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What Kind of Solidarity for West Papua? A response to Martin Pelcher’s article ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’

What Kind of Solidarity for West Papua? A response to Martin Pelcher’s article ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’

by  Jason MacLeod


In a recent article, ‘Fear, Grief and Hope in Occupied West Papua’, author activist Martin Pelcher issued a thought provoking challenge to international advocates working in solidarity with West Papuans. Pelcher, who is predominately speaking to ‘White’, ‘Western’ activists, argues that a recent surge in state violence against Komite Nasional Papua Barat (KNPB – the West Papua National Committee) is cause for re-evaluating international solidarity for West Papua. Pelcher wonders whether Western support for Papuan freedom might be counter-productive. While there is much in Pelcher’s article that I agree with I think Pelcher lets Western solidarity activists – and by extension governments and transnational corporations who support the Indonesian government’s continued occupation of West Papua – off too lightly. Reflexivity is essential but we need to ensure that Western activists do not avoid responsibility for challenging the way Western governments and corporations fuel violence and exploitation in West Papua. Solidarity activists can take comfort in the fact that a broad spectrum of Papuans[1] are also asking for international support in ways that respect and strengthen their own agency.

Pelcher’s piece is an invitation to dialogue. It has already generated much conversation. The call to make that conversation more public, or visible amongst growing international solidarity networks, has been picked up by the West Papua Advocacy Team in the United States and also by the Faith Based Network for West Papua who encouraged people to respond to Pelcher’s article. This piece is a response to that invitation and written with the desire to continue the conversation.

Pelcher’s original argument

Western support for a free West Papua taps into deeply embedded Indonesian narratives of western imperialism. Pelcher writes that this is not just lingering nationalist hurt over the loss of East Timor. Even progressive Indonesian activists support West Papua’s continued integration into Indonesia. Notice, for example, Indonesian Friends of the Earth’s (WALHI) recent failure to publicly support their representative in West Papua, Fanny Kogoya when she was forced into hiding because of her links to KNPB. Indonesian citizen support for the occupation is a tremendous source of power for the state that helps the state maintain and justify military aggression.

Although attacks on KNPB have received more coverage – in what is still a grossly under-reported struggle – other groups also continue to be targeted by the state. Papuan political prisoners in jail represent both highlanders and islanders and a broad diversity of political groups. Political organisations aside from KNPB who also pursue independence include the Federal Republic of West Papua, West Papua National Authority, AMP (Aliansa Masyarakat Papua), AMP-PT (Aliansa Masyarakat Papua – Pegunungan Tengah), DEMAK (Dewan Masyarakat Koteka), Sonamapa (Solidaritas Nasional Mahasiswa Papua Barat), FNMPP (Front Nasional Mahasiswa Pemuda Papua Barat), West Papua National Youth Awarenesss Team (Westpanyat), AMAK (Aliansa Masyarakat Anti-Kekerasan), ParJal (Parlamen Jalanan), Garda and others. Activists in other parts of the country like Fak-Fak, Manokwari, Yapen, Merauke and elsewhere have also been hit by the repressive force of the Indonesian state. Even groups that eschew an overt political agenda, preferring to expand the contours of freedom through campaigning for basic rights, are routinely harassed by the state. They include civil society groups like Elsham Papua, Dewan Adat Papua, Bersatu untuk Keadilan, Foker LSM, Jubi, Kontras, the churches and others. Some human rights defenders have had to periodically relocate themselves and their families to Jakarta to protect themselves from intimidation and threats.

Papuans also consider the TPN-PB (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional – Papua Barat), or National West Papuan Liberation Army – which consists of a decentralised network of groups based around attachment to clan, tribe, and geographic area – an important part of resistance to the Indonesian state. But in terms of numbers, activities and effectiveness the TPN-PB are marginal players. Members of the armed struggle are routinely co-opted by the state to further the Indonesian security services own aims, whether that is about protecting vested private business interests – mostly in logging, mining and extortion – or pursuing national security objectives designed to weaken and destroy the Papuan independence movement.

The random and brutal nature repression by the Indonesian state means that citizens not actively involved in the freedom movement routinely become victims of state violence. In his article Pelcher focuses on KNPB but alludes to the fact that the whole of Papuan society is caught up in the same repressive net. Papuans live with this foreboding sense that they, their family members or their friends could be targeted at any time.

In seeking to explain the state repression in West Papua Pelcher reminds us that the Indonesian nation was formed and defended in the context of a long, and relatively recent, anti-imperialist struggle against the Dutch. Nearly two decades after Indonesian nationalists declared independence in 1945 Sukarno launched a military invasion to wrest back control of what he called the “Dutch Puppet State”. For this reason, as well as for the fact that West Papua’s inclusion into the Indonesian archipelago reinforces a multi-ethnic, multi-religious Indonesian identity, West Papua’s inclusion in the Unitary Republic of Indonesia is a source of tremendous pride for the overwhelming majority of Indonesians, including left wing activists. This view is deeply entrenched. The fact that the Indonesian political elite also gained control of bountiful supply of valuable natural resources was simply icing on the cake. Western narratives of Papuans nonviolently fighting for democracy, rights and national liberation against a brutal military occupation are rendered immediately suspect, tapping into what many Indonesians believe is a ‘hidden agenda’ by the West. The narrative of a Papuan led anti-colonial resistance struggle does not easily fit with the dominant Indonesian view that they liberated Papua. Instead sympathetic Western portrayals of the Papuan struggle are re-cast and attached to ulterior motives. Pelcher:

Western support for East Timorese independence – and signs of such support being extended to West Papua – have been easy to frame [by the Indonesian press] as vehicles for the West’s neo-imperial manipulation and pursuit of the region’s abundant mineral and petroleum resources. The more Western advocates succeed in focusing global attention on the plight of Papuans under Indonesian rule, the more the Indonesian security establishment can deploy the spectre of a “foreign intervention” (like the UN’s intervention in East Timor) to mobilize Indonesian public opinion behind its harsh policing measures.

One of the reasons why Pelcher’s article is so challenging is that he writes to us as an insider, as a fellow solidarity activist, who is searching his conscience for answers to the question ‘what to do?’, and in doing so prompting us to search our own conscience. And it is not as if the issues he raises have gone away. Since Pelcher wrote the article attacks against KNPB have gotten worse. The Indonesian state has all but “declared war” on the pro-independence civilian based organisation. At the time of writing 22 leaders had been summarily executed by the security forces. Scores have been arrested. Much of the leadership has been driven underground and into exile … but KNPB maintains it’s politically defiance stance. The group’s leader, Victor Yeimo continues to insist that KNPB is committed to resolute nonviolent resistance and will not back down from its call for a referendum.

So what should international advocates do? Pelcher has more questions than answers. He acknowledges that Western advocates are increasingly putting Papuan human rights on the international community’s agenda. Pelcher also recognises the work of Papuan human rights defenders and their allies in Jakarta who have raised questions about the Indonesian security forces use of summary justice instead of legal means to investigate acts of violence. However, the dominant story in the Indonesian media supports a police narrative that pins “the blame on the student activists of KNPB as well as the wider network of underground Papuan nationalist resistance.”  The central question Pelcher raises in his article is how can international advocates generate global solidarity against injustice in West Papua without strengthening the state’s pretext for terror?

Papuans are the drivers of the struggle

I agree with Pelcher that Papuans are the drivers of the struggle. The more Papuans rise up and collectively and nonviolently resist the occupation the more the legitimacy of the Indonesian government’s continued aggression in West Papua is strained; the more likely more people outside Papua will stand in solidarity with them, and the more effective that solidarity is likely to be. Papuans are the primary architects of their own liberation. While external solidarity is important it will always be secondary to movements for change inside the country. We need critical reflection about the role of external solidarity.  As well as reinforcing the way the security forces frame Papuan resistance as a foreign led plot, at times international solidarity action has tended to tap into unrealistic Papuan beliefs about the willingness and ability of the international community to assist Papuan freedom goals. Although solidarity in other parts of Indonesia and international solidarity outside Papua is necessary to support Papuan freedom goals, by itself it will never be sufficient. We need solidarity that is respectful; solidarity that strengthens collective action that is led by Papuans. We need less solidarity action and rhetoric that fosters dependency, passivity and false hopes that outsiders will save the Papuans. They cannot. They will not. As Benny Giay, the moderator of the Papuan church once said, “Papuans are the captains of their own lives.”

South-South solidarity

Pelcher is not arguing against solidarity; he is asking what kind of solidarity might be most useful to the Papuan’s struggle for freedom. Some solutions are implicit in his article, others Pelcher is more forthright about. In particular, Pelcher calls for more “south-south” solidarity as a necessary corrective to White Western perspectives.

Two types of South-South solidarity are particularly important. The first is solidarity from Pacific Island countries, particularly the Melanesian countries. Why should other states worry about what is happening in West Papua when Pacific Island countries in general, including Australia and New Zealand, and the Melanesian nations in particular, say and do little to support West Papua? The voice of Melanesian citizens and governments are essential to mobilizing greater international support. If the Papuans continue to push for an independent state they will need the support of other states but that goal, if it eventuates, is a long way off. Independence is even less likely without the active support of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji).

Secondly, there is much valuable learning that can happen between Papuans and other peoples who are resisting occupations and struggling for self-determination. Recently I had the privilege of witnessing a learning exchange between West Papuans and Burmese who shared notes about how to work nonviolently for democracy, rights and liberation in a repressive context. Papuans have learnt much from their colleagues in East Timor and Aceh. Imagine if there were more venues where focused learning could take place. Spaces where West Papuans could meet with people from other self-determination struggles who have successfully enlarged the contours of freedom: East Timorese, South Sudanese and Kosovars. Imagine too if Papuans could exchange strategies and tactics with people who are still struggling for self-determination: Palestinians, Tibetans, Saharawi’s from Western Sahara, Nagas, Kanaks (people from the French colony of New Caledonia), people from Mahoi Nui (Tahiti and French Polynesia), Bougainvillians, the Kurds and other indigenous peoples caught in the grip of the state.



Solidarity between Papuans and Indonesians

I also agree with Pelcher that solidarity with progressive Indonesians is also essential. This is something that both Papuans and their transnational allies could cultivate more. People like Budi Hernawan, Andreas Harsono and Eko Waluyo are providing leadership here. They hold out a challenge to other Indonesians who care about democracy, human rights, and social and environmental justice.

