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West Papua Report

February 2011

This is the 82nd 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 If you wish to receive the report via e-mail, send a note to


An Indonesian military tribunal failed to properly prosecute military personnel for the torture of two Papuans whose agony was viewed around the world online in October 2010. Instead, the tribunal convicted three soldiers for the minor offense of "disobeying orders," sentencing them to between eight and ten months imprisonment. This failure to prosecute the soldiers to the full extent of the law and to try them in a civilian court was broadly criticized by Indonesian and international observers, including the U.S. State Department. U.S., UK and Australian organizations called for suspension of foreign assistance to the Indonesian military which continues to violate human rights with impunity, particularly in West Papua. President Yudhoyono's pre-sentencing description of the torture as a "minor incident" was prejudicial and contributed to an atmosphere of impunity. Papuans, organized by leading Papuan churches and other organizations demonstrated in large numbers calling for abolition of the Peoples Consultative Council (MRP). The body was created by the widely-rejected 2001 "Special Autonomy" law. Prisoners of Conscience Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni continue to languish in police custody following a December 3 prison riot. They suffer from health-threatening conditions and do not have regular access to their families or to legal counsel. Papua New Guinea security personnel attacked villages and encampments of West Papuan civilians living in PNG territory near the border with Indonesia. PNG authorities have detained nine of the scores of people displaced, who were moved into camps or have fled into the forests. Their plight, particularly those who were chased into forests, is uncertain.West Papuan students continue to call for dialogue in the wake of the failure of "special autonomy." They note that the central government has failed to issue implementing regulations required to give the decade-old law life.


No Justice for Papuan Victims of Torture

A military court in Jayapura on January 24 sentenced three military personnel to eight to ten, months imprisonment for the torture of two Papuans in May 2010. The torture, video of which was posted online in October 2010, had become emblematic of the Indonesian military's decades of abuse targeting Papuans. The Indonesian government's failure to prosecute the perpetrators in a civilian court, and its acquiescence to military insistence that the three only be prosecuted for the minor offense of "disobeying orders" showed the persistence of military impunity for crimes against humanity in West Papua. President Yudhoyono reinforced this sense of impunity for military perpetrators by dismissing the torture as a "minor incident" in prejudicial pre-sentencing comments to military leaders.

International condemnation of this miscarriage of justice was swift and universal.


The conduct of the Indonesian government showed a "total lack of respect for human rights.... What we have here is an open and shut case of severe torture, with video evidence, and the soldiers responsible will spend, at most, 10 months in prison and then continue their careers in the Indonesian army - they won't even be discharged. It is a disgrace - an absolute disgrace."

In addition to condemnation from human rights organizations, the verdict prompted unusually blunt criticism from the U.S. Government. U.S. State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley said the sentences "do not reflect the seriousness of the abuses of two Papuan men depicted in 2010 video." He added that "Indonesia must hold its armed forces accountable for violations of human rights. We are concerned and will continue to follow this case."

On January 25, Australian Greens legal affairs spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam demanded that the Government cut all military ties with Indonesia. He said the conduct of the Indonesian government showed a "total lack of respect for human rights.... What we have here is an open and shut case of severe torture, with video evidence, and the soldiers responsible will spend, at most, 10 months in prison and then continue their careers in the Indonesian army - they won't even be discharged. It is a disgrace - an absolute disgrace,"

Video of the torture shows the soldiers burn one man's genitals, suffocate him with a plastic bag, and hold a knife to his throat. One victim said he was beaten for two days, held over a fire and had chillies rubbed into his wounds. "First the Indonesian authorities claimed their soldiers were not responsible, and then charged them with 'disobeying orders'. It was a pathetic response from a government that couldn't care less about the human rights of the Papuan people," said Senator Ludlam.

He called on the Australian Government must cut military and paramilitary ties with Indonesia: "Why are we helping to train and arm these soldiers? Why do we fund the Indonesian National Police when its Detachment 88, a so-called counter-terrorism unit, has been linked to a series of human rights abuses? While human rights abuses, while torture continues in Papua and Maluku, we can not fund and train the people responsible."

