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West Papua Report
June 2006


The June 2006 "West Papua Report" is the 28th in a series of reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This reporting series is produced by the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. The West Papua Advocacy Team is a non-profit organization.


U.S. Citizens Detained in West Papua

A senior human rights contact in West Papua informed the WPAT that on June 26, the executive director of "Land is Life", Brian Keane, along with the NGO's program assistant Casey Box were illegally detained by Indonesian police in Jayapura, West Papua. After four hours in police custody they were transferred to the immigration headquarters Jayapura. The pair were in West Papua to attend the fourth Papuan People's Congress where 1,000 representatives of West Papua's tribes gathered to discuss economic development, health concerns and human rights.

Indonesian authorities told media that the two had violated their visas by attending a meeting of what the authorities claimed were "separatists sympathizers." The Indonesia official said that questioning of the two US citizens would continue in Jakarta.

Despite strong criticism from international human rights organizations and appeals by U.S. members of Congress among others, Indonesia continues to place severe restrictions on or ban outright travel by journalists, human rights advocates and academics to West Papua. A UNHCR official noted recently that the UNHCR was essentially banned from travel to West Papua (see West Papua report for May 2006).

Papua New Guinea Rejects Australia's Effort to Detain Papuan Refugees in PNG

The government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has rejected plans by the Australian government to detain Papuan refugees who reach Australia in the PNG. Senior PNG officials indicated PNG unwillingness to assist Australia with Papuan asylum seekers was based on PNG concern over possible Indonesian Government reaction to such an arrangement. PNG already hosts thousands of Papuan refugees in flight from Indonesian repression.

Under the Australian government's so-called "Pacific Solution", asylum seekers who made it to Australia were to be transferred to detention centres on Nauru or on Manus Island in PNG. Australian Prime Minister Howard is also facing opposition to the plan from Parliament members of his own party.

Papuans "Tortured by Police" in Jayapura

A Catholic human rights group has accused Indonesian police of torturing 23 Papuans arrested after violent protests in March. The Peace and Justice Secretariat of the Catholic diocese in Papua's provincial capital, Jayapura, alleges cases of physical and mental abuse, and intimidation

The 23 were arrested after March 16 and 17 student demonstrations outside Jayapura's Cendrawasih University. The protesters had demanded the closure of the giant US-run Freeport copper mine because of environmental damage and the lack of benefits going to local Papuans. Four policemen, an air force soldier and a civilian were killed in the riots, prompting hundreds of students to flee their homes and dormitories in fear of reprisals by security forces.

The Peace and Justice Secretariat said its staff and representatives from other church groups interviewed three of the 23 detainees at the regional police cells in Jayapura. The prisoners said wounds on their faces were sustained during days of police interrogation and they were being kept in crowded cells, the report noted. One prisoner said they had been tortured for information during the first few weeks and a senior police officer had threatened to shoot him and had aimed a gun at his mouth. Prisoners also told interviewers they had not seen their legal counsel appointed by the authorities and so were at a loss when they fronted up in court. Two of them said they were maltreated by police two hours before the court hearing started, in a bid to get them to confess they were involved in the deaths of the police officers and air force soldier. "They were kicked with army boots, struck on the head and body with rifle butts and rubber truncheons," the report said.

Formal hearings for the accused at the Jayapura District Court revealed the extent of breakdown of the justice system in West Papua. According to the report, at one hearing, a judge said: "Another time when there is a demo, you should carry sharp weapons so that, should the situation become chaotic and you find yourself under pressure, you can shoot the demonstrators on the spot, and if anyone dies, that won't be a violation of human rights." The Church report concluded that judges and prosecutors had not upheld basic principles of fair and honest hearings, which were held amidst heavy security in an "atmosphere of terror and fear for the accused."

Investigation of Police Corruption in West Papua Stalled

A June 13, 2006 report by Radio New Zealand International revealed that there has been little progress in investigations into transactions involving the bank accounts of a number of police officers in the Papua regional police in Indonesia. The transactions were uncovered over the past two years by Indonesian financial Watchdog "The Financial Transaction Reports Analysis Centre," or PPATK, according to an earlier report by the Jakarta Post.

The money is believed to be the proceeds of illegal logging which is thought to be only the tip of a corruption iceberg. The Radio New Zealand report notes that according to sources at the PPATK, Indonesian police are slow in investigating the cases, pparently due to the influence some of the high-ranking officers wield within the force.

Illegal logging has also involved the Indonesian military according to multiple credible investigations conducted by international and domestic NGOs as reported, inter alia, in the U.S. State Department's annual Human Rights Report for Indonesia.