There is a strategic paradox to wrestle with here. Many Papuans opposes the Indonesian state but they also need the support of ordinary Indonesians to secure greater freedom.  This is because Jakarta depends less on Papuans to maintain the occupation than on sustaining domestic support for an Indonesian state that includes West Papua at all costs. In brief, Papuans need Indonesian allies. However, when Papuans exclusively appeal to indigenous identity and Christianity, frame their grievances around historical injustices, and communicate their aspirations in ways that emphasise independence, they unwittingly limit their ability to mobilize support from other Indonesians who are overwhelmingly nationalist and Muslim. As a result, Papuans reduce their chances of winning over a key influence on the Indonesian government: the Indonesian people.

This highlights the conundrum for Papuan activists. There is a perception that working for intermediate objectives means selling out the long-term goal of independence. Yet to build Indonesian support for greater political freedom in West Papua and to put pressure on the Jakarta government requires framing campaigns around intermediate objectives like: freedom of expression; open access to West Papua for journalists, diplomats, NGOs, tourists, and others; democracy; environmental protection; corruption; sustainable development; economic justice, civil rights, universal access to education and health services; accountable government; and human rights. This does not mean giving up on larger goals like independence. As one senior Papuan leader recently said to me: “the struggle for basic rights is not the enemy of independence”. It means taking a longer view about building political power.

Campaigns for more limited strategic objectives can simultaneously strengthen Indonesian democracy and build Papuans’ international reputation—developments that will leave Papuans in a better position to realize larger aspirations. This is a strategic challenge. Papuans need to use collective action frames that resonate with different audiences at different times, define intermediate demands, and time mobilization to achieve short-term objectives, but in ways that leave the movement in a stronger position to achieve their ultimate goal: full political freedom.

In this way a new Papua gets built on an inclusive vision and a deeper articulation of the multiple meanings of merdeka (freedom). People like John Rumbiak and Benny Giay urge that this vision needs to include not only diverse Papuan tribes, but also Indonesian migrants, another source of the Indonesian government’s power in West Papua. Mobilization through an exclusive Papuan identity and through a single focused demand for independence framed exclusively in opposition to Indonesia will create a fragile unity, perhaps liable to break down under stress and less capable of carrying through an agenda for democratic transformation.



There are other areas where Pelcher and I agree, particularly his implicit argument for solidarity that is non-partisanship. It is clear from his article that Pelcher is close to the radical highland independence youth movement, KNPB. This is a group that I also sympathise with. However, Pelcher does not exclusively take sides. He also writes about the leadership of the Federal Republic of West Papua currently imprisoned for determined, unapologetic and nonviolent acts of insurrection. Pelcher articulates the challenges the movement for freedom in West Papua poses not only to the Indonesian state but also to transnational capital in West Papua. We need more activists like Pelcher who can reach out to the different parts of the movement and in doing so make more space for unity from inside the movement and solidarity from outside.


Where we disagree: the paradox of repression

While I agree with Pelcher’s analysis about how Western support for freedom in West Papua can tap into Indonesian suspicion that there is a foreign plot to access West Papua’s resources I disagree with his conclusions. I think Pelcher is mistaken in his understanding of the dynamics of repression. I also think that part of our role as solidarity activists is to continually emphasize that the struggle is being led by Papuans and that role of outsiders is to support their efforts and amplify their voices. I don’t think that solidarity by Westerns is the cause of repression, even though the state will use whatever means they can to justify their repression.

One of the reasons why the Indonesian government is employing repression against KNPB and other resistance groups – including sanctioning extrajudicial killing – is because they fear the growing power of organised nonviolent resistance against the state. Kopassus’ (the Indonesian Special Forces) own intelligence analysis of the Papuan freedom movement, leaked by Alan Nairn and the West Papua Project from the University of Sydney, reveals that the armed struggle is not a threat because they ‘hardly do anything’.

One of the reasons the armed struggle does not “do anything” – or rarely engages in military action – is because it is hard to recruit people to join the armed struggle. Guerrilla fighters often live difficult lives isolated in the jungle and mountains. The TPN does also not have a state sponsor, and while it will be extremely difficult for the state to destroy the TPN militarily, the TPN will also never be able to out gun or outnumber the Indonesian military. The use of violence to achieve political goals also favours fit young men and involves high levels of commitment and risk. Few Papuans are willing to risk their lives joining an armed struggle that has little prospect of success.

According to the Indonesian military nonviolent resistance is “much more dangerous” because they have “reached the outside world’’ with their ‘obsession’ with ‘merdeka’ (the independence/ freedom struggle) and persist in “propagating the issue of severe human rights violations in Papua,’ i.e. ‘murders and abductions that are done by the security forces.’’

Stopping Papuans who are organising to win freedom is easier if the movement uses violence or if the Indonesian government can convince outsiders that Papuans are engaged in armed struggle. If Papuans respond – or are seen to be responding – with violent action the Indonesian government will be able to frame their actions as terrorism and threats to national sovereignty. This allows the Indonesian government to justify their use of violence against the movement. Action that physically harms others or threatens other people reduces support from third parties. Even if third parties are sympathetic to the goals of the movement the majority of people will question the legitimacy of using violence who tend to view armed movements as extremists. Innocent villagers from the rural areas are particularly vulnerable to disproportionate violent retaliation by the security forces because few journalists, church workers and human rights groups are present and able to hold the security forces accountable through human rights reportage.

The purpose of state violence is to inflict pain but to do so in ways that lessen the likelihood that repression will generate moral outrage and consequently, more political mobilisation. The Indonesian government wants to stop people coming together to press for rights and freedom and they are prepared to use any means necessary. In one sense, therefore repression – if it occurs when the movement is growing in numbers and power – can be interpreted as success; that the opponent recognises the growing strength of the movement.

There is no guarantee of success for any liberation movement. But using nonviolent action increases the likelihood of success and provides more opportunities for large numbers of people to participate in the struggle. The consistent use of disciplined and collective mass nonviolent action over time will is more likely to prompt ordinary Indonesians to question the occupation and even divide their loyalties. That is why nonviolent discipline is so important. The Papuan freedom movement needs to encourage ordinary Indonesians to question what their government is doing. It also needs to carry out actions that encourage and enable more support from domestic and international third parties.

If the Indonesian state continues to use violent repression against Papuans, which it is doing at the moment and is likely to continue to do, the Papuan freedom movement needs to be prepared. The evidence from studies of liberation movements around the world, including from places where repression is more severe than in West Papua, shows that repression can backfire. The most important thing that helps make repression backfire is that repression becomes visible to outside audience and gets interpreted as an injustice in ways that promote moral outrage. Solidarity activists, working in cooperation with Papuan activists, have a big role to play with this. Inviting outsiders like PBI, diplomats, journalists and others to witness and report on both state violence and nonviolent resistance can also help.

There are a range of other things movements can do. Tactically they can emphasise actions that are low risk and high participation. Movements can also build decentralized network structures coordinated by a shared vision, shared goal and a shared strategy. These kinds of structures are more resilient than hierarchical structures because they encourage collective leadership, support tactical innovation and help protect more visible leaders who may be targeted by the state.

People inside and outside West Papua need to raise the political and economic costs of the Indonesian government not negotiating with the Papuan freedom movement. Make no mistake – we need militancy, but militancy of a determined, disciplined nonviolent kind. Papuans are already acting in this way. We need more outsiders to get behind them. One of the reasons the Indonesian government has not engaged in dialogue is because it is not worth them investing political capital in doing so. In other words the conflict in West Papua has not become enough of a problem for them, both domestically and internationally. The conflict has to become more costly economically for transnational capital in West Papua. Papuan activists and the solidarity movement need to use nonviolent methods to compel the Indonesian and foreign governments, and transnational capital to sit at the table in ways that take control of how the struggle is portrayed. We need to understand that the role of repression is to stop Papuans demanding freedom and rights. We need to find ways to continue to support Papuans who live with the tension between the risk of making change and keeping safe. But we also need to be realistic; there is no path in life that does not involve suffering. That is particularly true for those committed to struggling for liberation in the midst of the Indonesian government’s occupation of West Papua. To a much lesser extent that is true for solidarity activists. We need more people like Pelcher who travel inside Papua, get close to Papuan activists struggling for freedom, and provide practical support and moral solidarity to unarmed resistance at some risk to themselves.



Waging the struggle in three domains

It is foreign governments that help supply the Indonesian military and police with arms. It is the Australian and U.S governments that train and arm Detachment 88, the counter intelligence police force that has no qualms about using extra-judicial killing as a form of conflict management. It is unchecked transnational companies that are fueling conflict in West Papua.

In situations where one’s own government supports the Indonesian’s government’s occupation of West Papua the role of solidarity activists is fourfold: first, to nonviolently resist our own government’s support of Indonesian state violence; second, to find ways to support nonviolent resistance in West Papua; third, to make both the human rights violations by the Indonesian state and the nonviolent resistance by the Papuans more visible and more audible; and fourth, to communicate both these to ever expanding audiences who can mobilise on behalf of the Papuans.

I think solidarity activists, including Western activists, need to be more active not less. My own view is that the job of international solidarity activists is to work in collaboration with Papuans to raise the political and economic costs of the Indonesian government’s occupation. And because the Indonesian government depends on support of ordinary Indonesians, foreign governments and transnational capital as well as West Papuans to maintain the occupation we need a stronger movement that wages nonviolent conflict inside West Papua, inside Indonesia and in the societies of the Indonesian government’s international allies. When it comes to West Papua, people inside and out need to generate more conflict, not less. We then need to find nonviolent ways to resolve that conflict that support justice and peace. That does not equate with supporting or being involved with political violence.


What kind of international solidarity for West Papua?

So what kind of international solidarity is needed for West Papua? I think those of us in Western countries that have been ‘armed’ with wealth and opportunity need to use our privilege ethically. Elites in countries like the Netherlands, the U.S and Australia created the problem in West Papua. These countries continue to benefit politically and economically from the situation. That creates a moral imperative for Australians, Dutch, German’s, English, Irish, Scots, U.S citizens and others to act in solidarity with the Papuans. We need to care just as much about decolonization and liberation as Papuans do.

I want to suggest seven things international Western solidarity activists can do.

Firstly, we need to be committed to supporting the struggle through nonviolent means, not just for moral reasons, but primarily because nonviolent resistance is more effective. It allows more people to participate in the struggle, it is more likely to win over uncommitted third parties and it is more likely to blunt the political effectiveness of the Indonesian government’s use of violence to repress the movement.

