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West Papua Report

September 2011

This is the 89th 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

Summary: Twenty-six members of the U.S. House of Representatives appealed to Indonesian President Yudhoyono to release Papuan prisoner of conscience Filep Karma, noting concern that "your government meet its fundamental obligations to protect the rights of its people, as respect for human rights strengthens democracy." The bipartisan letter call Karma's case "an unfortunate echo of Indonesia's pre-democratic era." Amnesty International, meanwhile, appealed for the release of another Papuan, Melkianus Bleskadit, imprisoned for peaceful dissent. The Indonesian government granted a three month remission to the sentence of Papuan political prisoner Buchtar Tabuni on the occasion of Indonesian independence day, who was then released. The leak of secret Special Forces (Kopassus) documents reveal systematic Kopassus surveillance and intimidation targeting Papuans and even international personnel seeking to document human rights concerns in West Papua. The documents label prominent international leaders including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu and dozens of members of the U.S. Congress as supporters of "separatism" in West Papua. Human Rights Watch urged that in the wake of the documents revelations that the U.S. military cease all activities in cooperation with Indonesian military units in West Papua. Papuans leaders to convene a broad congress in October. Papuan leaders write U.S. Congress to call for peacekeepers. Church leaders and ordinary civilians have called for an end to Indonesian military intimidation in the Paniai District. The Indonesian military commander has ruled out negotiations with armed separatists in West Papua, indicating the extent to which the TNI calls the shots in West Papua. In an organizational statement WPAT has called for Papuans to be afforded the internationally recognized right to self-determination.

U.S. Congressional Representatives Renew Call for Release of Filep Karma

Filep Karma.  

On August 22, a bipartisan group of 26 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on the Government of Indonesia to free Papuan activist Filep Karma, saying that his detention raised questions about the Indonesia's commitment to democracy. The House members expressed concern that Karma has suffered "degrading and inhumane treatment" in prison arguing that "(a)s a strategic partner, we remain concerned that your government meet its fundamental obligations to protect the rights of its people, as respect for human rights strengthens democracy."

In letter, addressed to Indonesia's President
Yudhoyono, the congressmembers wrote that "Mr. Karma's case represents an unfortunate echo of Indonesia's pre-democratic era." The letter was organized by Republican Representative Joe Pitts and Democratic Representative Jim Moran.

U.S. lawmakers in 2008 wrote on behalf of Karma and Yusak Pakage, another Papuan activist who was also sentenced for raising the separatist flag. Indonesia pardoned Pakage last year

see also Freedom Now Welcomes Call of 26 Members of U.S. House for Release of Renowned Human Rights Advocate Filep Karma (PDF).
Amnesty International Calls for Release of Papuan Imprisoned for Peaceful Dissent

Amnesty International (AI), on August 25, issued an appeal on behalf of Papuan activist Melkianus Bleskadit, imprisoned in West Papua for his involvement in what AI noted was "a peaceful protest and for raising an independence flag." AI called for his immediate and unconditional release, noting his sentence "highlights the continuing use of repressive legislation to criminalize peaceful political activities in the province." 

\ Melkianus Bleskadit at court hearing
  Melkianus Bleskadit at court hearing.
Aliansi Demokrasi untuk Papua.

On December 14, 2010, Papuans took part in a peaceful march in Manokwari to protest against injustice and human rights violations by the Indonesian security forces. During the demonstration the "14 Star Flag", a symbol of West Melanesian independence, was raised. The Manokwari Sub-district Public Order Police (Polres) arrested seven political activists: Melkianus Bleskadit; Daniel Yenu, a priest (see below); and five students - Jhon Wilson Wader, Penehas Serongon, Yance Sekenyap, Alex Duwiri and Jhon Raweyai. All seven men were charged with "rebellion" under Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and with "incitement" under Article 160.

On 18 August the Manokwari District Court sentenced Melkianus Bleskadit to two years' imprisonment. Yenu was sentenced to seven months and 16 days on 23 August 2011. Yenu was then released because he had spent more than eight months in detention. The five students trials are ongoing.

Yenu's lawyer has raised concerns about his trial, saying that evidence not obtained from the location of the incident was impermissibly introduced and that Yenu was forced by the judges to defend against the charges on 16 August without his lawyer.

AI noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party, and the Indonesian Constitution guarantee the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty International, in its published appeal, called on the Indonesia to "withdraw government regulation No. 77/2007 that bans the display of regional logos or flags, which are used by separatist organizations." The regulation is "contrary to the spirit of the 2001 Special Autonomy Law that granted Papuans the right to express their cultural identity," AI said, adding "the ban on waving these flags cannot be considered legitimate grounds for restricting freedoms of expression and association as set out in the ICCPR."

