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To: All

From: Ed McWilliams, Senior Foreign Service Officer (Ret.)

Date: November 2005

Re: Response to Efforts to Deny Crimes Against Humanity in West Papua

The United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO) recently published a report of its September 9, 2005, lecture by Col. (ret.) Don McFetridge titled, "Indonesia and Papua: A View from the Bird’s Head." McFetridge served as a Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in the mid-to-late 1990s and later worked for British Petroleum in West Papua. I was Political Counselor in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999.

For transparency and historical context, it is significant to recognize that as defense attaché, McFetridge was a lead defender of General (ret.) Prabowo, son-in-law of dictator Soeharto. Prabowo stands out as among the worst human rights violators in a regime known for its brutality. McFetridge was a staunch defender of the Indonesian military, consistently denying allegations in the mid and late 1990s that it was guilty of human rights crimes in West Papua and elsewhere.

For its part, USINDO for many years unquestioningly supported the military regime of Soeharto and now aggressively advocates for unrestricted U.S. assistance to a largely unreformed Indonesian military (TNI).

The strategies employed both by senior TNI officials and their allies in the international community to defend the Indonesian military are, for the most part, not new. As in the past, when confronted with irrefutable evidence of abuse, current defenders of the TNI employ a scapegoat ploy whereby perpetrators are alleged to be "rogue," usually low-ranking, personnel. In reality, the Indonesian military is not plagued with rogue personnel but is rather a rogue institution itself, unaccountable to the courts or to the civilian government. For example, compelled by undeniable evidence that Indonesian Special Forces were responsible for what the presiding judge called the "torture-murder" of West Papua's top political figure Theys Eluay in 2001, the military produced a handful of personnel it portrayed as acting without orders. A senior military commander (General Ryamazad Ryacudu) publicly described the perpetrators as "national heroes." They received only three-and-one-half-year sentences.

Denial of Human Rights Abuse

As cited by USINDO, McFetridge alleges that human rights advocates have employed "willful misinformation" and exaggeration in describing the plight of Papuans. These allegations seek to obscure and deny TNI abuses thoroughly documented by the UN, the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of the Yale Law School, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and many other respected organizations and institutions. Rather than overstating a crisis, these reports seek to bring international attention to long-neglected atrocities. West Papuan human rights advocates and church leaders have many times -this year included - testified about these violations and petitioned for redress before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Such advocacy and other public protest by West Papuans come at a price. Human rights defenders and others brave enough to publicly criticize the TNI have been tortured, murdered, physically attacked and otherwise harassed. Their families have been targeted, and they have been made the subject of spurious litigation in which TNI members sought damages for "slander" in Indonesia's notoriously corrupt courts.

Despite efforts by the TNI to intimidate domestic critics and impede access to West Papua by foreigners, and in spite of denial of abuse by its allies in the international community, the truth is emerging. In December 2003, Yale Law School published a report that addressed both the scale and seriousness of the situation in West Papua. It said in part:

"The Indonesian military and security forces have engaged in widespread violence and extrajudicial killings in West Papua. They have subjected Papuan men and women to acts of torture, disappearance, rape, and sexual violence, thus causing serious bodily and mental harm. Systematic resource exploitation, the destruction of Papuan resources and crops, compulsory (and often uncompensated) labor, transmigration schemes, and forced relocation have caused pervasive environmental harm to the region, undermined traditional subsistence practices, and led to widespread disease, malnutrition, and death among West Papuans….Many of these acts, individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law."

McFetridge concludes that claims of a death toll among Papuans of 100,000 due to TNI abuse are "wildly inflated," arguing that such a figure would entail killing ten Papuans per day since Indonesia's 1969 annexation of West Papua. While such a killing rate is indeed horrendous, it is unfortunately not extraordinary in Indonesia. The capacity of the Indonesian military to kill civilians en mass should not be underestimated. The military and its Islamic and extreme nationalist militia allies killed at least 500,000 in the three years following the 1965 coup d'etat that brought Soeharto to power, a figure seen by many as conservative. Up to 200,000 East Timorese were killed following Indonesia's 1975 invasion of East Timor. Given this tremendous killing capacity, a death toll of 100,000 is entirely consistent with the savage record of this institution. The murder rate was augmented in the 1970s by provision of OV-10 Bronco aircraft, which were employed against civilians in both East Timor and West Papua.