Secondly, we need more people like Pelcher who visit West Papua. West Papua is isolated internationally. Personal face to face relationships help deepen people’s commitment to accompanying Papuans in their struggle for peace and justice, sensitise them to the issues and provide the means for getting information out. Quantitatively more ties between Papuans and sources of outside support and qualitatively stronger relationships between Papuans, Indonesians and outsiders that are orientated towards respectfully assisting Papuan goals help maximize the likelihood that Papuans will realize their desire for freedom.

Thirdly, and related to the second point, we need more people who learn Indonesian. While many Papuan activists are doing their bit to break down West Papua’s isolation by learning English we also need more people who take the time to learn Indonesian and make long-term commitments to the struggle. Again Pelcher is an inspiration in this regard.

Fourthly, if and when we are invited by Papuans to do so, we can provide technical support to assist nonviolent struggle. Building a strong and secure communications network and increasing strategic capacity is particularly critical.

Fifthly, we need to target the Indonesian government’s external sources of power located in our own countries of origin. We need more U.S’ers to target the way their government and the way Freeport exports terror and exploits West Papua. We need others to target other corporations like BP, Rio-Tinto and logging companies who exploit West Papuan resources and foster economic and environmental injustice. We need more citizens to challenge and disrupt their own government’s willingness to arm and train the Indonesian military and police.

Sixthly, and lastly, we need to build relationships with and collaborate with progressive Indonesian activists and support and work with Papuan activists to do the same. Indonesia will never be a free and equitable society while West Papuans are denied their right to decide their future; while they live in poverty, while their resources are plundered, while foreign journalists are locked out, while political prisoners continue to languish in jail, while the Indonesian security forces continue to use torture with impunity, and while Papuans are denied the right to free speech.

Seventh, Pelcher makes the point powerfully that we all – Papuans, Indonesians and international allies – need to find ways to recast the story that the struggle in Papua is violent and foreign led and that solidarity with West Papua is anti-Indonesian and imperialist. That story is false. It serves vested corporate and military interests, both in Indonesia and in the offices of governments and boardrooms of transnational corporations. We need new memes that recast the story. The struggle in West Papua is a nonviolent anti-occupation struggle for justice, human rights and democracy. West Papua is Indonesia’s Palestine.

West Papua needs more friends and more solidarity from the West, not less. We especially need to continue with the solidarity when the Indonesian government uses ruthless repression in an attempt to silence the Papuan movement for freedom.

I want to leave the last word on solidarity to KNPB chair, Viktor Yeimo. Recently arrested for leading a nonviolent action in West Papua, Yeimo issued a clear invitation to solidarity. Paraphrasing Ché Guevara Yeimo wrote: “when your heart trembles at oppression you are a friend of ours”.

In the spirit of Yeimo’s request may Papuans find that the numbers and commitment of their friends growing daily.

[1] This includes religious leaders, traditional leaders, women, students, academics, NGO activists, human rights defenders as well as members of resistance groups. Notable exceptions like Franzalbert Joku and Nick Messett, who actively support the Indonesian government’s position, notwithstanding.

Pulling together: Solidarity Work and western aid to the Indonesian police and military

