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West Papua Report

July 2008

This is the 50th 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


Carmel Budiarjo Wins First John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award

The West Papua Advocacy Team announces the creation of the John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award, which, beginning in 2008, will be awarded annually to the individual or institution that has contributed most substantially to protection of human rights in West Papua.  The award honors John Rumbiak, a Papuan who, until suffering a debilitating stroke  in 2005, was a leading voice in the defense of Papuan human rights. 

He founded the West Papua Advocacy Team.  His courageous devotion to the cause of human rights defense, the non-violent assertion of political rights and demands for justice, including accountability for human rights violators, has inspired not only Papuans but individuals and organizations widely in the international community. 

The 2008 award, the first annual award, is presented to Ms. Carmel Budiardjo.  Ms. Budiardjo, founder of TAPOL, is a legendary defender of human rights for the people of the Indonesian archipelago, whose activism and advocacy extends back four decades.  In particular, she has been a leading champion of rights for the Papuan people, working with great success to mobilize the international community in their defense. 

The award includes a $500 stipend and a plaque which honors the winner.

New Disease Outbreaks in West Papua Underscore failure of "Special Autonomy"

Media and human rights defenders' reports point to multiple outbreaks of fatal diseases in various part of West Papua. 

In early June, Paula Makabori who works for the Institute of Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, wrote to the World Health Organization to alert it and the international community to the spread of an infectious bacteria in the Paniai and Nabire regions of West Papua. The disease, believed to be cholera, reportedly has claimed more than 66 Papuans.  Ms Makabori drew attention to the fact that Indonesian government provided health services are inadequate.  She urged that international  health organizations assign personnel to investigate the outbreak.

Separately the Jakarta Post on June 20 reported that 14 people had died of diarrhea in Mimika in the first three weeks of June.  According to the report the local government health official termed the outbreak an "extraordinary incident" although noting that a worse outbreak hit the region in 2004 killing more people.  The official acknowledged that his office was short of medicines and medical personnel to address the situation. Villagers in the area of the outbreak rely on water from the river for their daily usage in the Indonesian province which generates enormous wealth for the central government.

The Australia West Papua Association (Sidney), a respected human rights organization, has called to its government's attention reports that up to 76 people have died from diarrhea of unknown origin in the highlands region of West Papua near the district of Kammu. There are people still suffering from the epidemic and receiving very little help from local government institutions.

Papuans also are suffering one of the worst rates of HIV/AIDS incidence in Indonesia.  This is compounded by antibiotic resistant tuberculosis and the endemic malaria infection including a fatal strain previously thought to be less dangerous.

Papuans point to decades of inadequate public services, especially health care, as among the most pernicious legacies of rule from Jakarta.  Services remain fundamentally inadequate notwithstanding over six years of "special autonomy" which purportedly was to make amends for decades of central government neglect in West Papua.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human of Human Rights Article 25 states in part: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services..."

A Bloody Anniversary

July 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the massacre of hundreds of Papuan residents of Biak island in 1998.  The victims, including Papuan women and children who had gathered peacefully at the base of water tower bearing their "morning star" flag were slaughtered at that site and later many more were drowned at sea, shoved off Indonesian naval vessels were their hands bound.  As bodies washed ashore, Indonesian officials claimed that the corpses were those of victims of a tsunami that had struck Papua New Guinea hundreds of miles to the East.  The absurdity of the claim was exposed by the victims bound hands and the fact that some wore t-shirts of Indonesian political parties.

Two members of the West Papua Advocacy Team, one then a student and the other a diplomat separately visited Biak at the time of the incident.  The diplomat, denied permission to visit Biak by the Indonesian Government, disembarked at Biak during a refueling stop enroute to Jayapura and did not reboard, giving him several days in Biak.  He found the Biak community deeply traumatized by the massacre - very few, even among Papuan church leaders, were willing to meet or speak with the US diplomat.  But a brave few gave limited testimony of having seen bodies piled in military vehicles and of being forced to bury bodies of victims near the shoreline where they washed up, with no attempt at identification. 

The site of the massacre had been hurriedly cleansed and repainted.  A wall against which many of the trapped victims were murdered had been replastered.  But a tip from a local Biak resident exposed the cover-up.  He directed the diplomat to examine the water tower's foundation, its "legs."  Unpainted and unrepaired it revealed multiple bullet holes.  The holes were torso high, indicating the Indonesian military had not fired over the heads or at the feet of the unarmed Papuans to disperse them as the Indonesian Government claimed.  It was murder, pure and simple.  Despite a decade of democratic progress in Indonesia, no member of the Indonesian military or police has been successfully prosecuted for this crime against humanity.

Excerpts of a an account by a WPAT member, Eben Kirksey, who was in Biak at the time of the massacre follow:

Every morning my friends and I had been taking food to the protesters, recounted one of these survivors, a woman from a church near the harbor. She told me about the first moments of the attack: While we were carrying the food that morning we saw several army trucks approaching. They told us to wait, but when we saw that they were military we were afraid and began running with the food and water. They began chasing us with their guns blazing. We screamed "The enemy is here!"

As the attack started, Filep Karma (leader of the rally and now an Amnesty International "Prisoner of Conscience") roused his followers, all unarmed civilians, with a hymn. They held hands, sitting in a circle, under the water tower where the flag still flew. They were mowed down as they continued to sing. Another survivor told me: the soldiers made a kind of letter U. There were Brimob police in riot gear, army troops (Kopasgad), a company of soldiers from the local Kodim barracks, as well as Navy personnel. They formed a letter U around us and then shot at us repeatedly. ... Twenty-nine people were killed in this initial assault, according to Karma and a second-hand report from a low-ranking soldier. ... I saw these ships from the hotel where I was staying. One group investigating the incident concluded that "one hundred thirty nine people were loaded on two frigates that headed in two directions to the east and to the west and these people were dropped into the sea." A woman who narrowly escaped this ordeal told me: I was taken by the troops to a navy ship. The number on the side of the ship was 534 AL. Several of my friends had already been taken aboard. They beat us. Some were already dead. There were women raped right next to me. One soldier, he was from Toraja, saved me. The ship was still close to shore and he told me to jump. I jumped off of the back of the ship and I swam back to the place where it had been tied up. There I found a hiding place and I waited from 8:00 in the morning till 8:20 that night.