According to Amnesty International "at least 90 political activists in the provinces of Maluku and Papua have been imprisoned solely for their peaceful political activities. Amnesty International considers them to be prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release."

Buchtar Tabuni is Finally Freed

Buchtar Tabuni.  

Indonesian authorities released from prison, Buchtar Tabuni, chairman of KNPB, the West Papua National Committee. Tabuni was one of 656 prisoners in Papua to receive remission of his sentence on the anniversary of Indonesia's independence on 17 August 1945. Tabuni was one of scores of Papuans recognized by international human rights organizations as a prisoner of conscience.

Buchtar said he regarded his remission, which shortened his sentence by a mere three months, as an 'insult' for the people of West Papua. Speaking to supporters at the prison gate, he said that he did not recognize the Indonesian independence day because "our ancestors never fought for an Indonesian government but (rather) fought for the Melanesian people." Remission was merely an attempt by the Indonesian government to improve its reputation on the international stage.

"They think that with my release I will show my love and affection for Indonesia, but that is not so. I will continue my struggle for this nation even more radically than before," he said. He congratulated the Indonesian government on the anniversary, but went on to ask the government to give its support to the Papuan people who are yearning for their independence.
Indonesian Special Forces Spying and Intimidation Targeting Civilians Revealed
Australia's The Age reported on 19 classified documents, including over 500 pages and dating from 2006 to 2009, belonging to the Indonesian military "special forces" (Kopassus). The documents reveal a vast Kopassus network of spies and informants throughout West Papua that targets Papuans civil society leaders as well as foreigners visiting or working in West Papua. Well over 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, including the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, are branded separatist supporters in a document called "Anatomy of Papuan Separatists." South African anti-apartheid hero and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu and Papua New Guinea's former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare are also so-labeled, along with journalists, academics and others within and outside West Papua.

Anatomy of Papuan Separatists

The lists of House members appear to be taken from public letters from July 29, 2008 urging release of Papuan political prisoners and a March 17, 2005 letters from the Congressional Black Caucus to the UN Secretary General and U.S. Secretary of State asking for a review of the United Nation's conduct in West Papua at the time of the "Act of Free Choice," opposing U.S. military assistance to Indonesia and urging support for self-determination. Twenty Senators who signed a June 28, 2004 letter calling for United Nations Special Representative to Indonesia to monitor and report on the situations in Aceh and Papua are also listed as "in support of Free Papua Separatists."

The Age reports that the documents reveal the "deep paranoia
of Kopassus and its interference in the daily lives of Papuans, the documents are also remarkable for the false assertions they contain." The documents also show the Indonesian government's efforts to restrict the capacity of UN personnel, foreign parliamentarians, journalists, researchers and human rights advocates to monitor human rights violations in West Papua.

In a particularly powerful reaction to the disclosure of the Kopassus documents Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. government to "call on the Indonesian government to fully disclose all military tribunal cases involving alleged abuses against civilians, including prosecutions for 'disobeying orders,' and provide transcripts to the public." She added, "(u)ntil the Indonesian government re-examines these cases, in line with the U.S. Leahy law, which prevents the US from cooperating with abusive military units, the U.S. government should not participate in joint endeavors with military personnel or units working in Papua. The US should also call on Indonesia's military to stop viewing peaceful political activists as threats to national security and stop spying on them."

The West Papua Project at the University of Sydney, who received the documents earlier this year, published its own extensive analysis, "Anatomy of an Occupation: The Indonesian Military in West Papua."

Papuans to Convene To Address West Papua's Future

Papuan leaders have announced plans for a Papuan Congress to convene in Jayapura, October 16-19. Selpius Bobii, chair of the organizing team for the congress, accompanied by Forkorus Yaboisembut , chair of Dewan Adat Papua (the Papuan Customary Council), told the media August 22 that the congress will include
"All organizations of whatever kind, customary councils, ethnic groups as well as other organizations [who] will be able to present their own agendas." Attendees at this "Third Papuan People's Congress" will also include representatives of the DPRP, the Provincial Papuan Assembly.

The theme of the Congress is to be: "Affirming the basic rights of the indigenous Papuan people for the present and the future." The Papuan leaders speaking to the media noted that they planned to inform President Yudhoyono of the plans for the Congress though, they stressed, they would not be seeking his permission to proceed with it.

