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West Papua Report

August 2008

This is the 51st 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


Low "Human Security" Could Render Papuans a Minority in Their Own Land

On July 7, the London-based human rights NGO TAPOL distributed the following revealing editorial by R. van de Pas, medical coordinator for Médecins du Monde (MDM), regarding conditions in West Papua. It appears in a publication of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. The editorial, entitled "The effects of low human security on the health status of a struggling population. Do health indicators matter?" discussed humanitarian conditions in Sudan and in West Papua. It concludes that inadequate health care available to Papuans could help render them a minority within West Papua by 2011. The following excerpts portions of that editorial which address conditions in West Papua:

Even in an area without overt conflict, socioeconomic inequalities might leave groups impoverished and in low human security. (Human security is a term used within the UN framework that combines economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. It is a concept that comprehensively addresses both ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’.)

This is the case with the Indonesian province of Papua and is illustrated by its disparity with the country’s capital, Jakarta. In Jakarta 3·4% of the population is poor, while about half of Papua’s population lives below the poverty line. In addition to low local human resource and geographical constraints, distrust between different parties hinders services in the villages. Availability of health data is limited. Médecins du Monde works in the remote highlands of Papua to strengthen primary healthcare and access to basic services. The native Papuan inhabitants are slowly being outnumbered by immigrants from the rest of Indonesia and face the same fate as the aboriginals in Australia, that of becoming a marginalized minority group. Demographic data indicates that Papuan indigenous groups comprised 96% of the population in 1971; this had fallen to 59% by 2005. Using the estimated growth rates for the Papuan and non-Papuan populations, 1.7% and 10.5% respectively, by 2011 the population will be 3.7 million, and Papuans will be a minority of 47·5%.

Public health indicators, although incomplete, suggest that the general health of Papuans is poor. Malaria, upper respiratory tract infections and dysentery are major causes of childhood morbidity, with infant mortality ranging from 70 to 200 per 1,000 live births a year. More than 50% of children under the age of five are undernourished, and immunisation rates are low. Maternal mortality is three times the rate of women in other parts of Indonesia. A generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic is unfolding in the province. The cumulative AIDS case rate in Papua of 60.9 per 100,000 inhabitants is 15·4 times higher than the national average. Prevalence of HIV among ethnic Papuans is almost twice as high as the prevalence among non-ethnic Papuans – 2.8 percent compared with 1.5 percent.

A health system is a reflection of its society. Healthcare is only one of the multiple variables that influence the health outcomes of a population. Mass displacement in Darfur and socioeconomic inequalities in Papua are among the main causes of ill health. Comprehensive primary healthcare is the basis for sustainable health services. This concept, described in the Alma Ata declaration in 1978, is currently being rehabilitated by the World Health Organisation as the key to qualitative long-term public health outcomes. Comprehensive primary healthcare encourages communities to define their own strategies for improving health. It links healthcare with social and economic development. The possibility to strengthen healthcare while at the same time actively promoting human rights has been demonstrated by the US physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer, whose work in central Haiti is groundbreaking. The combined epidemic of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in Haiti’s impoverished rural population resembles the current outbreak in Papua. One of the differences is that Haiti is much more densely populated than Papua, hence the spread of the epidemic in Papua is slower.

Health indicators are used as service monitors and provide data about the health status of a population. Colleagues argue that ‘the international medical profession can play a part in bringing about change, e.g. by engaging with and supporting progressive Papuan health professionals in their efforts to improve services, establish training programs, and improve standards of care in the region. Furthermore, gathering more comprehensive data that focuses on the public-health results of conflict and socioeconomic neglect is essential.’

My belief is that without durable peace and social equality, gains in health status already achieved can easily be lost. Health indicators can be used as an advocacy tool in the political arena to defend the right to health for all. This is the weapon health professionals should use worldwide to assist our cause.

