In the course of ongoing violence at the Freeport McMoRan mining concession in Timika, West Papua, three people have died, including an Australian Freeport employee. Six separate ambushes have taken place since shootings began on July 11.
A race to find scapegoats appears underway. Indonesian authorities have arrested as many as 20 individuals. Trusted sources informed the West Papua Advocacy Team that these detainees have been interrogated without the presence of their lawyers and at least one, an elderly man, was beaten by security personnel. Police sweeps in the area have placed a heavy burden on villagers in Kwamki Lama, Kwamki Baru and other area villages as civilians are too fearful to venture out to their gardens which are their principal source of food. Even though security officials have detained local people and conducted sweeps the attacks continued.
The July incidents were just the latest chapter in the Freeport story in West Papua, a saga of violence, human rights violations and internationally condemned environmental destruction. For decades, in numerous well-documented cases, the Indonesian security forces and Freeport's own security personnel, have intimidated and repressed local Papuans through extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and other forms of violence and terror.
Indonesian security forces have long exploited the weakness of the Indonesian judicial system to avoid prosecution for criminal activity, including violations of human rights. Nowhere is this more true than in West Papua where the culture of repression lives on beyond former Army General and dictator Suharto's 32-year rule, which ended formally in 1998. The principal victims have been ordinary Papuans, notably those living in the area of the giant Freeport McMoRan mining concession. Indonesian officials and the international community must act to ensure that the people of West Papua are not victimized yet again.
Initial Indonesian police reports indicate that those responsible for the recent attacks were "expert" shooters using weapons commonly found in military and police arsenals. Similar statements were made in 2002, when one Indonesian and two U.S. schoolteachers were killed on the same road. Ballistic evidence and eye-witness testimony pointed to an Indonesian military role in that ambush, but the Bush Administration and Indonesian officials, including recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, orchestrated a cover-up. An FBI investigation into the 2002 attack is still technically open. Recent history raises grave concerns about finding the truth about this latest incident. The military has joined the investigation into the latest attacks, making it likely the investigation will again fail to explore evidentiary lines leading to the Indonesian military. Senior military figures have already declared, without evidence, that the armed Papuan resistance (OPM) is responsible for the shootings, strongly suggesting at in 2002, a prejudiced investigation and prosecution. The Police commander in West Papua has stated he sees no evidence of OPM involvement and the OPM has denied any role.
The West Papua Advocacy Team, July 23, publicly called for the following:
33 Papuan Churches Express Dismay Over "Rising Intimidation, Terror and Arrests" Targeting Innocent Civilians
In a July 28 statement the leaders of 33 Papuan churches, members of the "Alliance of Churches in the Land of Papua," issued the following statement (translated by TAPOL):"
This is our statement of concern, expressing the commitment of all religions in the Land of Papua.
Scores of U.S. Organizations Call on U.S. Not to Cooperate with or Assist Indonesian Special Forces
July 23 statement signed by more than 50 U.S.
organizations urged the U.S. government to "strictly
prohibit any U.S. cooperation with or assistance to the
Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus)." The letter,
addressed to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and members of Congress, was coordinated by the
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).
Kopassus's rein of terror in West Papua is not disputed. Kopassus forces, under the command of then General Prabowo, in 1996 were in charge of negotiations aimed at freeing a team of international naturalists kidnapped by the Papuan resistance. Kopassus's botched effort led to an attack on a village and then months of "sweep" operations which displaced thousands of Papuan villagers and deaths of hundreds (the "Mapenduma campaign").
The kidnap victims eventually broke free of their captors and all but one found their way to safety. In 2001 Kopassus personnel murdered leading Papuan spokesperson Theys Eluay. The Indonesian court, although describing the killing as a "torture-murder," sentenced the Kopassus killers only to three and one half years imprisonment. Eluay's driver who was last seen with Kopassus personnel has never been seen again. There was no investigation or prosecution of this disappearance.
The text of the July 23 with a complete list of signatures can be found at http://www.etan.org/news/2009/07kopassus.htm.
