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West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT): Statement on International Crisis Group report - and its coverage

Contact: Ed McWilliams,

March 16, 2010 --The International Crisis Group published a report on March 11, "Indonesia: Radicalization and Dialogue in Papua," which purports to depict the growing radicalization of some Papuan groups and consequent increases in violence there. The report usefully calls for dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans and for an end to restrictions on access to Papua by journalists and researchers. However, the report fundamentally misrepresents the reality in Papua (West Papua) insofar as it ascribes growing violence there to Papuan "radicals." The principal impetus toward violence continues to be the persistent and accelerating deterioration of conditions affecting Papuans.


The report usefully calls for dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans and for an end to restrictions on access to Papua by journalists and researchers. However, the report fundamentally misrepresents the reality in Papua (West Papua) insofar as it ascribes growing violence there to Papuan "radicals."

The report ignores continued violation of Papuan human rights and the unaccountability of their security force persecutors; the marginalization of Papuans who face resumption of ethnic cleansing under the rubric of "transmigration; as well as the devastation of Papua's natural resources under the guise of development. Specifically, although the report condemns the use of the label "separatist' to "taint" Papuan activists, no where does the lengthy report describe or acknowledge the daily consequences of policies which entail legal and extra-legal intimidation, harassment and worse for Papuans who assert their rights.

The report similarly ignores the fear among nearly all Papuans that government subsidized "migration" to Papua by non-Melanesian Indonesians will within this generation make Papuans a minority in their own homeland. While the report focuses heavily on Papuan animosity toward the Freeport-McMoran gold and copper mining enterprise, there is no attention to the vast environmental devastation wrought by those mining activities. Similarly, new "development" schemes promoted by Jakarta which stand to expropriate vast tracks of privately owned Papuan land for palm oil and food-for-export plantations to be farmed by non-Papuans are nowhere discussed.

Analysis of the report also reveals methodological problems. The report relies on sources who are in some cases no longer active. In other instances, the report fails to acknowledge the possibility that sources are advancing a particular agenda. Such self or group promotion is particularly a concern by the report's heavy reliance on press statements and third party interviews. The report curiously cites few NGO sources. It also surprisingly failed to interview numerous Papuan academics, church leaders or respected civil society leaders. Father Neles Tebay, who authored a dialogue proposal that the report describes (and commends) in great detail, was never interviewed for the report. Among problems arising from this inadequate sourcing is the implication advanced in the report's analysis that Papuan activists are divided along regional and tribal lines. While Papuans differ on specific tactics, there is remarkable unity among Papuan activists, particularly with regard to the key concerns prompting their efforts. The report also wrongly describes the International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) as having "encouraged violence." In reality, the IPWP and the vast majority of Papuan civil society groups have consistently sought to end  through peaceful means the state violence meted out against Papuans.

The report's conclusion receiving the widest international attention relates to its assessment that recent violence associated with the Freeport-McMoran mine is most likely attributable to Papuan rebels. That assessment contends:

"It is not clear who is responsible or whether one or multiple parties have been involved. There are four possibilities, however: Kelly Kwalik’s OPM forces (Kelly himself was killed in a police raid on 16 December 2009); men acting on the orders of someone who once worked with Kelly Kwalik; the local Indonesian military; or a combination of the above. It is a reflection of the complexity of the political and economic dynamics around the mine that more than six months after the shootings began, and with some good investigators on the scene, there are no conclusive answers".

This assessment is questionable on many grounds. Among these, the ICG report fails to make any reference to a 2002 shooting that is in many ways appear to be an analog for the 2009-2010 shootings which independent reporting has persuasively indicated to have involved the Indonesian military. It also fails to note that despite deployment of many hundreds of Indonesian secuirty forces to the area, the attacks have continued for over six months.

Of much greater concern is the misrepresentation of even this cautious analysis in initial media coverage. A March 11 Reuters report assessed led with the following in its coverage:

"Separatists in Indonesia's politically sensitive Papua province were behind deadly attacks in 2009 on workers near a mine run by a unit of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, a report released on Thursday said. A secessionist movement has smouldered for decades in Papua in the far east of the Indonesian archipelago. In recent months, unidentified gunmen launched a series of attacks on vehicles travelling to Freeport's Grasberg copper and gold mine near Timika, wounding more than 20 people and killing two."

Further complicating this misleading press coverage of the report, the ICG's Southeast Asia Director, Jim Della-Giacoma has himself misrepresented the report's conclusion. The Voice of America reports as follows on March 13:

Some reports have indicated the mine shootings were carried out by rival factions of police and the military, competing for lucrative security contracts. But Della Giacoma says interviews with separatist leaders indicate the motivation was political.

"Whereas a number of those shooting incidents and attacks have actually been admitted to, acknowledged by those from the Free Papua Movement, and their supporters see it as a very, sort of, making a lot of sense tactically," he said. "Because they see that they can raise the profile of their issue by attacking and closing the mine."

This conclusion and an analysis is beyond what appears in the actual report.

WPAT regrets this ICG report badly misrepresents conditions on the ground in Papua and calls on the ICG to correct the record, especially insofar as press coverage and statements by ICG officials have drawn conclusions and offered analysis that go well beyond that contained in the report

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