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West Papua Report

January 2009

This is the 56th 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

A major earthquake struck near Manokwari January 4 killing at least 5 and injuring many. The city airport was rendered unusable by damage to the runway and electricity was also cut. An Australian medical journal has drawn on reporting by other peer-reviewed medical journal, media and NGO reporting to compile a detailed account of the growing humanitarian crisis confronting Papuans. Another report by an Australian NGO describes an early December assault on members of a Nabire church congregation that was engaged in a peaceful dissent. Indonesian police have arrested another peaceful rights advocate, Sebby Sambom, who at the time of his arrest was calling for the release from police detention of Buchtar Tabuni, now in custody for peaceful dissent activity. Tempo magazine describes the limited weaponry available to the armed resistance in West Papua, and the growth in its place of nonviolent struggle for rights by Papuans. Notwithstanding this development, the Indonesian military maintains a large, unjustifiable presence in West Papua. A report details the various groupings among Papuans struggling for their political rights. The massive Freeport McMoran mine has fallen on hard times with deflated copper prices necessitating cutbacks in personnel. Notwithstanding the cutbacks, Freeport, as noted by an Australian medical journal, continues to have a devastating impact on West Papua's environment and the health of Papuans. In the US, several NGOs held meetings with US Congressional offices and the US State Department to raise human rights and humanitarian concerns related to West Papua, noting in passing, that "Special Autonomy" is a failed option in the view of most Papuans. In a final commentary, WPAT notes that the failure of Indonesian courts to convict a retired senior TNI officer for his central role in the 2004 murder of leading human rights advocate Munir has dire implications for all human rights defenders in Indonesia, especially in West Papua.


Major Earthquake Strikes Near Manokwari

A 7.6 point earthquake, January 4, has killed some and injured many in northwest West Papua. The quake, and a subsequent one measured at 7.3 points destroyed two hotels and other buildings in Manokwari, a city of 167,000. The city's airport was closed because of quake damage, and electricity service was knocked out. Also affected were the city of Sorong and Biak Province. President Yudhoyono dispatched the Ministers of Transportation, Public Works and Social Affairs to West Papua on January 4 to assist in coordinating relief for the affected area. The effects of the quakes was felt as far away as Australia and a small tsunami was registered on Japan's southern coast.

Australian Medical Journal Describes Absence of Healthcare Infrastructure in West Papua and Alarming Health Data

The Medical Journal of Australia in its December 15 issue notes growing international focus on the deteriorating health and human rights environment in West Papua. It cites the Guardian newspaper and the UK health publication the Lancet, as well as reporting by NGO M
édecins du Monde which describe the marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous West Papuans. The Australian report observes that health care standards are lower in West Papua than in other regions of Indonesia. District health data from the Puncak Jaya district indicate that infant mortality is about 85-150 per 1000 live births, with the figure for those under 5 years of age being 30-50 per 1000. Treatable diseases, particularly pneumonia and diarrhea, are common causes of mortality in children.

Data from across West Papua suggest that malaria, upper respiratory tract infections and dysentery are the major causes of childhood morbidity. Maternal mortality is three times higher than for the remainder of Indonesia, standing at 500-1000 per 100,000 births, with postpartum hemorrhage being a major cause.

Notwithstanding claims of increased funding for West Papua under "Special Autonomy" the journal finds that medical facilities are understaffed and under-resourced. The ratio of doctors to population varies according to the area, ranging from 1:2000 to 1:23,000, with doctors being concentrated in urban areas. A Puncak Jaya legislative board report held by M
édecins du Monde (Puncak Jaya District Health Office, 2008) indicated that only 8 percent of the district budget is allocated to health services. Clinics face a shortage of essential medications. Underfunding and lack of support have resulted in key personnel abandoning their posts, further undermining the already fragile district-level health services.