Refugees from Indonesian Security Force Crackdown Speak about Their Plight

The highly-regarded weekly Australian television news program "Frontline" broadcast an unprecedented interview with Papuan students who have fled to the dangerous border region between West Papua and Papua New Guinea to escape a brutal Indonesian security force crackdown. The documentary, "West Papua - Flight to Freedom?" by Frontline's's Mark Davis notes as background that on March 17 the situation in West Papua, "always dire," "took a dramatic turn for the worse." The report described how Papuan students involved in a protest encountered fire by the Indonesian military. In the confusion, five Indonesian security personnel were killed. Security force reprisals begin that night with "anyone young and black (being) set upon in the streets" by the security forces. Soldiers attacked the university, searching for young Papuan especially highlanders. Many were severely beaten, and, the documentary noted, "it's claimed that more than a dozen have been murdered, others have simply disappeared."

The report explains that the only immediate refuge for hundreds of students and other young Papuan highlanders, is the jungle beyond Jayapura, where many remain today. But the report adds "they are being hunted there as well." "Their only hope is to get out of the country, over the mountains and into Papua New Guinea. This border region is now full of Indonesian troops and West Papuan independence fighters. PNG and Australian troops are nearby. This is the hot spot where the students are heading. Some have made it across the border into PNG, where the report picks up its interview based story." Full text of the report can be found by employing web server for "Frontline - West Papua, Flight to Freedom?"

Freeport Suffers New Attack over Its Environmental Record

The Government of Norway has announced that it would no longer invest in the U.S. copper-gold mine firm Freeport-McMoran due to concerns over systematic abuse of human and labor rights. Specifically, the the Norwegian government has withdrawn more than US$25,440,000 in the US copper and gold company because of "serious environmental damage." The Norwegian decision criticized Freeport for disposing of close to 230,000 tons of tailings, or residue into a natural river system which has led release of large quantities of sediments and heavy metals such as copper, cadmium and mercury into the watercourse. The Norwegians concluded that the Freeport actions over decades "inflicted serious damage on the river system and parts of the riverine rainforest and has (had) considerable negative consequences for the indigenous peoples residing in the area." The Norwegian decision comes just a month after a report sanctioned by Indonesia's House of Representatives confirmed that the Freeport mine in Papua is causing severe damage to the environment."

Freeport responded to this latest assault on its environmental record by claiming it was all a "misunderstanding." A spokesman for Freeport, Bill Collier, claimed the tailings from the mine were non-toxic and that the tailings deposit area will be re-vegetated with native species or agricultural crops at the end of the mine life."

A member of the West Papua Advocacy Team who spent four hours on the tailings delta without Freeport knowledge while a senior officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta observed virtually no natural re-vegetation and extensive die off of valuable forest along the delta, including in areas where Freeport dikes had given way. Those areas where Freeport had sought to artificially re-vegetate required intensive fertilization as acknowledged to WPAT member's by Freeport representatives.

Jakarta Post Op-Ed Notes Problem of "Disappearances" Especially in West Papua

A June 10 op-ed by Veronica Kusuma (Asia Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance) discussed Indonesian participation in the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva which opened June 19. This session will consider formal adoption of the draft International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance. In the past, rather than support the drafting of the International Convention Indonesia has abstained.

Ms. Kusuma writes that the Convention fills a huge gap in international law: the absence at the universal level of a treaty addressing gross human rights violations and the international crime that is enforced disappearance. She notes that Indonesia, a member of the council, "ironically,has a bad record on dealing with involuntary disappearance issues. Specifically, Ms. Kusuma observes:

"Besides the greatest tragedy, the crackdown on alleged communists in 1965, Indonesia is still coping with involuntary disappearance cases from the 1984 Tanjung Priok incident, the 1989 Talang Sari incident, the turbulent period of 1997-98, and the unrest in Aceh and Papua. The 1997 and 1998 cases involving kidnappings of pro-democratic activists are now in the hands of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), but the commission appears powerless in the face of rejection and resistance by the suspected perpetrators of disappearances, especially TNI (the Indonesian Military)."

She adds that Indonesia has at least 1,266 cases between 1965 and 2002, mostly in Aceh and West Papua and that the greatest number of disappearances are recorded between 1998 and 2000. The otherwise comprehensive assessment fails to note that many of the officials responsible for the 1998-2000 disappearances in West Papua and elsewhere are still active duty senior military officers, complicating any positive Indonesian role with regards to the Convention.

Australia on Course Again to Appease Indonesia

Australia and Indonesia are on course to sign a security treaty which, at Indonesian insistence will recognize Jakarta's control of West Papua. Prime Minister Howard has stated that he is "perfectly happy in any document that we sign to say that we respect the territorial integrity of Indonesia," adding "there is no argument about our attitude towards Indonesian sovereignty over Papua." The agreement recalls Australia's decades of recognition of Indonesia's conquest and occupation of East Timor which won Canberra a highly favorable deal on off-shore oil with Jakarta. However, for many years, Australian support for the 1975 invasion isolated it from broad international rejection of the Indonesian occupation.

Back issues of West Papua Report


Corrected typo in Summary to reflect that the Norwegian government had divested from Freeport.


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