[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 29 March 2006
Review: 118/06

West Papua Crisis: Don't blame the Safe Haven

The killing of three Indonesian policemen on 16 March 2006 by the protesting students demanding the closure of mining operations by the United States based global mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc at Grasberg goldmines at Jayapura, and the diplomatic stand off between Australia and Indonesia following the grant of refugee status to the fleeing Papuan asylum seekers on 23 March 2006 brought international spotlight on West Papua.

Since its forcible annexation in 1963 by Indonesia, West Papuans have been suffering at the hands of the authorities in Jakarta. The fall of President Suharto in 1998 made little difference. His successor, President BJ Habibi adopted Law No. 45/1999 to divide the province into three - West Irian Jaya, Central Irian Jaya and Irian Jaya in an attempt to counter the Papuans' call for freedom.

President Abdurrahman Wahid tried to assuage the independence movement by publicly accepting the blame for some of the region's (including Papua) woes. He renamed Irian Jaya to Papua and introduced the Papuan Special Autonomy Law in 2001. But the Special Autonomy Law failed to invalidate Law No. 45/1999.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of late President Sukarno, the architect of forcible annexation of West Papua, followed her father's footsteps. In a complete U-turn of the policies adopted by President Wahid, President Sukarnoputri introduced Instruction (Inpres) No.1 of 2003 calling for the speedy implementation of Law No. 45/1999.

In October 2004, President SBY took over. On 11 November 2004, Indonesian Constitutional Court gave its ambiguous judgement on Law No. 45/1999. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono went ahead with division of the province into Papua and West Irian Jaya. The Papuans experience with Indonesian democracy has failed. The division of Papua was the last straw and the final act of betrayal. Not surprisingly the elections for the governors of the now-divided province on 10 and 11 March 2006 have been marked by protests and riots.

No respite in human rights violations:

Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) or National Army of Indonesia maintains strongholds over West Papua and its forces have been responsible for gross human rights violations with impunity.

The Legal Aid Foundation in Papua and branch of the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission Komnas HAM reported that there were 35 cases of torture by security forces in Papua during 2005.

On 17 January 2005, TNI personnel allegedly beat local Papuan residents in Nabire. While seven were seriously injured, one Miron Wonda died in the beatings.

On 10 April 2005, police allegedly extra-judicially killed one Tolino Iban Giri and arrested eight other innocent persons during a raid in Mulia City , capital of Puncak Jaya Regency to nab a group of 11 Free Papua Movement or Organisasi Papua Merdeka ( OPM) rebels. Local church leaders corroborated that Tolino Iban Giri and the eight others were not members of OPM.

On 8 July 2005, twelve members of the TNI from two districts raided the little village of Moragame (Pyramid) in Assologoima District, near the town of Wamena and tortured innocent villagers.

On 14 July 2005, soldiers allegedly tortured a villager Mr Petto Wenda of Ndome (Pyramid) on suspicion of being an OPM member by slashing his face and body with a knife and razor and then pouring petrol over his head and setting his hair on fire.

On 17 July 2005, 10 members of TNI units returned to Moragame (Pyramid) and opened indiscriminate fire on the Moragame villagers with automatic rifles. Two villagers, Mr Yiman Wenda and Mr Abai Wenda, were seriously wounded. When the villagers ran to the jungle for safety, the TNI burnt their homes and smashed down fences around the vegetable gardens.

On 22 July 2005, 14 TNI soldiers allegedly tortured two Papuan civilians for hours. The soldiers reportedly kicked, bit, and punched them. The soldiers then tied up one of the victims and set fire to dried weeds on his back after whipping him.


The government of Indonesia continues to provide impunity to the security forces. The TNI authorities and the police rarely investigate allegations of human rights violations. On 8 September 2005, a special Human Rights Court set up in Makassar instead of Jayapura, acquitted two senior police officers, accused of allowing the killing of three Papuan students and the torture of over 100 others in the college town of Abepura on 7 December 2000. The two accused police officers Brigadier General Johny Wainal Usman and Senior Commissioner Daud Sihombing were charged with command responsibility for the killings and torture. They faced a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted. But chief prosecutor I Ketut Murtika recommended the minimum penalty of only 10 years, claiming the two defendants had “served the nation” and “did not have malicious intentions”. The court exonerated both the accused officers and ruled that Usman was not guilty of allowing his subordinates to torture and kill civilians during the raid.

The Abepura case was the third rights case to be heard since parliament enacted a law in 2000 establishing human rights courts in Indonesia. The law gave the human rights courts full power even to try military and police officers.

The first was the carnage unleashed in 1999 by the military and its militia proxies in the period surrounding East Timor's vote to secede from Indonesia. Of 18 defendants brought before the ad hoc human rights court, 12 were acquitted and six convicted. Jakarta High Court later exonerated five of the convicted, while the sixth remains free pending appeal.

The second human rights case involved 14 police and military personnel charged over the 1984 massacre of at least 33 unarmed Muslim protesters at Tanjung Priok in North Jakarta . In 2004, the human rights court acquitted the two most senior defendants, while 12 others were sentenced to between two and 10 years. Jakarta High Court in July 2005 overturned the convictions of the 12 officers, which means that not one person has been convicted for the incident.

The testimony of increased human rights violations:

In January 2006, 43 Papuan refugees managed to sail to Australia in boats with tales of human rights violations. After considering the applications on individual basis, Australia, which is infamous for risking the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers, granted temporary asylum to 42 Papuans which will allow them to stay in the country for three years. On 23 March 2006, Australian Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone informed that a decision has been pending on the 43rd asylum seeker.

Indonesia reacted angrily and recalled its Ambassador to Canberra for clarifications on the issue. It alleged that the Papuan asylum seekers are economic migrants and that granting of temporary visas to the Papuans shows Australia 's support to the separatist movement in Papua. On his part, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said that the decision to grant visas does not undermine Australia's position that the province must remain part of Indonesia.

It is clear that East Timor's ghost prevails over Jakarta. Rather than blaming Australia, Jakarta should examine its policies on West Papua. When the Adat Council of the Papuans has to set deadlines for implementation of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law virtually imposed by Jakarta, there is something rotten with Indonesia 's policies and practices in West Papua. The peace process in Aceh shows that Indonesia must ensure the sense of participation to the Papuans to resolve the crisis. It should start a peace process with the Papuans, ensure implementation of the Special Autonomy Law and withdraw the last legacy of the military dictatorship, Law No. 45/1999 which authorized the division of West Papua.

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