West Papua: Indonesian impunity at Freeport mine

Issue 

The article below is abridged from a July 23 statement by the West Papua Advocacy Team.

Amid an ongoing shooting spree at the Freeport McMoRan mining concession in Timika, West Papua, four people have died, including an Australian Freeport employee.

Six separate ambushes have taken place since shootings began on July 11.

A race to find scapegoats appears underway. Indonesian authorities have arrested as many as 20 individuals.

Trusted sources informed the West Papua Advocacy Team that these detainees had been interrogated without the presence of their lawyers and at least one, an elderly man, was beaten by security personnel.

Even after these recent detentions, a convoy of 12 Freeport busses again came under attack by gunmen on July 22.

This is just the latest chapter in the Freeport story in West Papua — a saga of violence, human rights violations and internationally condemned environmental destruction.

For decades, in numerous well-documented cases, the Indonesian security forces and Freeport's own security personnel, have intimidated and repressed local Papuans through extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and other forms of violence and terror.

Indonesian security forces have long exploited the weakness of the Indonesian judicial system to avoid prosecution for criminal activity. Nowhere is this more true than in West Papua, where the culture of repression lives on beyond former dictator Suharto's 32-year rule, which ended formally in 1998.

The principal victims have been ordinary Papuans, notably those living in the area of the Freeport mine. Indonesian officials and the international community must act to ensure that the people of West Papua are not victimised yet again.

Initial Indonesian police reports suggest that those responsible for the recent attacks were "expert" shooters using weapons commonly found in military and police arsenals. Similar statements were made in 2002, when one Indonesian and two US schoolteachers were killed on the same road.

Ballistic evidence and eye-witness testimony pointed to an Indonesian military role in that ambush, but the Bush administration and Indonesian officials, including recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, orchestrated a cover-up.

Recent history raises grave concerns about finding the truth about this latest incident.

The military has joined the investigation into the latest attacks, making it likely the investigation will again fail to explore evidence pointing to the Indonesian military.

Indonesia and those who lobby for its interests boast of its democratic progress.

This latest incident offers a test of that progress: the investigation of this incident must be transparent; the media and independent human rights investigators should be given access to West Papua and specifically the Freeport Concession; and security forces that have long operated with impunity must be held accountable if evidence emerges implicating them.

In the wake of this tragedy, the Papuan people must not again be subjected to retaliatory military or police action in the form of "sweeps" targeting innocent villagers in the area.

The US government and the international community must reject a military takeover of the investigation, as well as efforts to stonewall independent investigators as happened in 2002.

The US should monitor developments closely to ensure Indonesian forces do not use US equipment in retaliatory "sweep" operations targeting innocent Papuan civilians as in the past.

The Obama administration should focus renewed attention on the still-open FBI investigation into the 2002 killings, following up on published accounts of military involvement in those murders.