Torture video reveals "Indonesia's Abu Ghraib" on eve of Obama visit
Contact: Ed McWilliams (WPAT)
October 19, 2010
- A new video shows the torture of helpless men in the Indonesian-ruled
territory of West Papua. Monitoring groups are already describing the
footage as "Indonesia's Abu Ghraib." The video reveals indisputably
Indonesian security force brutality, and raises serious questions about the
Obama administration's decision to embrace cooperation with Indonesian
security forces engaged in active and ongoing torture.
Indonesia's security forces
continue to operate with impunity under the old dictatorship's rules: peaceful
dissent is criminalized; civil society leaders are humiliated and
intimidated and the international community is precluded from any effective
monitoring of conditions in this besieged community.
The video, available at
[UPDATE: An unedited and more graphic version of the footage is
available here.] is
second in recent months to offer graphic footage of Indonesian security
force torture of Papuans. In it, a Papuan man is held to the ground while a
hot stick, still smoldering from a fire, is held against his genitals. A
plastic bag is wrapped around his head several times, a rifle held against
him. Another man has a large knife held against him while he pleads: "I'm
just an ordinary civilian, please..." One of his interrogators responds:
"I'll cut your throat... Do not lie, I will kill you! Burn the penis!" The
video appears to have been taken on the cell phone of one interrogator.
Although the interrogators are dressed in plain clothes, they speak in
Javanese and in Indonesian with non-Papuan accents. Plain clothes dress is
common for Indonesian security forces in West Papua. The techniques used
used mean they are almost certainly trained security personnel in the
Indonesian army or police. The dialect of the victims places them in the
Puncak Jaya region, where security forces are accused of repeated rights
The extreme brutality revealed in this footage is not new. What is new is
that there is now additional video evidence of the brutality suffered by
Papuans for nearly five decades. The international community can now clearly
witness the indisputably harsh reality of life for Papuans. While Indonesia
continues on the path of democratization and peaceful resolution of
disputes, one region is sent on the opposite path: towards ongoing military
domination, widespread suppression of political activity, and routine use of
torture and other severe violations of basic human rights. In West Papua,
the brutal and unaccountable Indonesian military and its accomplices, the
militarized police (Brimob),
special forces (Kopassus) and
"anti-terror" force (Detachment 88) continue to
operate with impunity under the old dictatorship's rules: peaceful dissent
is criminalized; civil society leaders are humiliated and intimidated and
the international community is precluded from any effective monitoring of
conditions in this besieged community.
Thanks to the courage of Papuan human rights
advocates in the face of harsh security measures designed to silence them,
the world periodically has been witness to the harsh rule of West Papua. In
the past, the faith in international justice and humanity demonstrated by
these courageous Papuans has been betrayed by the international community's
deference to the Indonesian government's insistence that neither its course
nor rule there not be challenged. Numerous governments have placed the
territorial integrity of Indonesia and the desire to support its
democratization process first. In the process, however, they have abandoned
what could have been constructive efforts to uphold human rights in West
Papua, which continue to be systematically violated.
Geopolitical and commercial goals led the U.S.
government to ignore Suharto dictatorship
atrocities targeting its own people and the people of East Timor for
decades. President Bill Clinton acknowledged this when East Timor gained its
independence in 2002,
saying: "I don't believe America or any of the other countries were
sufficiently sensitive in the beginning and for a long time, a long time
before 1999, going all the way back to the '70s, to the suffering of the
people of East Timor." It was the suffering of the people of East Timor that
led to Congress deciding to suspend military
cooperation with Indonesia.
Despite the continued human rights violations, the Obama administration has
continued the Bush administration's policy of support to the Indonesian
security forces through the IMET program, and support to the notorious
Detachment 88 of the Indonesian National Police, credibly accused of torture
and other rights violations. It has resumed cooperation with the Indonesian
special forces (Kopassus) notwithstanding that unit's decades-old record of
human rights abuse.
The system of security force rule and
repression of peaceful dissent has been dismantled in much of Indonesia, but
the same security system and the same systematic human rights violations
continue in West Papua today. Such stopgap solutions as "special autonomy"
have been clearly rejected by the Papuan people. Despite the continued human
rights violations, the Obama administration has continued the Bush
administration's policy of support to the Indonesian security forces. It has
continued support to the Indonesian
military through the IMET program, and support through the Anti-Terror
Assistance Program to the notorious Detachment 88 of the Indonesian National
Police, credibly accused of torture and other rights violations. It has
resumed cooperation with the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus)
notwithstanding that unit's decades-old record of human rights abuse
including recent, credible accounts of brutality targeting Papuan
civilians. In so doing the Obama Administration, like its predecessors, has
wittingly or unwittingly made itself complicit in the repression now
underway in West Papua.
The United States, under President John F. Kennedy, was responsible for the
transfer of West Papua to Indonesian rule. In that act, the United
States made itself co-responsible for the outcome of its actions. Successive
administrations have not been sufficiently sensitive to the
ongoing human rights violations, including torture to this day, which
resulted from Indonesian rule.
President Obama's upcoming visit to Indonesia offers an opportunity to end
the silence on West Papua, and to craft new policies that advance
human rights rather than lending support to human rights violators.
