West Papua: ‘Break ties with torturers’

Mass rallies called for US President Barack Obama to stop assisting Indonesian state violence. Manokwari, West Papua, November 8

Leaked military documents have confirmed that Indonesia’s elite special forces unit Kopassus routinely engages in “murder [and] abduction”. The documents also show Kopassus officially defines civilian dissidents as its “enemy” in its operations in West Papua.

The documents, posted by journalist Allan Nairn at Allannairn.com on November 9, identify Indonesia’s primary enemies in West Papua as unarmed civilians involved in the independence movement.

The two biggest crimes identified were “the holding of press conferences” critical of the Indonesian government and military, and the holding of private meetings where similar criticism took place.

Civilian political activity was described as “much more dangerous than” the armed independence groups — one of the reports said the armed groups “hardly do anything”.

The Indonesian state feels much more threatened by the fact that the independence movement has “reached the outside world”" with news about human rights abuses, including “murders and abductions that are done by the security forces”.

The documents also contain an “enemies” list of 15 “leaders” of the independence movement, which include human rights activists, student leaders and clergy.

One of the leaked files details a 2007 Kopassus operation in Kotaraja, a suburb of West Papua's capital, Jayapura. The file describes undercover Kopassus agents infiltrating the Kotaraja community as well as a network of informers that included journalists, students, hotel staff, a court employee, farmers, retail workers and a 14-year-old child.

The leak coincided with US President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia on November 9. A new security pact was agreed to in July that would re-establish US training and funding of Kopassus after a 12-year hiatus.

More than 6000 Papuans marched in Manokwari on November 8, demanding a referendum on West Papuan independence and calling on Obama to put pressure on Indonesia over human rights abuses, West Papua Media Alerts said on November 9.

However, Obama refused to mention West Papua or any cases of human rights abuse during his visit, the British Guardian said on November 15. Instead, he chose to talk about the threat of terrorism and to paint an idyllic view of modern Indonesia.

The re-establishment of links with Kopassus marks a return to normality for US-Indonesian relations. The US has long facilitated the Indonesian military’s reign of terror, including its occupation of West Papua since the area was annexed in 1963.

During Obama’s visit, much was made of the fact he was returning to the place where he had lived as a child.

Nairn told Democracynow.org on November 9: “It’s nice to be able to go back to where you grew up, but you shouldn’t bring weapons as a gift. You shouldn’t bring training for the people who are torturing your old neighbours.”

Meanwhile, Indonesia's dismissive approach to human rights abuse has been exposed yet again. A trial of Indonesian soldiers accused of appearing in a video involving torture of West Papuans was called a “red herring” by the November 11 Jakarta Post.

Indonesian authorities originally gave the impression that the soldiers on trial were featured in a video taken in May showing two Papuan villagers being threatened with guns and knives, with one having his genitals scorched with a burning stick.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had used the trial to deflect criticism of Indonesia’s human rights record before Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's visit over November 1-2.

However, the soldiers on trial were actually involved in other, less serious offences. A different video taken in March showed them abusing Papuan prisoners by kicking and hitting them with helmets. Three soldiers were each sentenced to five months in prison and their commanding lieutenant was given seven months in jail, the Jakarta Post said.

Haris Azhar, chairperson of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, told the Jakarta Globe the investigation into the latest case had not been transparent and was “a showcase to coincide with Obama’s visit”.

The Australian Greens have called on the Australian government to break ties with the Indonesian “counter-terrorism” unit Detachment 88. The unit has been accused of human rights abuses throughout Indonesia, particularly West Papua and Maluku. Since 2002, the Australian government has provided tens of millions of dollars in funding to Detachment 88 under the guise of combating terrorism.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum said on November 4: “The United States introduced a ban on training or assisting Detachment 88 members in Maluku in 2008 after the allegations of torture first emerged in 2007, but our government continues to actively support this unit.

“We should be taking a strong stand for human rights in our region by refusing to support an agency that is using torture.”