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Review of US State Department 2012 human rights report on West Papua
West Papua Advocacy Team - May 17, 2013
By Ed McWilliams (West Papua Advocacy Team) with John M. Miller (ETAN)
The US Department of State annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 includes a detailed review of Indonesia. As in past years, this portion of the Report devotes significant attention to developments in West Papua. The heavy focus on the region, which comprises only one percent of the Indonesian archipelago's population, underscores the reality that human rights violations and impunity continue at very high levels in West Papua. (Please note we refer throughout to the western half of the island of New Guinea as West Papua. This is how people in the region commonly refer to the area that includes the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.)
Problems that afflict West Papua are also evident elsewhere in the archipelago, such as encroachment on indigenous lands, media intimidation, and violations of human rights by the military and police.
While this critique focuses on West Papua, we note that human rights violations continue throughout the archipelago. Problems that afflict West Papua are also evident elsewhere in the archipelago, such as encroachment on indigenous lands, media intimidation, and violations of human rights by the military and police. Issues of restrictions on freedom of assembly also affect religious minorities outside West Papua. (Ongoing attacks on freedom of religion are addressed in a separate Department of State report.)
Efforts to challenge impunity and to establish accountability for past human rights crimes continue to fail. An "ad hoc tribunal to investigate and prosecute the disappearance of human rights activists" in 1997-98 has yet to be established. Prosecutors have so far rejected Komnas HAM findings that the government's anti-Communist purges of 1965 and 1966 "which included killing, extermination, enslavement, eviction or forced removal of the population, the deprivation of personal freedom, torture, rape, and enforced disappearance, constituted a crime against humanity." The truth commission and human rights courts authorized by the 2006 law on Aceh have yet to be established. Accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Indonesian forces in Timor -Leste or West Papua do not appear on either the Indonesian agenda and are not mentioned in the State Department report's Indonesia chapter.
The report is generally comprehensive and accurate, with some exceptions. However, the report continues to ignore the gravest, most systematic abuse afflicting West Papuans: The failure of the central government to provide essential fundamental health, education and other services to the West Papuan people. This policy of deliberate neglect severely affects Papuans, especially those in rural areas, as reflected in all national and international development indices. Statistics, including those of the Indonesian government, consistently identify West Papua as suffering the worst health, education and development levels in the archipelago and more generally in all of Southeast Asia. It is Indonesia's poorest region.
The Department of State's failure to acknowledge this fundamental violation of Papuan economic, social and cultural rights renders this annual report incomplete. The obligation of governments to provide essential services to their populations is clearly set out in international agreements and covenants to which the Government of Indonesia is signatory or otherwise obligated. These include the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Articles 25 and 26), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Papuans have been systematically marginalized in their own land by this policy of neglect and the "transmigration" policy through which the Indonesia government sponsors and subsidizes migration from elsewhere in the archipelago. The Department of State's failure to acknowledge this fundamental violation of Papuan economic, social and cultural rights renders this annual report incomplete.
Women face special challenges, and the report says, "Women in many regions of the country, particularly in Papua, complained about differential treatment based on gender."
The report also fails to acknowledge that for five decades, West Papua has not been afforded its right to self-determination. US government was deeply involved in the international community's acquiescence in Indonesia's 1963 takeover of the territory and its 1969 annexation through the fraudulent "Act of Free Choice." The US itself is culpable in the denial of this fundamental right.
The Business of the Security Forces
"The [Indonesian official] claims that the Indonesian Military (TNI) has far more troops in Papua than it is willing to admit to, chiefly to protect and facilitate TNI's interests in illegal logging operations," says one cable.
The report's Executive Summary misleadingly contends that "security forces reported to civilian authority" during 2012. Indonesian security authorities, in particular the Indonesian military, in reality are not fully subordinate to civilian authority. The Indonesian military maintains streams of revenue that enable it to operate outside the government budgetary process. These include legal and illegal businesses directly controlled by the military and its extortion of civilian businesses. This rogue behavior persists despite Indonesian law which required the military to divest itself of its businesses by 2009. Military businesses interests are especially extensive in West Papua where often illegal logging operations and the extortion of domestic and foreign businesses, such as the mining giant Freeport McMoran have continued for years.
State Department reports made available through Wikileaks demonstrate its full awareness of the military's role in illegal logging: "The [Indonesian official] claims that the Indonesian Military (TNI) has far more troops in Papua than it is willing to admit to, chiefly to protect and facilitate TNI's interests in illegal logging operations," says one cable. Other cables report Freeport officials acknowledging that they "make payments directly to the commanding officers responsible for security at the mine."
More importantly, the Indonesian military, particularly the Indonesia Special Forces (Kopassus) and the US-funded and trained Detachment 88, continue to enjoy broad impunity for criminal behavior, notably violations of human rights. Military personnel are not subject to civil criminal prosecution or civilian courts for their abuse of civilians. Rather, in those cases which draw public attention, low- and mid-level military personnel may be subjected to military investigation and prosecution in military court. Invariably, the defendants are either absolve the accused or render light sentences.