The Australian Greens call for a substantive response by the Australian government was echoed in a joint statement by the U.S. based West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the UK-based TAPOL. They urged the U.S. Government to suspend military assistance to the Indonesian military and called on the U.S., Britain. and the European Union to "promptly and publicly register with the Indonesian government their deep concern over what is only this latest example of decades of failed justice in West Papua."

Military tribunal. Vhrmedia.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also criticized the judicial travesty in Jayapura. Amnesty International's Laura Haigh said "The fact that the victims were too frightened to testify due to the lack of adequate safety guarantees raises serious questions about the trial process."

Amnesty added that "as a state party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Indonesia is legally bound to prohibit torture and other ill-treatment in all circumstances.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, called the outcome "disappointing" and highlighted irregularities in the court-martial. "There were six men depicted in the video but only three were brought to trial.... The military dragged their feet in this investigation and showed minimum effort, and it shows that they were just trying to get the international pressure off their back."

The reaction in Indonesia was also damning. Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial), urged that the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) take over the investigation. “Although this court-martial has concluded, there is still the torture charge and the need to try these soldiers at an independent human rights tribunal,” Poengky told the Jakarta Globe. She also called for systemic reform: “The government and the House of Representatives must amend the law on military tribunals, which has been a major obstacle in prosecuting military officials under civilian law.”

She added that while the Indonesian government had ratified the UN Convention Against Torture more than a decade ago, the Military Criminal Code and its Code of Conduct still failed to define torture as a punishable offense.

The Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) revealed that the Indonesian military did not use all the evidence available. Komnas Ham commissioner Ridha Saleh told the Jakarta Globe that the government agency had offered its own findings to the military “but to no avail.” He added that Komnas Ham was conducting its own investigations, but "whether those investigations will lead to re-prosecution, a recommendation or the formation of a fact-finding team, we don't know yet.”

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), said that “lenient sentences were proof that the TNI was reluctant to reform."  Kontras member Syamsul Alam Rizal said that the lenient sentencing would "solidify military impunity." He warned further that "the lenient verdict would "justify torture as a tool in extracting testimonies from civilians."

Sergeant Irwan Riskianto, deputy commander of Gurage Military Post, was accused of ordering the torture received 10 months in jail. Privates Yakson Agu and Private Thamrin Makangiri - were sentenced to nine and eight months respectively. The charge has a maximum sentence of 30 months.

WPAT Comment: The TNI response to the tsunami of domestic and international criticism - a pledge to ramp up human rights training for its personnel -has been employed before, notably in the late 1990's when it even engaged the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct rights training. Such window dressing fails to address the central issue: TNI personnel (and their commanders) know that violating the human rights of civilians, especially Papuans, will merit only a slap on the wrist. President Yudhoyono's calling the torture sessions, one of which extended over a two day period, a "minor incident" only reinforces the impression among TNI personnel that a uniform provides a license to torture.The resort to a military tribunal to try military personnel for crimes against civilians is a consequence of the 1997 Military Court Law which gives jurisdiction in such cases to the military courts. There is no discernable efforts either within the government or the parliament to reform this Suharto-era law.

Churches Lead Papuans in Renewed Rejection of Special Autonomy Demand Dissolution of Powerless "Papuan Peoples Assembly"

Papuans in late January demonstrated peacefully and in large numbers called for the dissolution of Papuan Peoples Assembly (MRP) created by the 2001 Special Autonomy Law, but widely viewed as a powerless institution.


Demonstrations were staged in Sorong, Manokwari, Jayapura, Serui, Biak, Nabire, Merauke, Mimika and Wamena. In Jayapura, demonstrators peacefully occupied the MRP itself. For the first time since Indonesia's annexation of West Papua, a broad array of Papuan church leaders took the lead in organizing the demonstrations.

