United States Calls on Indonesia to Advance Papua Autonomy

United States Calls on Indonesia to Advance Papua Autonomy

Jakarta Globe & AFP, 23 September 2010


The United States called Wednesday for Indonesia to move forward on autonomy in its Papua region and insisted it would not overlook human rights as it seeks broader relations with Jakarta.

Testifying in a first-ever congressional hearing on the long-simmering conflict, senior US officials pledged to investigate abuse allegations in Papua but said there was no evidence to back charges of genocide.

Indonesia in 2001 introduced autonomy in Papua but local activists say that the law has half-hearted and not improved their rights.

Joseph Yun, the US deputy assistant secretary of state tasked with Southeast Asia, said that the United States opposed separatism in Papua province and neighboring West Papua but supported a more thorough autonomy.

“If the 2001 Special Autonomy Law can be fully implemented, we believe that a lot of frustration currently felt by Papuans would decrease,” Yun said. “While Indonesia’s overall human rights situation has improved along with the country’s rapid democratic development, we are concerned by allegations of human rights violations in Papua and continuously monitor the situation,” he said.

President Barack Obama’s administration has identified Indonesia as a priority, believing its size, democratization and moderate brand of Islam make it an ideal US partner.

In July, the United States resumed military ties with the elite military unit Kopassus, which was involved in many of the darker chapters of Indonesia’s past.

Indonesia took over Papua in 1969 and has faced a low-level insurgency. Human Rights Watch says that Indonesian forces have pursued indiscriminate sweeps on villages, sometimes killing civilians, and imprisoned activists for peaceful expression.
The congressional hearing was called by Eni Faleomavaega, who represents American Samoa and has long taken an interest in Papua. In an unusual scene for staid Capitol Hill, the congressman invited Papuans wearing feathered headgear to perform a traditional dance with drums at the hearing’s onset.

Faleomavaega said he considered Jakarta to be waging “genocide” against Papuans, who in contrast to most Indonesians are ethnically Melanesian.

“It is indisputable fact that Indonesia has deliberately and systematically committed crimes against humanity and has yet to be held accountable,” he said.

Robert Scher, the deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of South and Southeast Asia, said that the United States takes allegations of human rights violations in Papua “very seriously.”

“However, we have not yet seen any evidence to suggest that the incidents under discussion are part of a deliberate or systematic campaign” by Indonesia, Scher said.

Faleomavaega said that he did not blame Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over Papua and voiced support for a US relationship with the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

“I sincerely believe that President [Yudhoyono] really wants to reach out and help the people of Papua. I also fully understand that he is under constraints -- a lot of pressure is coming from other sectors of the Indonesian community,” he said.

Appearing before the panel, activist Octovianus Mote, president of the Papua Resource Center, said that the autonomy package was toothless.

“The botton line issue is that civilian officials have failed to establish meaningful and authoritative control over the unruly armed forces, which continue to operate with impunity,” he said.