Information about the ongoing human rights violations in West Papua was
heard on September 22 by the House
of Representatives Sub-committee on Asia, the Pacific.
The Obama administration should:
Insist upon an investigation and
prosecution of those who recently tortured Papuans in Puncak Jaya
Seek an investigation by relevant United
Nations human rights rapporteurs of this and other instances of torture
in West Papua
Suspend cooperation with Indonesian
security forces accused of systematic human rights violations, including
Detachment 88 and the Brimob (Mobile Brigade) of the National Police and
the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus)
Call for full and open access for
journalists, humanitarian assistance personnel including the
International Committee of the red Cross and other international
monitors to all of West Papua
Seek meetings between President Obama and
Papuan human rights and civil society leaders during his visit to
Call upon the Indonesian government to
carry out an internationally facilitated, senior-level dialogue process
with Papuan officials and civil society designed to resolve the Papuan
conflict peacefully, as was done in Aceh province
Connect Asia Home
Activists call on Obama to press Papuan rights
Updated October 20, 2010 12:28:00
A graphic and disturbing video has emerged from the Indonesian province of
West Papua which shows a Papuan man reportedly being tortured by Indonesian
The mobile phone footage shows the naked man being poked in the genitals
with a burning stick in the remote village of Puncak Jaya. The footage has
been released by the West Papuan Advocacy Team. It's release comes as
Jakarta faces continuing criticism about abuses by its security forces in
Papua and just weeks ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to
Indonesia. The activist group is now calling on President Obama to demand an
investigation into human rights abuses in West Papua.
Presenter: Linda LoPrespti
Speaker: Ed McWilliams, West Papuan Advocacy Team and retired Senior Foreign
Service Officer from the U.S. State Department
LOPRESTI: First of all, what can you tell us about the man
in the footage that we've seen in the video?
MCWILLIAMS: Well the footage that first emerged on YouTube is now being
scrutinised by a number of organisations, including Human Rights Watch, to
determine some of the details that have been difficult to ascertain thus
far, including the identity of the man that appears to have been tortured.
The first indications we have is that he is a local church leader, who
disappeared earlier this year, apparently perhaps in relationship to this
LOPRESTI: Can you verify who the perpetrators are in the footage, do you
know whether they are with the military or whether they are with the police?
MCWILLIAMS: There again, it is difficult to know exactly. We note that by
the attire that they have, including military attire, that they appear to
have been military personnel. We are not sure whether they would have been
Brimob which is to say the militarised police or perhaps elements of
Detachment 88, which is a US and Australian funded anti-terror group or
possibly Kopassus or other straight line military force elements involved. I
think the initial reading by most of the analysts that have seen suggest
that they are from Kostrad which would be a formal Indonesian military
LOPRESTI: Now why has this footage been released now. The timing is
interesting, given that it comes just weeks ahead of a planned visit to
Indonesia by President Barack Obama?
McWILLIAMS: Yes, I would like to clarify. It was not the West Papua Advocacy
Team that released it. It was released first on YouTube and my understanding
is that a number of human rights organisations were trying to essentially
bring together the details of the footage basically to have a more
informative release and it was released ahead of time, essentially by
someone we have not yet identified through YouTube.
LOPRESTI: I understand.
McWILLIAMS: But, of course, to your point, from the US perspective, it's
very important to note that it comes on the eve of the visit of President
Obama to Indonesia.
LOPRESTI: Do you think this is what is seen in the footage is a reflection
of Jakarta's policy or just the anti-separatist sentiment among security
officials on the ground in West Papua?
McWILLIAMS: Well, if we go back over the years, indeed, decades, we find
repeated incidences of abuse of human rights by the Indonesian military and
police Brimob, and Kopassus and Detachment 88 and so on and it is
interesting if we look back at each instance, officials will say oh this is
just an isolated instant, it's an aberration. The point is that the
frequency of these occurrences point to the fact that there is something
systemic wrong with the security forces in Indonesia, that in part I think
is simply the fact that they essentially operate with impunity. There is no
accountability for these abuses within the Indonesian legal system.
LOPRESTI: So what are you hoping that President Barack Obama can do during
his Indonesian visit? Are you making calls to the White House for him to
raise this issue with Jakarta?
McWILLIAMS: Well, our public release has specifically indeed called on him
to raise this with President Yudhoyono. But in addition to that, we are also
calling for the US to suspend its military assistance, particularly training
and cooperation with the Kopassus and Detachment 88 and any units that might
have been engaged or involved in this particular incident. We've made these
appeals in the past, and we are now just essentially reaffirming them.
LOPRESTI: And this has to be a bit of a sticky situation for the president,
because his continued the Bush administration's policy of supporting
Indonesian security forces and they are tyring to engage Indonesia to combat
militant Islam. So I guess if he brings up West Papua, that could be
McWILLIAMS: Well in point of fact, he has not only continued the policies of
the Bush administration. From our perspective, he has made them worse, that
is specifically that he has opened cooperation with Kopassus, the Indonesian
special forces which probably have the most notorious record with regards to
human rights abuse within the Indonesian security forces. But yes, certainly
this will be an awkward moment for the president, for the US administration,
but nonetheless, this is an example of the kinds of things that we in the
human rights side have been pressing many administrations with regards to
for many years.