Demonstrations were staged in Sorong, Manokwari, Jayapura, Serui, Biak, Nabire, Merauke, Mimika and Wamena. In Jayapura, demonstrators peacefully occupied the MRP itself. For the first time since Indonesia's annexation of West Papua, a broad array of Papuan church leaders took the lead in organizing the demonstrations. Among those playing a key organizing role were chairs of various synods including: Rev. Dr. Benny Giay, Chairman of Christian Tabernacle Church (KINGMI), Rev. Yemima Krey, Chairman of GKI Synod, Rev. Socrates Yoman, Chairman of Baptist Church and Rev. Tommy Isfandy, Chairman of Synod Bethel Pentecostal Church.

The MRP, was established in 2005 as a cultural representative institution of indigenous Papuans purportedly to address accusations that the interests of the province’s native population were being sidelined in favor of Java-centric government policies. It has been routinely ignored by the central government. For example, Jakarta refused to consult it regarding the division of West Papua into multiple provinces.

The demonstrators called for cancellation of plans to select new members for the MRP. (The new members of the assembly are being chosen by special committees set up in each district and city. The terms of the current MRP members officially ended last October, but because of delays starting the selection process, they were extended until the end of January.) “We reject the special autonomy for Papua. Consequently, the council, which was established following the granting of special autonomy, should be disbanded,” Reverend Giay told the media. “Special autonomy” had failed to improve the welfare of Papuans and only brought advantages to newcomers from other islands, he added.

The Papuan people, through a council plenary session on June 9-10, 2010, had called upon the provincial parliaments to return the special autonomy mandate to the central government (See West Papua Report July 2010).

In Mimika on January 25, hundreds of Papuans rallied outside the district legislature to protest over the selection of MRP members. Protesters, calling themselves the Papua Solidarity Society, carried banners that read “Disband the MRP;” “All Papuans Declare the MRP a Failure;” and “Send the MRP Back to Jakarta.” Vincent Onijoma, the protest coordinator, said both autonomy and the formation of the MRP had failed to bring to an end to violations of human rights by the security forces. Those taking part in the protest included representatives of churches, student groups, tribal associations, and women’s groups.

June 2010 demonstration in Jayapura. Vhrmedia.

Earlier in January,organizers of the demonstrations distributed guidelines setting out their key objectives, also laid out in a January 10 letter to Indonesian President Yudhoyono. The religious leaders called on the central government to respect the decision of the Papuan people to reject "Special Autonomy" as expressed in mass popular demonstrations in June (the "Musyawarah Besar") and the 11 resolutions which emerged from the mass gatherings (see West Papua Report July 2010). In their letter, the religious leaders called on the governors of Papua and West Papua to forego the selection of new members for the MRP and to sit jointly with the two Papuan parliaments to formally reject "Special Autonomy." The religious leaders also renewed calls for a central government dialogue with Papuans to address the legal and political status of the region. Finally, the January 10 letter called on President Yudhoyono to order an end to intimidation, terror, and repression of Papuan people.

Two Political Prisoners Face Health Threatening Conditions in Legally Unjustified Police Detention

Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni, internationally recognized political prisoners, have faced isolation, inadequate access to food and water, and restricted contact with their families and legal counsel for nearly two months. Police removed the pair from Abepura prison to detention at Abepura police headquarters following a December 3, 2010 riot at the prison (See WPAT/ETAN: Indonesia Respect Rights of Papuan Prisoners Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni). Neither has been formally charged in the riot and both contend that they had attempted to mediate between prison authorities and inmates before the riot erupted.

Buchtar Tabuni

In a January 18 letter to the Chief of Police in West Papua, Tabuni requested that the police explain his legal status, and specifically whether he is a detainee (tapol) or a convicted political prisoner (narapidana). He also asked that if he is being held in police custody for a role in the December 3 riot that he be presented with an arrest warrant. Tabuni also detailed his deteriorating health due to inadequate food, water and access to fresh air and sunlight. He said that during his detention, his father, under pressure of the plight of his son, had "suffered a stroke, fainted and died." In late January the police sought to declare Buchtar Tabuni a "suspect" in the December 3 riot. Tabuni, who was not accompanied by a lawyer when he was questioned. refused to sign the police document.