Paper by Maire Leadbeater given at the Dynamics of Civil Engagement Conference 27 February, 2012 Southern Cross University, Queensland.
“Dynamics of Civil Engagement Conference: Southern Cross University” Southern Cross Univeristy: 27 February, 2012
Pulling together: Solidarity Work and western aid to the Indonesian police and military.
Not long ago video of a talk given by  American investigative journalist, Alan Nairn had me transfixed in front of my computer screen.  Alan was one of the journalists who was present at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, East Timor in 1991. The Indonesian military beat Alan severely on that day, which seems to have left him with an undying commitment to expose the crimes of the Indonesian Special Services (Kopassus) and to ferret out crucial information about American support for the Indonesian military.
I think it is worthwhile to summarise some of Alan’s analysis about East Timor’s liberation, the fall of Suharto and the power of the United States in world affairs. He sees the Santa Cruz events as pivotal.  First to remind you of what was happening in East Timor just over 20 years ago:   the Timorese resistance was trying to come to terms with a bitter let-down –they had been anticipating a parliamentary delegation from Portugal, and were gearing up to use this chance to tell their story and ask for international support.  But the delegation was cancelled.  Then on 28 October a young student Sebastiao Gomes was killed by armed militia after he sought shelter in the Motael Church.
Two weeks later on 12 November 1991 following  Sebastiao’s memorial mass,  a funeral  procession proceeded to the cemetery.  As their  numbers swelled, the emboldened participants began to unfurl pro-independence banners, and to shout ‘Viva Timor-Leste’.  They knew that what they were doing was incredibly dangerous but they proceeded anyway under the eyes of the military, and because they chose to keep going, Nairn says, history was changed.
When they reached the cemetery the military simply blocked their escape route, raised their rifles and opened live fire on the demonstrators. Soldiers chased down those who tried to escape and shot them in the back. A list of 271 victims was compiled but the full number of the dead is almost certainly higher as many ‘disappeared’.
What made this event different to all the other massacres that took place was that on this occasion the word got out and the world did take notice. New Zealand lost one of its own – a wonderful young man called Kamal Bamadhaj, an Indonesian speaker who was there  to help his fellow activists  as they met with members of the clandestine resistance.
The Santa Cruz massacre and the death of Kamal jolted the New Zealand solidarity movement and it exposed the moral bankruptcy of the New Zealand Government’s East Timor policy – in a nutshell Government sought to appear outraged at the loss of its citizen while at the same time pursuing careful diplomacy aimed at preserving good relations with Indonesia.
In the United States, as  Alan Nairn related ,  the massacre was the catalyst for the formation of the highly effective US  East Timor Action Network (ETAN)  which is still going like a ball of fire today alongside the more recent West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT).
ETAN set about lobbying the US Congress about US military funding and within a year they had succeeded in bringing to an end the military aid under the International Military Education and Training programme (IMET).  It took a few years longer before the solidarity network was able to expose other defence funding under JCET Joint Combined Exchange and Training, but this training was also suspended in 1998, not long before Suharto’s fall from power.
In 1998 the students led mass demonstrations calling on Suharto to step down. The military did not gun them down. Why was this? Nairn is convinced based on his interviews with such figures as Admiral Sudono, Suharto’s  Security Minister,  that the Indonesian soldiers did not open fire on the students on the streets of Jakarta because they feared ‘another Dili’ . Jakarta had established that the US had a limit on its tolerance for violence. Of course it was forced to learn the lesson again a year later when its military laid siege to East Timor after it had voted for independence.
Obviously the solidarity movement can only claim a small part of the credit for East Timor’s liberation.  The political and economic upheaval in Indonesia, the growing sympathy of democratic-minded Indonesians and of course the steadfastness of the Timorese resistance must all be factored in. But if solidarity activists had not exposed western hypocrisy in training and supplying the Indonesian military with weapons,  there might have been a different outcome.
Interviewed in September 1999 at the height of the crisis in East Timor, Noam Chomsky said: ‘The US government will do something positive- more accurately it will stop doing something horribly negative – with regard to East Timor only  if public pressure makes it essential to do so by raising the social costs of continuing to abet the massacre.”
 Globally there were massive demonstrations, tens of thousands demonstrated across Australia,  human chains encircled the embassies of the UN Security Council members.   In Portugal people wore mourning white, and hundreds of Timorese and Portuguese traveled to Spain to demonstrate at the nearest Indonesian Embassy.  On 9 September traffic stopped in Lisbon, as thousands got out of their cars to stand in the road to observe a nationwide 3 minute silence.
Then President Clinton delivered his eleventh hour  ultimatum to Indonesia: end the violence or invite the international community ‘to help’.
Nairn also pointed out for an American audience,  that in the United States in the twenty-first century demonstrators do not get shot.  The United States uses its guns, drones and troops against  other countries to preserve its interests but at home a civil liberties framework usually  prevails. Demonstrators may face  tear gas or even arrest but they won’t be killed. The deaths happen elsewhere at the business end of the guns supplied by the United States.
In this part of the world I believe we also have power.  If we want to understand how important our region and our governments are to the United States, the official cables released by Wikileaks are very helpful.  We know that the ANZUS Treaty is defunct, and New Zealand will not be reversing its no nuclear warships ban, but that hasn’t really stopped ongoing defence and military cooperation between our three nations.
Instead of ANZUS meetings Australia and the US now hold AUSMIN meetings.  When Kevin Rudd hosted that meeting last year he said it marked the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty and described the meeting as ‘the premier forum for advancing Australia-US cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.’.
From  the  Wikileaks cables  you can trace New Zealand’s secretive restoration of defence and intelligence ties  over 2008 and 2009 and also how US officials upped the pressure as they prepared for  an AUSMIN meeting.
So we are definitely part of the same club, even if New Zealand’s actual military and intelligence contribution to the US led may seem small in comparison with Australia.  We are part of the Five Eyes or UKUSA  intelligence community and we  have our own satellite  spy base at Waihopai, an integral part of the global intelligence network feeding intelligence to the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Indonesia has had an important place in US strategic plans since Suharto took power in 1965. From that time Indonesia opened up its economy to western investment. US spokespeople talk about the importance of the constructive partnership with the country which has the world’s largest  Muslim population, holding it up as an example of moderate Islam and a supporter in  combating terrorism and extremism.  Indonesia a leading member of the ASEAN group of pro-western nations, and key to US plans to extend its presence in the Asia-Pacific. Now that the cold war is over ASEAN is no longer a bulwark against communist expansion, but it is still held up a political, economic and security counterbalance to the influence of China
It is of course also true that Indonesia offers New Zealand and Australia  important trade and investment opportunities.  Indonesia ranks as New Zealand’s eighth largest export market, mainly for our meat and dairy products. We have  signed an agreement with Indonesia called  a Trade and Investment Framework and we import products such as crude oil and timber from Indonesia  The balance of trade is in our favour.  New Zealand’s Super Fund and some other Crown Financial Institutes invest in Freeport McMoran and in Rio Tinto, Freeport’s joint venture partner.
It isn’t easy to persuade our Governments to put at risk these kinds of perceived or real advantages, but as Alan Nairn pointed out it can be done.  The fact that we are closely allied with the United States imposes constraints on our Governments, but they don’t always dance to America’s tune. The most obvious and important New Zealand example being our 1985 refusal to accept port visits from nuclear capable warships.
If  Australia or New Zealand did take a stand – whether supporting a referendum,  a mediated dialogue process or  suspending their defence ties,  it would have a significant impact.
When I read letters from the New Zealand or Australian Foreign Minister it is clear that they are following a similar script.  These are the phrases that appear in the letters received by our respective solidarity groups:
 ‘The Australian Government has long supported Indonesia’s territorial integrity, including its sovereignty over the Papua provinces.’  ‘The New Zealand Government is committed to the peaceful development of Papua as part of Indonesia, where the human rights of all citizens are respected and upheld.’ And there is usually a reference to support for ‘the full implementation of the 2001 Special Autonomy Law’.
New Zealand ‘upholds human rights’ by ‘quiet diplomacy’ and ‘constructive engagement’ through aid.  In bilateral meetings behind closed doors New Zealand Ministers raise human rights concerns with their Indonesian counterparts. These exchanges can be pointed, but frequently they are amount to little more than ritual expressions that require minimal response from the Indonesian side.  At its worst this ‘quiet diplomacy’ is a blatant exercise in collusion
This hasn’t gone unnoticed in West Papua.
 Forkorus Yaboisembut, was appointed President of the ‘Republic of West Papua’ at the October 19 Congress and now he and four colleagues are on trial for makar or treason.  He is scathing of this  refusal of the countries like Australia and New Zealand to confront the issue of self-determination, suggesting that a focus on human rights alone is  to define the Papuan people as ‘merely the colonial possession of a foreign power’.
The Indonesian authorities impose tight restrictions on media visits to West Papua, but a new kind of citizen journalism is now asserting itself.and the  real state of affairs is becoming better known. ‘You tube’ videos circulate after atrocities to tell the story as no words can.  Shocking videos circulated after  the events on October 19 when the Jayapura Congress was forcibly dispersed by the security forces. A visiting West Papuan leader showed footage to some of our parliamentarians recently – I thought they would be appalled by the sight of heavily armed police opening fire from aloft their armoured vehicles, but they were also shaken at the sight of civilians being rounded up and forced into crouching postures as they were herded into the middle of the soccer field.
  Those events were closely followed by an 8000 strong strike at the Freeport McMoran mine, during which two of the striking workers were killed by the security forces.  The news of the strike spread round the world through union and occupy movement circles.  In New Zealand a popular glossy magazine, Metro, devoted a long features article to the story of the mine, the strike and New Zealand’s investment in it.   In August last year  Australian academics and media exposed leaked Kopassus documents  detailing  the network of spies and informers that support Indonesia’s iron control.
Gradually Indonesia’s  giant agribusiness proposal for the Merauke district is also becoming known.  The Indonesian President has grand ambitions for the up to 1.6 million hectares project which he hopes will feed Indonesia, and then feed the world. The proposed crops such as corn sugar, rice and palm oil will destroy the fragile ecology, displace the local people and bring vast numbers of new migrant. Indigenous West Papuans are already believed to be a minority in their own land, so it is hardly surprising if a sense of now or never desperation is driving this latest wave of activism.
Are we managing to lever any change?
It is hard to believe that the officials in the Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministries of Australia and New Zealand have not given some thought to the possibility that a West Papua is at boiling point and that their  uncritical support for Indonesia may blow up in their faces.  After all they were caught wrong-footed by the firestorm in East Timor in 1999.
I have witnessed a few tiny cracks in the last year:
When the Pacific Island Forum  met in Auckland New Zealand activists were joined by West Papuan leaders and supportive MPs from the Mana and Green Parties. We ensured that the West Papua issue was under the noses of the Forum Heads of Government. The  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon was a guest at the Forum and addressed a public meeting during his time in Auckland. Subsequently a journalist questioned him about our very visible West Papua lobby.  He came dangerously close to talking about self-determination:  ‘whether you are an independent state or a non-self-governing territory or whatever, the human rights is inalienable and a fundamental principle of the United Nations’.  He subsequently clarified that he did not state that West Papua should be placed on the agenda of the Decolonisation Committee,  any such call would not be his to make as that was a matter for  Member States.
The New Zealand Foreign Minister,  Murray McCully is being forced to confront the West Papua issue more often.   In August 2010 a very graphic video depiction of the torture of two Papuan farmers was circulating just as Mr McCully was scheduled to meet in Jakarta with his counterpart Marty Natalegawa, so questions were asked. At the time of the Forum, Mr McCully did not make time to meet West Papuan representatives personally but he did instruct his officials to meet with John Ondawame and Rex Rumakiek, and I understand a similar meeting with West Papuan representatives also took place in New York.
I am hoping that this might be an echo of the small shift to acceptance of dialogue or constructive communication on the part of the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.  The President’s meetings with outspoken Church leaders in recent months seems a potentially  hopeful sign, and will have been noted by western governments.
Over the past twelve years that IHRC has been working on West Papua we have tried hard to find the points of leverage that might prompt our Government take effective West Papua action.  Obviously we have not made any amazing breakthroughs, and disappointingly there have steps backward such as the Government’s restoration of military training ties in early 2007.  But I think there is some evidence at the very least that officials and politicians are worried., and perhaps we can again draw some lessons from  our history of activism on East Timor.
When I probed back through declassified government documents relating to East Timor I found that the officials had been weighing up what we activists were doing and saying.  I was surprised to find that we had had more influence than we knew at the time.
To give one example, in March 1995 a military training visit of five Indonesian officers was postponed as the NZ Defence Attache explained:
‘The reason for the postponement is due to increasing interest among the New Zealand public over recent matters in East Timor.  In addition to general public interest in all regional and international affairs there is in New Zealand a small but sophisticated and well co-ordinated lobby, sympathetic to the claims of East Timorese exiles, who seek any opportunity to generate anti-Indonesian feeling.  It was therefore thought unwise to risk exposing the visitors to the possibility of becoming the focus of media campaigns, demonstrations, petitions etc. at this time.’
Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs Neil Walter held a damage control meeting with the Indonesian Ambassador and wrote:
On military contacts/exchanges/exercises, I said this was a matter on which both sides needed to work closely together…It wouldn’t do the relationship any good to present the anti-Indonesian school of thought with large tailor-made pegs on which to hang further protests. Careful management was needed.
So I want to focus finally on New Zealand’s direct relationship with the Indonesian security forces.:  the training support we offer to the Indonesian military and a Pilot  training programme to the police in West Papua.
New Zealand’s  military training for Indonesia largely consists of bilateral officer exchanges:  each year an Indonesian officer attends the NZDF Command and Staff College to participate in the Senior Staff Course while New Zealand Defence Force officers  attend courses in Indonesia.   Recently there has been mention of  New Zealand increasing its  defence ties with Indonesia by extending  the training currently offered to Indonesian officers and hosting higher level visits of Indonesian personnel. Our Government defends this programme on the grounds that engagement with the Indonesian military will promote positive reform, but there is no evidence to support this claim.  On the other hand the record shows that New Zealand officials and  the New Zealand Minister of Defence at the time (Phil Goff) took the initiative to get the defence relationship resumed, because they considered that this would be in New Zealand’s interests.
A New Zealand Defence Attache commented before defence ties were reestablished: ‘at the moment the New Zealand Indonesia  relationship resembled a ‘three-legged stool’  with one leg (ie the defence aspect) missing.  In spite of the many reforms that had taken place in recent years, the TNI was still a major force in Indonesian life; without engagement with TNI we could not hope to build a full relationship.’
As far as I know the New Zealand’s  police training does not involve improving the lethal  or the punitive skills of the officers involved.  In fact the community policing model is all about conflict avoidance and working with communities, a positive model of police work.   The problem with this training is that we are talking about engaging with the forces of repression. While I believe many of those involved in providing the training sincerely hope their efforts will benefit the West Papuan people and Indonesian civilians, there is limited objective evidence to support this outcome. The risk is always that the New Zealand aid will be co-opted to support  Indonesia’s anti-self-determination agenda.  After studying the documentation, including reports released under the Official Information Act I believe that this is happening..
The West Papua project: ‘Community Policing: Conflict Resolution in Papua and West Papua provinces’ had ambitious aims: ‘ The project’s purpose was described as enhancing adherence to human rights standards by the INP in the two Papua provinces. ‘ The primary objective  of the Project was to contribute to changing the military mind-set of the INP.  Anticipated outcomes of the Project were described as ( i) improving human rights (ii) improving security; and (iii) reducing poverty.’
The project began following a request from the Police Area  Commander General Tommy Yacobus,  in Jayapura in 2006,  . Early in 2007 thirty two West Papuan police (only 10 of them indigenous Papuans) attended a workshop in Jayapura at which participants were told how New Zealand police try to build community relations and anticipate and prevent conflict.
The Ministry memos reveal  that Jayapura Police Chief had instructions from the National Police Chief to ‘get back the confidence of the community’  following the March 2006 riots.   The Police Chief, told the Second Secretary that he wanted to increase the percentage of indigenous Papuans within POLDA Papua which was currently at 4%.,
In late 2010, New Zealand Embassy officials were advised (the name of the Indonesian official they met has been blacked out) that some 1500 Papuan police were recruited in  2009.   This would help, the New Zealanders were told, ‘in increasing the effectiveness of policing because of the importance of good information and an understanding of adapt (customary) law and traditions.  Police also had a network of informants in every village which allowed for reports of trouble to flow through to Wamena, despite the isolation of many communities, poor roads and absence of communications infrastructure in many areas.’
It is not surprising that West Papuans don’t always welcome the recruitment of indigenous police officers.  I am told that the Police have a rigorous interrogation process for potential recruits which ensures that anyone joining up must deny or hide any connection however remote to those who support independence.
The records show, that  the Community Policing Initiative had an impact on the Wellington-Jakarta relationship.  By September 2008 when New Zealand Embassy representatives visited West Papua they found that Community Policing Initiative had ‘emerged as the centerpiece of New Zealand’s engagement in Papua and West Papua.’
: “In the past Embassy visits to the two provinces have been confined to information gathering.  This time it was very different – we had something concrete to offer. That was reflected in the warm reception accorded to us. The NZAID-funded, NZ Police Community Policing (CP) project is now the centerpiece of New Zealand’s constructive engagement approach with Indonesia on the Papua issue.  It demonstrates New Zealand is serious in its desire to make a real difference on the ground in the two provinces.”
In fact the Indonesian officials were so pleased with the New Zealanders that an  article about the visit appeared in the Papua Pos  headed Selandia Baru Menentang OPM or New Zealand opposes OPM.   New Zealand officials reassured their hosts  that they did not support separatism, but the write up took things a step further. The diplomats wryly recorded later that the article misrepresented the discussions, and their ‘alleged commendation of TNI’.
In 2010 the New Zealand Police commissioned an independent review of its Community Policing programme.  When I combed through the lengthy report, I had a growing sense of unease.  The first criteria evaluated was ‘strategic relevance’  and the project matched up well, since ‘it is supporting the decentralization efforts  of central government through autonomy laws (Otsus).’
‘The Project has strengthened the relationship between the Indonesian and New Zealand police:  NZ Police is the only foreign agency that has been permitted to deliver CP training in Papua and West Papua provinces, and NZ Police is the only foreign agency permitted to use serving NZ Police Officers for Project activities in these provinces.’   But who benefits from this close relationship?
The evaluation team  struggled with assessing the effectiveness of the project, partly for reasons to do with the lack of before and after data.  But they cite a few ‘solid examples’:
“an INP officer said he had employed the skills and approach taught by NZ Police during the training to resolve political unrest in his area, where Papuan nationalists were planning to raise the morning star (the applicable sentence for doing so is 25 years imprisonment).  The fact that the training provided a practical tool to assist the INP officer to successfully resolve this issue is a highly effective result for the Project.’
There is nothing to suggest that the NZ Police discussed the right to free expression,  let alone any suggestion that they even considered that ‘nationalists’ might have a legitimate claim to genuine self-determination.
The report also looked at risk management and addressed the possibility of personal security risk for the NZ trainers ‘given political stirrings on the ground in Indonesian Papua’ and the ‘risk that NGOs might criticise the Project if training were followed by  INP-perpetrated human rights abuses.’    The report says that these risks did not materialise.
This is a bit disappointing since the Indonesia  Human Rights Committee has been raising concerns about the police training project since 2008.  Our statements have become stronger as we have learnt more about the project.  We tie our criticism to human rights reports and other evidence of ongoing police brutality in West Papua, but we concede that we don’t have any evidence that an officer who has participated in New Zealand training has been implicated in a documented instance of abuse.
 More recently, Green MP Catherine Delahunty has also voiced her concerns: ‘the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. These policemen appeared to have no context for operating in West Päpua, their focus was on crimes like robbery and alcohol and they made no comment on the lack of democratic freedoms or the need for the West Papuan police to stop colluding with the military in the human rights abuses’
When I visited West Papua in late 2010 I made a point of talking about the police programme,  and especially among younger activists, the response to the training was decidedly negative.   New Zealand Embassy representatives were in West Papua around the same time, and they also met with civil society representatives,  as well as the Governor of Papua, politicians and  UN officials. They highlighted the ‘community policing project as a flagship in the province.’  It seems the diplomats did hear some negative feedback about the actions of the police in West Papua and New Zealand engagement, but they rated the overall response to the project as positive.
 At the moment, despite the earlier hype, and talk of a second phase,  the Community Policing Project has been on pause for two years. From my point of view this is good news. I am just hoping it is because of concerns about violence in West Papua and not because the New Zealand aid budget is being pared down.
I should emphasise that I support  New Zealand  expenditure on humanitarian aid in West Papua, in fact one of my objections to the military and police training is that it probably edges out constructive programmes.  New Zealand offers post-graduate scholarships to up to 50 Indonesian applicants each year.  The scheme prioritises students from Eastern Indonesia including West Papua.  But a response to a parliamentary question reveals that only  two indigenous Papuans were granted post-graduate scholarships in the 2007-2010 period.
I want to emulate Alan Nairn by finishing on a positive note. I believe he is right, solidarity actions can be effective even if we don’t know in advance which actions will be effective.  There is a strong case for solidarity work focused on ending military ties and I believe we should widen that to include the police training programmes.
At the elite level Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Britain  and Indonesia  are tied together in a range of intelligence and defence networks.  I believe we could all increase our efficiency and our effectiveness if we did more to work on joint campaigns, and if we shared more research information with each other
Over the years many Papuan leaders have raised the possibility that New Zealand could help to facilitate a peace dialogue for West Papua – drawing on the successful process mediated by New Zealand which helped to resolve the crisis in Bougainville.   We weren’t really a neutral party with respect to that conflict either,  but we were able to be effective and that also gives me some hope.
Leadbeater, M. (2006). Negligent neighbour : New Zealand’s complicity in the invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste. Nelson, N.Z., Craig Potton Publishing.