This reality is particularly apparent in West Papua which suffers under a very large military presence and where human rights violations, as noted in the State Department Report, are extensive. As a consequence of this broad impunity for security force abuse of human rights and other criminality, the criminal justice system fails to inhibit continuing abuses. While the State Department report acknowledges civil society criticisms of "the short length of prison sentences imposed by military courts." The US government should speak out more forcefully for a change in jurisdiction.
The Executive Summary highlights the Indonesian government's application of "treason and blasphemy laws to limit freedom of expression." However, in the body of the report (in the section on Freedom of Speech and Press) the Report avoids direct criticism of the government, referring only to allegations by NGOs and others that "government application of treason laws in cases of peaceful calls for separatism in Papua limited the rights of individuals to engage in speech deemed to be proseparatist."
The report, citing NGO reports, says that "between June and September, authorities arrested more than 60 people in Papua for flag-related offenses." Most were briefly detained before their release. Several Papuans continue to serve long prison terms for raising the banned morning star flag. Political prisoners from the Malukus continued to serve long sentences for raising a banned flag.
US security assistance must be curtailed, absent an end to such egregious human rights violations and credible prosecution and sentencing of the perpetrators of these crimes among Indonesia's military, police, and "anti-terror" forces.
The report clear acknowledges that the "government continued to restrict foreign media, NGOs, and government personnel from traveling to the provinces of Papua and West Papua by requiring them to request permission to travel through the Foreign Ministry or an Indonesian embassy. The government approved some requests and denied others ostensibly for reasons regarding the safety of foreign visitors." This should have been highlighted at the top in the Executive Summary. These restrictions clearly affect the ability of the US government to verify and follow up on reports of human rights violations in the territory. The restrictions have been the subject of criticism by the US Congress, to whom the report is directed.
Torture and Killing
The Executive Summary does highlight "killings by security forces, abuse of prisoners and detainees, harsh prison conditions," problems that are especially common in West Papua. The body of the report, while including details of security force operations in rural areas of West Papua, does not acknowledge the extraordinary abuse associated with ongoing assaults on rural communities by security forces conducting "sweeping operations." These operations are inherently abusive of human rights. Civilians are frequently forced to flee into surrounding mountains and forests where many become ill and die due to a lack of access to food and medical care.
The report commendably details specific examples of harsh prison conditions and extrajudicial killings such as that of Mako Tabuni. The report usefully includes the June military assault on a neighborhood in Wamena during which 767th battalion soldiers burned 87 Papuan homes. "[A]uthorities had not arrested or disciplined any members" by the end of the year, the report says.
Under the heading of "Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" the report notes that the Indonesian government failed to assure full accountability of security officials for torture, which remains "commonplace in police detention." The NGO Commission on the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras) has reported that 98 of 243 victims of torture between July 2011 and June 2012 were in West Papua.
The State Department also reports that Indonesian authorities required "jailed Papuan independence activist Filep Karma to raise the money" for his own medical care. And that during 2012 other such activists such as Forkorus Yaboisembut receive prison terms for peaceful protest.
Indigenous Rights and Land
In one of its strongest critiques, the report speaks plainly about the systematic denial of rights to Papuans:
During the year indigenous persons, most notably in Papua, remained subject to widespread discrimination, and there was little improvement in respect for their traditional land rights. Mining and logging activities, many of them illegal, posed significant social, economic, and logistical problems to indigenous communities.
"During the year indigenous persons, most notably in Papua, remained subject to widespread discrimination, and there was little improvement in respect for their traditional land rights. Mining and logging activities, many of them illegal, posed significant social, economic, and logistical problems to indigenous communities. The government failed to prevent companies, often in collusion with the local military and police, from encroaching on indigenous peoples land. In Papua and West Papua, tensions continued between indigenous Papuans and migrants from other provinces, leading to several killings of migrants in the restive provinces."
The Report similarly offered a detailed critique of government policies targeting the land rights of indigenous people. We note that Papuans are among the principal victims in this regard:
As the government did not recognize indigenous people, it also did not recognize indigenous lands. The government did recognize some communal ownership rights. However, access to ancestral lands continued to be a major source of conflict throughout the country. Large corporations and government regulations displaced people from their ancestral lands. Some land-rights NGOs asserted that ineffective demarcation of land led to denying individuals access to their own land. Central and local government officials reportedly extracted kickbacks from mining and palm oil companies in exchange for land access at the expense of the local populace. Land-rights advocates reported receiving threats from government and private parties after publicizing these issues. The government program of transferring migrants from the crowded islands of Java and Madura diminished greatly in recent years. However, communal conflicts often occurred along ethnic lines in areas with sizeable transmigrant populations.
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