WPAT and ETAN:
Contact: Ed McWilliams (WPAT), +1-575-648-2078, email@example.com
Freeport McMoran's Mining Operation in West Papua
John M. Miller (ETAN), +1-917-690-4391, firstname.lastname@example.org
October 21, 2011 - The West Papua Advocacy Team and East Timor and Indonesia
Action Network (ETAN) are deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the
area of U.S.-based Freeport McMoran's massive gold and cooper mining operation
located in the Timika-Tembagapura area of West Papua. Workers have been on
strike since September 15 seeking higher wages on par with those that Freeport
pays workers at its mines elsewhere. Freeport's response has been to stonewall,
reject worker demands, and hire scab workers.
The growing tensions, which are at
their highest levels in the area since military-organized riots in 1998, come
against a backdrop of decades of human rights abuse by police and military units
acting in service of Freeport's interests, the forced evacuation of villages to
facilitate Freeport operations, and ongoing pollution.
Violence has particularly escalated over the past month: A
worker was killed and others were injured by police at a large demonstration
when police fired live ammunition into the crowd of protesting workers. An
attack on a vehicle carrying police and Freeport personnel led to two deaths and
injury to two others. Perpetrators have not been caught. In the past, similar
assaults against security and Freeport personnel have been attributed to
conflicts among police, military and Freeport security personnel who have long
feuded over the division of spoils from extortion practices that target
Freeport, as well as conflict over freelance gold-mining efforts by local
The growing tensions, which are at their highest levels in the area since
military-organized riots in 1998, come against a backdrop of decades of human
rights abuse by police and military units acting in service of Freeport's
interests, the forced evacuation of villages to facilitate Freeport operations,
and ongoing pollution of the local environment. Freeport's disposal of tailings
has destroyed vast stretches of forest and an entire river system (the Ajkwa).
The company's human rights and environmental practices have long been criticized
by major institutional investors, including the Norwegian Ministry of Finance,
which publicly divested all Freeport stock holdings from the country's
Government Pension Fund - Global.
The U.S. government has been a staunch defender of Freeport since its arrival in
the area in 1967, as a result of the probably illegal granting of mining rights
to Freeport by the Suharto dictatorship when Indonesia, acting under UN mandate,
was only the administering power of the territory. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta
has conspired with Freeport management to defeat legal challenges as well as
media and Congressional inquiries into human rights violations and other illegal
acts carried out by security forces under Freeport pay and direction. In 2002,
it conspired with Freeport and with the Indonesian government to limit and delay
an investigation of an attack that cost the lives of three teachers, including
two from the U.S.
The current crisis warrants a more enlightened U.S. government approach. Worker
rights, as well as other fundamental human rights, are clearly at issue. The
U.S. government should publicly emphasize its commitment to respect for worker
rights in the context of the ongoing labor dispute. It should urge Freeport to
negotiate in good faith with its workers. It is urgent that the U.S. government
press the Indonesian government to forego the use of violence in addressing the
current tensions in the area of the mining operation. The U.S. government also
should investigate Freeport operations, especially actions taken by security
forces at Freeport's behest to date. Finally, it is high time that the U.S.
Congress undertake, including through committee hearings, a review of Freeport
operations which have for decades undermined respect for the United States in
Indonesia and West Papua.
West Papua Report