Bobii also urged the Indonesian government to implement the decisions of the grand meeting of the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua) together with the indigenous Papuan people held on 9-10 June 2010.

Papuan Leaders Appeal To U.S. Congressional Leaders

In an August 10 letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate the "collective leadership of the Papuan people" (including principally the leaders of the Dewan Adat Papua) appealed to the legislators and to the U.S. Government to continue to support efforts to defend the fundamental human rights of the Papuan people. The leaders also proposed the creation of an "International Peace Keeping Force," pointing to the continuing abuse suffered by Papuans at the hands of the Indonesian security forces and the failure of the Indonesian government to halt these abuses or hold those committing those abuse accountable before the law.

The letter also informed the U.S. officials of plans for an extraordinary meeting of Papuans which will convene in Jayapura in October. (see above)
Church Leaders in Paniai Call for An End to Security Force "Repressive Military Measures"
Churches in Paniai District in the Central Highlands are very concerned about the situation following an armed skirmish that took place on 17 August and about reports that additional troops have been sent to Paniai to search for two firearms that were reportedly seized from police headquarters in Komopa on 15 August.


The church representatives said that problems between the security forces and the TPN/OPM should be handled by means of persuasion and urged that the security forces forego "repressive military measures" because they would only result in civilian casualties.

An August 28 press release issued by the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Paniai Diocese and the Commission for Justice and Peace of the KINGMI Church called on security officials to freeze the deployment of security forces in Paniai District. According to the August 29 JUBI the representative of the Diocese of Paniai, Fr. Marko Okto Pekei, and Yafet Tetobi of the KINGMI Church also called on military leaders to ensure that the forces already deployed in the district do "not roam round freely in the area with all their military equipment because doing so would only worsen the situation." Villagers now thinking about returning home are afraid to do so because of continued military activity.

The church representatives urged all sides to realize that the preservation of security and an atmosphere of peace is the duty of all: community leaders, leaders of customary groups, leaders of women and youth, as well as the security forces and the TPN/OPM.

The two church commissions also expressed regret over the wounding of two people during an armed conflict that occurred on August 17 in Uwibutu, Madi. "We also deeply regret the actions of certain elements who have destroyed the economies of families living in the area." Troops have also been conducting operations in search of two firearms reportedly seized from police headquarters in Komopa on August 15.
The church representatives said that problems between the security forces and the TPN/OPM should be handled by means of persuasion and urged that the security forces forego "repressive military measures" because they would only result in civilian casualties.

An August 25 report in JUBI, translated by TAPOL, notes that local people in Paniai called on the local military chief, the military commander command and President Yudhoyono to pull back these troops from the area.

Yafeth Y Kayame, head of the Suku Mee people, said the additional deployment of troops to Paniai has undermined calls for peace. "Local people have become more frightened than ever. People are asking 'Why have they come to Paniai? Enarotali and Paniai are not areas of conflict so the authorities must stop sending troops here. If it is only to re-capture two firearms, then the troops already here would surely be enough, without bringing in more troops,' they say."

According to some sources, in addition to infantry brigade 753/Arga Vira Tama Nabire, a company of Brimob (the militarized police) was also reportedly being deployed to Paniai. Although this has been denied by Major-General Erfi Triassunu, commander of XVII/Cenderawasih military command, the fact is that these 'new' troops can be seen almost every day driving along the roads in convoys.

Meanwhile, according to the JUBI report, anxiety has continued to spread among the local people and many have left their homes with a new exodus starting on Tuesday (August 23).
Indonesian Military Continues to Call the Shots in West Papua

An August 26 Antara report contains comments by Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono that reveal that the TNI continues to control policy in West Papua, independent of civilian oversight. Suhartono said that the military will not negotiate with separatist movements, especially the Free Papua Movement (OPM). "There are no [negotiations], none, in any shape or form," Admiral Suhartono told members of the People's Representative Council (DPR) at TNI Headquarters in Jakarta. In his 2005 Indonesian Independence Day remarks, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that his then new administration wished to resolve the Papua question in a just, peaceful and dignified manner. That policy, which would mean an end to the use of repressive measures embodied by the military's infamous "security approach," has been supported by Papuan leaders, Indonesian experts and international organizations.

TNI) Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono

The refusal of the TNI to relent in its employment of "sweep operations" in response to the so-called "separatist threat" in West Papua, notwithstanding the human cost of these operations to Papuan civilians, runs counter to the professed intent of the civilian government's to address decades of abuse and malfeasance in West Papua through nonviolent means.

