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West Papua Report
November 2007

This is the 42nd in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesian Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at  Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at edmcw@


* A UN official has publicly reprimanded Indonesia for its refusal to allow him into Indonesia to investigate charges that Indonesian security forces have committed extrajudicial killings. While most of those killings transpired in the Suharto era, impunity associated with those crimes, many committed in West Papua, continues.

* Human Rights NGOs continue to report tension in West Papua over unexplained kidnappings, assaults, poisoning and killings. Human rights advocates appear to be a particular target of these and other forms of intimidation.

* The West Papua Advocacy Team and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network have written to Secretary Rice about the detention of a human rights lawyer, reportedly under a Suharto-era law that was ten months ago declared unconstitutional. The two organizations also express concern about the unit that carried out the detention, a US-funded element repeatedly accused of human rights abuse. The US-based NGOs also call attention to continuing pressure on other Papuan human rights defenders.

* A Papuan religious leader explains in compelling terms the basis of Papuans' deeply rooted objection to the destruction of their forests for profit.

* Papuan Governor Barnebus Suebu has been honored by Time magazine as an environmental "hero" for his opposition to the Indonesian Government's efforts to destroy Papuan forests in the name of development.

* Pacific regional NGO's attending the 17-nation "Pacific Forum" have called on participating governments to take action in defense of Papuans including pressing for a review of the "Act of Free Choice," the UN monitored non-plebiscite widely acknowledged to have been a fraudulent act of self determination through which the Indonesian Government justified its coercive annexation of West Papua.

* Many Papuans oppose plan by the central government and Russia to place a spaceport on Biak island. End Summary.

UN Official Raps Indonesia For Blocking Access to Investigate Extrajudicial Killings

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Philip Alston has expressed frustration over the lack of response from Indonesia among other countries who have refused to answer questions about charges of extrajudicial killings. Indonesia has refused his repeated requests for access in order to explore the charges. Alston noted to international media on October 28 that Indonesia and several other states "are failing the basic test of accountability." He added that, "if a country has problems of extrajudicial executions and doesn't let (me) in, that should be of concern to the General Assembly and Human Rights Council..." Indonesia is a member of the Human Rights Council and of the Security Council and in November will assume the presidency of the latter body. Alston noted that Indonesia's failure to cooperate with his office in this regard was "especially serious for (a) Human Rights Council member ... because the council members are supposed to have said, 'We promise to cooperate fully with the council' as part of being elected."

Indonesian and international human rights organizations have accused Indonesia of extrajudicial killings in recent decades. While most of the killings transpired during the Suharto dictatorship, the accused perpetrators, usually Indonesian security and intelligence personnel, continued to enjoy impunity from prosecution under "democratic" regimes, including that of current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Many of these extrajudicial killings, as acknowledged by the US State Department's annual human rights reporting have been committed in West Papua.

West Papuan Human Rights Organizations Uniformly Note Growing Pressure

Kontras Papua (The Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) and the Catholic Church's Office for Justice and Peace, among others have noted to counterparts an increased atmosphere of fear and suspicion, notably in the Jayapura and Timika areas. Tensions are also high in Wamena. Much of this relates to unconfirmed reports of killings , kidnappings and poisoning. Human rights defenders have also been the target of threatening and provocative anonymous text messages. The head of the Papuan branch of the National Human Rights Commission has been the victim of such threats for several months and has also faced physical intimidation.

This October updating reflects a continuous and some claim growing atmosphere of intimidation focused on human rights advocates. The latest surge in intimidation appears to have begun immediately following the visit of the UN Secretary General's Special Representative Hina Jilani who met with many of those now facing the most serious pressure.

WPAT and ETAN Urge US Government Action In Papuan Detention Case and Curbing of US-Funded Purported Anti-Terror Unit

WPAT and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network have jointly urged US action to prevent further injustice targeting, among others, Papuan Human Rights Lawyer Iwanggin Sabar Olif. Olif lkwas detained on October 18, reportedly on charges of "insulting the President," a law that was ruled unconstitutional by Indonesian courts in December 2006. The letter notes that this detention transpired in the context of a broader campaign of intimidation against human rights activists and religious leaders in West Papua. The two NGO's also reiterated concern about "Team 88" a US-funded special police unit widely accused of abusive techniques, including kidnapping and torture that was involved in this particular detention.

Papuan Defense of Their Forests Reflects Their Fundamental Importance in Papuan Life

The Jakarta Post, October 26, 2007 published an article entitled "Native Papuans fight against deforestation." The author, Catholic Priest Neles Tebay, describes why Papuans have so strongly resisted the destruction of their forests by timber firms and those seeking to develop oil palm plantations. Without referencing the often illegal nature of these operations, Father Tebay explains Papuans more basic objections to this destructive exploitation. Excerpts follow:

Why do indigenous Papuans courageously reject deforestation? Is the rejection a reflection of what the central government calls "Papuan separatism"? Is it a manifestation of being anti-government or anti-development, the accusations made by the central government in Jakarta for more than four decades? Is it sign of not wanting to better their future?