While the precise human toll of Jakarta’s policies in West Papua is unknown, there can be no doubt that tens of thousands have died. The real number of Papuan deaths as a consequence of military action and government policies is unknowable -- principally because throughout the 42 years of Indonesian control, access to West Papua by journalists, human rights advocates and researchers has been severely constrained. Jakarta leaders maintain these constraints despite growing international criticism and demands for access, including recently from the U.S. Congress. The Indonesian government should lift the curtain on these four decades of abuse and allow the international community access to West Papua both to undertake an historical reckoning, as well as to address the humanitarian needs of the Papuans who still suffer under Jakarta’s misrule.

McFetridge also cites a 2003 International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) survey from which he cherry-picks data purporting to demonstrate that most Papuans are confident about their security. Buried in the survey’s statistics is the revealing fact that only a very small percentage of survey participants could speak any Papuan language. I contended to the authors at the time of the survey’s release, without any effective rebuttal, that the inability to speak any Papuan language indicated strongly that they were primarily people in towns – largely migrants -- to whom the surveyors had easiest access. Failure to distinguish between migrants/transmigrants and indigenous Papuans renders this survey unreliable in assessing the attitudes of native-born Papuans.

Confusion over the Papuan perspective in the IFES survey is linked to perhaps the most devastating assault on Papuan human rights. For decades, the Indonesian government -- aided by the international community through direct bilateral assistance and World Bank funding -- transported non-Papuans from various Indonesian islands to West Papua. These "transmigrants" differed from Papuans ethnically and usually religiously, as well as in levels of development. The result was the marginalization of Papuans in their own island, with physical as well as economic displacement from employment and entrepreneurial opportunity. They were joined by "economic migrants" who continue to flow into Papuan territory today due in part to government incentives. Such migrants constitute approximately 40% of the province’s population and make up a majority in the capital Jayapura and other urban areas. Papuans understandably fear that, within a generation, they will become a minority in their own homeland.

Denial of Fundamental Political Rights

McFetridge repeats the long-standing Indonesian government contention that the so-called 1969 "Act of Free Choice (AFC),” by which Indonesia annexed West Papua, was legitimate. Despite an intense campaign of intimidation and terror by the TNI extending back to 1963 -- which included detention, torture and killing of peaceful pro-independence demonstrators -- Jakarta confronted the reality in 1969 that a fair vote would go against its annexation plan. Jakarta's answer over that summer was to convoke 1,022 hand-selected Papuans. Under great duress, they agreed unanimously to annexation. McFetridge claims that these supposed “tribal leaders” represented the will of the Papuan people and, "formally ratified what was the reality on the ground." The Soeharto regime was to use the same approach in East Timor when another group of so-called “local leaders" was forced in July 1976 to vote for annexation by Indonesia. Once again, the vote was unanimous. Unfortunately, in the case of West Papua, the UN General Assembly chose to “take note” of the result.

But accounts by UN officials charged with monitoring the AFC and recently declassified US government documents have removed any doubt regarding its fraudulent character. The UN Under-Secretary General in 1969, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, in an interview published in November 2001, said of the affair:

"It was just a whitewash. The mood at the United Nations was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible. Nobody gave a thought to the fact that there were a million people there who had their fundamental human rights trampled. How could anyone have seriously believed that all voters unanimously decided to join his [Soeharto's] regime? Unanimity like that is unknown in democracies."

Military Presence in West Papua

McFetridge depicts a purported threat posed by an armed West Papuan resistance (OPM) to justify the TNI presence in the province. He ignores the TNI's own 2005 public estimate of OPM forces at 620, of which, according to TNI’s claim, 150 bear modern arms. Such a "threat" hardly justifies a troop presence that, even according to McFetridge's likely underestimate, amounts to 10,000. McFetridge cites recent conflicts in Wamena (2003) and Wasior (2001) as indications of "provocations" by the OPM. However, well-founded reports, including by Indonesia's own National Commission on Human Rights, that the TNI was involved with -- if not directly behind -- both instances raise obvious doubts about any OPM role. Considering the TNI’s long history of OPM infiltration and manipulation, this comes as no surprise.