Peaceful Papuan Demonstrators Beaten and Arrested in Fakfak West Papua

On July 19 Indonesian policed assaulted a group of over 40 Papuan citizens who had assembled peacefully to stage a protest. Several of the Papuans unfurled the "Morning Star" flag, a Papuan symbol with cultural and political significance. For many years in West Papua, the display of the flag has prompted arrests and beatings by Indonesian security authorities. In the Fakfak demonstration, police eventually released 37 of a reported 46 Papuans who were detained but then on July 23 arrested five more Papuans purportedly involved in the demonstration. The respected Papuan human rights organization ELS-HAM, drawing on first hand accounts, reported that the police beat and kicked male participants and forced them to disrobe on the street. Two of those detained sustained potentially serious eye injuries. The police subsequently denied the beatings or that the detainees were forced to disrobe in public but said that claims of injuries would be investigated.

The police have charged six of those arrested with "subversion," a charge which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The charge originates from the colonial era criminal code and was frequently employed by the dictator Suharto against his critics. In addition, the Indonesian police charged three Papuans for arms possession. Experts note that is common for males to carry weapons in Papuan society.

The arrests have drawn protests from respected human rights organizations around the world including TAPOL and Human Rights Watch (HRW). The Tapol report quoted extensively from a statement by leading Papuan human rights defender Paula Makabory of the Institute for Papuan Advocacy & Human Rights (ELS-HAM). Ms. Makabory said in part: "The detainees should be released as it is not credible for the Indonesian Police to charge these people on that basis of 'subversion'. Performing a flag raising ceremony and protesting against Indonesian authority is not an act which could over throw the Government. The demonstration was peaceful and such political expression should be a democratic right in West Papua and Indonesia." Placing the development in an historical context she continued: "Public remembrance of the past injustice from the Suharto period and the ongoing repression of Human Rights, including the Right to 'self determination', is what Indonesia Government agencies seek to subvert by arresting these people. This demonstration is only a threat to the status quo in West Papua because it shows the world the kind of Indonesian domination which West Papuans face. "

HRW also condemned the Indonesian action. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia Director at HRW noted in part: “Once again, the Indonesian authorities have stopped Papuans from peacefully expressing their political views. The police should not resort to violence to suppress political activism…. Charging people with subversion, a crime punishable by life imprisonment in Indonesia, is an outrageous response to the peaceful political act of raising a flag. The unlawful acts at the scene were by police beating up protesters.” Human Rights Watch also urged the authorities to drop the charges of arms possession.

Arrests for display of the Morning Star flag have been increasing in recent months. In March of this year police jailed nine Papuans for display of the flag. Their trial under charges of subversion is currently proceeding.

The HRW statement noted that for many years, it has called called on the Indonesian government to immediately release all persons imprisoned for exercising their rights to free expression, free association or peaceful assembly. The group also continues to call for amendment of the Indonesian criminal code to repeal provisions that violate basic freedoms of expression, assembly and association. HRW noted that “Indonesian government continues to use outdated laws restricting free expression to suppress peaceful dissent in far-flung provinces.” The HRW Deputy Director added: "the government should rewrite these laws, not use them against peaceful protesters.” The internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2006.

World Council of Churches Say Papuans Traumatized and Subject to Militarization

The following is drawn from a July 29 World Council of Church's "news release" (see

West Papuans have yet to recover from the trauma of human rights violations. At the same time continuing in-migration is threatening to marginalize them in their resource-rich province, an ecumenical team from the World Council of Churches (WCC) told top-level Indonesian government officials.

Papuans appear to be traumatized because of migration to their island, Rev. Prof. James Haire told Indonesian social welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie 24 July.

At the root of the problem is a transmigration program sponsored by the 1965-1998 Suharto government. It had encouraged other Indonesians to migrate to West Papua in order to make the Papuans, who had long been fighting for independence, a minority in their own territory.

The post-Suharto government stopped the transmigration programme, but it could not stop waves of other Indonesians seeking to do business in West Papua, again tilting the economic scale to the disadvantage of less educated, largely illiterate Papuans.

With the continuing spontaneous in-migration of mostly Muslim traders, the population now is about 2.4 million, with about 1.4 to 1.5 million West Papuans, most of whom belong to churches such as the Christian Church of West Papua or the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI), a WCC member.

Human rights violations in West Papua were also denounced by the WCC before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2008. "Papuans still are subject to torture, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and unfair trials by the Indonesian authorities," the UN body was told. The WCC oral intervention blamed the "ongoing militarization" of the island for this "pattern of intimidation" against Papua's indigenous people.

