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West Papua Report
April 2006


The following is the 26th in a series of regular reports prepared by the West Papua Advocacy Team to provide updates on developments in West Papua.


Australia Bows to Indonesian Pressure on Prospect of Future Papuan Refugees

In the wake of strong pressure from Jakarta for having accorded asylum to most of the 43 Papuans who fled persecution in West Papua earlier this year, the Australian government appears to be attempting to prevent any further Papuan appeals for protection.

The government of Prime Minister John Howard has announced plans to seek in May national legislation establishing the "Pacific Solution" under which refugees fleeing persecution in West Papua and seeking asylum in Australia will effectively be denied refuge.

As described by government officials, the plan includes several components which appear to be in violation of the 1951 Convention Relating to The Status of Refuges to which Australia is a signatory. As described by Australian officials, the first tier of "defense" against fleeing refugees would be military patrols by Australian forces acting in collaboration with the very source of persecution for the refugees, i.e., the Indonesian military.

Any refugee who successfully navigates the perilous seas and joint military patrols to land on Australian soil are to be moved to Nauru or Mannas Island, outside Australia's "migration zone" where conditions of detention were described by observers as “inhumane” and even life-threatening. Children and the infirm would not be spared detention under these bleak conditions where the opportunity to appeal asylum decisions would not exist and access to legal representation would be limited or non-existent.

The Refugee Convention calls on parties not to penalize refugees directly fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. UNHCR officials have publicly expressed concern that the "Pacific Solution" would constitute such a penalty.

Papuan Civil Society Leaders Speak Out

Senior Papuan civil society leaders have recently expressed their rising concern about developments in West Papua with members of the West Papua Advocacy Team at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center. At their request, the Team transmitted these concerns to U.S. Congressional officials as well as officials in the U.S. executive branch. Because of the severe retribution at the hands of Indonesian government security officials for their candid expression of view, the identity of these sources can not be revealed publicly although their identity is known to US government officials with whom the Team has shared these perspectives. There follows a review of those perspectives.

Senior Papuans have emphasized their view that racism is at the root of Papuans' suffering. They note that the provincial parliament and civil service are dominated by non-Papuans who immigrated to West Papua, often under Indonesian government encouragement and subsidy. Noting the decades of marginalization Papuans have suffered in their own land, these leaders observe that while the Papuan population in Papua New Guinea has grown from 2.5 million to over 6 million since the 1960's, the Papuan population in West Papua, under Indonesian control since that period, has grown from 800,000 to only a little over 1 million. They cite the failure of the central government to provide basic health and other services for Papuans as well as frequent "security operations" as accounting for the abnormally low population growth among Papuans in West Papua. They also note Jakarta's willingness to fund education only in urban areas for the children of (largely non-Papuan) civil servants. Senion Papua civil society leaders contend that this has created a "lost generation" of Papuans who lack the skills to compete with migrants. They also describe a situation in which many Papuan women face non-consensual sterilization after giving birth. One Papuan leader described the policies of splitting provinces, inadequate provision of essential services for Papuans, Government-encouraged immigration into West Papua and security force repression as constituting "genocide by process."

Religious figures among Papuan civil society also express concern over religious discrimination, noting that central government policies appeared to favor Muslims across the archipelago. The Jakarta government, they contend, appears intent on dividing those few provinces which are predominantly Christian. They cited as examples recent government action to split provinces in Sulawesi, Maluku and, most recently in West Papua where the government has created the province of "West Irian Jaya," despite the express opposition of the Papuan people and their elected representatives. The splitting of existing provinces in each case entailed carving out a majority Muslim province from what had previously been a predominately Christian province. Also, Papuan leaders note that the Indonesian military was training special militias, many of which were exclusively Islamic.

Papuan civil society leaders continue to call for a dialogue between senior level Jakarta officials and Papuan civil society and elected leaders. Some also argue for an independent "facilitator" to guide the dialogue. (Note: This proposal is in keeping with a recent US Council on Foreign Relations study which called for such a dialogue which would be supported by the international community.) Many senior Papuans however, are increasingly critical of the Yudhoyono administration which, although professing to support the concept of dialogue, nonetheless has trampled Papuan rights, and they expressed opposition to the division of the province.

TNI Conducting Military Operations Possibly Related to March 16 Demonstrations

Indonesian military sources, speaking in late April to the official Antara news service have confirmed that military operations are underway in West Papua in an area approximately 35 miles west of Jayapura, the capital. According to the sources, four persons were killed on April 10 in a military clash with what the military claimed were suspected insurgents. Two of those killed were security personnel. Separately, the Papuan human rights advocacy organization ELSHAM reported that Indonesian strategic reserve forces have been deployed recently to villages in the same area for the purpose of searching for students sought in connection with the March 16 demonstrations in Abepura (see previous month's report for details of this incident). It is unclear whether the two reports are related, though they refer to the same area.

The same ELSHAM report notes that 18 students escaped a boat-sinking incident in Jayapura harbor when the boat they were using in an attempt to escape to Papua New Guinea was destroyed. The students had been sought by security authorities in connection with the March 16 incident. One of the students in the boat was killed in the incident while two others are in custody. The ELSHAM report raised the possibility of "foul play" and called for an independent investigation of circumstances of the loss of the boat.

More International Calls to End Ban on International Media Access to West Papua

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry's State Secretary, Kjetil Skogrand, told the Jakarta Post in an interview published on April 27 that he has urged Indonesian counterparts to allow international journalists to have access to West Papua to "assess the situation." His call echoes that of members of the U.S. Congress and many international non-governmental organizations.

Cholera Spreading in Papuan Central Highlands

Local health officials cited by media sources indicate that a disease outbreak in Jayawijaya and Yahukimo districts in the central highlands is cholera. Reports indicate that over 200 people have died from the disease and over 600 have been treated since the outbreak was first reported in mid-March. Hampering the medical response to the outbreak is the very rudimentary health service infrastructure established in these largely-Papuan populated provinces by the Jakarta government.

Human Rights Commission Protests Inadequate Health and Other Services

A senior official with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) has condemned inadequate health, education and other basic services in the Mimika District, which is home to the Freeport McMoRan mining concession. The official, Amidanh, who is chief of the Commission's economic, social and cultural affairs subdivision, said that in addition to these problems, the Freeport firm's empowerment and compensation programs were not well run. He also reported in an April 12 Jakarta Post interview that security force violations of local residents' human rights were continuing.

Greenpeace Calls for Moratorium on Logging in West Papua

Emy Hafild, Southeast Asia regional representative for Greenpeace, has told the media that Greenpeace is pressing the Indonesian government to suspend all logging in West Papua. "We badly need to protect the forests for the sake of the Papuans," she said. Hafild, who for years was active in Indonesian environmental and human rights movements, noted that 60 percent of forests in West Papua are controlled by concession holders whom she described as "pioneers of forest destruction." She noted that the 62 firms holding such concessions controlled 11.6 million of West Papua's 39.7 million hectares of forest. Greenpeace, in a separate statement, also called on major importers of woods logged in Indonesia to impose stricter controls to end the international trade in illegally logged timber.

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