Call Congress to support Human Rights in West Papua

Call Congress to support Human Rights in West Papua

WPAT/ETAN, 22 September 2010


Testimony for the 9/22 Hearing on West Papua by the Subcommittee on Asia, The Pacific and the Global Environment offered by Edmund McWilliams , U.S. Senior Foreign Service (retired)

It is timely and entirely appropriate that the Congress through this hearing undertakes to shed light on the complex and ominous developments affecting security and the human rights environment in West Papua. Ongoing security force repression of peaceful political dissent, military operations that pose life threatening displacement of civilians and systematic abuse of political prisoners combine to raise fundamental doubts about democracy in West Papua and more broadly in Indonesia.

As the U.S. government pursues a comprehensive relationship with Indonesia, it can no longer ignore the reality that policies and practices developed under the Suharto dictatorship persist in this part of the Indonesian archipelago. Papuan civilians who peacefully protest government policies which marginalize them and abusive security force action which target them, are routinely beaten and imprisoned under provisions contained in a criminal code that dates to the colonial era and which were employed by the Suharto military dictatorship to repress dissent. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have identified dozens of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The U.S. Congress, particularly under the leadership of Patrick Kennedy, has repeatedly raised concern about the plight of these prisoners.

In the remote central highlands of West Papua, periodic "sweeping operations" destroy villages driving peaceful civilians into the forests and mountains where many have died due to a lack of food, shelter and medical care. The military's practice of routinely barring humanitarian assistance to these displaced and desperate civilian populations has exacerbated their suffering.

The security forces also play a direct role in enforcing the government's so-called "development" plans in West Papua which entail expropriation of vast tract of virgin forest on which Papuan villagers depend for their livelihoods. This so-called "development" which targets West Papua's vast natural resources includes often-illegal logging organized or protected by the military as well as fishing and
mining operations that have had devastating impact on the natural environment. These perverse development schemes also entail the organized immigration of many thousands of non-Papuans from other islands of the archipelago to provide personnel for expansive plantations such as one now underway in the Merauke area. These non-Papuans, known as "transmigrants," have over decades so marginalized Papuans that these non-Papuans now constitute the majority in West Papua towns and cities. This policy of "transmigration," and the decades of
systematic central government failure to provide Papuans adequate health and education services, employment opportunity, or infrastructure support amounts to ethnic cleansing, with genocidal implications.

The Indonesian government's malign neglect of Papuans, including extending license to security forces to abuse the Papuan people without accountability and encouraging Indonesian and international corporations to exploit West Papuan resources absent benefit to the Papuan themselves, has for the past decade proceeded under the rubric of a policy of "special autonomy" for West Papua. Under this plan, the central government was to have ensured that a significant proportion of the vast wealth flowing from West Papua into government coffers would be returned to West Papua. In reality, most of the funds directed to West Papua through "special autonomy" have been expropriated by a corrupt, largely non-Papuan bureaucratic elite and even by the military for its operations. As a consequence Papuans, in mass demonstrations and in the form of formal resolutions by Papuan civic organizations and the official Papuan People's Council have rejected "special autonomy." Unfortunately, the U.S. Government, like many other governments, has chosen to ignore the reality of broad and explicit Papuan rejection of the Indonesian government's approach to West Papua's myriad and growing problems.

The tragedy engulfing the Papuans remains largely unknown in the international community due to the successful effort over decades reaching back to the Suharto dictatorship to restrict access to West Papua by journalists, diplomats as well as international research personnel from the UN, human rights and humanitarian organizations and academia. Over the past 18 months the Indonesian government has closed the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the the
offices of a Dutch charitable organization that had operated in West Papua for over three decades. You yourself Mister Chairman experienced severe restrictions in a visit to West Papua.

The current U.S. administration under President Obama is unfortunately pursuing a broadened relationship with the Indonesian government, largely oblivious to the suffering of the Papuan people and to the threats posed to democratization in Indonesia generally by unreformed and unaccountable Indonesian security forces. In so doing it is on a course set by previous U.S. administrations for which democratization and human rights were only tangential concerns. The 2009 failure of the Indonesian military to meet a five-year legal deadline to divest itself of its vast empire of legal and illegal businesses, a deadline which passed on the Obama Administration's watch, will enable the military to continue to evade civilian control.

In many ways the current U.S. Administration has demonstrated even less concern for human rights as it has significantly ratcheted up military-to-military relations with the Indonesian military. It recently announced a resumption of ties even to the most abusive and unreformed element of the Indonesian military, the Indonesian "special forces" (Kopassus). For decades Kopassus troops have taken the lead in
terrorizing the Papuan people. Kopassus officers were responsible for what Indonesian courts described as the "torture-murder" of Papua's leading political figure, Theys Eluay in 2001. The Kopassus officers and enlisted personnel who engaged in this crime received a maximum sentence of 42 months, a sentence far lighter than Papuans convicted of peaceful political dissent typically receive. A June 2009 Human Rights Report detailed Kopassus use of torture to intimidate Papuan civilians in the Merauke area of West Papua. As is common in Indonesia, none of
the Kopassus personnel identified in the HRW report have been held accountable for their crimes.

The U.S. is responsible for the 2003 creation of a special unit, "Detachment 88," which was initially intended to address terrorist activities in Indonesia. The U.S. remains a key funder of this unit. Since its inception this unit has been credibly accused of use of torture and other illegal actions by reputable Indonesian and
international human rights organizations. In recent weeks its particularly brutal actions in the Maluku islands have led the Indonesian government to restrict its area of operations, though official's statements indicate it will continue to operate in West Papua. in December of 2009 Detachment 88 personnel were part of a
security force that captured and killed Papuan pro-independence figure Kelly Kwalik. Kwalik was allowed to bleed to death from a thigh wound while in custody.

To its great credit, the U.S. Congress for many years has monitored and raised concern about human rights abuses in West Papua. You Mr. Chairman have been a particularly articulate and strong proponent of Papuan rights and for accountability of abusive security forces there.

While the stated intention of the Obama Administration to develop a more comprehensive relationship with a democratizing Indonesia is appropriate and commendable, the United States must not ignore the threat to Indonesian democracy and expanding abuse of human rights posed by rogue and unaccountable security forces. Nowhere in the Indonesian archipelago is that threat and those abuses more apparent than in West Papua.

Mr. Chairman: a June 2010 letter which you and several score of your colleagues in the House addressed to President Obama urged that he assign the "highest priority" to West Papua with regard to U.S. foreign policy towards Indonesia. It is vital that the Administration pay heed to this very timely advice.