TAPOL statement on West Papua to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights

Statement to the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights


‘Public Hearing on Human rights situation in South East Asia with special focus on West Papua’


29 November 2011

By Paul Barber

Coordinator, TAPOL

[The following is an extended version of the statement delivered to the Hearing]

Thank you Chair and members of the sub-committee for giving me the opportunity to speak about West Papua to this meeting today.

I’d like to divide my presentation into three parts.  The first will provide some background information about West Papua; the second will cover recent political developments; and the third will look at specific human rights problems, and propose constructive solutions, which could help to create the space desperately needed for a peaceful resolution of the West Papua conflict.


I Background

This is an extremely important and critical time to be talking about West Papua.  Tensions are rising in the territory ahead of West Papua’s national day in two days time.

Fifty years ago this coming Thursday, on 1 December 1961, as part of a process under the Dutch colonial administration that was supposed to lead to self-government for West Papua, key symbols of West Papua nationality, including the Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag and the Papuan national anthem were formally adopted by Papuan representatives in the presence of Dutch officials.  Since then, 1 December has been celebrated by indigenous Papuans as their national day or independence day.

This year’s anniversary is especially important, because as well as being the fiftieth anniversary, it comes at a time of particular political instability and violence in the territory.

Regrettably, Father Neles Tebay, a highly respected Catholic priest and Coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, who was supposed to speak at this meeting on relations between Jakarta and West Papua, was forced to cancel his attendance because he was so concerned about the situation at home that, in his words, “I think I should be among the people here in this time of crisis”.  He has sent a message, which I will read out after this presentation.

Self-government for West Papua never eventuated.  Instead a fraudulent process known as the ‘Act of Free Choice’ led to West Papua’s incorporation into Indonesia in 1969.  Since then the Indonesian authorities have persisted with a heavy-handed security/military approach to maintaining sovereignty over the territory in response to opposition to rule from Jakarta and assertions of Papuan rights.  This military approach has only served to increase resentment against Jakarta and perpetuate the conflict.  It has also resulted in widespread violations of human rights.

Although it has abundant natural resources and is host to Indonesia’s largest taxpayer, the US copper-and-gold mining company Freeport, West Papua is one of Indonesia’s very poorest regions in terms of poverty levels and human development indicators.  Large areas of forest are being targeted for use oil palm plantations and food production with major implications for climate change and the indigenous population.

Migrants from other parts of Indonesia make up a substantial proportion of the population and dominate the local economy.  They are already a majority in urban centres and will soon outnumber indigenous Papuans overall.  Papuan livelihoods and cultures are under severe threat from this process of marginalisation.

While Indonesia has made substantial progress in its transition to democracy since 1998, the Papuan people have not benefited from that transition.  Special autonomy, introduced in 2001, has been rejected by West Papua’s indigenous assembly and community representatives for failing to improve the rights and living conditions of the Papuan people.  Efforts are now being made by Papua’s indigenous and religious leaders to establish a process of dialogue with the Government of Indonesia in order to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict.


II Recent developments

Earlier this year, a Papua Peace Conference held from 5-7 July in the regional capital Jayapura, generated some positive signs that tentative progress was being made towards resolving the problems of Papua, but a series a violent incidents and human rights violations have since raised questions about whether a new period of repression is underway as a reaction to these political developments.

The outcomes of the Peace Conference, organised by Father Tebay’s Papua Peace Network provided a framework for dialogue with the Indonesian Government and an aspirational agenda for a peaceful Papua with a series of ‘Indicators of Papua, Land of Peace’ in the fields of politics, law and human rights, economics and environment, and security.

The Peace Conference was attended by indigenous Papuan leaders and some 800 participants from across West Papua as well by senior officials from Jakarta led by Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto, who were present at the opening session.

It should be noted, however, that not all Papuans support the dialogue process because of their lack of trust in the Indonesian Government; some believe that a more direct approach, involving a referendum on the territory’s future political status, is what is required.

In any event, since the Peace Conference, tensions have increased in West Papua with a series of killings, arrests, detentions and violent clashes throughout the territory.  According to the Indonesian human rights NGO, KontraS, over 40 people have been killed.  These incidents appear unrelated, but there are suggestions that they are an orchestrated response to the political developments and are designed to close down the political space available to those proposing dialogue between Papua and Jakarta and those campaigning for independence.

At the same time, a long-running and bitter dispute at the Freeport mine involving thousands of workers demanding a more decent salary has led to clashes between the strikers and the security forces and the deaths of at least 10 people, including employees, security forces and civilians.  Information has emerged about payments by Freeport to the police with allegations that the Government is siding with a foreign multinational rather than with its own people.

The recent political violence culminated in the killing of at least three people at the end of the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress held in the regional capital, Jayapura, from 16-19 October 2011.  The First Congress had taken place on the same dates in October 1961 and agreed an independence manifesto ahead of the adoption of the national flag and national anthem on 1 December 1961.

At the end of last month’s Congress, Indonesian troops and police special forces fired hundreds of shots to disperse the peaceful crowd, and pistol-whipped and beat participants. The security forces turned violent after Papuan indigenous leaders, who had gathered to discuss their basic rights, issued a declaration of independence.  The extreme brutality of their actions has illustrated again the failure of the Indonesian authorities to treat the Papuans with humanity and respect and as equals.

