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?

SMH: Chipping away at paradise (Report on Australian mining in Raja Ampat)

Tom Allard

July 2, 2011

Turquoise waters ... the Kawe Island coral reef.Turquoise waters … the Kawe Island coral reef.

Australia’s lust for minerals threatens a marine wilderness, writes Tom Allard in Jakarta.

About once a month, a ship from Townsville makes the long journey to Raja Ampat, a seascape of astonishing beauty and diversity.

In the far western reaches of the island of New Guinea, where the westerly currents of the Pacific flow into the Indian Ocean, hundreds of improbable, domed limestone pinnacles rise from the sea, encircling placid, turquoise lagoons.

Fjord-like bays cut deep into the hinterland of mountainous islands, framed by vertiginous jungle-clad cliffs that drop steeply into the water. There are oceanic atolls, shallow bays with fine white sand beaches, snaking rivers and mangrove swamps.

Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares. Click for more photos

The beauty of Raja Ampat

Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares.

  • Wayag Island is one of the islands within the Raja Ampat district in the province of West Papua. The island is known for its beautiful atolls and amazing underwater life covering a total area of 155,000 hectares.
  • Even though this photo was taken in southern Raja this scene could easily be from Wayag. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Beautiful scenery at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A turtle at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A wrasse in the waters of Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A typical bommie in northern Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Local children enjoying the reef in front of their village. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • Schooling anthias (basslets) at Raja Ampat. Photo: Jones/Shimlock
  • Two bannerfish. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • Even though these animals are from a region just south of Kawe, mantas are often seen at Eagle Rock a Kawe Island divesite. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • A school of fish poses for the camera. Photo: Jones/Shimlock.
  • The sweetlip is a signature species in northern Raja. Photo: Jones/Shimlock

If the numerous islands and countless shoals and reefs of Raja Ampat take the breath away, they only hint at the treasures below. This remote part of West Papua province in Indonesia is the world’s underwater Amazon, the hub of the world’s marine biodiversity, home to 75 per cent of its coral and 1500 fish species, including huge manta rays; epaulette sharks that walk on the sea floor with their fins; turtles and an array of weird and wonderful fish.Yet the vessel that makes the regular trip to and from Townsville does not bring tourists or divers. There are no scientists on board to study this marine wonderland.

Rather, the vessel carries tens of thousands of tons of the red clay soil, rich in nickel and cobalt, which is destined for the Yabulu refinery owned by one of Australia’s richest men, Clive Palmer.

Sediment run-off from mining on Kawe Island.Sediment run-off from mining on Kawe Island.

Conservationists and marine scientists say this mining activity and the prospect of more exploitation puts one of the world’s most precious ecosystems under threat.

As the environment is imperilled, the impact on local communities has been devastating. Once close-knit villages are divided as competing mining companies offer financial inducements to residents for support. And, in a sadly familiar tale for the Papua region, where separatist sentiments linger, the benefits of exploiting its resources are largely flowing outside the region. Derisory royalties go to landowners and minuscule salaries are paid to locals who gain employment.

”I’m appalled by what’s going on,” says Charlie Veron, the former chief scientist from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, who has surveyed the region on many occasions.

Sediment from mining.Sediment from mining.

”If you had a rainforest with the most diverse range of species in the world and people started mining there without doing any kind of proper environmental impact study, there would quite rightly be outrage … Well, that’s what’s happening here.”

The vessels sent to collect the nickel and cobalt for Palmer’s Queensland Nickel company dock at Manuran Island, where the mining has continued unabated despite a decree by the West Papua governor, Abraham Atururi, banning all mining activity in Raja Ampat.

”The mining started in 2006. There were protests but the military and police came and they stopped them,” says Yohannis Goram, from Yayasan Nazareth, a local group that opposes mining.

The operator of the mine, PT Anugerah Surya Pratama (PT ASP), has promised environmental safeguards, but according to one local from nearby Rauki village they are ineffective.

