Indonesia: Torture claims against Australian-trained force

West Papuans display the West Papuan flag, which is banned by the Indonesian government. Despite the torture revelations, the un

Fresh claims have emerged that an Indonesian “counter-terrorism” unit that receives Australian funding and training has perpetrated human rights abuses against independence campaigners in Maluku and West Papua.

The unit, known as Detachment 88, was created after the 2002 Bali bombings with the backing of US and Australian governments under the guise of combating terrorism. Since then, Australia and the US have provided tens of millions of dollars in funding, along with equipment and training, including “counter-terrorism” seminars run by the Australian Federal Police, the Age said on September 13.

In August, 12 independence activists from Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS) were arrested by Detachment 88’s Maluku division. The activists were planning to protest during the visit of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono by flying balloons with the Maluku independence flag attached.

The activists said they were beaten for a week, brought to the point of suffocation with plastic bags placed over their heads, pierced with nails while forced to hold stress positions and ordered to eat raw chillies, the Age said on September 13.

They all face long jail terms under the charge of “rebellion”.

Under pressure from the latest allegations, Detachment 88 commander Tito Karnavian told the Sydney Morning Herald on September 14 that the unit would leave Maluku.

However, Karnavian said Detachment 88 would continue to operate in West Papua and other areas of Indonesia.

The latest criticism comes at the same time as the death of Malukan political prisoner Yusuf Sipakoly. Arrested in 2007, Sipakoly died from injuries sustained from torture.

Semuel Wailaruny, a lawyer from the Maluku People’s Advocacy Team, told the September 14 Jakarta Globe: “Yusuf became gravely ill after he was tortured during his detention and interrogation process by police officers three years ago. And for three years, he was not treated properly.”

Detachment 88’s alleged abuses follow a pattern that has continued for decades throughout Indonesia. These crimes have been carried out at the behest of Indonesia's elite and their Western corporate partners against movements that threaten favourable conditions for exploitation of natural resources and labour.

Despite rhetoric about democratic reforms since the overthrow Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia's military has been largely unchanged and human rights abuses continue with impunity.

One region targeted for repression is West Papua, occupied by Indonesia since the 1960s. Vast amounts of natural resources have been pillaged by Western and Indonesian corporations and local people endure the worst living conditions in Indonesia.

The Indonesian military has targeted independence activists of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), who have waged a low-level guerrilla war against Indonesian forces since their undemocratic takeover of West Papua in 1963.

Indonesian attacks in West Papua have increased in recent weeks, with Indonesian troops burning down villages in the highland region of Puncak Jaya in central West Papua.

Photos at show villages reduced to ash, along with reports that hundreds of people, including children, are still hiding in forests. Indonesian troops also destroyed livestock and crops.

Since March, Indonesian troops have carried out a violent campaign against local people in Puncak Jaya to try to capture OPM leaders.

The Australia West Papua Association issued an open letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on September 15 calling on the Australian government to place “a moratorium on the training, funding and any ties between the Australian military, Detachment 88 and the special forces unit Kopassus, until a full inquiry is held into the activities of these units in relation to human rights abuses”.

Merauke, on the south coast of West Papua, is the latest area to face exploitation from corporate interests. On August 30 Suara Perempuan Papua reported on plans for a 1.6 million hectare Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), which has been imposed upon the area by the Indonesian government without local consultation.

The MIFEE project, promoted by the Indonesian government as the solution to the country’s food crisis, swallows up a huge section of the countryside, including virgin forests, protected areas that includes peat, water catchment areas, and even residential areas where the indigenous Malind people live.

Agus Sumule, a member of staff of the governor of Papua, told SPP: “It is grossly unfair for a single province, a single district and still worse, a single ethnic group, to have to bear the burden of the national food crisis.”

Malind activist Rosa Biwangko Gebze Moiwend said in SPP the MIFEE project was an act of genocide, as it would destroy the Malind culture and homeland.

The Indonesian government has also been accused of trying to limit information coming out of West Papua following its decision to ban Dutch NGO Cordaid from working there, Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) said on September 9. Cordaid had been working in Papua for more than 30 years.

The West Papua Advocacy Team’s Ed McWilliams told RNZI a pattern was emerging after Jakarta’s removal of the International Committee of the Red Cross from West Papua last year.

“Targeting some of the most well established and most prestigious organisations, I think this essentially is an act of intimidation against other NGOs [in an attempt] to restrict their activities even further”, McWilliams said.