The TNI refusal to accept civil control of the military in West Papua is also manifest in its refusal to be held accountable before the law. President Yudhoyono has repeatedly spoken of the need to ensure justice there. During a November 2010 visit by U.S. President Obama, President Yudhoyono assured the U.S. that the video-taped beating and torture of Papuan civilians by the military was being dealt with appropriately. This was untrue: what was being dealt with was an earlier case of military abuse of West Papuan citizens. Ultimately, as is typical, military courts convicted the perpetrators of the torture only of "disobeying orders" and sentenced them to minimum prison sentences.

WPAT COMMENT: The TNI's continued resort to the "security approach" in West Papua, manifest most clearly in continued "sweep operations" that displace Papuan civilians and cost civilian lives, is an ongoing tragedy for Papuans. TNI unaccountability for its criminal activity, including systematic abuse of Papuan civilians and continuance of illegal "business operations" there, is a part of this continuing tragedy. But the TNI's behavior in West Papua also has implications for Indonesian democracy more broadly. The TNI's role in West Papua underscores that this institution remains above the law and insubordinate to the policy and direction of the civilian government. It constitutes a severe threat to the growth of Indonesian democracy.

WPAT STATEMENT: Papuans Must Be Afforded the Right to Self-determination
The West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) has for many years sought to advance respect for the human rights of the Papuan people. To that end WPAT has advocated for an end to human rights violations by members of the Indonesian military, police, intelligence agencies, and others which are in blatant violation of Indonesian law and Indonesia's obligations under international law and covenants. WPAT has also long advocated that the U.S. government condition its assistance to the Indonesian military and police on their cessation of human rights violations, submission to legal accountability for their past and ongoing actions and unconditional acceptance of civilian control.


It has long been WPAT's conviction that human rights and personal freedoms are best secured in a legal environment shaped by democratic values and in a political framework based on genuine self-determination.  That right is clearly articulated in international law

This advocacy has also entailed concerted efforts to ensure that Papuans' voices are heard, notwithstanding Indonesian government efforts to repress Papuans who seek to assert their right to peaceful dissent. In this regard, WPAT continues to support Papuan calls for an end to the persecution of political prisoners and an end to government restrictions on access to West Papua by international media, UN personnel, human rights monitors and researchers, and providers of humanitarian assistance. WPAT strongly supports Papuan calls for the demilitarization of West Papua and an end to Indonesian government reliance on a "security approach" to peaceful protest. WPAT has joined international calls for reform of the Indonesian criminal code which penalizes dissent notwithstanding Indonesian obligations under international law to protect the right of free speech and peaceful assembly.

It has long been WPAT's conviction that human rights and personal freedoms are best secured in a legal environment shaped by democratic values and in a political framework based on genuine self-determination. This conviction grows out of the assertion of WPAT founder John Rumbiak who maintained that the root of the problems afflicting Papuans lay in the reality that they have never been afforded their right to self determination. That right is clearly articulated in international law including in Article 1 of the UN Charter, as well as in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Indonesia is a party to both covenants.

WPAT considers that the people of West Papua have never been permitted genuine self-determination. That fundamental right was subverted by the Government of Indonesia, acting in complicity with much of the international community in 1969, when it coercively annexed West Papua through the fraudulent process known as the "Act of Free Choice."

WPAT, for several years, has supported Papuan calls for an internationally mediated, senior-level dialogue between the Government of Indonesia and Papuans, represented by both Papuan officials and senior members of Papuan civil society. Papuans have supported such a dialogue as a means of addressing myriad outstanding problems confronting them, including:

  • human rights abuse at the hands of unaccountable security forces operating outside civilian control;
  • economic, political and economic marginalization of Papuans through deliberate Indonesian government policies such as transmigration;
  • Indonesian government failure to provide essential health, education and other services to Papuans;
  • and the destructive exploitation of West Papua's natural resources in a manner that fails to benefit Papuans.

WPAT notes that in addition to Papuan calls for dialogue, there is also growing Papuan support for a referendum that would at long last allow Papuans a voice in their own political future. WPAT strongly supports the Papuan peoples right to self-determination and recognizes that a referendum conducted under conditions that allow for monitoring by international media and human rights organizations, among others would, at last, afford Papuans their long-denied right.
WPAT does not support independence for West Papua or any other specific outcome of a referendum or dialogue process. Such outcomes depend on the free choice of the Papuan people made peacefully, without coercion, subterfuge or pressure of any kind.

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