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West Papua Report
August 2006


This is the 30th in a series of monthly reports that focuses 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.


Infamous Indonesian General Appointed Commander for West Papua

In early August, the Indonesian military announced that Brigadier General Zamroni has been appointed military chief (Pangdam) for West Papua (and the disputed "West Irian Jaya Province"). Zamroni has deep connections to the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus). He rose to prominence in Kopassus under General Prabowo whom he served as commander of Kopassus's elite "anti-terror" unit. Following Prabowo's dismissal from the Indonesian military, Zamroni became deputy commander of Kopassus. He was widely accused by reputable human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, for "the brutality of his forces in Aceh in 2001."

“The Bulletin," a New Zealand publication, notes also that Zamroni was "instrumental in quashing student democracy protests of the mid- and late- 1990s. It was this campaign of torture, kidnap and murder that ultimately led to the downfall of General Prabowo.”

Mistreatment of Papuan Detainees Continues

Church sources in West Papua report that on August 28, Nelson Rumbiak, a prisoner who was allegedly involved in the March 16 demonstrations  in Abepura, was beaten by members of the local police after his testimony at the Jayapura State Court. He and two other witnesses testified during the August 28 court session that their confessions related to the March 16 demonstrations were made under physical duress by the police.

This report parallels earlier reports of police mistreatment of those detained in connection with this case. To date, neither the Court nor the prosecution has intervened to address the reports of police mistreatment of these detainees.

Australian Government Plan to Block Papuan Refugee Seekers Fails

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has withdrawn a bill proposing changes to immigration laws, acknowledging that it faced certain defeat in parliament. That defeat has emerged in the form of significant resistance to the plan from within Howard’s own party. The legislation was passed by the lower house in early August but was headed for certain defeat in the senate.

The plan, dubbed the "Pacific Solution," would have required asylum-seekers arriving in Australia to be sent to Nauru for "offshore processing." Those asylum-seekers determined to be refugees, would be designated for resettlement in a third country. Despite the plan's defeat, Howard claimed that the Australian government would continue to send asylum seekers to Nauru, explaining that "people who arrive on excised islands (not on the Australian mainland) will still, in appropriate circumstances, be processed in Nauru."

The initiative for the proposed legislation was prompted by the arrival of 43 Papuans from West Papua in January 2006. The new arrivals claimed that they faced severe repression and genocide in the hands of the Indonesian military. Australia's decision to grant asylum caused consternation within the Indonesian government.

Indonesian Military Cross Border Operations in Papua New Guinea

The Indonesian military's cross border operations into Papua New Guinea (PNG) pose risks of an international conflict that could involve Australia, according to an August 23 report by Paul Daley of the New Zealand University School of Communications Studies, which was published in "The Bulletin (Australia)."

In his detailed report, entitled "Caught in The Crossfire," Daley contends that a large number of Indonesian military and intelligence officers are currently inside Papua New Guinea where they pose as fisherman and loggers. The report contends that Indonesian forces, especially from the Special Forces (Kopassus), and the Indonesian State Intelligence Agency (BIN), operate covertly in search of West Papuans who have fled to PNG. These Indonesian personnel reportedly exploit understaffed PNG border security forces. “Intelligence operations are routinely being conducted inside the PNG border by the Indonesian military’s special forces and, it is understood, with a blind-eye approach being taken by Port Moresby,” according to a security source quoted by Daley. At worst, PNG is cooperating, at best it is doing nothing because the PNGDF [Papua New Guinea Defense Forces] is run down and the government is afraid of Jakarta’s military.” Collusion between Indonesian military and senior level PNG officials is evidenced in phone communications intercepted by Australia's Defense Signals Directorate, according to intelligence sources cited by Daley.

Daley also reports that West Papuan timber is regularly transported across the border to PNG from where it is exported as PNG timber. Indonesian law prohibits export of raw timber. Drug trading and prostitution have grown up around the large-scale illegal logging operation according to security sources cited by Daley. (See report later in this issue for related information.)

Suspicion Grows of Foiled Indonesian Incursion

Hard evidence for reports of Indonesian military incursions into PNG may have surfaced in an August 8 incident in which PNG security personnel fired on an Indonesian boat in PNG territorial waters near the villages of Wutung and Mushu, an area believed to have been the target of clandestine Indonesian incursions. One Indonesian was killed and two were seriously injured when PNG security personnel fired on a mysterious craft operating in PNG waters. Seven Indonesians were arrested in the incident.

The governments of PNG and Indonesia both insist that the Indonesians were fishermen. Appearing to corroborate reporting cited in the preceding item, an August 25 Papua New Guinea Post-Courier report replayed by the BBC notes that despite PNG denials the August 8 shooting incident near Wutung and Mushu involved Indonesian "spies." Local sources confirm a clandestine Indonesian operation.

Intelligence sources told the Post-Courier that the PNG government was in fact attempting to "cover-up for alleged TNI (Indonesian armed forces) soldiers on a clandestine operation in PNG's Sandaun Province. They (the Indonesians) are Kopassus members. The eight that were shot at outside Vanimo were made up of five professionals (soldiers) including a medic, a radioman, a commander, signaler and rifleman while the other three were Kopassus," said an ex-PNGDF soldier who worked with the army intelligence unit between 1989-1999, and now resides in a PNG border town. The former official, according to the Post-Courier, added that when he was in the military, he and his comrades were under standing orders to deny reports of incursions by the Indonesian military.