According to the Australian foreign aid organization AusAID, the rate of HIV/AIDS in West Papua is 1.03 percent compared with 0.17 percent in the remainder of Indonesia. AusAID estimates that by 2025, the adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS in West Papua could rise to 7 percent, compared with a projected 1.08 percent for the remainder of Indonesia. Data from
Médecins du Monde indicate a growing HIV epidemic in the highlands, with an estimated population prevalence of 2.9 percent. Rapid social change associated with population movements increases the risk of spread of HIV to many areas in West Papua, including the highlands.

Another Papuan Jailed for Peacefully Asserting Rights

Sebby Sambom, a Papuan human rights advocate, was arrested in Sentani-Jayapura December 17 at a gathering at the grave of Papuan political leader Theys Eluay who was murdered by the Indonesian military in 2001. Police reportedly presented no arrest warrant, nor explained charges against Sambom as they bound him and took him away. Sambom had been holding a press conference in which he called for the release of imprisoned political activist Buchtar Tabuni from police custody (see December 2008 West Papua Report for detail on Tabuni's detention). Both men have been jailed for peacefully asserting their civil/political rights.

There is reliable but as yet unconfirmed reporting indicating that Sambon, like Tabuni, has been physically abused while in police custody. Sambom is a committee member of the Papuan branch of the London-based International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) that was launched in London, October 15, 2008. (See IPWP's website: Tabuni is chairperson of the Papuan IPWP support organization.
Police Shoot and Beat Papuans in Church Dispute
The Australia West Papua Association (Sydney) reported on December 9 that in early December, Indonesian police (including the militarized police or "BRIMOB") attacked members of the GKIP church (Gereja Kemah Injil Papua/Tabernacle Bible Church of Papua) in Nabire West Papua. In all, 12 members were beaten, 5 students shot and wounded.

The Association's report of the incident follows:

Indonesian police including Brimob attacked Papuan members of the GKIP church (Gereja Kemah Injil Papua/(Tabernacle Bible Church of Papua)) in Nabire West Papua. 12 members were beaten including 5 students who were shot.
The incident which occurred on the 3rd and 4th of December was over the ownership of a church in Nabire called the Bethesda Church which is the property of the GKIP (Papua Kingmi Church). However the church is claimed by a local priest, Roy Raja as the property of GKII (Indonesia Kingmi Church).

(In 2006,the GKIP officially separated from GKII, but following allegations that the GKIP Kingmi Church was supporting the Papuan self determination struggle members of GKII rejected the autonomy of the Papuan church) .

At a proposed ceremony of the establishment of the church which had been refurbished, the GKIP demanded that the name of the GKIP church should be used on the front of the church, otherwise the ceremony would be cancelled. The Papuan congregation of the GKIP (Papua Kingmi Church) sat in front of the church in a peaceful protest but the Indonesian Kingmi Church (GKII) called on the Indonesian Police to support them.

The Indonesian police including Brimob (the TNI were present looking on) instead of trying to solve the problem attacked the Papuan congregation shooting and beating them resulting in 5 students been shot and others beaten with rattan sticks.

Military Occupation of West Papua Continues Despite Absence of Security Threat

The December 23-30 Tempo Magazine carried a report on the armed Free Papua Organization (the OPM) which noted the organizations declining strength and lack of central leadership.

The report claims that following the fall of the Suharto dictatorship the never-large OPM has weakened further. It cited former OPM commander as acknowledging that the OPM lacks ammunition and relies on bows and arrows. Some former leaders have left the country.

This account of a debilitated OPM is contradicted by soon to be published reporting that demonstrates OPM retains small arms. The principal source for this reporting emphasizes however, that TNI troop strength, armament and access to helicopters and air to ground high performance aircraft vastly exceeds the capability of the OPM.

Over the past decade human rights groups, working closely with religious leaders and Papuan academics, have turned away from armed struggle and adopted in its place a loosely coordinated nonviolent struggle for Papuan rights, including self determination. Key Papuan advocates of nonviolence such as John Rumbiak persuaded those bent on violence that such efforts were futile and would not win international sympathy. The turn from violence has in fact led to growing international concern and support.