Further, McFetridge's troop estimate is not reliably sourced. The TNI carefully guards the size of its presence in Papua, but ongoing reports of troop augmentation (notably currently in the Merauke area) and announced plans to move three battalions there by 2009 strongly indicate that the real troop deployment figure is far higher than McFetridge’s guess and is growing. Additions of territorial and regional commands in the new province of West Irian Jaya (created without Papuan consultation) also indicate significant expansion of the military presence. Regardless of the actual figure, rapidly escalating militarization is in defiance of calls by senior clergy and many other civil society leaders for West Papua’s demilitarization and transformation into a "land of peace."

McFetridge asserts that the TNI is "not enthusiastic" about assignment to Papua. In fact, the TNI profits tremendously from its presence there, extorting money from Indonesian and foreign firms and operating illegal logging, prostitution and other "businesses." The U.S. mining giant Freeport McMoRan paid the TNI more than ten million dollars over a recent two-year period. Military service in West Papua also is rewarded with extra pay and faster promotion, as had been the case in other conflict areas like pre-1999 East Timor.

McFetridge contends "there is no credible evidence of organized military or police support, training or arming of militia in Papua." McFetridge once again repeats the standard TNI denial of its historical affiliations and often-direct sponsorship of militia. The TNI created, funded, armed, and directed the militia that systematically ravaged East Timor in 1999. Similarly, militia in Papua, the Malukus, Aceh, and elsewhere could not have existed/exist without TNI direction and support. These thug groups, which include fascist-nationalist "red and white" militia and Islamic jihadist such as Laskar Jihad and Front for the Defense of Islam, operate as a cat’s paw to intimidate local populations and often, as in the Malukus, provoke communal conflict. This communal violence then serves as a pretext for direct TNI intervention. West Papuan advocates, notably church leaders, have expressed strong concern that such militia could spark communal conflict between largely Muslim transmigrants and Christian/animist Papuans.

Cover-up and Perpetuation of Abuse

McFetridge disparages recent U.S. Congressional action that, if passed, would direct the State Department to report on various aspects of human and civil rights violations in West Papua, including the 1969 "Act of Free Choice.” He contends the "net effect of HR 2601 is to discourage compromise by the political factions ... to reach agreement on the implementation of autonomy for the Province." This attack on a bipartisan Congressional action misconstrues the legislation’s intent and impact. HR 2601 merely calls for State Department reporting on past and current events in West Papua. Facts are essential to effective policymaking. It is disingenuous of McFetridge to assign blame for Indonesia’s dealings to Congress. It is quite clearly the utter failure of previous and current Indonesian governments to implement any semblance of the promised "special autonomy" that has led to the current impasse. The undemocratic and illegal division of West Papua into two provinces (and a failed attempt to create a third province), failure to create the Papuan People's Assembly on democratic principles set out under the promised but undelivered special autonomy, and failure of the current Yudhoyono administration to initiate and/or respond to multiple Papuan attempts at peaceful dialogue and conflict resolution amply demonstrate the government’s bad faith. Recent reports of theft by the military of funds meant for the long-neglected development of Papua's health, educational and other infrastructure underscore this further. Popular Papuan rejection of "special autonomy" was made manifest when thousands peacefully demonstrated throughout West Papua August 12-15.

Those in the international community who deny or obscure the Indonesian military's long record of repression and violence in West Papua, who seek to re-write history to contend that Indonesia's forced annexation of West Papua was in any sense democratic, and who wish to divert legitimate Congressional and international concern about these abuses are not acting in the best interests of Papua or Indonesia more broadly. They are, in fact, conspiring with those in Indonesia who seek to draw a curtain over West Papua to allow severe human rights violations and ruinous exploitation of this resource-rich land to continue unobserved and without rebuke.

see also Testimony by Ed McWilliams on Recent Indonesia Reform



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