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West Papua Report

October 2009

This is the 65th 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 with the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) Back issues are posted online at Questions regarding this report can be addressed to Edmund McWilliams at

Famine continues to kill villagers in a broad swath of the Papuan hinterland. The Government response to the crisis has been to deny that famine is occurring and to provide inadequate assistance to address what it contends is only an outbreak of disease. Respected academics have launched a public discussion of the impact of Indonesia's four-plus decades of control in West Papua and whether its policies there constitute genocide. Papuans continue to call for an internationally mediated, senior-level dialogue with Jakarta about West Papua's past and its future. Demonstrators have urged the release of Papuans arrested for peaceful political dissent. Meanwhile, other activists have been arrested or are facing arrest. An international firm, collaborating with an Indonesian company, has announced plans to transform a vast area of forest near Merauke into wood chips. A South Korean daily has published an account of West Papua's annexation by Indonesia which it describes as a "betrayal" of the Papuans by the international community. Additional evidence has surfaced of the human cost of the Indonesian military's continuing "sweep" operations in the Papuan hinterlands. Confusion reigns in Indonesia's response to months of attacks targeting the operations of PT Freeport and its personnel.


Jakarta Slow to Act as Famine Afflicts Papuans
Ones Pahabol, the Chief government official in Yahukimo District in West Papua has confirmed to Indonesian and international media that famine continues to devastate the population in the Papuan hinterland. The extreme shortages of basic food staples, especially sweet potato has continued in the region since January.


Reflecting its inattention to the crisis, the central government has yet to determine the extent of the famine.

Reflecting its inattention to the crisis, the central government has yet to determine the extent of the famine, but the Christian Foundation for Community Social Services which works in the affected area reported 92 famine deaths in early September. The Asian Human Rights Commission, citing local contacts, puts the death toll at 113 and notes that the famine has affected 26 sub-districts. 

On 14 September 2009, the central government sent food aid of 100 tons of rice, sweet potatoes and other foodstuffs, including noodles, to the affected area. Although the government has admitted the villagers suffered from various diseases, medical aid, as of late September, has not yet reached the villagers. District Chief Pahabol has proposed a vast relocation scheme that would move the several hundred thousand affected Papuans nearer the District capital. The plan, which would be completed over a period of 15 years, would not address the immediate emergency.
The central government has consistently maintained, moreover, that any deaths in the area were due to disease and not to starvation. The Asian Human Right Commission has sharply criticized this government reaction:  "The denial, by the
government, of a proper investigation into this situation and a lack of professional knowledge is irresponsible." The Commission added that: "along with the government's denial of starvation deaths, they are reluctant to detail exact information of the deceased villagers."
The ongoing famine is particularly dangerous for children, who are more vulnerable to malnutrition and resulting disease, as well as slowed intellectual development due to inadequate nutrition. These consequences require urgent medical attention which has been lacking in the government response. 
A comprehensive remedial economic development program is equally essential inasmuch as famine has afflicted the region in the past. Inadequate infrastructure such as roads or public transportation for local commerce and access to markets in the region contributes to the chronic food insecurity. 
As the Asian Human Rights Commission statement, notes, a similar harvest failure caused at least 55 deaths in 2005.  Government failure to address underlying food deficiency in this remote area is clear.  Previously, in 2006, 34 agricultural advisers were present  throughout 17 of the affected sub-districts. They assisted local farmers in assuring an adequate production of key staples, notably tubers. However, the government has withdrawn support for these advisors.
As the Asian Human Rights Commission points out, "the right to food is a fundamental right." As a state party of International Covenant of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the  Indonesian government has an obligation to take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights in ICESCR, including right to adequate food as enshrined  in Article 11 paragraph 1.
Moreover, the central government's failure to act to address persistent humanitarian need in West Papua is a violation of Indonesian law.  Indonesian law, specifically the Act Number 7 of 1996 on Food  <> provides for "sufficient availability of safe, nutritious and quality food." 
The crisis underscores the reality that the central Government's "Special Autonomy" policies continue to fall short of meeting basic needs of Papuans.  Essential services, including health care, education, and job creation through sustainable economic development remain out of reach for  many Papuans, particularly in rural areas.
(WPAT COMMENT: The government's inaction in the face of the protracted and recurring crisis constitutes a fundamental violation of human rights and contributes specifically to an approach of malign neglect that has led WPAT and other observers to describe central government policies toward West Papua as genocidal in their effect.)
(see AHRC statement )
Engineering Demographic Change in West Papua: Is it Genocide?
Dr. Richard Chauvel, prominent Australian academic writing for Inside Indonesia ("Genocide and demographic transformation in Papua") offered an analysis of a recent public debate between respected observers Jim Elmslie ("Not Just Another Disaster") and Stuart Upton ("A Disaster Not a Genocide") regarding charges of genocide and demographic transformation in West Papua. Chauvel in the first of a two-part analysis writes that:

"The articles by Jim Elmslie and Stuart Upton have much in common. They both agree that: Papua has experienced a large scale demographic transformation since 1963 the modern economy is dominated by Indonesian settlers and Papuans are marginalized. Papuans suffer disadvantage in education, employment and health there have been significant human rights abuses by the Indonesian security forces. In short, Indonesian immigration in Papua is understood to be a consequence of the territory's incorporation into Indonesia. Given that in the eyes of many Papuans their incorporation into Indonesia occurred without their participation or agreement, the Indonesian migration that followed is likewise highly contested."

Chauvel also usefully notes that the Dutch, in the latter years of their control of West Papua, had sought to set Papuans on the course of self-rule:

"Not only did many in the Papuan elite find the idea of an independent nation more attractive than incorporation in Indonesia, but during the last years of the Dutch administration they had been the beneficiaries of Dutch policies of ?Papuanisation? of the bureaucracy. As Stuart Upton notes, many of the early Indonesian migrants were those who assumed senior government positions, taking over not only positions previously held by the Dutch, but also those occupied by Papuans."

Chauvel agrees with Elmslie that Papuan opinions and experiences deserve to be "taken seriously" but adds that "putting a figure on the loss of life is problematic."  In this regard Chauvel notes that the figure of 100,000 Papuans killed is widely cited but that the figure is not possible to confirm.  He cites a 2007 study by Human Rights Watch, "Out of Sight: Endemic Abuse and Impunity in Papua's Central Highlands" (July 2007), which he notes "illustrates some of the difficulties faced when investigating violence and human rights abuses in one of the most tightly controlled and conflict-ridden regions in Papua." Chauvel explains that, "working without the cooperation of the Indonesian authorities, the researchers found that the Indonesian security forces "?continue to engage in largely indiscriminate village 'sweeping' operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal, and at times lethal force against civilians."


Papuans from all walks of life for several years have been calling for an internationally mediated senior level dialogue between Jakarta and Papuans. Some proponents of the dialogue have pointed to the Jakarta-Aceh dialogue which significantly reduced long-standing tensions there.

Chauvel concludes: "... this carefully documented Human Rights Watch report does not provide evidence that there has been systematic killing of large numbers of Papuans. Rather it provides insights into how systemic violence pervades relations between the security forces and Papuan communities.... We should respect Papuans' discussions of the demographic transformation of their society and endeavour to understand the experience they are describing. However, I suspect that the use of the term genocide obstructs our comprehension of the endemic nature of state violence against Indonesian citizens in Papua and makes the necessary institutional reform and cultural transformation of the Indonesian security forces more difficult." 

WPAT notes that a 2004 study by the Alfred K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at the Yale University Law School which did not offer a definitive conclusion about whether genocide had occurred, did find that "on the available evidence, a strong indication [exists] that the Indonesian government has committed genocide against West Papuans.  Moreover, even if the actions described... were not carried out with the intent to destroy the West Papuans as a group, a necessary element of the crime of genocide, many of the actions clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law."  
Papuans Continue to Press for Dialogue with Jakarta
Radio New Zealand International on October 1 reported that thousands of West Papuans turned out in rallies in West Papua demanding international help in mediating a political settlement between Jakarta and a new "West Papua Transitional Authority." Rallies in Sorong, Manokwari and Jayapura drew between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

The demonstrators reportedly specifically called on Australia to facilitate dialogue over human rights abuse and Papuan dissatisfaction with Special Autonomy.

Papuans from all walks of life for several years have been calling for an internationally mediated senior level dialogue between Jakarta and Papuans. Some proponents of the dialogue have pointed to the Jakarta-Aceh dialogue which significantly reduced long-standing tensions there. Recently the prominent Jakarta-based Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI) has sought to advance the concept of such a dialogue as part of "Papua Roadmap" toward addressing abuses and reducing tensions in West Papua.
Demonstrators Urge Release of Peaceful Activists and Call for Dialogue
The Cenderawasih Pos on September 17 reported that demonstrators gathered in Abepura and outside the district court in Jayapura September 14 to urge the court to review sentencing of Buchtar Tabuni and Sebby Sembom. The two Papuan human rights advocates currently are serving prison terms for peacefully demonstrating in support of the International Parliamentarians for West Papua launched in London one year ago.