Indonesian Try 16 Papuans for Peacefully Demonstrating
Indonesian has continued the prosecution of 16 Papuans in Nabire.The 16, including mostly students and farmers who are members of the pro-independence "West Papua National Committee," face charges of treason or subversion (makar),
Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code. If convicted they face up to twenty years imprisonment. The group was arrested following April 6 demonstrations in Nabire.
International human rights organizations have been critical of Indonesia for maintaining Article 106 in its Criminal Code. The law, which dates to Indonesia's colonial period and was extensively used during the rule of the dictator Suharto violates Indonesia's obligations to protect freedom of speech and the right to assembly (see discussion of this point in recent Human Rights Watch release below). In a July 24 statement, Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL observed: "If Indonesia wants to be accepted worldwide as a country that respects basic human rights, it should stop leveling charges of makar against people involved in peaceful acts of expression in Papua, Maluku or anywhere else."
Rights Watch Calls For Respect for Freedom of
Speech, Release of Political Prisoners
The HRW statement summarized the essential details of the April 6 incident in Nabire resulting in the arrest of 16 Papuans who currently are facing charges of treason/subversion under Article 106 (see above article). HRW noted that "at 3:30 a.m. on April 6, in an effort to stop a peaceful rally, police in Nabire attacked and burned a camp site where students and farmers who planned to protest had gathered. In the melee that ensued, students threw stones and vandalized a police vehicle. Protesters tried to storm trucks carrying heavily armed Mobile Brigade officers, who responded with gunfire. Further enraged, the demonstrators began pelting police with projectiles and firing arrows. Dozens of demonstrators were wounded by the gunfire, four of them seriously, including a 10-year-old boy. One policeman was wounded by an arrow. There has been no investigation into the acts of violence, and no specific charges relating to the violence have been brought against anyone, including members of the police."
The HRW release further noted that one of the 16, a housewife was not even present at the demonstration, but had a symbol of Papuan independence, the outlawed Morning Star flag, stitched to her bag. Police reportedly arrested the woman in a market near the demonstration and beat her with a rifle butt and a shoe then failed to provide her any medical assistance. Past President Abdurrahman Wahid once called the Morning Star flag a cultural symbol, and in 1999 and 2000 allowed the flag to be flown on the condition that it was raised alongside and lower than the Indonesian flag. Under the 2001 Papuan Special Autonomy Law, symbols of Papuan identity such as a flag or song are permitted, but Article 6 of Government Regulation 77/2007, prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the South Maluku Republic flag in Ambon, and the Crescent Moon flag in Aceh.
There is a long history of suppression of peaceful activism in Papua. The offense of treason or rebellion is often invoked against persons alleged to have shown support for the armed separatist group, Organisasi Papuan Merdeka (Free Papua Organization or OPM) (see for example, http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2007/02/20/protest-and-punishment ).
HRW charged that President Yudhoyono's administration "has intensified suppression of peaceful political activism in Papua. His government has stepped up the use of 'hatred sowing' articles interpreting peaceful acts of protest and flag-raising as 'showing hatred' toward government officials, state institutions, religious symbols, and state symbols -- particularly in Papua and the Moluccas where there are separatist movements. More than 170 people are currently in jail throughout Indonesia for trying to exercise freedom of expression, 43 of them in Papua."
Papuans Sue the Indonesian Government and Minister Bakrie over Freeport
The Amungme Tribal Council (LEMASA) has filed a lawsuit against the Indonesian Government, Coordinating Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, who owns a 9 percent stake in the Freeport gold and copper mine, and PT Freeport, the Indonesian subsidiary of the U.S.-based multinational operator of the mine, which has been exploiting natural resources on Amungme customary lands for the past four decades without the consent of Amungme traditional landowners. That exploitation has entailed extensive environmental damage including the destruction of the Ajkwa river system, which has been used as a dumping area for hundreds of millions of tons of mine waste. For years, acid mine drainage has seeped into ground water damaging the health of local people, according to local medical officials' conversations with U.S. Embassy personnel in the 1990s.
