Supporting Genocide In West Papua
March 4, 2007
note by Ahni – the following is slightly skimmed-down version of the original article, which can be found here.
“Since Indonesia gained control of West Papua, the West Papuan people have suffered persistent and horrible abuses at the hands of the government. The Indonesian military and security forces have engaged in widespread violence and extrajudicial killings in West Papua. They have subjected Papuan men and women to acts of torture, disappearance, rape, and sexual violence, thus causing serious bodily and mental harm. Systematic resource exploitation, the destruction of Papuan resources and crops, compulsory (and often uncompensated) labor, transmigration schemes, and forced relocation have caused pervasive environmental harm to the region, undermined traditional subsistence practices, and led to widespread disease, malnutrition, and death among West Papuans. Such acts, taken as a whole, appear to constitute the imposition of conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the West Papuans. Many of these acts, individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law.” – Report: Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua
Supporting Genocide In West Papua
West Papua has been under military occupation since 1963, when the UN handed control over the province to Indonesia without consulting the indigenous people. I’ve discussed the topic before, but here is a very brief outline of the background to the conflict:
“Prior to 1961, West Papua was a Dutch colony, but in 1952 the Netherlands recognised the West Papuans’ right to self-determination in accordance with Article 73 of the United Nations Charter. Indonesia felt differently and claimed the territory for itself. However, it declined the Netherlands’ invitation to stake its claim before the International Court of Law. A West Papuan government was set up in May 1961, tasked with the preparation of the country for full independence in 1971.
Seventeen days later, Indonesia launched a small paratroop invasion. The invaders were arrested by the West Papuans. In January 1962, Indonesia provoked a small naval battle, but again the fledgling West Papuan state survived. Unfortunately for the West Papuans, however, Indonesia had some powerful friends.
In the New York Agreement of 1962, the U.S. forced the Netherlands to surrender West Papua to Indonesia and the Australians to reverse their policy of supporting West Papuan independence. The Agreement, conducted without the presence of a West Papuan representative, effectively transferred control of West Papua to Indonesia.
Indonesia assumed control of West Papua in 1963. The New York Agreement stipulated that a act of self-determination, involving all adult West Papuan men and women, would be held to determine the final status of West Papua. Indonesia finally got round to organising the referendum in 1969 – its policies in the intervening years were described in 1968 by a U.S. Consular official:
“The Indonesians have tried everything from bombing them [the West Papuans] with B-26s, to shelling and mortaring them, but a continuous state of semi-rebellion persists. Brutalities are undoubtedly perpetrated from time to time in a fruitless attempt at repression.”
Eliezer Bonay, Indonesia’s first governor of West Papua, estimated in 1981 that 30,000 West Papuans were killed in the six years of Indonesian occupation prior to 1969 ‘Act of Free Choice’. It was obvious to everyone that a free and fair act of self-determination would result in an overwhelming vote for independence. The U.S. ambassador to Indonesia observed (.pdf) at the time that “85 to 90 per cent” of the population was “in sympathy with the Free Papua cause”, whilst a secret 1969 British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) briefing stated,
“Privately, however, we recognise that the people of West Irian (West Papua) have no desire to be ruled by the Indonesians who are of an alien (Javanese) race”.
West Papuan independence was unacceptable to Indonesia and its allies (including the U.S. and Britain). As a 1969 British Foreign Office communication put it,
“The plain fact is that there is no other solution than for Indonesia to keep West Irian; no one is thinking in different terms; and no Government is likely to complain so long as the decencies are carried out.”
Indonesia carried out the ‘decencies’ alright – in George Monbiot’s words, “1,022 men [or a fraction of 1% of West Papua’s population of 800,000] were selected by Indonesian soldiers, taught the words ‘I want Indonesia’, then lined up at gunpoint. One man who refused to say his lines was shot. Others were threatened with being dropped out of helicopters. This rigorous democratic exercise resulted in a unanimous vote for Indonesian rule”. This so-called “Act of Free Choice” was in reality a complete sham, and moreover it was a sham actively colluded in by the United States, Australia, Britain and the United Nations. Whereas the UN mission to organise and monitor the 1999 elections in East Timor consisted of over 1,000 individuals, including hundreds of police and electoral officials, only 16 UN workers (including administrative staff) were sent to West Papua – a territory many times the size of East Timor – in 1969 to monitor the act of self-determination. As John Saltford writes,
“the comparison demonstrates the immense difference between a genuine attempt to monitor a democratic referendum and one that was not genuine.”
Indeed, no one was under any delusion that Indonesia would permit a free vote – in May 1968, the U.S. Ambassador to Jakarta reported (.pdf) that, “It is the opinion of most observers in the area that Indonesia will not accept independence for West Irian and will not permit a plebiscite which would reach such an outcome.” An Indonesian member of Parliament declared, “We are going through the motions-But West Irian is Indonesian and must remain Indonesian. We cannot accept any alternative”, and Henry Kissinger advised (.pdf) President Nixon to ‘avoid’ discussing the “act of free choice” on his trip to Indonesia in 1969.