At least 32 decaying bodies later washed ashore on Biak. Indonesian government officials explained that these corpses were transnational travelers: they belonged to victims of a tidal wave that hit the coast over 600 km away in the neighboring country of Papua New Guinea on July 17, 1998. However, the official explanation does not match the facts. Four bodies washed up on the beaches of Biak on July 10. This was four days after the police opened fire on the demonstrators and one-week before the tidal wave struck. Some cadavers were missing their heads, hands, or genitals. One male body still had a Morning Star flag painted on its chest and a corpse of a child was found still embracing its mother's body.

The bodies of people who were shot under the water tower were heaped into a small cargo truck. Some of these people were not yet dead. Several eyewitnesses reported that this truck was filled with corpses, that it departed from the harbor, and then returned for another load. I counted fifteen people in the first load, one eyewitness told me. The truck came a second time and I counted seventeen people inside. When they opened up the truck bed I could see lots of blood, in that small truck there was lots of blood. Human rights investigators could not determine what happened to the dead and wounded people who were transported in this truck. Filep Karma, who is now an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, told me about how to find one mass grave. But, forensic archaeologists have not yet visited this site. Elsham Papua produced a 69 page report in Indonesian about the massacre titled "Names Without Graves, Graves Without Names." The report called for an international investigation.

A Government Planned Highway in West Papua Poses Grave Danger for West Papuan Forests and Further Marginalization for Papuans

In late June, Agence France Press reported that an Indonesian plan to build a highway through the forests of Papua had drawn strong protest from Papuan NGOs and Greenpeace.

The 2,796 mile highway, NGOs noted in a joint statement cited by AFP, "would lead to an explosion in palm oil plantations and allow easy access for illegal loggers."  Greenpeace's Bustar Maitar added that the planned highway ""would not only result in irreversible biodiversity loss  and consequent ecological disaster, it will have a devastating impact on the lives and livelihood of the Papuan people."

The NGOs also indicated that Papuans have not been consulted about the plan.  West Papua is already the victim of rampant illegal logging, often carried out by or under the protection of the military.  West Papua's fate may be similar to that of West Kalimantan where vast stands of valuable hardwoods were burned to make way for palm oil plantations.  The broad scale destruction of forests and subsequent  government-organized in-migration of outsiders to develop and work the plantations was a major factor in the marginalization of the indigenous Dayak, exactly the impact that Greenpeace and others warn about for Papuans.

International Crisis Group Assesses Prospects for Communal Violence in West Papua

The  International Crisis Group Asia Report (N°154 16 June 2008) discussed "Communal Tensions in Papua."  The report's "Executive Summary And Recommendations" leads with the warning that "conflict between Muslim and Christian communities could erupt unless  rising tensions are effectively managed."  It notes that such conflict almost broke out in Manokwari and Kaimana in  2007.  The report cites the following as "key factors:" continuing Muslim migration from elsewhere in Indonesia; the emergence of new, exclusivist groups in both religious  communities that have hardened the perception of the other as  enemy; the lasting impact of the Maluku conflict; and the impact of developments outside Papua."

The Report offers a succinct and persuasive analysis of the principal impetus to conflict:

"Many indigenous Christians feel they are being slowly but surely swamped by Muslim migrants at a time when the central government seems to be supportive of more  conservative Islamic orthodoxy, while some migrants believe they face discrimination if not expulsion in a democratic system where Christians can exercise "tyranny of the majority." The communal divide is overlain by a political one: many Christian Papuans believe autonomy has not gone nearly far enough, while many Muslim migrants see it as a disaster and are fervent supporters of centralised rule from Jakarta.

The report emphasizes that there are positive steps and trends that are ameliorating tensions. It notes that pairing Christian and Muslim officials in senior local government positions and a careful division of economic and other resources between the communities appears to have staved off conflict in some areas such as Merauke.  In other areas such as the Bird's Head region, Papuan Muslims have been able to play the role of broker.

The report also points to various mechanisms that are available for dialogue among religious leaders in Papua, including the working group on religion of the  Papuan People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP), though the report questions how much impact such bodies have at grass roots levels.

The reports recommendations to the national government include a call for both national and local officials to "ensure that no discriminatory local regulations are enacted, and (that) no activities by exclusivist religious organizations are supported by government funds."  (Military support for  mostly Islamic militias would appear to fall into this category.) The report also calls on the national government to "instruct the armed forces and police to ensure that Papua-based personnel are not seen as taking communal sides."

The report also notes a role for international donors to (in conjunction with the national government) to identify areas of high tension where conflict might be defused by non-religious projects involving  cooperation for mutual benefit across communities.  The report also recommends that international donors "support conflict-resolution training for Papua-based organizations, including the Majelis Muslim Papua and the  religious working group of the Papua People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP).

Unfortunately, the report does not include among its recommendations a call for an end to impunity for security forces and justice in the many cases involving both Muslim and Christian Papuans who have been the victims of rape, torture, murder and expropriation of land at the hands of the Indonesian security forces.  Establishing a climate of true justice could go a long way in addressing the fears and insecurity of all Papuans.

(For full report see:

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