Autonomy has recently been granted to Papuans. However, trained bureaucrats and public servants still often come from outside the island, again unintentionally tending to disadvantage the position of the Papuans, noted Haire.

"All these emerging marginalization trends plus the serious concerns for education, healthcare, and economic livelihoods need to be addressed," he added.

The Truth About "Reclamation" in The Freeport Wasteland

In its Sunday July 27 edition the Jakarta Post carried a report about butterfly breeding at a reclamation site (the Maurujaya Reclamation Center) located adjacent to the vast tailings delta created by over 40 years of operations at the Freeport-McMoran mine in the Timika-Tembagapura area of West Papua.

A WPAT team member writes that the piece, entitled "Butterflies breathe new life into Freeport's wasteland," conveys the false notion that the tailings desert in the middle of Papuan rain forest can be and is being "reclaimed." Noris Pangemanan, chief of the center which is run by Freeport-McMoran told the Post that the "farm" is lined with local fruit trees and a fish pond -- all of them on "reclaimed" mining waste. Pangemanan, in the employ of Freeport, told the post that "in the mining waste deposits -- contrary to what many people think -- there are still water sources and fertile soil."

The "farm" is located at the edge of the wasteland created by tailings from the Freeport mine which has submerged vast stretches of tropical rainforest, inundating the Ajkwa River basin. It forms a massive delta, in places tens of meters deep, that extends to the Arafura Sea where tidal currents have transported the tailings east and west along the coast destroying miles of mangrove forest.

Having visited the small "farm" described in the article, one is struck by the difference between this manufactured island and the sea of nearly lifeless, sand-like tailings that engulfs it. The lush little paradise flourishes not on the life-stealing tailings but on the vast amounts of new soil and fertilizers brought in to the site to create this potemkin garden. A three-hour trek on the adjoining tailings delta revealed a starker reality. Virtually lifeless, except for one thin-bladed grass variety, the delta appears to be an ocean beach without a shoreline, or more simply, a desert without birds, game or even insects.

The delta offers up periodic wide depressions at the center of which is quicksand. Miles of sago palm, a key traditional food source for Papuans, stand dead and spear-like lining the edges of tailings delta. Periodic breaks in the miles-long, poorly maintained dike system created by Freeport-McMoran to control the tailings flow within the Ajkwa river channel allow the tailings-laden water to inundate and smother these trees and all other vegetation in their wake.The vast and expanding dead zone is and will be a far more lasting legacy of the Freeport-McMoran operation than the butterflies attracted to its tiny farm center.

Ensuring A Role for The Local Community in Conservation Advocacy

In her essay, "Conservation Through Different Lenses: Reflection, Responsibility, and the Politics of Participation in Conservation Advocacy, published recently by Springer Science and Business Media, WPAT alumna Abigail Abrash Walton discusses the role of the international community in conservation advocacy. In a portion of the piece reflecting on her own experience addressing conservation and human rights in West Papua, she notes:

For some of us, conservation might mean setting aside parkland or ensuring the continued survival of a particular species. For local communities in many of the world’s most environmentally sensitive areas, the definition of conservation often is quite different.

In speaking about his people’s struggle to survive the onslaught created by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., on lands forcibly expropriated from the Amungme people, Amungme leader Tom Beanal put it this way: ‘‘When we say that the environment for us is our ‘mother,’ we mean that human beings are an integral part of the environment and therefore each one of us has to be mindful of and accountable to the limitations of the environment." Beanal notes that ‘‘Modern people do not recognize the special relationship of indigenous people to the environment. But for the indigenous people, their view of their natural surroundings teaches them ecologically sound principles to care for the environment in a sustainable way. For the indigenous people, destroying the environment means damaging the lives of human beings.’’

This strong connection to and sense of place is pervasive among many indigenous, traditional, or local communities throughout the world, along with the fundamentally practical acknowledgement of human communities’ utter reliance on the ecosystems in which they live. Although it is crucial not to idealize local communities, we can actively seek to understand and promote the effective management practices that they have developed and to strengthen communities’ positions as central decision makers in the political processes that determine how their traditional lands and resources will be treated.