”When it rains the sea turns red and sometimes even yellow,” a village elder says in a phone interview. ”The runoff is supposed to go into a hole but they come out [into the sea].”

Yosias Kein hails from Kapidiri, another island near Manuran that claims customary ownership. ”The mining waste damaged the coastal areas and covered up the coral reefs. Besides, it is difficult for people to get fish now. Fishermen in Kabare village, also in Rauki village, saw the waste went down into the seas near Manuran. Now they have to go fishing a bit further to the east or west.”

The strip mining for nickel leaves the landscape barren and the steep cliffs of Raja Ampat’s islands mean heavy rainfall overwhelms the drainage systems and sends the heavy soil into the water.

The impact is twofold and ”really nasty” for coral, Veron says. ”Sedimentation sinks on to the coral and smothers it. But worse is ‘clay fraction’, where very fine particles are suspended in the water, blocking the sunlight.”

Photos taken from Manuran and supplied to the Herald show murky water and dead coral after heavy rain.

PT ASP, based in Jakarta, owns PT Anugrah Surya Indotama (PT ASI), another mining outfit that operates on Kawe Island in Raja Ampat, despite a court order to desist due to a conflict over mining rights with a West Papua-based company.

The ultimate ownership of the companies are a mystery, although West Papua is rife with speculation that senior politicians and military figures have a stake in them. That is easy to understand, as the Jakarta firm seems to have extraordinary pull at the highest levels of government in Jakarta and Raja Ampat.

The rival mining company PT Kawei Sejahtera Mining (PT KSM) is owned by a local man, Daniel Daat. When it began loading its first shipload of nickel at Kawe in 2008, PT ASI, which also claims a mining licence for Kawe, complained. Three gunships and a plane were deployed to stop the consignment and Daat was thrown into prison.

The mines at Manuran and Kawe are guarded by military and police who locals say are on the company payroll. And while 15 mining companies have been pushed out of Raja Ampat after the governor’s decree, PT ASP and PT ASI have stayed.

Korinus Ayelo is the village chief of Selpele, which has customary ownership of Kawe, and supports Daat’s PT KSM. But PT ASI engineered the highly contested elevation of another chief, Benyamin Arempele, who endorsed its right to mine. Repeated legal cases have found in favour of Daat, but PT ASI continues to develop its mine and conduct exploration.

”They are still working today, guarded by the police,” Ayelo says. Villagers who were previously close now don’t talk to each other.

”There’s a distance between our hearts,” he continues. ”The people are uneasy. PT ASI uses the military. There are TNI [armed forces] everywhere. People must face the presence of TNI every day.”

Daat says high level political and military support from Jakarta is behind PT ASI’s continued operations. ”It is impossible to get such support for nothing. I believe the profits from Manuran Island are shared by several parties, parties that support this company. I won this case at the district court, at the provincial court and at the Supreme Court. How great is the Indonesian law system? They are still in Kawe doing exploitation despite the court’s rulings.”

At the very least, the two companies appear to have a cavalier approach to doing business in Raja Ampat. Police documents obtained by the Herald reveal the company allegedly bribed the bupati (regency head) of Raja Ampat, Marcus Wanma, to gain mining licences.

Wanma was paid $36,000 to issue the licences in 2004, and a further $23,270 for ”entertainment” purposes, the report said, citing police interviews with 16 witnesses, including Wanma’s staff and Yos Hendri, a director of PT ASI and PT ASP.

The report finds that about 670 million rupiah (then worth about $122,000) was paid to Wanma in 2004 for nine mining licences and only 197 million rupiah deposited in the regency’s bank accounts.

”The rest of the 500 million was used for the personal interest of [official] Oktovanius Mayor and Marcus Wanma” the report says.

Wanma escaped prosecution and remains the regency head. He has been incapacitated with a serious illness and is believed to be recuperating in Singapore. He was unavailable for interview and Raja Ampat officials declined to comment.

Whether the licences were corruptly obtained or not, the sum paid for them is derisory.