Human rights abuses and the question of genocide in West Papua

A scene from a notorious video of Indonesian military torturing a Papuan. Photo: originally provided by West Papua Media

Asia-Pacific Journalism, Pacific Media Centre

18 January, 2012

After a period of Dutch control, possession of West Papua was handed to Indonesia in a deal brokered by the US. This deal, known as the New York Agreement of 1962, promised West Papuan self-determination which led to the 1969 Act of Free Choice. This act, later branded as the “Act of No Choice”, was stripped of any legitimacy as a little more than 1000 hand-picked West Papuans representing a population of close to one million voted unanimously under military threats and coercion to retain Indonesian sovereignty. Reported incidents of human rights abuses inflicted on the West Papuan people at the mercy of the Indonesian military includes widespread violence, killings, torture, disappearance, rape, sexual violence, transmigration schemes, forced relocation, and the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV which has seriously harmed the existence of the West Papuan people. This article is a newspaper analysis of the Jakarta Globe, The New Zealand Herald, and The Sydney Morning Herald media coverage. Nigel Moffiet reports.

ANALYSIS: It can be argued that Indonesian abuses in West Papua are crimes consistent with the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as a consequence of exploitation, transmigration, West Papuan displacement, targeted military brutality at West Papuan communities, and the systematic spread of infectious diseases. Given genocide is not a term to use lightly extreme caution must be made in using the label so as to avoid “the risk of setting up taxonomies of genocide, or opening crucial space in debates for re-engaging precisely the kinds of discourses that enable and naturalise it in the first place” (Banivanua-Mar, 2008, p. 586). Yet, the debate is taken seriously with the interests of ‘prevention and restitution rather than simply definition in order to “more effectively work backwards to a deeper and more practical understanding of how genocide happens” (Banivanua-Mar, 2008, p. 596-597). In this context, I also carry out media analysis and reportage of West Papuan human rights abuses and the question of genocide by The Jakarta Post, The New Zealand Herald, and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Analysing human rights abuses within West Papua involved searching for the words “West Papua” and “genocide” within the archives of the three newspapers’ respective search engines. Surprisingly, the Jakarta Post had the most content fitting this description with 25 articles, followed by the Sydney Morning Herald with five articles and The New Zealand Herald with six.

Exploitation of West Papuan land and resources
The province of West Papua is rich in natural resources and since Indonesian rule government and military officials have been involved in the extraction this wealth through mining and forestry. The consequences of this exploitation has been dire for the Papuan people and has led to human rights abuses as observed by West Papuan campaigner John Rumbiak who stated that “all abuses in West Papua were caused by military and police presence aimed at protecting mining firms, forest concessions and timber estates exploiting natural resources”(Wing & King, 2005, p. 2).

Part of the systematic abuse towards the Melanesian people of West Papua included denying them the right to work or gain any wealth from their own natural resources in favour of generating work and wealth for the Indonesian Javanese population. On a 1980 visit to West Papua, a US professor noted a “planned influx of Indonesian workers, including more than 2000 families that were scheduled to be ‘dropped’ near two major oilfields in order to implement a ‘policy of non-employment of Melanesians in the oil industry’” (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 26).  This is also evident in the US-ownedFreeport copper mine which in 1982 employed 452 expatriates, 1859 Indonesians, and only 200 Papuans who were employed as unskilled laborers” (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 26).

Intensifying the problem is the relocation of villages due the seizure of land. In June 1980, the Amungme tribe from the Tembagapura region were relocated to a coastal area that had widespread malaria creating an epidemic that killed 216 children. Freeport failed to provide food or medicine during the epidemic and the Indonesian government failed to assist despite the official acknowledgement of the epidemic” (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 26-27).

The exploitation of West Papua’s timber resources and exploitation of West Papuan labour is another problem with evidence of serious breaches of human rights. One of the documents of abuse includes the relocation of the Asmat tribe from the southern coast of West Papua by Jakarta-based timbre companies. The Asmat people were forced into compulsory labour which included the deforestation of their own land at below-subsistence wages with threats of arrest for those who refused to work. This relocation and enforced labour within the timber industry had such an impact that an Indonesian environmental group warned that the Asmat people were “on the brink of cultural starvation after a decade of enforced ironwood logging” (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 28).

A major 2005 report by Indonesian based environmental organisation Tilapia and the UK and US-based Environmental Investigation Agency found that the Indonesian military and government officials are involved in the illegal smuggling of up to 300,000 cubic meters of timber a month from Papua to China. This illegal smuggling is valued at more than US $1 billion (Wing & King, 2005, p. 4).

Transmigration and West Papuan displacement
As well as forcing many West Papuan tribes and communities from their land in order to exploit natural resources, Indonesia has also carried out systematic transmigration policy that has been designed to strip the West Papuan people of their identity making them minorities on their own land. By the end of 1984, the Indonesian government had set up 24 transmigration sites across 700,000 hectares of reappropriated West Papuan land. This resulted in 27,726 Indonesian families relocating on West Papuan land; close to 140,000 people over 10 years. Further more, the Indonesian government required that “Papuans be dispersed, with one Papuan family to every nine Javanese families, thus ensuring that the Papuans would become a minority in each area” (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 33).

This has resulted in the marginalisation of West Papuans within the cities as second class citizens to the extent that “propaganda posters sponsored by the ‘Project for the Guidance of Alien Societies’” urged the Papuans to relinquish their inefficient and primitive ways for the superior lifestyle of the Indonesians (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 34). As well as marginalisation within their own communities, transmigration has “led to the loss of traditional lands and forests where once local tribes used to hunt and gather food. There is no transfer of knowledge and technology to substitute for lost basic rights’ (Wing & King, 2005, p. 4).

