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Issue #1506      22 June 2011

Call to halt human rights violations in West Papua

Australia West Papua Association (Sydney)

Letter sent to Pacific Island Forum leaders
re West Papua and Pacific Islands Forum

The 42nd Meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum will be held in Auckland in September 2011. It is also the 40th anniversary of the Forum. Other organisations might also like to write asking that the human rights situation in West Papua be on the Forum agenda. Addresses of leaders below (for hardcopy letters). Some email contacts can be found on the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat website

Dear Prime Minister,

On behalf of the Australia West Papua Association (Sydney), I am writing to you concerning the issue of West Papua. The human rights situation in West Papua has continued to deteriorate since the last Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) summit in Port Vila, in 2010. One incident in particular highlighted the worsening human rights situation and that was the shocking video footage of West Papuans being tortured by Indonesian soldiers.

The video showed several men in military fatigues torturing two Papuans. The soldiers in the video threaten the two men with sharp weapons and pressed a burning bamboo stick against one of the men’s genitals. The torture of the men prompted a wave of international criticism with human rights organisations around the world condemning the actions of the Indonesian military.

The soldiers who were put on trial for the torture of the two West Papuan men only received light sentences of between eight and ten months. The soldiers were not even charged with torture but with disobeying orders. The message West Papuans will take from this is they will receive no justice under Indonesian rule.

This incident was not an isolated incident and in further evidence of human rights abuses another report accused the police of burning down the village of Bigiragi in the Puncak Jaya district. The report said that 16 Mobile Brigade officers had burned the village to the ground on October 11. The report said that at least 29 homes were destroyed in the incident leaving at least 150 people homeless.

There is also a systematic campaign by the military and police to intimidate individuals involved in human rights work in West Papua. In November an investigative journalist released a secret report by the Indonesian Special Force Group Kopassus task force which shows a list of West Papuans engaged in human rights work are a target of the Kopassus. The list includes members of civil society organisations, church groups, activists, students and members of the MRP.

In December, cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that in the opinion of US diplomats, they blamed the government in Jakarta for unrest in West Papua. According to the leaked US diplomatic cables the US believes that the Indonesian government is causing unrest in West Papua due to neglect, corruption and human rights abuses.

Also in December the Papua chapter of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) reported a 70 percent increase in the number of cases of violence in Papua, most of which were allegedly committed by security officers. The Jakarta-based Legal Aid Foundation in another report said Indonesian law enforcers routinely torture suspects and prisoners to extract confessions or obtain information. The groups report found beatings, intimidation and rape are so commonplace they are considered the norm. It also found that few victims believe they have the right to lodge complaints.

At the beginning of June (2011) the human rights watchdog Imparsial launched a new report on the impact of the military presence in West Papua. The report, “Human Rights Implications of the Military Presence in Papua From the Old Order to the Reform Era”, was based on research carried out from September 2010 to May 2011. An extract from an article in the Jakarta Globe about the report (June 1, 2011 ) below.

“Imparsial is urging the de-militarisation of Papua to be conducted soon because the military approach only brings human rights violations,” said Al Araf, program director of Imparsial. Since the country’s so-called reform era, he added, human rights conditions in the region had been marked by intimidation, torture and sexual violence.

He said the handling of conflicts in Papua – home to a low-level but persistent insurgency by the Free Papua Organisation (OPM), which has been active since the 1960s – had not changed even though the leadership of the republic did change several times. “In general, the security approach in Papua has not shifted. The government still uses the military approach as the main instrument to prevent conflicts in Papua,” Al Araf said.

It is now 48 years since Indonesia took over the administration of West Papua from the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) in 1963 and the people of West Papua still continue their struggle for self-determination. The West Papuan people face great challenges including ongoing human rights abuses, the exploitation of their natural resources with little or no benefit to themselves, the danger of becoming a minority in their own land as the result of migrants arriving daily and a HIV/AIDS epidemic. The issue of West Papua will not disappear and AWPA believes that it should be of great concern to the Forum that the situation in West Papua could deteriorate further leading to instability in the region. The problems in West Papua won’t be solved by Jakarta deploying more troops to the region or conducting more military operations.

To avoid such a dangerous situation AWPA believes the PIF can play an important role in helping facilitate dialogue between genuine representatives of the West Papuan leadership and the Indonesian government. The West Papuan people have been calling on the international community for years to support such dialogue as a way of solving the many issues of concern in West Papua. We urge the PIF leaders to offer to help mediate such a dialogue.

We note that this year is the 40th anniversary of the Forum and congratulate the Forum on it achievements over the past 40 years. We also note that in recent years the PIF has expanded the various categories for those who can attend as observers. New Caledonia and French Polynesia, previously Forum Observers, were granted Associate Membership in 2006. Current Forum Observers include Tokelau (2005), Wallis and Futuna (2006), the Commonwealth (2006), the United Nations (2006) and the Asian Development Bank (2006), with Timor Leste as Special Observer (2002).

AWPA believes that in this 40th year of the Forum the time is now right to bring the Melanesian people of West Papua back into the Pacific community. A West Papuan representative attended the first SPC (Secretariat of the Pacigic Community) Conference and West Papuans continued to participate in the SPC meetings until the Dutch ceded their authority to the UNTEA in 1962.

AWPA urges the PIF Leaders to have the issue of West Papua on its agenda at its September summit and to not only discuss the deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua but to make a public statement of concern regarding the human rights situation in the territory. We also urge the PIF to raise concerns about the human rights situation in West Papua with the Indonesian President.

AWPA calls on the PIF leaders to grant observer status to genuine representatives of the West Papuan people who are struggling for their right to self determination at the 42nd Meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum to be held in Auckland in September 2011.

A number of governments have supported the autonomy package for West Papua stating that it is the best way forward for the West Papuan people. Although funding for the autonomy package has flowed to West Papua it has only benefited some elites and the bureaucrats with no benefit for the majority of West Papuans, which is why it has been rejected.

We believe that it is pointless for governments to keep saying the autonomy package is the best way forward. Even a revised Special Autonomy in whatever form it might take will never satisfy West Papuans demand for self determination.

West Papuans have lost trust that Jakarta will ever develop West Papua for the sake of the Papuans. The Forum can help by urging Jakarta to dialogue with the Independence Movement to find a lasing solution.

We also call on the Forum leaders to urge the Indonesian President to release all West Papuan political prisoners as a sign of good faith to the West Papuan people and urge the Forum to send a fact finding mission to West Papua to investigate the human rights situation in the territory.

Yours sincerely

Joe Collins
AWPA (Sydney)

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