The open-cut mining undertaken on Manuran is cheap and low tech. After clearing the vegetation, workers simply dig up the soil, haul it into trucks and take it to the docks, where it is sent for processing to extract pure nickel, used in stainless steel. The mine’s wharf is nothing more than a tethered barge with no cranes. Costs for the company consist of little more than maintaining about 40 trucks, heavy moving equipment and the simple wharf.

Villagers and employees say most of the mine’s labourers earn between $170 and $200 a month. Customary landowners receive a royalty, but an investigation by the Herald has discovered that it is tiny.

Soleman Kein, an elder from Kapidiri, a village with customary rights over Manuran Island, says a new deal was negotiated last year increasing landowners’ share of the mine’s income from 1000 rupiah (11¢) a tonne to 1500 rupiah a tonne.

An industry expert with knowledge of Raja Ampat’s high-grade nickel laterite ore deposits says PT ASP would have been getting between $US40 ($37) and $US100 a tonne, depending on the fluctuating world price. The average would be about $US60 a tonne, he says.

At that price, a single 50,000-tonne shipload earns the miner $US3 million. The mine at Manuran Island typically sends at least two shiploads a month. On those figures, the locals are getting less than a 0.3 per cent share.

”These companies want a lot of money for not much effort,” says one miner with two decades of experience in Papua. ”They pay as little attention as they can to environmental standards and take the money and get out … The amount the locals get is pitiful.”

Hendri, a director of both PT ASI and PT ASP, pulled out of an interview at the last minute and declined to respond to detailed questions.

But one source intimate with the Manuran operation and the compensation deal says the local government gets another 3000 rupiah a tonne, and a further 2000 rupiah per tonne was devoted to infrastructure. All up, the insider says, about $200,000 has been spent on local villagers in royalties and infrastructure since 2007.

In that period the company has earned more than $150 million from sales, although between 4 per cent and 5 per cent of that revenue should flow back to the central government’s coffers.

Some of the villagers are happy with the arrangement. Soleman Kein is delighted with his new house, paid by the infrastructure fund.

”My house used to be made of sago leaves, but now the company has renovated it, our walls now are made of bricks, we have a roof made of zinc and the interior part of the house is beautifully painted,” he says.

But villagers from Rauki say only 10 of 76 homes promised in 2009 have been built. And disputes rage between clans over who gets the money offered by the company.

”Conflicts emerge because certain groups of families claim ownership of Manuran Island, while others reject their claims,” Yosias Kein says. ”Sometimes, there have been physical conflicts, sometimes an exchange of arguments. The problem is that the company does make some payments but the amount is not equal.”

The squabbles have torn apart what were once tight-knit communities. The simmering discontent is ”like a volcano” that ”will erupt one day”, one Rauki native says.

”Corporations are the ones that get the profits,” says Abner Korwa, a social worker from the Belantara charity who has tracked the mining closely. ”Once the deposit is exhausted, once it is gone, the big corporation leaves and we will be left alone with the massively damaged environment.”

Queensland Nickel has a sustainable development policy that strives for ”minimising our impact on the environment” and commits to ”pursue honest relationships” with communities. The company declined to respond to questions. ”We don’t comment on the business of our suppliers,” says Mark Kelly, Queensland Nickel’s external relations specialist.

Korwa says companies such as Queensland Nickel should not shirk their responsibilities for the behaviour of their suppliers, given they make considerable profits from the arrangement. ”They don’t have to invest too much in Raja Ampat. They don’t have to be troubled by mining concessions, the way business is done here,” he says. ”But they can still get the nickel”.

Oxfam Australia, which runs a mining ombudsman, says there is a clear obligation for companies that process raw minerals to be held accountable for their suppliers.

Oxfam Australia’s executive director, Andrew Hewett, says: ”Australian companies need to make sure that they are only buying minerals from other companies that respect workers’ rights, community rights and the environment. If there’s a good reason to believe that a supplier is causing harm, the company should undertake a thorough assessment.