Indeed, in 2006, Norway's Ministry of Finance divested the government's pension fund of all Freeport stock holdings based on the finding by Norway's Council of Ethics for the Government Pension Fund -- Global that Freeport's dumping of toxic mine waste into local river systems has caused environmental damage that is "extensive, long-term and irreversible," with "considerable negative consequences for the indigenous peoples residing in the area." The Ministry further divested the government pension fund of all Rio Tinto stock in 2008 because of Rio Tinto's major stake in Freeport's Papua mining operation.
The Norwegian government's findings mirror those of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which revoked Freeport's $100 million political risk insurance in 1995, citing the damage caused by Freeport's river disposal of waste and concluding that the company's environmental impact was in violation of US regulations. OPIC stated that the mine had "created and continues to pose unreasonable or major environmental, health or safety hazards with respect to the rivers that are being impacted by the tailings, the surrounding terrestrial ecosystem, and the local inhabitants."
Based on the findings of U.N. human rights bodies and other credible, independent sources, Indonesian military forces, operating purportedly to ensure Freeport's security, have brutalized the local population for decades. Freeport has recruited thousands of non-Papuans to work at the mine leading to the rapid growth of the service town of Timika which is home to a military-run prostitution network, drug trafficking and other criminal activity, including illegal trade in endangered species.
In 1996, an initial effort by the Amungme to sue Freeport in the U.S. federal and Louisiana court systems eventually failed due in part to legal technicalities and in part to Indonesian government action to prevent the Amungme's American citizen lawyer from gaining access to West Papua to consult with his Amungme clients.
Tapol offers the following additional background in a recent (excerpted) release:
Poverty among Native Papuans Increases
Figures released by the Indonesian Bureau of Statistics in July make clear that the number of people living in poverty in West Papua. In March 2009 the number of people living in poverty was 256,840, most of whom are people living in small villages.
This was an increase over 2008 when the figure was 237,020. By contrast the number of people living in poverty in the towns had gone down from 9,480 in 2008 to 8,550 in 2009.
Tapol, in a release that cited these statistics underscored their significance in the context of continuing tensions and ongoing violence associated with the Freeport McMoran mine:
for International Respect in Respect of Human Rights
Notwithstanding these actions, the Indonesian government continues to flout fundamental human rights principles particularly with regard to freedom of speech and the right of assembly. A 2007 law, for example, criminalizes display of the Papuan "morning star" flag, removing a right specifically validated by former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid for the flag's display so long as it was flown in conjunction with the Indonesian flag. For Papuans, the flag, first flown in independent West Papua in 1962 has cultural as well as political significance as a symbol that is universally recognized among Papuans hundreds of separate tribes.
Since 2007 Indonesian authorities have repeatedly arrested and charged Papuans for any display of the morning star flag as tantamount to treason or sedition. In April, a housewife was arrested and now faces trial because her pocketbook bore a morning star flag symbol. Notwithstanding, and perhaps because of this persecution for peaceful display of the flag, incidents of flag display, almost always conducted peacefully, are on the increase including at least six such incidents in July.
The resulting crackdown by authorities, sometimes involving security force violence and invariably resulting in arrests and prosecutions have expanded. The burgeoning docket of court cases has led to a shortage of lawyers to represent Papuans targeted by the 2007 law. (Note to readers: The highly respected Indonesian NGO KontraS is seeking funds to support lawyers urgently needed to defend Papuans in ongoing, widespread detentions and arrests in West Papua.)
Indonesian prosecution of these peaceful demonstrations and denial of the rights of freedom of speech and of assembly as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (articles 19 and 20) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (Articles 19 and 21) as well as continued repression of rights of minorities such as Papuans, religious minorities and human rights advocates who continue to suffer at the hands of an unreformed and unaccountable military and police or security-force backed militias render its posturing on the world stage regarding human rights as hypocritical.