The full essay is available online at: 

Papuans Demand No New Forestry or Plantation Deals until Special Autonomy Regulations Protect Indigenous Rights and Interests

Papuans, meeting in Jakarta in late June, called for a halt to all new forestry and plantations deals until the region’s Special Autonomy Law affords real protection of indigenous rights. A coalition of local organizations, including over 20 indigenous, community, church and non-governmental groups from across Papua made the demand at a meeting in Jakarta following presentations from government representatives on Papuan forestry and land use policies.

The demand comes in the context of growing threat to Papuan resources by major oil palm, biofuels and pulp plantations, as well as the impact of legal and illegal logging, much of it run by or protected by the Indonesian military. An additional concern is Trans Papua highway slated to extend over 800 miles along which development will proceed unchecked. Indonesia has the highest deforestation rate, one of the worst illegal logging problems, and is now the biggest producer of oil palm in the world. At least 3 million hectares of forests in Papua have been slated for conversion to oil palm. The majority of Papuans still rely on forests for their daily needs. Indigenous Papuans also fear problems such as demographic change from government-organized migration, the loss of livelihoods from forest resources and the spread of HIV/AIDS will only increase in the wake of "development" along lines dictated from Jakarta.

Under Papua’s Special Autonomy status within Indonesia, a provincial regulation, called a Perdasi, is required to define and implement rules guaranteeing community based forest management rights. However, this cannot be passed until a Special Regulation called a Perdasus is passed to formally protect native Papuan’s rights over all natural resources. The failure to pass these regulations reportedly has enabled investors and other actors to work with elites in Papua to exploit the people’s forests within a legal grey area.

Forestry Firms in West Papua Devastating Papuan Forests and Ill-serving Local Communities

The Jakarta Post (July 16) reports that Greenomics Indonesia, an environmental NGO, has issued a report contending that 60.42 percent of forestry companies in West Papua are failing to deliver on promises of local community empowerment and investment in sustainable forest development. According to Greenomics coordinator Vanda Mutia Dewi, an evaluation of forest concession holders in West Papua also demonstrated very poor financial performance. The study also revealed that 75 percent of forestry companies harvested their forests in contravention of the legal requirements on selective cutting. Specifically, forestry companies performed poorly in practicing selective cutting based on wood volume, forest size and forest types. The NGO warned: "Rapid action is needed, or the two provinces will be deforested and abandoned, while local people living in and near these areas will remain poor." The NGO's spokesperson called for urgent action: ""Central and provincial governments and an independent evaluation team should conduct a field visit and comprehensive evaluation. Poorly performing forestry companies should suffer the revocation of their concessions, argued the NGO spokesperson.

The Papuan People’s Assembly chairman, Agus Alue Alua, has charged Indonesian President Yudhoyono of violating the 2001 special autonomy for West Papua by issuing a decree that would amend the law. In a July 6 interview with the Jakarta Post, Alua contended that it was not within the President's prerogative to revise the law. Alua noted that it was the exclusive right of Papuans to amend the law, as set forth in Article 77.

The revision was first presented by Vice President Kalla in February but that was rejected by the People’s Assembly, the governor and the Papua legislature. However, they later agreed to implement the revisions through a government ordinance. That action transpired however, without public approval, either through a referendum or Papuan legislative action.

Government Human Rights Body to Investigate Human Rights Abuse in West Papua

According to a July 25 report in the Jakarta Post, the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) plans to initiate an investigation into human rights violations in Papua. The Government body will pursue the investigation despite protests from the Attorney General's Office.

The commission's deputy chairman, Ridha Saleh, told the Jakarta Post the rights body was completing preliminary research into cases of atrocities that took place between 1963 and 2002. He said the result of the study would be presented at a plenary meeting next month to decide whether a field investigation was warranted.

Saleh described the investigation as "urgent." UN reports, as well as those by governments and both Indonesian and international human rights organizations have for years documented reports of arbitrary arrest, kidnapping, torture and murder, usually perpetrated by the Indonesian security forces. The Indonesian military has repeatedly conducted "sweeps" resulting in the displacement of Papuan civilians from their homes, leading to their suffering and death to disease and starvation.

Government sponsored migration from other parts of Indonesia has marginalized Papuans and the failure of the Government to provide basic services has left many Papuans poorly educated, unemployed, in deep poverty and in precarious health.

Ridha told the Jakarta Post that once established, the ad hoc team would focus on widely reported human rights crimes in Timika and Biak

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