The reasons behind the rejection are related to their culture. Their rejection is rooted in and guided by the life-giving values of local culture. Papuans never see their virgin forests simply as a sea of trees that can be cut down in order to make millions of dollars.

The forest, for indigenous Papuans from all tribes, has multi-dimensional meanings. Indeed, Papuans never consider the forest as an enemy that has to be eradicated from the surface of the earth. Rather, it is first and foremost a member of the community.

Papuan community is composed not only of living people, but also the dead, the spirits and nature. That's why each community, both as a tribe and a community within a tribe, always has its own forest within a clearly defined territory. So, culturally speaking, a Papuan can never be separated from the forest.

It would also be a mistake if Papuan forest was seen as a isolated thing from the Papuans themselves, because the forest and the people form one community. For Papuans, a forest can mean a living pharmacy that provides all the necessary natural medicines. In times of need, Papuans go to the forest to collect natural medicine. The forest is also considered a food store or a living supermarket, for it provides vegetables, fruits, fish and animals. People used to get the necessary materials for houses, traditional boats, firewood and fences in their own forest.

It is a Papuan's belief that their ancestors and deceased members of the community reside in the forest. They are the guardians of the forest, including plants and animals, owned by the community. The forest, for Papuans, is a living temple, chapel or mosque, where people come and pray. It is the place where all rituals are conducted by a community or individually. Papuans go into their ancestral forest if they want to communicate with the ancestors or the dead.

The deeper sense of forest is expressed in the Papuan saying "Hutan adalah mama" (the forest is our mother). The forest is respected as a mother who tirelessly cares for, protects and sustains all of the members of the community, including the animals. Papuans cannot imagine life without the forest. Emphasizing the deeper meaning of forest, they say "Hutan kita, hidup kita" (our forest, our lives).

It is for the sake of life that every Papuan is educated from childhood the importance of maintaining a correct relationship with the forest. We can now understand that deforestation, for Papuans, means destroying a living pharmacy, damaging the living supermarket, destroying the place of worship, expelling the ancestors and the dead and committing adultery against the mother forest.

The central government should respect Papuan culture, including the cultural understanding of forest, and utilize it to protect the Papua's forests. By doing so, the government and Papuans could jointly prevent Papua's forests from being lost to deforestation. Otherwise there will be war between Papuans preserving Papua's forests and the central government proposing deforestation.

Papuan Governor Receives International Recognition for His Efforts to Protect Papuan Forests

Time Magazine, in its October 29 edition, has named Papuan Governor Barnebus Suebu a "hero" of the environment. Suebu joins the ranks of such international leaders as Nobel laureate Al Gore and Prince Charles who have also been so honored. The award recognizes Suebu's efforts to stop the Indonesian central government from destructive "development" of Papuan forests through devastating logging operations and development of oil palm plantations which entails the elimination of vast stretches of forest.

Notwithstanding Suebu's efforts, Indonesian agencies, notably security agencies, continue to operate or protect illegal logging and other destructive exploitation of Papuan resources.

Concern over West Papua Voiced at Pacific Forum

At a meeting of 17 Pacific Nations at the "Pacific Forum" in Tonga October 12-15, representatives of civil society organizations (CSO's), invited to the Forum by Pacific nation governments issued a communiqué addressed to Pacific nation leaders. The Appeal commended Forum Leaders for their "continuous support ... to the issue of political self-determination in the Pacific region and in other parts of the world." The CSO's, referring to the "Pacific Plan" under discussion at the Forum, noted, however, that the "Plan" needed to focus more directly on a number of issues, not the least of which was West Papua. The CSO's urged Pacific leaders to:

* Request the review of the 1969 UN Act of Free Choice for West Papua and the re-listing of West Papua (and French Polynesia) on the agenda of the UN Decolonization Committee;

* Maintain support to West Papua by granting it observer status in the Forum and encourage continuing dialogue between the Indonesian government and West Papuan leaders on the issue of self-rule;

* Commission a fact-finding mission to assess the human rights violations in West Papua;

* Promote cultural exchanges between West Papua and the rest of the Pacific region, including its inclusion in the Pacific Arts Festival and the South Pacific Games.

Plans For Russian Spaceport in West Papua Ignores Local Protest

Indonesian and Russian officials have reached agreement to construct a spaceport on Biak Island in West Papua. The project, scheduled for completion in 2010 when a Russian satellite is to be launched from the site, has drawn protests from ordinary Papuans and from the Biak Customary Council (Dewan Adat Biak).

The project to be developed at Frans Kaisepo Airport will entail significant expansion and technical development at that location. Such construction will likely lead to additional migration into the area, a prospect worrying to Papuans who face increasing marginalization as a consequence of migration to West Papua from other parts of Indonesia by people with greater skills and higher education.

More generally, the major project has been cited by Papuans as one more example of the central governments failure to adequately consult with local officials and civil society leaders regarding matters of fundamental importance to Papuans.

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