The demonstrators were prevented from entering the district court building. Police did, however, assist them with transport from that court to the high court. At the high court the demonstrators presented their demands which were:

"First, for the government and the international community to solve the West Papuan problem by means of  dialogue. Second, to open up democratic space in West Papua. Third, for the court to review the convictions for rebellion of Tabuni and Sembom, and to release them."

Fransiskus Lopi, deputy head of the high court, who met with the demonstrators promised to convey their demands to the authorities.

Meanwhile, reliable Papuan sources report additional targeting of Papuan civil society leaders and activists: Yan Christian Warinussy of LP3BH reports that in mid-September police in Sorong arrested Johan Wenda, an alleged spokesman of the Papuan armed resistance the TPN/OPM. Following transfer to the police headquarters he was subjected to interrogation without the presence of a lawyer.  In Manokwari, chief of police for West Papua has instructed the Manokwari chief of police to pursue charges of rebellion against Barnabas Mandacan and Yohan Warijo and to arrest the two activists.
Massive Assault on Papuan Rain Forest Planned
LG International group, a trading affiliate of South Korea's LG Group, announced September 27 that it had secured one million hectares of forest land in Merauke as a source for wood chips. The deal was completed through cooperation with the Indonesian MedcoEnergi and will focus on the production of wood chips and wood pellets of the local acacia and eucalyptus trees.

The massive destruction of pristine Papuan rain forest and its impact on local people is not addressed in the LG Group announcement and there is no indication of Papuan involvement in discussions leading to completion of the deal.
"International Betrayal" of Papuans
Indonesian correspondent for the Seoul Times, John M. Gorrindo in late September filed a comprehensive report which focuses on the historical plight of the Papuan people. He concludes the first part of his two-part analysis with the following regarding the "Act of Free Choice," the indisputably fraudulent electoral process which facilitated Jakarta's annexation of West Papua: "In the 'Act of Free Choice,' the international community had betrayed the only opportunity Papua has yet to have in becoming an independent state. Not a single nation protested the sham elections. Nor did the UN. And to have the greatest democratic force in the world, the United States, be the determinate factor behind the betrayal fully exacerbated the treachery. Realpolitik had determined the victor and the vanquished." The full article can be found here.
Photographic Evidence of Civilian Casualties in Continuing TNI Sweeps
Australian human rights activist Nick Chesterfield placed online new evidence of the human cost of Indonesian military sweeps in the Puncak Jaya region, reported in recent editions of the West Papua Report.  Chesterfield notes that the photographs reveal the brutal extrajudicial murder of civilians in Mulia, Puncak Jaya regency during a sweep by a joint Indonesian military (TNI) and BRIMOB police patrol.  He elaborated that the bodies of victims were deliberately mutilated, burnt and hidden to prevent identification. The full set of 12 distressing photos can be downloaded at
Continued Confusion over Prosecutions in Freeport Shootings

In the continuing saga of violence surrounding the Freeport Mining concession, the Papua Police Office has handed over to the Timika Prosecutor's Office dossiers of seven people accused of being involved in a riot at the U.S.-mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia that claimed the lives of at least two workers. The police office Spokesman, Senior Commander Agus Rianto told the media that the seven suspects would later would be tried at Timika  District Court to prove their roles in the ambush murders of the Freeport security workers and the one of the firm's bus. "Meanwhile, we keep on hunting for the killer of Australian worker Nicholas Grant," Rianto said.
As in the matter of Papuans arrested and subsequently convicted for an attack near the mine in 2002 which killed two American citizens and one Indonesian, it appears increasingly clear that the arrested Papuans are simply scapegoats.  The fact that attacks on Freeport transport and security escorts have continued reveals that the authorities either have detained the wrong people or have in custody only minor players in the attacks. Further confusion arises in the contradictory statements of senior Indonesian security officials. Some have alleged the attacks to be the work of the armed Papuan opposition the Free Papua Movement (OPM). Meanwhile, Army Chief of Staff General Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo has told the media that the Freeport shooting incidents was the work of "criminal" OPM. 

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