Notwithstanding the limited capacity of the armed Papuan resistance to what is widely seen as Indonesian occupation, the Indonesian military (TNI) maintains a large force of tens of thousands of personnel, backed by intelligence operatives and contingents of the brutal militarized police (BRIMOB). Jakarta's persistence in pursuing what is known in Indonesian as the "security approach" to a non-existent threat is a principle source of the continuing violations of human rights in West Papua. The TNI for example periodically stages "sweep operations" purportedly targeting the OPM, which in reality cause great harm to civilians, destroying villages and forcing villagers into life-threatening flight to the surrounding jungles. Military exploitation of Papuan natural resources, especially illegal logging and extortion of legitimate foreign and domestic businesses, meanwhile, brings great wealth to TNI coffers.

One Star or Fourteen?
For many years Papuans have drawn on the Morning Star flag as a symbol and an inspiration in their struggle for cultural and political rights. The one-star flag was first flown by Papuans on December 1, 1961 at the beginning of the brief interlude between Dutch control and Indonesian annexation. With the exception of the period of rule by President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), Jakarta has banned use of the flag, even as a cultural symbol, imprisoning for many years Papuans who peacefully display the banner.

A December report by Tempo notes that there are a number of organizations in West Papua that now acknowledge the Morning Star as the symbol of independence. These include the Papuan Traditional Council, the Papuan Presidium Council, and some student groups.

The Papuan Traditional Council and the Papuan Presidium Council grew out of the Papuan People's Congress which convened from May 29 through June 4, 2000 under the leadership of the prominent Papuan Theys Eluay. He was murdered in 2001 by the military (four Kopassus or "special forces were convicted and received light sentences after being described as "heroes" by the TNI commander).

After Theys's murder one of the movement's figures, Tom Beanal, a prominent human 'rights campaigner from the Amungme tribe who has long challenged Freeport's assault on local peoples' rights was chosen leader. He assumed the role of Chairperson of the Papuan Traditional Council serving concurrently as the Chairperson of the Papuan Presidium Council from 2002 to 2007.

The current chairperson of the Papuan Traditional Council, Forkorus Yoboisembut, told Tempo that Council is represented in seven customary regions, among which are the bordering area with Papua New Guinea, Saireri, Animba and Jayawijaya.

Less well known is a fourteen star flag which some Papuans have employed as their symbol for civil, cultural and political rights. A December 23-30 Tempo report describes the "14 Stars group" as celebrating Papuan independence day as December 14, 1988. The 14 stars group was led by Thomas Wainggai who died in 1996 in Cipinang Prison, Jakarta, under unexplained circumstances. Tempo notes that the successors of 14 Stars movement are, among others, Jacob Rumbiak and Herman Wainggai, who was later granted asylum in Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Tempo describes the 14 stars movement of seeking independence for Papuan people and their unification with the Melanesian race which is spread throughout the southwest Pacific.

A derivative of 14 Stars movement founded by Jacob Rumbiak, is the West Papua National Authority which is preparing a congress of West Papua National Authority, in 2009. "We want to unite various elements of organizations aspiring independence for West Papua," said President of Congress Authority, Rev. Teriyoku. There is also a West Papua National Coalition for Liberation that is oriented toward 14 Stars. This organization was founded on December 20, 2005 by Richard Yoweni.

Freeport McMoran, Facing Dire Financial Straits, Nevertheless Continues Its Grave Damage to West Papua

Bloomberg, in late December, described the giant copper and gold mine Freeport McMoran as "trapped" in the international "copper collapse." The Bloomberg report said that after enduring the status of the worst performing stock among the North American mining companies in 2008, it may not fare much better in 2009. Freeport shares have fallen 79 percent, the biggest loss in the 16-member Philadelphia Gold and Silver Index and the steepest decline since the shares started trading in 1996. The company cut its U.S. workforce by 20 percent and trimmed production plans for next year by 5 percent after delaying production at two mines in November. A separate Reuters report earlier in December noted that it had cut 75 jobs from its Jakarta headquarters but that it continues to employ approximately 12,000 workers at the main Grasberg site in West Papua.