Increased presence of Indonesian military
In a 2005, in a University of Sydney report for the West Papua Project, it was concluded that “the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) in Papua are the main source of suffering and instability in the province” (Wing & King, 2005, p. 2). Human rights abuses carried out by the Indonesian armed forces is only escalating as troop build up in the West Papuan region continues with incidents of rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. In 1981, the Indonesian military launched Operation Clean Sweep which resulted in rapes, assaults, killings, and looting of villages if anybody was suspected to be part of the Papuan independence movement Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 29). The operation aimed to “intimidate those suspected of supporting the OPM and to cleanse the boarder regions of Papua to make room for Javanese migrants”. Survivors of the operation reported that “whole families had been bayoneted to death and their bodies left to rot”. The Indonesian military also had the slogan: “Let the rats run into the jungle so that the chickens can breed in the coop.” By the summer of 1981 the operation escalated into the Central Highlands of West Papua were the Indonesian armed forces responded to suspected OPM activity by bombing the village of Madi in the Paniai basin. The attack included the use of napalm and chemical weapons against the villagers and killed at least 2500 people with estimates that the death toll could have even reached 13,000 (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 29).

Since then, Indonesian troop buildups have continued and between 2005 and 2009 up to 15,000 extra troops were deployed throughout the West Papuan region (Wing & King, 2005, p. 13). The result of this military buildup is that there is an increased level of human rights abuses and violent clashes between resistant West Papuans and the Indonesian military. This is catastrophic for local communities as the incidents are “used to justify the deployment of new troop reinforcements, which in turn lead to greater human rights abuses, reaction from aggrieved Papuans, then further militarisation. A dangerous and destructive spiral is thus perpetuated” (Wing & King, 2005, p. 7).

The spread of serious disease and HIV/AIDS
The disruption and upheaval to traditional West Papuan existence brought about through Indonesian colonisation and exploitation of the regions natural resources has also led to the spreading of serious disease. A Dutch missionary working in West Papua during the 1980s said infant mortality rates in the region were above 60 percent, and the average life expectancy no more than 31 years (Brundidge et al, 2004, p. 34). Of grave concern is the spread of HIV infection which is rising dramatically in the region to the extent that 40 per cent of Indonesia’s HIV and AIDS cases were located in Papua despite accounting for less than one per cent of Indonesia’s population. Another figure from 2002 shows that just over 20 people per 100,000 were infected with HIV in Papua, compared to only 0.42 people per 100,000 in the rest of Indonesia (Brundige et al, 2004, p. 34). Much has been suggested of Indonesia’s responsibility for the spread of such disease throughout the Melanesian population to the extent human rights groups say the spread of HIV is the result of systematic attempts to destroy the Melanesian population of West Papua. Interviews conducted with workers in Jayapura and Merauke who deal with prostitution and the spread of HIV suggest clear evidence “that there is security force involvement in prostitution at different levels” (Wing & King, 2005, p. 8). Leo Mahuye, a health worker in Merauke says HIV is spread by prostitutes who are brought in by the military to the extent that there is “an indication it is systematic killing…[a]s long as they are importing these women, as long as the military and the police back these activities here, they are committing killings” (Butt, 2005, p. 413).

The Jakarta Post
Searching for the words “West Papua” and “genocide” on The Jakarta Post’s online search engine returned 21 relevant articles between 2001 and 2011 relating to genocide and human rights abuses in the region. The articles were a mix of 14 opinion pieces and six news reports, as well as one question and answer article with West Papuan human rights campaigner John Rumbiak.

Of these 21 articles, one opinion piece and one news report both addressed the issue of genocide in the headlines. The first article published on 8 January 2001 titled “Is Indonesia becoming a genocidal society?” and despite its title it does more to contextualise the nature of genocide throughout history rather than draw any strong conclusions on West Papua. The article references the nature of genocide in Germany, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Burundi and makes the statement that the “cycle of genocidal society, which is already apparent in Maluku and other regions, must be broken by effective law enforcement measures”. The article makes this statement without any reference to West Papua or without further contextual evidence to back the statement up.

An article published on 19 August 2005 titled “RI condemns report by Aussie researchers on genocide in Papua” does more to address human rights abuses and genocide in West Papua in light of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies report Genocide in West Papua? The article provides diverging view points with Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Marty Natalagawa, calling the report “baseless” and Indonesia’s deputy military spokesman, Bibit Santoso, labeling the report “incorrect and untrue”. Yet the article uses more space quoting from the report and the centre’s director Stuart Rees, who says even though he is cautious using the word “genocide” this “significant document details the destruction of a people, their land and prospects”. The article also quotes one of Papua’s leading church figures, Rev. Socratez Yoman, who talks of the Indonesian military intimidation and says wherever there are Indonesian soldiers, “the militia and jihadists are there too. They are inseparable.”

There were five remaining news articles which addressed human rights abuses in West Papua and the issue of genocide through the sources that had been quoted. An article published on 8 April 2006 titled “Netherlands ‘respects’ RI territorial integrity” does little to address the issue of human rights abuse in West Papua rather it focuses mostly on the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s recognition of Indonesia’s territorial integrity including Papua’s integration into Indonesia. It also focuses on Indonesian criticism of Australia’s decision to grant temporary visas to 42 Papuan asylum seekers. In this criticism the article mentions the Papuan activists have accused Jakarta of genocide.

A news article published on 20 May 2006 titled “RI asks Australia to recognise territorial integrity in treaty” focuses on Indonesia’s effort to ‘get assurances that no neighboring country will support the succession of Papua from Indonesia’ and asking for Australia to “express its commitment to Indonesia’s territorial integrity in a written agreement”.  Once again the article does little to address issues of human rights in the region by failing to quote West Papuan sources. It only puts some context to the story by saying that the “Papuans, including pro-independence activists and their families, have accused Jakarta of ‘genocide’ in Papua”.

The remaining articles focused more heavily on human rights abuses and the question of genocide. A news article published on 9 June 2007 titled “Papuans greet UN envoy with rallies, demands” focused on the visit of UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders Hina Jilani’s visit to the region. The article draws many sources and quotes around human rights abuses and the issue of genocide quoting West Papuan’s who had pleaded with Jilani and the UN to “stop the genocide of the Papuans” and “stop the killing in west Papua”. An article published on 27 January 2011 titled “RI, int’l public push for civilian court for torture”  focuses on the torture of two West Papuan and calls for the Indonesian soldiers who committed the torture to be tried in a civilian court rather than an Indonesian military tribunal. Lastly an article published on 18 October 2011 titled “ 5000 attend 3rd Papuan people’s congress” focuses on the congress looking at the issue of human rights abuses in the region. It quotes organizing chairman Selpius Bobii who says “we greatly need support and solidarity from every party that upholds the values of democracy, basic human rights, honesty and justice for the sake of protecting the people of Papua from genocide”.

The remaining opinion pieces provided various forms of context to the human rights abuses in West Papua written mostly by outside observers. The most critical opinion piece was written by Roman Catholic Priest Neles Tebay on 28 September 2006 titled “More questions for the ICG on Papua issue”. The article strongly criticises the findings of the International Crisis Group who denied allegation of genocide in West Papua and downplayed any human rights abuses in the region. Tebay asks “what was or were the true intent(s) of the military operations conducted against the Papuans then, if not to wipe out the people in whole or in part?”

Finally, a question and answers article with West Papuan human rights campaigner John Rumbiak on 24 March 2000 titled “No letup in security approach spells trouble in Irian Jaya” does a lot to provide context and a West Papuan view point to the situation in the region. It adds context to the abuses with reference to the 1969 Act of Free Choice and the political circumstances surrounding the act and Rumbiak articulates West Papuan grievances on a number of levels.

The New Zealand Herald
Searching for “West Papua” and “genocide” on TheNew Zealand Herald’s online search engine drew only five relevant articles dating from 1999 (two articles have not been dated).  Of these five articles, two are opinion pieces by Auckland Indonesian Human Rights Committee spokeswomen Maire Leadbeater, one is an opinion piece by former President of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta, one news piece that briefly mentions Yosepha Alomang’s award for her “resistance against the destruction of rainforest, rivers and local culture caused by decades of gold mining in West Papua”, and another article that questions the right of four Indonesian military officers to study at Massey University in light of Indonesian military brutality.

Maire Leadbeater’s article (undated) titled “On the brink of genocide” is critical of the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ failure to address the issue of West Papua. In the article she contextualises West Papua by drawing parallels to East Timor and by mentioning the 1969 Act of Free Choice and the consequences of the act. She draws on human rights estimates that 100,000 Papuans have been killed as a result of Indonesian military brutality and she references The University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies report to make her claim that the situation in West Papua is approaching genocide.

Leadbeater’s second article (undated) “West Papuans Face Masters of Terror” cited the Yale report to draw attention towards crimes against humanity including “torture, disappearance, rape, extra-judicial killings and destruction of resources” and that the report “strongly indicated a breach of the United Nations genocide convention”.

Jose Ramos-Horta’s opinion piece on 13 September 1999 titled “A terrible price to pay for freedom” again draws a parallel between West Papua and East Timor and raises the question of crimes against humanity, including genocide.

The Sydney Morning Herald
Searching for “West Papua” and “genocide” on The Sydney Morning Herald online search engine retrieved five relevant articles including two opinion pieces and three news articles between 2007 and 2011.

An opinion piece by Jennifer Robinson on 12 September 2011 titled “Leaks reveal it’s past time to speak for West Papua” draws attention to human rights abuses in the region and the level of surveillance and lack of transparency for journalists and human rights watch groups. On a visit to West Papua for a human rights group she mentions she was warned by an Australian diplomat that her “human rights work risked ‘becoming a political football’’ for [the Australian] government and that [she] was to ‘’keep [her] head down’”.

An opinion piece by Greg Poulgrain on 31 December 2009 titled “Oil and politics prove fatal mix for the people of West Papua” draws on West Papua’s colonial context since the Dutch and states that “[m]ilitary dominance in West Papua began in the 1960s and documents released under freedom-of-information from the US embassy in Jakarta in 1968 refer to the possibility of genocide occurring even then”.

On 18 June 2010 a news article titled “Papuans rally for independence” covers West Papuan protest to “reject the region’s special autonomy within Indonesia and demand a referendum on self-determination”. On 21 November 2009 a news article titled “Death in Papua: political intrigue clouds miner’s murder” refers to the killing of an Australian mine worker in West Papua as the result of an Indonesian military assault. And on 27 March 2007 an article titled “Report warns against Lombok Treaty” refers to a security treaty with Indonesia that potentially restricts Australia’s ability to speak out about human rights abuses. The article goes on to reference the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies report on genocide in the region and quotes that “Australia will be providing training, funding and material aid to Indonesian forces who are engaged in what many Papuans believe is genocide against their people”.