”If any issues are found, the company should in the first instance work with the supplier to try to rectify the problem. If this doesn’t work, the company should reconsider its business relationship with the supplier.”

Queensland Nickel should be well aware of the issues in Raja Ampat.

It bought the Yabulu refinery from BHP Billiton in 2009 when the mining giant pulled out of Raja Ampat, selling its mining rights for the region’s Gag Island, amid concern about the ecological and social impacts of mining. The simmering discontent is not restricted to the villages around Manuran, but is ripping apart others that have been the custodians of Raja Ampat’s wonders for centuries, nourishing the sea and jungle with animist ceremonies.

For them Raja Ampat – literally Four Kings – was created by eggs that descended from heaven to rest in the water.

Many villagers and conservationists want mining stopped at Kawe and throughout Raja Ampat.

Kawe has huge environmental significance. It is close to the stunning Wayag archipelago of karst limestone pinnacles and hosts 20 world class diving sites, as well as breeding grounds for green and hawksbill turtles, and shark pupping grounds.

Photos obtained by the Herald show earlier mining activity at Kawe led to the heavy red soils flushing into the sea, covering the reefs, a problem that will get worse once full operations resume.

Dr Mark Erdmann, a senior adviser to Conservation International’s marine program in Indonesia, says: ”We are very concerned about the potential for sedimentation and metal deposits to be transported by Kawe’s strong currents and moved up to Wayag and down to Aljui Bay.”

Raja Ampat is theoretically protected by seven marine parks and a shark conservation zone. Controls on illegal fishing are actively enforced, but land-based threats such as mining on nearby islands continues unabated.

Indonesia’s government has recognised the extraordinary habitats in Raja Ampat. It put the region on the ”tentative list” to become a UNESCO world heritage area, like the Great Barrier Reef, in 2005. But the application has stalled due to government inaction. Many suspect that is because it wants to exploit the area’s natural resources through mining and logging.

In a deeply worrying development for conservationists, nickel and oil exploration restarted this year after the local government issued new exploration permits

Raja Ampat’s significance to the world is immense. It is the heart of the famed coral triangle and the strong currents that rush between its islands help seed much of the 1.6 billion hectares of reefs and marine life that spreads from the Philippines across to the Solomon Islands.

”There is tremendous wealth in the natural environment from fishing, pearling and tourism,” Erdmann says, citing a State University of Papua survey that found the long-term benefits from these eco-friendly economic activities outweighed the short-term gains from mining.

”Mining and this precious, pristine eco-system can’t coexist in the long term.”

Read more:

SMH: A Worm Inside the New Indonesia

FYI – Media Information

[With reflections on West Papuan situation.]

The Sydney Morning Herald
February 26, 2011

A Worm Inside the New Indonesia


WITH popular uprisings turfing out rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps elsewhere in the Arab world, a lot of analysts have focused on fears of ”contagion” in other regions, notably on China’s censorship of news reports about the protest wave in the Middle East.

Yet the Middle East event that might have the most far-reaching effect is not the awakening of the Arab ”street” against authoritarian rulers, but the vote in a United Nations supervised referendum a month earlier.

The largely African people in the south of Sudan voted overwhelming to secede from their Arab-dominated country and form a new nation – a result accepted by the Khartoum government and its main foreign backers, including China.

This has followed the declaration of independence from Serbia by Kosovo in 2008 that was accepted by most of the world and approved by the International Court of Justice, and Russia’s unilateral recognition of Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia as sovereign states soon afterwards in retaliation. It has left respect for the ”territorial integrity” of states and post-colonial boundaries somewhat tattered.

Already the example is being applied to an intractable issue right on Australia’s border and forming the touchiest part of what many see as our most important foreign relationship – the question of West Papua, the western half of New Guinea now part of Indonesia.