The family of Filep Karma has also expressed public concern over the state of his health, also noting the inadequate of food and water.

Under Indonesian law the police may hold a suspect for 60 days without charges. That 60 day limit expires on February 3.

Papua New Guinea Military and Police Attack Villages and Encampments of Papuan Civilians in PNG

Papua New Guinea security forces have launched an operation targeting purportedly West Papuans living illegally in the PNG town of Vanimo and its environs near the northeast border with West Papua. The operation, named "Sunset Merona," was originally justified as a law enforcement exercise to counter the illegal flow of goods across the border from Indonesian military (TNI) sources that were hurting indigenous PNG businesses. The operation was also to ensure there were no illegal workers within the logging companies from Malaysia and Indonesia operating in the border region. The operation initially focused on remote border camps and villages and made arrests of logging workers and Indonesian military personnel. Tt is believed these initial arrestees were released to make way for refugee arrests after protest from Indonesian diplomatic representatives in Vanimo.

Various sources located in Papua as well as Australia (notably West Papua Media Alerts edited by Nick Chesterfield) have reported on the ongoing operation by a special "joint military and police taskforce" which has displaced approximately 80 men, women and children, so far. More than 30 homes have been destroyed. PNG authorities have placed many of the displaced in a temporary camp while an unknown number of others have fled to the forest. (See  )

The large number of children among those displaced, reportedly more than a third, has prompted expressions of concern by human rights organizations and observers. The special taskforce police in charge of the camps have reportedly refused to provide food for the displaced, but are permitting the local Vanimo Roman Catholic Diocese to provide meals.

According to West Papua Media Alerts, PNG authorities have charged nine men among those picked up with unspecified charges relating to armed activities. Refugee advocates have denied, however, that these people are resident of the camps raided. West Papua. As of late January none of the nine have yet had access to legal representation.

On January 23, police and soldiers from Port Moresby torched 19 houses at Blakwara refugee camp outside Vanimo and trucked the residents to the Vanimo Police Station. According to Barias Jikwa, coordinator of West Papuan refugees living in Vanimo, security personnel also destroyed food and crops at the camp. In Yako, security forces burned 18 houses and destroyed residents' possessions and food gardens. Yako camp housed over 50 families forced out of Blakwara camp by threats from local landowners allegedly in league with Indonesian military-linked logging interests.

The task force also attacked the villages of Dawi, Wara Duanda, Musu, Dasi, Warakarap, Ambas, Bebfsi and Skotchiou. Security forces razed houses at Dawi (4 houses), Bebfsi (3) and Musu (at least 4). Local human rights monitors are still attempting to confirm the situation in other villages. According to West Papua Media Alerts, there have been no confirmed reports to date that any person has been shot or any weapons discharged in these operations. There have been allegations of severe mistreatment (beatings) in Blakwara and Yako, with at least ten people still in the Vanimo Hospital being treated for their injuries.


PNG authorities have arbitrarily decided that anyone found not be a citizen of PNG will be considered an OPM activist and sent to the overflowing East Awin refugee camp.

Local sources also report that villagers and refugees fled to the surrounding jungle prior to the raids. Among those fleeing reportedly were large numbers of guerrillas who have been asked by PNG Defense Force to surrender.

Jerry Frank, the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary (RPNGC) commander of the joint forces for Operation Sunset Merona, told media that all the arrested people are separatists despite clear information that almost all refugees at the attacked camps had been registered as refugees and/or "permissive residents" for many years, and many were non-political. Radio New Zealand International reported that PNG authorities have arbitrarily decided that anyone found not be a citizen of PNG will be considered an OPM activist and sent to the overflowing East Awin refugee camp which is under the control of the UNHCR and attended closely by Catholic relief agencies. However, PNG's acting deputy police commissioner Fred Yakasa acknowledged that they cannot return refugees to Indonesia to face possible arrest or execution. "It would be wrong to send those people back to Papua to an unknown fate," Yakasa stated.

