The arrival on Australian shores of 43 West Papuan refugees on January 18 has put the spotlight on the long suffering — and determined resistance — of the people of West Papua.
For more than two centuries West Papua was a Dutch colony. After Indonesia became an independent republic in 1949, a dispute flared over West Papua's fate. The Netherlands argued that Papua was a separate geographic and ethnic entity from Indonesia, with its own national character, and prepared for self-determination for the territory. The newly elected West New Guinea Council took office on December 1, 1961, adopting the Morning Star national flag and a national anthem.
This was the "unmistakable beginning of the formation of a Papuan state", according to a report, released in November, that was commissioned by the Dutch government to investigate the period.
However Indonesia, determined to control West Papua, began small-scale military incursions in 1962, using arms supplied by the US. In August that year, UN-sponsored negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands — from which the West Papuan people were excluded — resulted in the New York Agreement. This placed Papua under temporary UN administration before handing over control to Indonesia.
In 1969, the UN oversaw the farcical "Act of Free Choice", in which just over 1000 West Papuans, selected by the Indonesian military, "voted" unanimously — out of a population of some 800,000. At gunpoint, and in open meetings rather than by secret ballot, they "agreed" to remain under Indonesian rule.
A December 9 bulletin issued by Tapol, the Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, quotes Michel Pelletier, one of the UN observers sent to West Papua in 1968 to monitor implementation of the New York Agreement. He described their role as "superficial", because the Indonesian military were "hovering over the whole thing", restricting the observers' movements, and preventing them from investigating allegations of human rights violations and from witnessing the many protests by West Papuans opposed to Indonesian rule. The UN team was forced to leave as soon as the Act of Free Choice was over. Nevertheless, the UN ratified the result on November 19 of that year.
The Dutch report described the Act of Free Choice as a "sham", noting that by the time the Netherlands' rule ended "the first signs of the violent action taken by the Indonesian military, which would also characterise the new administration in the coming decades, soon appeared. Rapid impoverishment ensued, together with a substantial decline in legal certainty and a loss of civil rights across the board."
From 1969 until October 1998 (five months after the overthrow of former Indonesian military dictator President Suharto), West Papua was designated as a "military operations zone", giving the military free reign to combat the resistance movement. Some 100,000 people have died during the Indonesian occupation.
In May 1981, the Tribunal on Human Rights in West Papua, held in Papua New Guinea, heard from Eliezer Bonay, Indonesia's first governor of the territory, that some 30,000 West Papuans had been murdered during 1963-69.
Free Papua Movement
Since its formation in 1965, the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has led armed resistance to the Indonesian occupation. A 2001 Human Rights Watch report, Violence and Political Impasse in Papua, noted: "In the three years since [Suharto] fell ... a broad, civilian-based Papuan independence movement has emerged along side the guerrilla fighters and, for the first time, poses a serious challenge for Indonesia".
In February 2000, 400 delegates met to discuss how to win independence, then 3000 delegates met for a congress in May-June.
"Special autonomy" legislation was adopted in September 2001, giving an element of self-rule and returning a greater proportion of taxes and royalties to West Papua. But in early 2003, under an Indonesian presidential regulation, this autonomy was undermined by the partition of West Papua into three provinces, involving the creation of new provincial military commands. A new province, West Irian Jaya, was created.
In 2001, Papuan Presidium Council leader Theys Hiyo Eluay was murdered by military personnel. The soldiers responsible received jail sentences of just two years.
In 2003, the Indonesian military launched a terror campaign in the highlands, raiding and burning villages, assaulting, raping, torturing and executing villagers, and displacing hundreds of people.
A key site of conflict is the giant gold and copper mine operated by US company Freeport McMoran, which has been in operation since the 1970s.
According to the Vanuatu-based West Papuan People's Representative Office, in a January 20 statement, "The presence of Freeport McMoran in West Papua has not brought any appreciable benefits to the people ... Instead, the exploitation of the mine has wrought serious damage to the local culture, belief system, environment, social structure and political aspirations of the people ... Freeport also promotes violence in the immediate region by providing funds in the millions of US dollars to the Indonesian military and security forces to maintain 'security' over the mine area, beside the US$1 billion as annual dividend, paid last year to the Indonesian Government."