As Akihisa Matsuno, a professor at Osaka University, pointed out this week in a conference at Sydney University’s Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, South Sudan and Kosovo take West Papua out of the usual context of debate about the rights and wrongs of its decolonisation from Dutch rule in 1962 and ”act of free choice” under Indonesian control in 1969.

Kosovo’s independence was a case of ”remedial secession”: no states claimed the Kosovars had a right to self-determination, there was just no prospect of its peaceful reintegration back into Serbia or the rump Yugoslavia. Protection of people in Kosovo had more weight than Serbia’s territorial integrity.

Sudan became independent in 1956 from British rule, but has been in civil war most of the time since, with a 2005 peace agreement finally conceding a referendum. This suggests lack of integration between territories ruled by the same colonial power can justify a separate state, Matsuno said. ”This means that colonial boundaries are not as absolute as usually assumed.”

Indonesia itself went down this path in 1999 by insisting, for its domestic political reasons, that East Timor’s vote in 1999 was not a delayed act of self-determination that should have been taken just after the Portuguese left in 1975, but a ”popular consultation” with the result put into effect by Indonesia’s legislature. This amounted to conceding a right of secession to its provinces, Matsuno said.

West Papua’s act of free choice was seen as a farce from the beginning. As the historians Pieter Drooglever in Holland and John Saltford in Britain have documented, monitors were kicked out of the territory by the Indonesians in the seven-year interval between the Dutch departure and the ”act” – which was a unanimous public vote by an assembly of 1022 handpicked, bribed and intimidated Papuans in favour of integration with Indonesia.

Revolt has simmered and broken out sporadically ever since. Canberra’s relations with Jakarta went into crisis in 2006 when 43 Papuan independence activists and family members crossed the Torres Strait by motor canoe and requested political asylum.

Richard Chauvel, an Indonesia scholar at Melbourne’s Victoria University, told the conference Jakarta feels Papuan independence is not seen as the threat it was a decade ago when a ”Papuan spring” of breakaway sentiment and protest followed East Timor’s departure. The territory has been broken into two provinces so far, and numerous district governments, Papuan separatists fragmented, and no state bar Vanuatu is questioning Indonesian sovereignty (though the US Congress last September held its first committee hearing on West Papua).

Yet Chauvel says West Papua has become an ”Achilles’ heel” for a democratising Indonesia over the last 10 years. ”Papua is Indonesia’s last and most intractable regional conflict,” he said. ”Papua has become a battleground between a ‘new’ and an ‘old’ Indonesia. The ‘old’ Indonesia considers that its soldiers torturing fellow Indonesians in a most barbaric manner is an ‘incident’. The ‘new’ Indonesia aspires to the ideals of its founders in working towards becoming a progressive,
outward-looking, cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic and multi-faith society.”

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called the recently reported
torture cases ”incidents” by low-level soldiers, not the result of high-up instructions. Chauvel says he is probably correct: ”A more likely explanation is that instructions were not necessary. These acts reflected a deeply ingrained institutional culture of violence in the way members of the security forces interact with Papuans.”

Matsuno argues that South Sudan makes Indonesia’s post-colonial claim to West Papua more shaky, since it too had racial, religious and other differences to the rest of the country and had been administered separately within the former Netherlands East Indies. A ”more moral question” behind self-determination is coming to the fore, he said, the factor of ”failure” in governing.

The Japanese scholar sees echoes of East Timor in the late 1980s, when even foreign policy ”realists” started recognising the failure of Indonesian rule on the ground: serious human rights abuses, foreign media shut out, migrants flooding in, local leaders turning away from government, a younger generation educated in the Indonesian system refusing to identify themselves as Indonesians.

”These young people were increasingly vocal and continued to expose the ‘unsustainability’ of the system,” Matsuno said. ”Indeed the unsustainability of the situation in West Papua seems to be a truth. Only it takes some more time for the world to realise the truth.”

No one expects any outside power to intervene. But as we are seeing in the Arab despotisms, the new media make it harder and harder to draw a veil over suppression. In the Indonesia that is opening up, the exception of West Papua will become more glaring.

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