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Jayapura, West Papua

April 11, 2001

(This paper was presented at the briefing on "Human Rights in West Papua: Impunity versus Accountability," hosted by the Society for Threatened peoples International, on April 2, 2001 in relation to the 57th session of the UN-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland and at the public lecture on Human Rights in West Papua at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland on April 10, 2001 hosted by AFRI and West Papua Action Network, Dublin).


By John Rumbiak Supervisor for the Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELS-HAM) in Jayapura, West Papua.


West Papua, also known as Irian Jaya, has been considered as the 26th province of Indonesia since 1969. The Papuan people themselves never freely agreed to be a part of Indonesia, and they have always fought against this integration. Several resistance movements, including the Papuan Liberation Movement (OPM), which was created in the early 1960’s, have expressed the wish of the Papuan people for the respect of their right to self-determination. Throughout the years, violence and repression have been the main features of the Indonesian Government’s response to the West Papuan demand for the respect of their basic rights, including their right to self-determination.

Ever since May 1998, when the Suharto regime came to its end and ever since the so-called era of reformasi, which replaced that regime, the international community was under the impression that positive changes would occur in relation to the Human Rights situation in the country.

However, the Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy (ELS-HAM) did not note such changes for West Papua. On the contrary, the repression and development policies, all planned and executed from Jakarta have only contributed more to the alarming human rights abuses in West Papua. The presence of the security forces (the police and the military) is still excessively dominant in the region, and troops are continuously brought into West Papua, for so-called security and developmental reasons. As a result, the number of human rights violations, including cases of extra-judicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and death in police custody is increasing.

The Indonesian Government refuses to resolve the core issue in a peaceful manner, despite the demands of numerous Papuan representatives. Instead of paying serious attention to the demands of the Papuan people, they adopt a tactic of enforcing the issue of so-called "wider autonomy," an issue, which is rejected by the great majority of the Papuan people. As the idea is rejected by the people, the Indonesian security forces use this situation to commit more human rights violations and to justify these abuses.

This briefing gives a description of the underlying problems regarding the on-going human rights abuses in the region.



Hopefully this presentation and discussion will develop understanding and encourage people to take concrete steps to stop the situation of continuing human rights violations in West Papua, and to bring justice to the people of West Papua.


What are really the fundamental factors that continue to contribute to the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua? Why are they occurring? Is there any solution at all, and if so, where to begin? These are the questions I want to deal with here.

There are at least five fundamental factors that underlie ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua:

Conflict between the Papuans and the Indonesian authorities (and I mean particularly the security forces) over

1) The Conflict Between The People Of West Papua And The State Over The Issue Of The Right To Self-Determination

For more than 40 years the people of West Papua have been fighting for their right to self-determination, which was violated by the international community, through the 1969 U.N. supervised referendum, the so-called "Act of Free Choice."

Despite the circumstances under which the Act of Free Choice was carried out with only a few West Papuans selected, under threat, to vote for integration with Indonesia, the UN accepted the result, and thus accepted that the ex-colony of the Netherlands as part of the Republic of Indonesia. Thousands fled to Holland, Papua New Guinea and to other South Pacific countries, and the resistance movement in West Papua has continued and increased ever since. The Papuan Liberation Movement (the OPM), established in 1960s, has led the fight until today against the Indonesian occupation of West Papua.

Meanwhile the Indonesian Government continues to claim that West Papua, or Irian Jaya as the Indonesian Government calls it, is an integral part of Indonesia. Any kind of resistance movement from the people is considered as separatist action, and is dealt with by repression. As a result, many thousands of lives have been lost, (Amnesty International’s figure is 100,000), many people disappeared, hundreds of women raped, and the conflict that continues to cause bloodshed continues.

ELS-HAM has reported that during the so-called period of reformation in Indonesia between 1998 and 2000 there have been gross and systematic violations of human rights. These include approximately 80 cases of summary executions and 500 cases of arbitrary detentions and torture. There is also a marked increase in incidences of torture and mal-treatment of detainees, which in some cases have resulted in custodial deaths. The Security Forces intimidate and threaten human rights defenders and obstructs them from performing their duties. The freedom of the press has been curtailed, restriction have been placed on local journalists while foreign journalists are denied access to West Papua. ELS-HAM is particularly concerned about the detention of 22 prisoners of conscience being detained at the prison of Jayawijaya in Wamena.

2) The Culture Of Militarism

The culture of militarism in West Papua is another factor. With military operations launched in areas where the resistance movement of the people is believed to be going on, military zones have been created. These areas are closed to outside observers, people’s freedom of movement is very much restricted, and the war against the people continues.