Dr Otto Ondawame, international spokesperson for the OPM, said in the statement: "We cannot tolerate any more of these types of inhuman acts, and call upon the people of West Papua to take all necessary peaceful actions to close down the Freeport mine."
On January 11, in a joint FBI-Indonesian police operation, 12 suspected OPM members were arrested at Timika near Freeport. They were accused of involvement in the 2002 murder of two US citizens near the mine. This is despite one of the US survivors supporting accounts of the killing that directly implicate the Indonesian military, and the principal suspect admitting his role in the attack as a member of a military-sponsored militia. Four of the 12 detainees are aged between 12 and 14 years.
The Indonesian daily Sinar Harapan reported on January 26 that a meeting in Jakarta on January 23 decided to increase troop numbers guarding Freeport mine.
Increasing military presence
The Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 described "a significant build-up of troops in Papua" in 2005, "with reports of widespread displacement of civilians, arson and arbitrary detention in the central highlands region".
An August 2005 report by John Wing with Peter King from the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Genocide in West Papua?, found that "the [Indonesian] Republic's armed forces act as a law unto themselves with no real accountability for crimes against the Papuan population".
On November 23, Tapol reported that Indonesia plans to double its forces in West Papua over the next five years and deploy a new division of special combat troops known as Kostrad.
On December 1, Tapol reported that it had uncovered a secret directive issued by West Papua's chief of police on November 10 threatening to charge anyone who protests on commemorative dates during November and December under Indonesia's anti-subversion laws, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. On December 1, 2004, two people were arrested for participating in a pro-independence demonstration in Jayapura and were sentenced to 10 and 15 years' jail.
On January 20, police shot and killed 15-year-old Moses Douw and seriously injured two others. Police claim security personnel fired on a crowd of protesters seeking authorisation to collect fees from motorists using a nearby road, after some of the protesters allegedly assaulted a police officer. However Benny Giay from the Indonesian human rights group Elsham Papua told the January 21 Sydney Morning Herald that the murder occurred when four students were ambushed on their way to school. Douw is a relative of one of the Papuan refugees currently detained on Christmas Island.
On January 23, Detik.com reported that protesters stormed the Papuan legislative council building in the provincial capital Jayapura, demanding the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from West Papua and calling for an independent investigation into the January 20 killings.
Tom Benedetti from Canada's West Papua Action Network wrote in the January 2 International Herald Tribune that Indonesian military activity had been escalating in West Papua, and the number of troops there has reached an estimated 50,000.
Benedetti cited three major obstacles to peace in West Papua. The first is that "foreign journalists and most researchers and aid workers are still banned from West Papua. Unlike in Aceh after the tsunami, no-one is looking." The second is that the Indonesian military "earns millions selling security services to resource companies such as the gold-mining company Freeport-McMoran". And finally, the majority of the Indonesian military's budget is funded from its own legal and illegal business ventures, and "West Papua is the Indonesian military's most lucrative area of operations".
The US and Australian governments have started to renew military ties with Indonesia, following a temporary suspension in 1999 when Jakarta-backed militias launched a violent rampage in the wake of East Timor's independence referendum.
The January 20 West Papuan People's Representative Office statement noted: "In the 1960s, the Government of the USA shamefully sold out West Papua as a bribe to Indonesia for its cooperation in halting the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. The USA is now trading off West Papua to Indonesia once again in return for its cooperation in the struggle against international terrorism and Islamic extremism."
Jacob Rumbiak from the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation told Radio Australia on January 23 that "human rights abuses and genocide [in West Papua] have been done by the government and military of Indonesia so ... Australia has a responsibility to put pressure on Indonesia because training the military ... and training facilities in Indonesia [are] supported by Australia."
From Green Left Weekly, February 1, 2006.
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