Papuan Christians Establish West Papuan Synod

For much of the more than four decades of Jakarta's rule in West Papua, it has been the Papuan clergy, particularly the Christian clergy (which represents the majority faith in West Papua), that has led the struggle for Papuan rights. The Christian clergy, in unison with Islamic clergy, for example, have led efforts to win recognition of West Papua as a "land of peace", free of Indonesian military abuse and repression. Observers, therefore, note the recent emergence of a Papua-led Synod in West Papua which has potentially broad significance for West Papua's on-going spiritual, social, cultural, economic, and political development.

The Synod of the Alliance Church in West Papua was formed following the meeting of 44 superintendents on July 26-29, 2006, in Nabire. This new synod formally disengaged from the Jakarta-based GKII (Evangelical Tabernacle Church of Indonesia) organization, but will remain part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination. It will be administered henceforth directly from Papua in order to focus more directly on the social, economic, and cultural concerns of Papuans. For many years the Jakarta-based GKII precluded development of a Papua-based approach to the multifaceted challenges confronting the people of Papua. A majority of the districts elected to join the new Synod.

Chinese Plan for Timber Operation in Papua Opposed

Papuans are resisting plans to establish a timber processing facility in West Papua. The government is conducting a feasibility study of the US$1 billion dollar plan by a firm named "China Light" which would reportedly supply lumber for construction of facilities for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In May, Forestry Minister Kaban stated publicly that the wood was intended for the construction of Olympic facilities in Beijing.

Opposition to the proposal has been registered by both local business and environment advocates who are concerned that the plan would diminish Papua's remaining pristine forests. The absence of effective monitoring of timber cutting, processing and export generally in Indonesia, and especially in West Papua, underscores the concern that no effective plan to control the timber cutting and processing is possible. Illegal logging, now rampant in West Papua, often in collusion with military and police, could emerge as sources of timber for the proposed Chinese-owned facility. Moreover, by establishing a processing facility in West Papua, China would be able to evade the Indonesian ban on the export of raw logs. China has also expressed interest in developing pulp and paper processing facilities in West Papua.

The Bogor-based environmental NGO Telapak recently produced a widely-quoted study which demonstrated that approximately 300,000 cubic meters of merbau (intsia) were smuggled monthly from Papua to China. The investigation, conducted jointly with the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), found that the wood was manufactured into flooring in China and sold through scores of home improvement chain stores in Europe and the United States.

The issue is another example cited by Papuans of the failure of the autonomy law to permit Papuans to control their own natural resources.

Addressing Illegal Land Seizures in West Papua and Elsewhere in the Indonesian Archipelago

A principal, historic grievance held by Papuans and other indigenous peoples in the Indonesian archipelago is the illegal seizure of their traditional lands in a corrupt bargain involving local and foreign firms and the Indonesian central government, with the Indonesian military and police acting as enforcers. The practice has led to the destruction of vast tracts of forest and other lands and the forced removal of thousands of indigenous peoples. An Op-Ed written by an American academic and published in the August 7 edition of the Jakarta Post reviews the problem and proposes possible legal and legislative solutions to this fundamental abuse of human rights. Excerpts of that OP-Ed, "The Right to Possess Land, by Stephanie Park," follow:

With the motto "Unity in Diversity," Indonesia tackled the formidable challenge of advancing the interests of a country that consists of almost 18,000 islands with over 700 languages and ethnic groups. In pursuing the interests of the country, however, it disregarded the interests of certain indigenous peoples on resource-rich lands, facilitating the extinction of their way of life.

During the New Order, untitled forest was classified as state-owned, and it was never reclassified to reflect indigenous ownership when the regime ended. Under the auspices of national development, the government has taken advantage of this loophole and confiscated large portions of this "state-owned" land. The land was then granted to privately-owned mining and logging multi-national corporations, which have, in general, reinvested embarrassingly minuscule shares of their profits in the community. Such land transfers have the double impact of undermining indigenous ownership and contributing to the destruction of the environment.

The only recourse currently available to groups deprived of their land is the court system, which has proved either incapable of protecting such property interests or unwilling to try.

As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Indonesia pledged to uphold Article 17, which promises that "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in conjunction with others" and that "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property." Moreover, Indonesia is now a party of and therefore has to comply with the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which also puts weight on right to property i.e. land as a human right. The government should be chary of implementing major change without input from representatives from geographically-diverse indigenous groups lest it infringe upon the right to self-determination. It can start, however, with providing a viable process for the restoration of seized land. If courts were to offer injunctions to parties whose cases are pending trial, they could return the property in its original state rather than seek an appropriate substitute as redress.

The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) could also add to the law to provide for adverse possession, a legal doctrine allowing a court to transfer actual title of property to a party whose use has gone unchallenged for a certain period of time, usually seven years or longer.

This is not a complete solution because it undermines the original right of ownership held by indigenous peoples, but adverse possession could be temporarily employed to stop divestiture of ownership for economic development.

For long-term change, Indonesia must provide formal recognition of the land rights of its indigenous peoples. One priority should be a revision or a binding interpretation of Article 18, which in the same breath recognizes the autonomy of traditional communities and subjugates them to the majority interest.

Similarly, Article 33 of the Constitution, which puts the "land, waters and the natural resources... under the powers of the State" should be understood to exclude land subject to the indigenous people who occupy it.

These and other measures are merely the roots of a more comprehensive program to recognize indigenous rights. However, they are a necessary start to fulfilling Indonesia's duty to preserve the cultural treasures that still live within its borders.

(The writer is a postgraduate student of Harvard University School of Law and currently an intern at Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam). Reachable by email at

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