their employees to be targeted by the military, as was seen in 2002 when 3 employees of Freeport McMoran (including one American) were killed by gunmen carrying Indonesian-military-issue weapons. It was this incident that sparked within US government the first criticism of military activities in Papua.

Second, the military works to protect the Unitary state of Indonesia by crushing any local expressions of resistance to state authority. Five separate operations over the past three years in Papua’s remote regions have seen the military react by killing hundreds and destroying villages. In each case these attacks were carried out as a response to the local people’s resistance after their land and resources were appropriated with out compensation. One action that began in August 2004 in the high mountain town of Puncak Jaya continues today where according to Ecologist magazine, “Indonesian soldiers have been burning villages, attacking civilians, raping women and killing men in a widespread and planned military operation.”

Finally, the military itself engages in economic activities that threaten the local population. The military generates 70% of its operating budget through non-state financing. Besides lucrative security contracts for resource companies, this mostly includes black market activities such as running prostitution rings that spread HIV-AIDS, illegal logging, and smuggling. As a result, Papua now faces the highest HIV rates in South East Asia, and boasts the world’s most rampant illegal logging industry.

But while the world is starting to pay attention, the challenge for human rights supporters in Papua continues to grow. According to Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, an additional 12,000 to 15,000 troops will arrive in West Papua in the period from 2005 to 2009, bringing the troop presence up to near 50,000. All this in a province with a population of only 1.5 million.

On top of this, some international governments are attempting to increase their support for the Indonesian military. In 1999 the US government cancelled all military aid to Indonesia until a full investigation was held that led to the conviction of those responsible for gross human rights violations committed during East Timor’s independence referendum. Despite Indonesia’s failure to convict any high ranking officer in this case, Condoleeza Rice attempted to reinstate military aid to Indonesia through $400,000 to support Indonesian military officials’ participation in the International Military Education and Training program. Fortunately this has been blocked by the US Senate, citing the likelihood that the military had masterminded attack at the Freeport Mine in 2002.

Canadian Government Support for Military

Particularly disturbing for Canadians is a new initiative to initiate military to military cooperation between Canada and Indonesia. According an article published on October 11, 2005 in Radar Sulteng, an Indonesian daily, for the past year the Canadian Embassy in Jakarta has supported Colonel Paul R. Morneault to travel across Indonesia meeting with local military officials. According to the article, “he is trying to meet local officials and would like to cooperate with them.” The Canadian armed forces explains that Morneault’s goal is “To develop and foster good relations with the Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces of [Indonesia].”

Civil society in Papua (a loose coalition of 250 or more distinct tribes) has repeatedly called for making Papua a Land of Peace, requesting that the Indonesian army and local militia groups lay down arms and respect human rights so conflicts can be resolved through dialogue. However, anyone promoting even peaceful alternatives to full and unquestioned integration with Indonesia is an immediate target for arrest, torture or assassination by Indonesian security forces.

Foreign solidarity for Papua is growing. There is also a strengthening movement to pressure Indonesia to accept Special Rapporteurs for Human Rights and Judicial Independence. Annual reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights have been compiled over the past five years on the situation in Papua. While some attention is being paid, the need for a massive international solidarity movement, similar to that which supported the rights of the people in East Timor, or the one that came to the aid of the victims of the 2004 Tsunami in Aceh is needed. The statements of foreign governments need to be followed up with concrete action to protect the Papuan peoples, and bring to trial those Indonesian military officers behind the human rights abuses.

Alex Hill is the Indonesia Project Officer for Alternatives (, an international solidarity network based in Montreal, Canada. In 2002 and 2003 Alex coordinated Alternatives’ CIDA-funded peace-building project, working in close partnership with human rights defenders in Papua, including Yan Christian Warinussy and LP3BH.

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