Foreigners who visit West Papua have to obtain a permit called Surat Jalan from the police.

With so much power, the military also plays a major role in backing up large-scale multinational economic activities in West Papua such as mining (e.g. gold and oil) and logging. The military is instrumental in intimidating people to give up their traditional rights, so that their traditional lands can to be exploited by multinational companies. PT Freeport Indonesia, a subsidiary of the biggest U.S. gold mining company -- Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc.-- is one example of a multinational corporation that has been implicated in various human rights violations by security forces deployed to protect the company. The company denies any involvement in the violations, but rejects any efforts by independent parties to investigate its involvement in the human rights violations.

3) Development Policies

Development policies such as transmigration, logging, agriculture, mining, tourism, etc. including those being backed by world financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and governments such as the German and Canadian Government which have backed the Transmigration programs -- are performing a new kind of colonialism and imperialism. Under these sorts of so-called development, no compensation has been given to the indigenous peoples, for the taking of their land, the devastation of their environment, the degradation of their culture and their marginalization.

The right to any real development of the West Papuans has been almost totally denied and violated in all of these kinds of development.

4) The Silence of the International Community

Though there have been continuing human rights violations in West Papua because of the under-lying reasons above, the international community has remained silent and allowed this cycle of human rights problems to continue to happen. Issues of "state sovereignty," and economic and political interests have been major blocks to any kind of international interference, despite the rhetoric of the importance of the universality of human rights.

With the crisis today across the whole of Indonesia, the developed countries again seem reluctant to condemn Indonesia over the range of human rights violations that its security forces continue to commit against innocent civilians. These countries say that they support President Abdurrahman Wahid who is trying to uphold human rights and democracy in Indonesia, but they do nothing to stop the hardliners, those who resort to the rhetoric of "nationalism" to justify their undermining of human rights and democracy in Indonesia.

5) Wider autonomy for West Papua: A solution or another new source of human rights violations

The Indonesian Government is presently claiming that giving wider autonomy to conflict areas such as Aceh, Riau and West Papua is the solution to resolving the problems in these regions. However, in the case of West Papua, the people have rejected this offer. On March 28, 2001 the Government of Papua Province held a workshop in the capital Jayapura to discuss autonomy, but all the West Papuans in the meeting walked out, demanding their right to self-determination. Outside the meeting, pro-independence supporters clashed with security forces resulting in the death of 1 person, and 13 being detained by the police.

The government has failed to respond wisely to the situation in West Papua, and is failing to understand the fundamental problems of why Papuans are continuing to demand their right to self-determination. Instead the Indonesian Government is trying to come to a hurried solution, in the form of a wider autonomy deal.

The question of the right to self-determination is a psychological need. It is about the self-identity of a people or group that have been denied and oppressed for many years. The Indonesian Government needs to recognize and address this, before anything can go forward.

So, to conclude, these are the recommendations that ELSHAM makes for peaceful progress of the situation, and for which we would like your support:

Urge the Indonesian Government to immediately release all the political prisoners of conscience, especially the 22 prisoners in Wamena, Jayawijaya.

Urge the Indonesian Government to stop using repressive measures against the people of West Papua when they exercise their right to express their desire for self-determination, and withdraw the troops deployed in West Papua, including the 15 000 extra military personnel that have been brought in over the last 6 months.

Urge the Indonesian Government to investigate all human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian Security Forces (the military and the police) in the past and present, and bring the perpetrators to justice. This is the most strategic way to end impunity for human rights abuses, and for the people to see justice enacted.

Support the current investigation being conducted by the Indonesian National Human Rights Commission (KOMNAS HAM) on the Abepura Incident of December 7, 2000, and encourage the Institution to conduct similar investigations into other human rights abuses that have occurred across West Papua.

Support the West Papuan NGOs, community groups and church groups that are working to protect and promote human rights in West Papua/Irian Jaya. We believe that it is by investing in the society, especially in human rights education, the culture of respect for human rights can really grow.

Urge the Indonesian Government to commence and substitute for repressive measures, a dialogue process with West Papuan representatives, to peacefully, democratically and justly resolve the West Papuan case. The churches in West Papua, because of the influential role they have in relation to both the people and the Government, should be involved in facilitating such processes.

Support the suspension of the offer of autonomy to West Papua, and urge instead that dialogue to discuss the problems be held, before an attempt to arrive at solutions.

Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy Jln. Kampus ISTP Padang Bulan Jayapura, WEST PAPUA Tel/Fax: 62-967-581600/581520; E-mail: elsham_irja@jayapura.wasantara.net.id 

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