I have a hit list in my hand. Fifteen people are threatened with assassination because they speak out for freedom and democracy, against a massacre. One of them, in a list of civilians including church ministers, youth leaders, legislators and an anthropologist, is a friend of mine.
The hit list is compiled by Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s notorious special forces unit, responsible for vicious human rights abuses in Timor-Leste and West Papua. Kopassus targets these 15 for their “prohibited speech” that has “reached the outside world”, bearing witness to “the issue of severe human rights violations in Papua”. These are the words of Kopassus itself, in a leaked report given to investigative reporter Allan Nairn, last month. Kopassus has not denied its veracity.
Although the US Leahy Law forbids funding to military units that violate human rights, Kopassus is now being supported by president Obama, under the guise of fighting terrorism. The Kopassus document gives the lie to that, showing their systematic targeting of civilians. Number five on their list is the current president of the Papuan Presidium Council, whose predecessor, Theys Eluay, had his throat slit in 2001. While I was in West Papua, I met the then-president, who told me he had also been the victim of a failed assassination.
My friend, a church minister, told me of widespread abuse, rape and killings. Another told me about seeing soldiers torture and murder around 100 villagers. In October, video footage showed West Papuan villagers being tortured by the military. Yelps, gulps and sobs of fear and pain momentarily broke a media silence until the websites hosting the footage were subject to cyber attacks. But the chances are you won’t know anything about this, because the media does not bear witness to it. In a form of lethal meekness so well exposed by John Pilger, journalists say Indonesia refuses entry to the media. This is entirely correct and entirely spurious. It is not difficult to go there: buy a ticket, say you’re a tourist, and get your notebook out.
A functional media is as important to democratic freedom as voting. West Papua has been robbed of both. Indonesia invaded in 1962. In 1969, under the “act of free choice”, 1,026 West Papuans were ordered at gunpoint to vote for integration with Indonesia. This contravened international law, and was a travesty of democracy. “The process of consultation did not allow a genuinely free choice to be made,” said a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office briefing that year. The American embassy in Jakarta in June 1969 knew what was in store for the Papuans: the act of free choice, according to the embassy, “is unfolding like a Greek tragedy, the conclusion pre-ordained”.
The reasons for this collusion become clear if you rewind to 1967, when president Suharto’s men struck a deal to hand over West Papua’s wealth of natural resources to international companies, including a mountain of copper and gold – now the world’s most valuable mine, Freeport McMoRan.
In return, Indonesia received billions of corporate dollars plus, crucially, international connivance in covering up human rights abuses. Racism played a part: those who would suffer, said the British embassy, were merely “a relatively small number of very primitive people“, occupying what a White House adviser dismissed as “a few thousand miles of cannibal land”.
A massive transmigration programme of Javanese aims to make Papuans a minority in their own lands. At least 100,000 Papuans, according to Amnesty International, have been murdered, with weaponry provided by British and American companies in lucrative arms deals. Obama knows this: just ahead of his November visit to Indonesia, 50 members of the US Congress wrote to him concerning West Papua’s “slow-motion genocide“, and Congress held a (barely reported) hearing on Papuan human rights abuses. Human rights organisations repeatedly bring massacres and abuses to the attention of the media, who repeatedly ignore them. In these lethal omissions, the press tacitly colludes in mass murder.