Everyone knew that the “Act of No Choice” (as West Papuans sometimes refer to it) was a fraud. C.V. Narasimhan, the then-UN Under-Secretary General responsible for overseeing the New York Agreement, has described the Act of Free Choice as a whitewash. The mood at the UN was to get rid of this problem as quickly as possible. “nobody gave a thought to the fact that a million people had their fundamental rights trampled.” In July 1969, the U.S. Embassy described (.pdf) the process as “unfolding like a Greek tragedy, the conclusion preordained.” The telegram continued:
“The main protagonist, the GOI [Government of Indonesia], cannot and will not permit any resolution other than the continued inclusion of West Irian in Indonesia. Dissident activity is likely to increase but the Indonesian armed forces will be able to contain and, if necessary, suppress it.”
In other words, West Papua was illegitimately annexed to Indonesia, with the entire international community (bar a few African states) doing nothing as the UN shamefully ‘took note’ of the farcical ‘plebiscite’ and recognised as legitimate Indonesia colonisation. The reason for the international community’s collaboration with Indonesian aggression was expressed bluntly by Robert Kromer, CIA advisor to John F. Kennedy, who explained that,
“A pro-bloc, if not communist Indonesia, is an infinitely greater threat – than Indo possession of a few thousand miles of cannibal land.”
The international community was always going to recognise the result of the act of self-determination regardless of its legitimacy because, as J.M. Sutherland put it in a secret April 1968 internal UK Foreign Office memo, “no other power is likely to conceive it as being in their interests to intervene”. Sutherland continued, “I cannot imagine the US, Japanese, Dutch, or Australian Governments putting at risk their economic and political relations with Indonesia on a matter of principle involving a relatively small number of very primitive people” According to a representative of the UK mission to the UN in 1969,
“the great majority of United Nations members want to see this question cleared out of the way with the minimum of fuss as soon as possible- the Secretariat, whose influence could be important, appear only too anxious to get shot of the problem as quickly and smoothly as possible.”
The British had long recognised that Indonesia was an important country, both strategically and economically. As the Foreign Office put it in 1958, Indonesia is “a country with a vast population and great potential wealth, and one in which United Kingdom interests are by no means negligible” (Mark Curtis, Unpeople; p. 191). They were not about to risk a valuable relationship with Indonesia over a small, unimportant dispute over a bunch of ‘primitive’ tribes people. It was important for Britain to keep Indonesia on side, in part because Indonesia itself presented great economic opportunities for Britain and in part because an ‘unstable’ Indonesia threatened Britain’s post-colonial interests in Malaysia. A now-declassified 1964 Foreign Office document called for the ‘defence’ of Western interests in South-East Asia, a “major producer of essential commodities. The region produces nearly 85 per cent of the world’s natural rubber, over 45 per cent of the tin, 65 per cent of the copra and 23 per cent of the chromium ore.” (John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World; p.30)
Likewise, the U.S. was worried that Indonesia might align itself with the Communist bloc (it had just a few years earlier assisted General Suharto in massacring up to a million suspected Communists), and in any case it didn’t want to jeopardise the exclusive 30-year mining license (extended by another 30 years in 1991) Indonesia had sold to U.S. company Freeport-McMoRan to extract West Papua’s valuable natural resources just a few years earlier in 1967. John Pilger writes,
“In November 1967, soon after Suharto had consolidated his seizure of power, the Time-Life Corporation sponsored an extraordinary conference in Geneva. The participants included the most powerful capitalists in the world, led by the banker David Rockefeller. Sitting opposite them were Suharto’s men, known as the ‘Berkeley mafia’, as several had enjoyed US government scholarships to the University of California at Berkeley. Over three days, the Indonesian economy was carved up, sector by sector. An American and European consortium was handed West Papua’s nickel; American, Japanese and French companies got its forests. However, the prize – the world’s largest gold reserve and third-largest copper deposit, literally a mountain of copper and gold – went to the US mining giant Freeport-McMoRan. On the board is Henry Kissinger, who, as US secretary of state, gave the ‘green light’ to Suharto to invade East Timor”.
The Freeport mining corporation operates Grasberg, the largest single gold deposit in the world and the third largest open-cut copper mine. It is one of the, if not the, biggest single sources of revenue for the Indonesian government, paying generous royalties – which, together with taxes and dividends, totalled $1.6 billion last year – in return for subsidies and protection by the TNI (the Indonesian gangster-army), described by Pilger as “among the world’s most seasoned terrorists”. A joint statement by 12 human rights organisations in March 2003 concluded,
“The payment of money by Freeport to the armed forces and the fact that the armed forces have been able to make use of transnational facilities when violating human rights and committing violence means that the transnationals are themselves directly involved in and contribute towards this violence and these abuses.”
