Maire Leadbeater, Pacific Media Centre
3 December, 2011
Indigenous Papuans describe their plight as slow genocide and Maire Leadbeatersays it is time New Zealand stood up for their human rights
OPINION: As December 1 approaches, there is always apprehension in Indonesian-controlled West Papua, because it marks the territory’s most significant anniversary.
On that date in 1961, the newly formed West New Guinea Council raised the Morning Star flag alongside that of Holland, the colonial authority at the time. These days the flag is banned as a symbol of separatism and those who dare to raise it face the prospect of a long jail term.
This year, the anniversary comes on the heels of unprecedented mobilisations happening simultaneously in the capital, Jayapura, and at the giant Freeport McMoRan mine.
It is just possible that this latest turmoil could propel Indonesia towards listening to Papuan grievances, but such a benign outcome is much more likely if the international players, including New Zealand, take a stand for human rights, and stop giving aid to the repressive Indonesian security forces.
West Papua was forcibly incorporated into Indonesia in Cold War times. The West wanted to stay on side with Indonesia, so in 1962 the Dutch were persuaded to sign an agreement in New York agreeing to relinquish control.
In 1969 Indonesia pulled off a self-determination fraud by conducting a so-called Act of Free Choice (known as the “Act of No Choice” by indigenous Papuans). Just over a thousand Papuan men took part out of a population at the time of nearly one million.
West Papuans describe their situation today as “slow genocide” a term that encapsulates far more than military conflict, and includes factors such as ecological destruction, economic and social marginalisation and the impact of an HIV/AIDs epidemic. After decades of unrestrained migration from other parts of Indonesia the indigenous population is now believed to have dipped below the 50 percent mark.
The 5000-strong Papua National Congress took place over three days in a Jayapura field ringed with menacing armoured riot-control vehicles and heavily armed police and soldiers. It was led by Forkorus Yaboisembut, chairman of the Papuan Customary Council, and it opened with traditional dance and the raising of the Morning Star flag.
As the Congress came to an end on October 19, Yaboisembut read a Declaration of Independence first penned in 1961. He then announced that he had been elected to be the “president” of the “Democratic Republic of West Papua.”
Then all hell broke loose. The military began firing their assault weapons and launched themselves on the crowd, arresting and beating about 300 people. Yaboisembut was forcibly arrested along with his “prime minister”, Edison Waromi, and they and three others now face charges of treason.
Dozens were injured, many with gunshot wounds, at least 3 people were killed, and many remain missing.
Remarkably, some of the participants filmed the mayhem, so you can see videos on the internet that show the police aiming their high powered weapons on the crowd while safely ensconced in their armoured vehicles.
In response to international pressure an internal disciplinary hearing was held, but the outcome can only be construed as a gross insult to the victims: eight Indonesian police were given written warnings.
In the remote Timika region, 8000 workers mining the world’s largest recoverable reserves of gold and copper have been on strike since September. They have been trying to lift their wages from the current hourly rate of around NZ $1-80 to $3.60 to parity with the wages paid to Freeport’s workers in other parts of the world. Freeport McMoran, the American multinational mine owner, has been raking in vast profits for 40 years.
Human rights abuses
The first contract negotiated with President Suharto in 1967, gave the mining company virtually free rein as well as generous tax concessions. At the time, Indonesia did not even have formal control over the territory.
The Freeport mine has always been synonymous with violence and grave human rights abuses, as well as environmental destruction and the abuse of customary land rights. Amungme and Kamoro tribal people have had little recourse but to watch as the mine took over their lands and “decapitated” their sacred mountain. In November, tribal representatives joined the strikers to front up to the police on the picket line.
Since October 10, when the police opened fire on the striking miners, there has been an high international union solidarity for the Freeport workers.
The perennial scandal about Freeport’s payments to the Indonesian security forces has heated up. Direct payments to individual police officers were supposed to have stopped, but the National Police Chief Timur Pradopo now states that “lunch money” payouts are standard. The military and the police have a direct stake in a level of ongoing insecurity, a factor many believe underlies much of the violence in the area.
Our Government Superannuation Fund and other Crown Financial Institutes invest in Freeport McMoRan. They should follow the ethical example of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund which divested from Freeport in 2006.
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. The New Zealand Agency for International Development has a training programme for the mainly migrant West Papua police, which promotes non-confrontational community policing, not something the Papuan police are practising right now!
When East Timor was under Indonesian control, New Zealand was on the wrong side of history until the 11th hour. We urgently need to recall the lesson that engagement with the Indonesian military just made us complicit in the violence. This time we should listen to West Papuan leaders who believe we can help, not by supporting the military or the police, but by backing their call for peaceful dialogue.
This article was first published in the Dominion Post and is published here with the author’s permission.