Through widespread violence, killings, torture, disappearance, rape, exploitation of land, transmigration, and the systematic spread of infectious diseases, the West Papuan people are suffering human rights abuses at the hands of the Indonesian military to the extent that the nature of the abuses are consistent with the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. In terms of facing the nature of these human rights abuses and raising the question of genocide directly, the Jakarta Post was more consistent than either The Sydney Morning Heraldor The New Zealand Herald in raising these issues within its content. The New Zealand Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald both had very limited content raising the question of genocide within West Papua. However, The Sydney Morning Herald had a more diverse and relevant spread of content in relation to human rights abuses and the question of genocide within West Papua whereas if it was not for the opinion pieces of Auckland Indonesian Human Rights Committee spokeswomen Maire Leadbeater, The New Zealand Herald would have had next to no content at all on this issue.

Nigel Moffiet researched and wrote this report as an Asia-Pacific Journalism postgraduate assignment at AUT University.

Books and journal articles:
Banivanua-Mar, T. (2008). ‘A thousand miles of cannibal lands’: imagining away genocide in the re-colonization of West Papua. Journal of Genocide Research, 10(4), December, 583-602.

Brundige, E.; King, W.; Vahali, P.; Vladeck, S.; Yuan, X. (2004). Indonesian human rights abuses in West Papua: Application of the law of genocide to the history of Indonesian control. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School.

Butt, L. (2005). ‘Lipstick girls’ and ‘Fallen women’: AIDS and conspirational thinking in Papua, Indonesia. Cultural Anthropology, 20(3), pp. 412-442.

Kirsch, S. (2010). Ethnographic representations and the Politics of Violence in West Papua. Critique of Anthropology, 30(1), pp. 3-22.

Sautman, B. (2006). Cultural genocide and Asian state peripheries. New York : Palgrave Macmillan

Wing, J. & King, P. (2005). Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people. West Papua Project at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney.

News articles:

  • The Jakarta Post (2000). No letup in security approach spells trouble in Irian Jaya
  • The Jakarta Post (2000). West Papua: Will it become the next East Timor for Indonesia?
  • The Jakarta Post (2001). Is Indonesia becoming a genocidal society?
  • The Jakarta Post (2002). Soeharto and the grand scheme of things
  • The Jakarta Post (2005). RI condemns report by Aussie researchers on genocide in Papua
  • The Jakarta Post (2005). Founding West Irian Jaya province
  • The Jakarta Post (2006). Netherlands ‘respects’ RI territorial integrity
  • The Jakarta Post (2006). How to protect Papuans — and RI-Australia ties
  • The Jakarta Post (2006). RI asks Australia to recognise territorial integrity in treaty
  • The Jakarta Post (2006). More questions for the ICG on Papua issue
  • The Jakarta Post (2007). Papuans greet UN envoy with rallies, demands
  • The Jakarta Post (2007). Indigenous languages in danger of disappearing
  • The Jakarta Post (2008). The possibility of indicting Soeharto after his death
  • The Jakarta Post (2008). On Timor Leste’s present situation
  • The Jakarta Post (2008). New strategy behind separatism in Papua
  • The Jakarta Post (2009). He ain’t heavy, he’s a brother from Papua
  • The Jakarta Post (2009). Munir and the protection of rights defenders
  • The Jakarta Post (2009). Issues: `Who is responsible for poverty in Papua?’
  • The Jakarta Post (2010). Text your say: Gus Dur or Soeharto?
  • The Jakarta Post (2011). RI, int’l public push for civilian court for torture
  • The Jakarta Post (2011). 5000 attend 3rd Papuan people’s congress
  • NZ Herald (n.d.). Maire Leadbeater: On the brink of genocide
  • NZ Herald (n.d.). Maire Leadbeater: West Papuans face masters of terror
  • NZ Herald (1999). A terrible price to pay for freedom
  • NZ Herald (2000). Soldier students to finish studies
  • NZ Herald (2001) Journalists share top environment award
  • The Sydney Morning Herald (2007). Report warns against Lombok Treaty
  • The Sydney Morning Herald (2009). Death in Papua: political intrigue clouds miner’s murder
  • The Sydney Morning Herald (2009). Oil and politics prove fatal mix for the people of West Papua
  • The Sydney Morning Herald (2010). Papuans rally for independence
  • The Sydney Morning Herald (2011). Leaks reveal it’s past time to speak for West Papua

Blood money – Metro magazine

Genocide in West Papua?

NEW BOOK: Comprehending West Papua

This new book from the West Papua Project is an edited volume of the collection of papers presented at the February 2011 University of Sydney conference “Comprehending West Papua”. It represents the views of the world’s leading scholars and activists currently working on understanding the conflict in West Papua.

Click to download Comprehending West Papua.

Click to download the Appendix of Images.

Editors’ Introduction
Peter King, Jim Elmslie and Camellia Webb-Gannon

Comprehending West Papua derives from a report that the co-editors wrote for
the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at Sydney University in July
2010 entitled, Get up, stand up; West Papua stands up for its rights.

The coeditors — Peter King, Jim Elmslie and Camellia Webb-Gannon — are coconveners (King and Elmslie) and coordinator (Webb-Gannon) respectively of the West Papua Project at CPACS.  The Project was established in 2000 as an
intellectual meeting place and research centre focused on the profound onflict
that is occurring in West Papua.

The Get up, stand up report covered the mass civil society protests by West Papuans against Indonesian rule in mid-2010 and the background to this  political insurrection. The report received widespread publicity and positive feedback so we decided to capitalise on this by organising a conference at Sydney University in February 2010. We asked those whom we considered the world’s leading authorities on the political impasse in West Papua and its historical roots to present short papers on the theme, Comprehending West Papua, with a view to helping Papuans, Indonesians and the rest of the world conceive new (or reconceive old) ways out of the impasse. We gave invitees the option of sending their papers for proxy presentation if they were unable to attend. The conference was a resounding success, with participants from West Papua, Indonesia, Vanuatu, New Zealand, The Netherlands, England, the United States, Singapore, Japan and Australia. We believe that it is the most significant academic-level conference that has ever been held on the political situation in West Papua.

Another aim of the conference was to map and update the global spread of
opinion on West Papua. Besides academic assessments, the conference also
had important West Papuan speakers and writers representing different diaspora factions pressing for independence or self-determination as well as a few who favour accommodation of the Indonesian government.  Unity amongst the West Papuans (long derided) was also examined, set alongside the dramatic demographic transition caused by organised and “spontaneous” in-migration from the rest of Indonesia, which now makes the Melanesians a light minority in their own homeland.

The year 2010 ushered in a new wave of West Papuan independence politics.
This momentum-gathering wave is characterised by student and youth leadership with a tougher stance on West Papuan self-determination, the vigourous promotion of the cause through social media and greater international attention to Papuan politics through mechanisms such as WikiLeaks and YouTube, both of which have served to reveal often obscured and sometimes horrific conditions in West Papua.

Evidence of this new wave emerged dramatically in June and July 2010, when
civil demonstrations, led by a new NGO, FORDEM (Democratic Forum of the
United Papuan People), amassed up to 20,000 protesters on the streets of
Jayapura. FORDEM comprises the self-proclaimed and widely recognised
provisional government set up by the West Papua National Authority (WPNA)– represented in this volume by chapters from Jacob Rumbiak and Herman
Wainggai–and various civil society organisations drawn from the churches and the student and women’s movements. These demonstrations were triggered in response to Jakarta’s rejection of an MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua—the all-Papuan upper house of the provincial parliament) decision popularly known as SK14, which ordains that “all candidates for elected office at the sub-provincial level had to be indigenous Papuans.”

The Home Affairs Ministry rejection of SK14 was considered to blatantly undermine the spirit of the Special Autonomy Law of 2001 which specifies that the provincial governors, vice governors and district (regency) chiefs (bupatis) in West Papua must be indigenous Papuans.

Thus, as discussed in Jacob Rumbiak’s chapter in this volume, the biggest demonstrations in West Papua’s history were launched against Special
Autonomy and for a referendum on West Papua’s political status. (These demands were two of the MRP’s 11 bold “recommendations” to the Papua
provincial government).

Papuan politics experienced a positive shift in the surrounding Pacific region as well during this time. Vanuatu’s parliament passed the Wantok Blong Yumi Bill which committed the Vanuatu parliament to work towards independence for West Papua through avenues such as the UN General Assembly and Decolonization Committee and the International Court of Justice. Vanuatu’s long term support of West Papuan independence is discussed in this volume in chapters by Rex Rumakiek and John Otto Ondawame, the latter making an impassioned plea for the success of the Papua Road Map. The Road Map constitutes a push for effective dialogue between Papua and Jakarta coming from Muridan Widjojo and the Indonesian Institute of Science in Jakarta and Neles Tebay and the Papua Peace Network in Jayapura. Father Neles has blessed the umbrella group established in Vanuatu in 2008, the West Papuan National Coalition for Liberation (with John Otto as Vice Chairman and Rex as Secretary General), as pivotal for bringing Papuans to the dialogue table.

Nick Chesterfield’s chapter shows the ways in which technology and social media have also been used to West Papuan political advantage by Papuans (who use Facebook prolifically to publicise their cause) and, inadvertently, by Indonesian troops. For example, the trend of capturing “incidents” on mobile phones has recently backfired on Indonesian military and police torturers in West Papua in a string of high profile cases that elicited deep international concern. In August 2009, West Papuan Yawan Wayeni was disembowelled  with a bayonet and taunted by Brimob (Indonesian mobile police) as he lay dying. This was captured on camera by one of the torturers and subsequently  leaked online. The public nature of torture in West Papua is discussed in Budi Hernawan’s chapter on this topic. In October 2010 another couple of horrific  videos taken by Indonesian troops emerged. The soldiers hogtied, suffocated with a plastic bag and burned the genitals of one West Papuan man; held a knife to another’s neck, and kicked yet others in the head as they sat helpless on the ground.  These videos were also leaked via YouTube, causing an international sensation.   As political leaders from other countries responded to these videos by pressing the Indonesian government to investigate and punish the offenders, whistleblowers leaking other files, including Kopassus (army special forces) blacklists and diplomatic cables, brought further humiliation upon the Indonesian government for its attitude towards West Papua. In November 2010 US journalist Alan Nairn published a leaked Kopassus list of enemies of  the state in Papua, all of whom were civilians. (At the top of the list is the  Reverend Socrates Sofyan Yoman, who also contributes a chapter here.)  Then,  in December 2010, a series of WikiLeaks sourced US embassy cables from  Jakarta was published in the Melbourne Age newspaper, revealing the extent to which politicians in Jakarta (and internationally) were and are aware of what has become the military fiefdom of West Papua, and the degree of natural resource exploitation, financial and political corruption and human rights abuse that prevails as a result. That these leaks and others published in The Sydney Morning Herald concerning the alleged corruption of the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his family, caused the Indonesian government considerable humiliation is evident from the ensuing Indonesian lawsuit against the Australian newspapers for publishing the cables.