PNG is home to around 12,000 West Papuan refugees who fled Indonesian state violence in several major waves since Indonesian annexed West Papua in 1962. Several hundred refugees accepted facilitated repatriation last year with guarantees of land. In PNG, "permissive non-citizens" are allowed to work but not to gain any legal certainty in housing, education or citizenship.

The refugee relief NGO WPRRA called for the PNG government to be held accountable for its "inhuman operations against refugees who took refuge in PNG due to Indonesian brutality," and that the governments of Vanuatu, New Zealand and others assist these displaced West Papuan refugees in seeking asylum in a third country. WPRRA has also called on the international community to assist in "ensuring the fundamental rights of West Papuans in PNG are respected and protected according to the international law on refugees and human rights."

West Papua Media Alerts reports that the UNHCR is concerned about the attacks on refugees and the potential for inappropriate actions to escalate. "Our PNG Representative is closely monitoring the situation and in contact with the relevant authorities to ensure the principle of non-refoulement is being respected as the situation becomes clearer," said Richard Towle, Australia/ PNG Regional Representative for UNHCR.

Papuan Students Say Special Autonomy Has Failed and Mediated Dialogue Is Essential

A Jakarta Post report highlights efforts by Papuan students in Jakarta to persuade the Indonesian government to cancel the 2001 "Special Autonomy" law for West Papua. The students accused the central government of failing to properly implement special autonomy and called for dialogue mediated by a third party to find a solution to the many problems plaguing the region.

Marten Goo from the National Forum for Papuan Students demanded a government review of the 2001 law, arguing that Article 78 of the law requires that the implementation of the law be evaluated every year, with the first evaluation conducted three years after the inception of the law. Marten contended that the government was responsible for existing conflicts in West Papua and even created new conflicts to retain control over Papua’s natural resources.

“With so many problems, including poverty, human rights violations and corruption," he said, "the central government is halfhearted in implementing special autonomy.” Marten added that the government had deliberately not issued regulations to implement the law in order to keep Papua on a leash. “There is no implementing regulation to support the 2001 law. Therefore everything must be consulted with the central government, which has the power to intervene,” he said. Marten also called for the Papua People’s Council (MRP) to be disbanded and to call off its plans to elect members for the 2011 tenure. (See above for details protests across West Papua calling for the abolition of the MRP.)


“Special autonomy was touted as a win-win solution to protect Papuans in terms of empowerment and welfare. But what has happened is that we barely feel safe now...There are also numerous cases of human rights violations by security forces, including torture and shooting.”

“The central government never listens to the Council, which represents Papuans. The government also tried to infiltrate the Council through a Home Ministry decree on Jan. 13, which violates the autonomy law,” he said. That ministerial decree defines Papuans as Melanesians from Papuan indigenous tribes and/or those who are accepted and recognized as indigenous Papuans. (WPAT Comment: There have been allegations that the central government sought to infiltrate non-Papuans into the MRP through this decree.)

Agus Kosay from the Central Mountain Papua Indonesia Students Association (AMPTPI) also speaking in Jakarta on January 27, called special autonomy was “a new form of colonialism." “Special autonomy was touted as a win-win solution to protect Papuans in terms of empowerment and welfare. But what has happened is that we barely feel safe now,” he said. Agus highlighted the fact that many Papuans still faced discrimination. “There are also numerous cases of human rights violations by security forces, including torture and shooting.”

He said Papuan students and activists faced threats for expressing their opinions. Marten agreed, saying that the central government was in violation of its own law. “Articles 43 to 45 of the autonomy law refer to the protection of indigenous Papuans and their rights. But the military keeps torturing and intimidating Papuans,” he said.

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