Freeport Indonesia is almost 10% owned by the Indonesian government, and reported revenue of $5.79 billion last year. With this volume of money involved, we should not be surprised when our governments stampede to get a slice of the pie, trampling on human rights and international law in the process.
Fast-forward to today, and the Indonesian occupation of West Papua is still going strong. More than 100,000 West Papuans, or 10% of the population, have been killed, whilst an illegal ‘transmigration‘ programme, supported by the World Bank, has resulted in over 750,000 Indonesians, many subsidised, re-settling in West Papua, where they now constitute around 40% of the population, and are the majority in the capital city and many other urban locations. Freeport-McMoRan has been given virtual free rein to resettle indigenous tribes that get in the way of its mining activities – the highland Amungme tribe, in particular, has suffered, with their displacement to the lowlands causing many to die of malaria. Freeport has extensively damaged the West Papuan environment (.pdf):
In recent weeks, large numbers of Indonesian soldiers have been deployed to the Punkak Jaya region of West Papua, causing an estimated 5,000 tribespeople to flee into the jungle. A similar operation was conducted in 2004, with 6,000 West Papuans fleeing their homes, and 23 dying of starvation. Independent human rights NGOs are almost totally banned from West Papua, as are foreign journalists, so it’s often difficult to determine the extent of the atrocities committed by Indonesian forces during the course of operations like these.
In 2001, the Indonesian government negotiated a “Special Autonomy” law which aimed to appease the growing West Papuan drive for independence without actually granting them independence. It allowed West Papuans to exercise democratic rights to a greater extent than previously, and gave them a greater share of the profits of West Papua’s natural resources. Unfortunately, Indonesia never properly implemented it, opting instead to divide the province into three, adopting the age-old strategy of ‘divide and rule‘. Of the extra money (.pdf) that has been given to West Papua, a lot of it “goes back to Jakarta or outside Papua, via individual or institutional means.” According to Rev. Socratez Sofyan Yoman, President of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches of West Papua,
“Special Autonomy has brought only great misfortune and is not very different from the ‘Act of Free Choice 1969’ (PEPERA 1969). Special Autonomy is PEPERA 1969 Volume II. Accordingly, killings and systematic violence have increased significantly using the excuse of OPM membership and separatism. Violence by the Indonesian military forces has increased. West Papuan people have been pursued, detained, terrorised, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured, raped, killed and disappeared.”
ELSHAM, a leading human rights NGO in Papua, agrees that the Special Autonomy law has not brought significant benefits to the majority of West Papuan people. “During the five years since the enactment of Special Autonomy, there has been no significant change and the human rights situation has only got worse with an increase in the number of violations”, it reports.
Despite its valuable natural resources, West Papua is one of Indonesia’s poorest regions, and within the province the indigenous people are generally poorer than the migrants. More than 50% of children under five are malnourished, whilst the literacy rate is just 44 per cent for women, and 58 per cent for men. The maternal mortality rate is three times greater in West Papua than in the rest of Indonesia.
A 2003 Yale Law School report (.pdf) states,
“Since Indonesia gained control of West Papua, the West Papuan people have suffered persistent and horrible abuses at the hands of the government. The Indonesian military and security forces have engaged in widespread violence and extrajudicial killings in West Papua. They have subjected Papuan men and women to acts of torture, disappearance, rape, and sexual violence, thus causing serious bodily and mental harm. Systematic resource exploitation, the destruction of Papuan resources and crops, compulsory (and often uncompensated) labor, transmigration schemes, and forced relocation have caused pervasive environmental harm to the region, undermined traditional subsistence practices, and led to widespread disease, malnutrition, and death among West Papuans. Such acts, taken as a whole, appear to constitute the imposition of conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of the West Papuans. Many of these acts, individually and collectively, clearly constitute crimes against humanity under international law.” [my emphasis]
The paper concluded, “the historical and contemporary evidence set out above strongly suggests that the Indonesian government has committed proscribed acts with the intent to destroy the West Papuans as such, in violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. In other words, Indonesia has committed genocide against the West Papuan people.
International complicity in the occupation of West Papua continues today. The United States has consistently provided Indonesia with vast quantities of arms – roughly $1.25 billion’s worth since 1975, when Indonesia invaded East Timor with the approval of the Ford administration and proceeded to massacre 100,000 people (out of a population of 700,000) in five years. 90% of Indonesia’s military arsenal was made in the U.S. Since the killing of 271 unarmed and peaceful democracy demonstrators in 1991, the U.S. has imposed various degrees of military sanctions on Indonesia. A total ban on defence exports to the country was imposed after the killing spree in 1999, which over a thousand East Timorese dead and destroyed 70% of the country’s infrastructure. The Bush administration ended the ban last year, calling Indonesia a “strategic partner”, despite Indonesia’s ongoing human rights abuses, and despite the fact that not one officer responsible for the 1999 massacre has spent a single day in jail.
(read the full article here)