All of these events and trends were converging with a momentum that we would have been remiss not to follow up.  The West Papua Project decided it was timely to invite a cadre of international experts on West Papua to a  conference at the University of Sydney who would try to comprehend, as a group with diverse experiences and perspectives, this new wave in West Papuan politics and its likely future trajectory.

The conference unfolded at International House, Sydney University, over two
days, February 23-24, 2011. It attracted an audience of 80 people to hear 22
papers presented–three of them in absentia and one by virtual presence.
Participants were invited to pay or find donors to pay their fares and
accommodation, and the conference conveners-cum-editors can recommend this as a simplifying and surprisingly successful ploy for underfunded NGOs, even university-based ones.  However the School of Social and Political Sciences and the Arts Faculty at Sydney University must be thanked for their prompt and generous response to last-minute requests for subsidy of conference venue hire, function costs and book publication.

Paper presenters included three women, five Papuans (all in exile) and two non Papuan Indonesians, as well as non-Papuan/non-Indonesian scholars, activists
and scholar-activists from Europe, North America, South East Asia and Australasia, as mentioned above.

Discussion did focus mainly on how to interpret and react to the new youth-led
turn towards mass mobilisation around independence, a referendum on self-determination and rejection of Special Autonomy in Papua since mid-2010.  Apart from papers already mentioned above, Bilveer Singh’s presentation laid out political options for Papua in fine forensic detail; Jason McLeod, leading expert on non-violent resistance, perceived growing synergy between local and international mobilisation for the Papuans, and editor King chimed in that the deoccupation of Papua could yield large benefits in military reform, corruption reform and democratic reform for Jakarta and Indonesia.

Akihisa Matsuno persuaded large numbers of participants that the rising trend of “self determination as conflict resolution” (Kosovo, South Sudan, East  Timor) and the “unsustainability” of Indonesian occupation have created a momentous opportunity for Papua, while Richard Chauvel was also persuasive with his distinction between the politics of independence and the politics of pork (elected Papuans’ massive looting of Special Autonomy funding)– and in dubbing Papua the Achilles heel of a still ostensibly reforming post-Suharto Indonesia. These two speakers led media coverage of the conference.

Editor Webb-Gannon, expert on West Papuan diaspora personalities and
perspectives, explored the cultural underpinnings, ancient and novel, of the
Papuan planetary resistance to conclude that independence was still a viable
option. Absentee cultural anthropologist Eben Kirksey meditated on the
extraordinary congressional hearing on Crimes against Humanity in Papua which was held in Washington DC during September 2010 (which he did much to organise), and concluded that the “messianic multiple”—a future with multiple messianic political options — could work even for a Papua “off the radar” in Washington.

Absentee editor Jim Elmslie (as presented by co-editor King) continued his
alarming and influential investigations into the demographic threat to West
Papuan identity and survival from unconstrained Indonesian settler arrivals in
Papua and called for an international fact-finding mission on the issue of  “slowmotion genocide”.

John Saltford, in absentia in London (and spoken for by editor Webb-Gannon),
the world’s leading authority on the Act Of Free Choice which sealed Papua’s
fate under occupation in 1969, called for negotiations without preconditions
between Jakarta and Jayapura, while Paul Barber of TAPOL and Rosa Moiwend,
also absent and similarly represented in Sydney, outlined the emerging threat of giant, largely foreign-funded food estates to Papuan forests, subsistence and

Like Saltford, Maire Leadbeater, New Zealand’s leading pro-Papuan campaigner, commended the peace process which resolved Papua New Guinea’s Bougainville crisis in 1998, specifically, New Zealand’s mediation  which did so much to calm and clarify that other bloody conflict caused by a heedless giant mining company, while Kylie McKenna and John Braithwaite also identified giant resource companies as a threat to peace–in occupied as well as independent Melanesia–but gave a passing grade (so far) to BP’s giant Bintuni Bay LNG mining operation for its contribution to conflict avoidance in Papua.

And, finally, Pieter Drooglever, who wrote a 700 page commissioned study of the Papua conflict for the Dutch government (which was rejected by the then government on publication in 2007!), reminded us in his introductory presentation how much was lost in the sorry history of 1962-69.

* * *
The ambience of the conference was special. Two inter-Papuan conflicts were
seen as liable to surface and had caused mild apprehension among the
conveners.  One was between the partisans of the two leading umbrella
organisations of the Papuan resistance as it exists and evolves internally and externally—the Coalition (WPNCL) and the Authority (WPNA).  However, photographs on these pages show factional partisans not only chatting amicably, dancing and singing together but hugging each other indeed.

While personality conflicts may persist, the marginal policy disagreements between the factions were overshadowed by good fellowship and fruitful dialogue on the occasion of the conference.

The other conflict that threatened to haunt the conference was between the  proJakarta or at least pro-collaboration ex-diaspora faction led by Franzalbert Joku (and including Nic Messet who actually represented the Indonesian government point of view at the congressional hearing of September 2010 mentioned above) and the mainstream of Papuan independentists–Coalition, Authority and Other.

However in fact there were revelations at the conference of counter-intuitive
collaboration between the apparent enemies. It transpired that Jacob Rumbiak’s semi-clandestine visit to Jakarta in late 2010 (his first since 1999 when he departed Cipinang prison), during which he presented political conditions to be met in the context of a possible dialogue with Jakarta about a peace settlement for Papua, and engaged in talks with ministers up to and including SBY himself, had been arranged and facilitated by none other than Franzalbert Joku.

In conference socialising and his own presentations Franzalbert argued that
Papua’s way ahead lay in a cooperative division of labour between Papuan
independence seekers able to highlight the deficiencies of Special Autonomy and military occupation and Papuan insiders like himself able to not only call for dialogue with Jakarta but actually arrange it.  Whether many of the mainstream would really welcome long-term cooperation with business-oriented Papuans widely thought to be agents of BIN, the murderous Indonesian national intelligence agency, remains to be seen, but the value of the conference dialogue across factional boundaries seems to have been indisputable.

They could also be seen and heard dancing and singing a la Papouenne together.

The editors hope the chapters which follow will yield invaluable insights into the current situation in West Papua, which is well covered in updated chapters by Chauvel and King, since the conflict has important ramifications for many
countries in the immediate region, not least Indonesia, Australia and Papua New Guinea.  Our authors suggest that the conflict is not receding, but rather
intensifying and complexifying, generating opportunities for conflict resolution and peacemaking which need to be urgently acted upon.

Please note: for all footnotes, please download ebook here:

Click to download Comprehending West Papua.

Click to download the Appendix of Images.

West Papua ‘biggest threat’ to Pacific media freedom, says Pacific Journalism Review report


13 October 2011

West Papua ‘biggest threat’ to Pacific media freedom, says PJR report

The killing and abduction of journalists in Indonesian-occupied West Papua has been highlighted in a special new report on Pacific media freedom over the past year by Pacific Journalism Review.

“By far the most serious case of media freedom violations in the Pacific is in West Papuafar from international scrutiny,” says the journal in an editorial.

The 39-page report on the state of media freedom in the Pacific in 2011 notes that in August, in particular, “sustained repression has also hit the news media and journalists”.

At least two journalists have been killed in West Papua, five abducted and 18 assaulted in the past year.

West Papua has replaced Fiji as the most urgent media freedom issue in the region, says the journal. The report has been published just as regional protests have been voiced over the brutal suppression of a strike at the giant Freeport copper mine in the past week in which at least one person was reported shot dead.

Ten West Papuan activists were arrested by Indonesian authorities in Jayapura last week for being in possession of material that featured the banned West Papuan Morning Star flag of independence.

Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Indonesian human rightsmonitor Imparsial, said recently: “Freedoms of expression, association and assembly are routinely violated in Papua, which seriously fuels tensions. Besides, gross human rights abuses, such as acts of torture, remain unaccounted for.”

This free media research report, compiled by Pacific Media Watch contributing editor Alex Perrottet and Pacific Media Centre director Dr David Robie with a team of contributors, including West Papua Media editor Nick Chesterfield, is the most comprehensive and robust media freedom dossier on the region published in recent years

“The state of Pacific media freedom is fragile in the wake of serious setbacks, notably in Fiji, with sustained pressure from a military backed regime, and in Vanuatu, where blatant intimidation has continued with near impunity,” says the report.

“Apart from Fiji, which has a systemic and targeted regime of censorship, most other countries are attempting to free themselves from stifling restrictions on the press.

“Coupled with governments that are sluggish to introduce freedom of the information legislation and ensure region-wide constitutional rights to free speech are protected, there are limited media councils and advocacy bodies with few resources to effectively lobby their governments.

In New Zealand, another major threat to media freedom has been the consolidation of contemporary transnational corporate ownership patterns.

Researchers Merja Myllylahti and Dr Wayne Hope demonstrate in another special report on global capital and media communication ownership that NZ media corporations treat news as a commodity and news organisations as revenue generators.

This is the third in a series of media ownership papers published in PJR and initiated by Bill Rosenberg’s mapping of media ownership (2007, 2009). This ongoing project has now been adopted by AUT University.
The report authors point to the closure of the 20-year-old influential business and politics newspaper The Independent and the phasing out of the 130-year-old cooperative news agency New Zealand Press Association (NZPA) as key symptoms of the malaise: ‘Consequently, public media space is shrinking as the practice of journalism declines.’

This edition of PJR is themed on “Media, cultural diversity and community”, and includes articles on Australia’s Reporting Diversity Project, the Yumi Piksa community television project in Papua New Guinea, a study of the use of te reo Māori by Fairfax-owned Suburban Newspapers in New Zealand by the Te Rōpu Whariki research team, reporting of Islam in Australia, the Australian country press, and the development of a cross-cultural communications degree in Oman by a New Zealand university.

Book reviews include investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s Other People’s Wars: New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the war on terror.

This edition, published in partnership with the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney is being published next week on October 20.

Edition editors: Professor Wendy Bacon, Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli and Associate Professor David Robie.
More information on the Pacific Media Centre website:


Contacts: Dr David Robie (Pacific Media Centre) + 64 9 921 9999 x7834

Alex Perrottet (Pacific Media Watch) + 64 9 921 9388