Meanwhile, the Medical Journal of Australia, in December, published an overview of the health and human rights environment in West Papua (see above). It drew upon reporting in the UK "Guardian" which claimed that mining operations in West Papua are not complying with adequate health and safety standards, resulting in the release of toxic waste into rivers, destruction of natural vegetation, deforestation and flooding. These charges have been credibly leveled against Freeport for many years, particularly with regard to its destruction of the Ajkwa river system which it uses as a tailings dump.

The Guardian report, cited by the Medical Journal, notes that as a consequence of the environmental damage, local communities are facing the loss of their traditional livelihoods and mass displacement from their lands. In addition, the influx of large numbers of migrants from other parts of Indonesia to work in the mines (such as to the largely migrant city of Timika which services the Freeport mine) is leading to fundamental changes in the demography and culture of affected regions.

Unchecked migration continues to displace the poorest people from jobs and land, invariably the indigenous Papuans. According to the Guardian report, the risk is that Papuans will become a minority group in their own homeland. Whereas indigenous Papuans comprised 96 percent of the population in 1971, they accounted for only 59 percent in 2005.

ETAN Calls on Obama Administration to Press Jakarta on Human Rights

The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, ETAN, has urged the incoming Obama administration in the U.S. to put more pressure on Indonesia to address human rights violations in Papua region. ETAN's John M. Miller says that the U.S. could help encourage Indonesia's security forces to improve their conduct in Papua by threatening to restrict military assistance again. Miller says that since the U.S. began incrementally to reinstate military assistance to Indonesia in 2002, the process of reform has stalled within the army which still enjoys widespread impunity in Papua for crimes against humanity. He hopes that the new U.S. Democratic administration will engage with Indonesia in a different manner from how the Republicans did. "That's not clear yet. it will probably take a lot of public pressure and, I think, a realization that this strategy of engagement hasn't really worked and the Bush administration always said they were for human rights accountability, they wanted to see military reform. They claimed they shared the same goals as we did, but we very much disagree and have disagreed with the Pentagon all along about the way to do that."

see also Foreign Policy in Focus - Obama: Stand Up to the Indonesian Military -

NGO's Meet with Congressional Offices and State Department Regarding West Papua

Representatives of Amnesty International, Save America's Forests, ETAN, and the West Papua Advocacy Team met with Congressional staff and with State Department officers over a three day period in early December. The groups briefed Congressional and Senate staff regarding recent developments in West Papua, including the plight of prisoners of conscience Yusuf Kalla and Filep Karma; the devastating impact of illegal logging; continued human rights abuse, especially by the Indonesian security forces and the failure of "Special Autonomy" to provide basic health and other humanitarian services to the Papuan people.

Meetings in the State Department afforded the groups the opportunity to explain the failure of Special Autonomy and the need for the US Government to seek a new formula for addressing pressing needs among Papuans, including respect for their fundamental human rights, protection of Papuan resources and provision of essential services.

Comment: Failure to Convict A Senior Retired Military Figure in Munir Killing Has Implications for All Human Rights Advocates

The December 31 South Jakarta District Court's failure to convict Major General (retired) Muchdi for his role in the 2004 murder of Indonesia's leading human rights advocate Said Thalib Munir underscores that the Indonesian military retains impunity within the Indonesian justice system. The case against Muchdi, as developed in part by an independent Presidentially-appointed panel, was poorly prosecuted.

The state prosecutors failed to prosecute the case as a conspiracy which would have focused on Muchdi's lead role in the killing. Muchdi was at the time the deputy chief of the state intelligence agency, "BIN." The failure to effectively prosecute and convict Muchdi betrays President Yudhoyono's 2004 pledge to make prosecution of this crime a "test of justice" in his administration. More profoundly, it represents a clear warning to human rights advocates and those pressing for their political rights that in Indonesia, exercising political rights, especially if that exercise entails criticizing the military poses grave risks. If even as prominent a rights advocate as Munir can be murdered with impunity, less well-known figures, particularly in places like West Papua which is shrouded in travel restrictions and endemic intimidation, are especially vulnerable.

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