A new unit known as UP4B has been set up by the Indonesian Government to accelerate development in West Papua, and a special envoy has been appointed by President Yudhoyono to prepare the way for dialogue, but serious questions remain about Jakarta’s willingness to address political as well as economic issues in the territory.



III Human rights problems

There are three human rights issues which I’d like to address.  The first is militarisation, the second is impunity, and the third is freedom of expression.



According to recent estimates, armed forces personnel in Papua currently number 14,842.  The government is understood to have plans to significantly increase numbers over the next 14 years.  This is entirely disproportionate and counter-productive.  Military operations and a heavy-handed approach to security pose a serious threat to the human rights and lives of the Papuan people.  A culture of violence is linked to the belief held by the security forces that political activity and advocacy for Papuan rights is associated with a separatist agenda and should be met with a harsh response.

According to one Indonesian commentator, violence such as this is simply encouraging Papua to break away from Indonesia. “The powerful forces bent on forcing Papuans to separate from Indonesia are none other than the central government, especially its military and police force” he said writing in the Jakarta Globe newspaper.

Violent and repressive practices of the military and police forces include: intimidation; terror tactics; arbitrary arrests and detentions; interrogations conducted without the presence of lawyers and access denied to visiting family members; torture, ill-treatment and denial of healthcare during detention; mysterious shootings; forced disappearances; sexual violence; and extra-judicial executions.

Human rights defenders are particularly vulnerable because of their key role in protecting and promoting Papuan rights.  Severe restrictions on international organizations and foreign media working in West Papua mean that proper independent monitoring of, and reporting on, the actions of the security forces cannot take place.


In response to this problem of militarisation, Indonesia must be encouraged to review its political and security policies relating to West Papua with a view to reducing its military presence and focusing on the political rather than security approach to resolving the Papua conflict.

Furthermore, it should allow free and unfettered access to West Papua, and freedom of movement within Papua, to international human rights and humanitarian organisations and international media.



While Papuans are often severely punished for peaceful political activities, such as raising the Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag, by contrast security forces personnel involved in serious violations of human rights routinely escape punishment or are given derisory sentences.

Eight police officers who were involved in the violent crackdown at last month’s Papuan Peoples’ Congress were merely given written warnings after an internal disciplinary hearing.  Amnesty described this a ‘slap on the wrist’, but it is far more serious than that.  It epitomises a culture of impunity that literally allows the security forces to get away with murder.

In January 2011, three soldiers were sentenced by a military court to between eight and ten months imprisonment for the procedural offence of ‘disobeying orders’ for their involvement in the widely publicised brutal torture of two Papuan men in May 2010.

These are just two examples of cases of impunity that stretch back many years.  A few years ago, Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission found that gross violations of human rights had been perpetrated in relation to two cases known as the Wasior case in 2001 and the Wamena case in 2003.  The two cases were referred to the Indonesia Attorney General’s office, but have since become dormant with no prosecutions resulting.

The solution to this problem of impunity is obvious.  The Indonesian Government must strengthen the rule of law in West Papua by ensuring the fair and effective investigation and prosecution of all violations of human rights by security forces so that a new sense of justice and fairness is allowed to develop.


Freedom of expression

As previously mentioned, Papuan activists are regularly arrested and detained for peaceful actions, such as raising the Papuan ‘Morning Star’ flag or attending demonstrations and public events, such as the Papuan Peoples’ Congress.  They are frequently charged with the offence of makar (treason) under Article 106 of the Indonesian Criminal Code and related offences and face prison sentences of up to twenty years or life.

According to data recorded by my organisation, there are currently at least 30 Papuans in prison awaiting trial or serving time for makar and related offences.  A minimum of 77 Papuans have been detained and charged with makar and/or related charges since 2008, and those convicted have been given sentences ranging from 10 months to six years.  Collectively, these political prisoners have been condemned to over 91 years in prison, either through sentencing or time served in detention before acquittal.

Five Papuans, including Forkorus Yaboisembut, head of the Papuan Customary Council (Dewan Adat Papua), were arrested and charged with makar following the violent dispersal by the security forces of the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress.

One of the longest serving prisoners is Filep Karma who was convicted of makar under Article 106 and other offences for raising the ‘Morning Star’ flag at a political rally in December 2004 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.  In a decision adopted in September 2011, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions ruled that the detention of Mr Karma was in violation of international human rights standards.  It requested the Government of Indonesia to immediately release Mr Karma and provide him with adequate reparations.  The UN Working Group further reminded Indonesia of its duties ‘to comply with international human rights obligations not to detain arbitrarily, to release persons who are arbitrarily detained and to provide compensation to them’

Freedom of expression is a key issue for West Papua as it is an essential instrument for the promotion and protection of all other human rights.  It is also an essential requirement for creating the conditions in which the political problems of the territory can be resolved.

Again the solutions to this problem are quite straightforward.  The Indonesian government should immediately end the practice of charging persons engaged in non-violent political activities with criminal offences such as makar; it should amend or repeal penal provisions that restrict the right to freedom of expression; and as a trust-building measure with the Papuan people, release unconditionally all those in detention for non-violent political activities.

I would encourage this human rights subcommittee to take up these issues in whatever ways it can, in particular through the mechanism of the official EU-Indonesia human rights dialogue, which now takes place on a regular basis in Jakarta and Brussels.  I would also appeal to the subcommittee members to monitor events around the 1 December celebrations this week and respond in whatever way they can in the event of a further deterioration in the situation on the ground.

Again, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this meeting and I will be pleased to answer any questions.

Thank you.

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