admin's picture

AUSTRALIA WEST PAPUA ASSOCIATION, SYDNEY P.O. Box 65, Millers Point, NSW, Australia 2000 Tele/fax: 61.2. 99601698 Email: iris@matra.com.au 

June 5, 2001


Dear Pacific Islands Forum:

The Australia West Papua Association is writing to you concerning the issue of West Papua. I would first like to thank you and the other Pacific Islands Forum leaders for supporting West Papua being on the agenda at last years forum meeting. We hope that at this years meeting in Nauru that not only will West Papua be on the agenda but that the discussion will involve the issue of the West Papuan People being granted observer status at future forum meetings, as has been granted to the Kanak people of New Caledonia.

In last years communiqué the Forum leaders expressed "deep concern about past and recent violence and loss of life in West Papua." We would like to point out that since last years forum meeting there has been a large number of human rights abuses committed by the Indonesian military in West Papua and we have included some of these abuses in our briefing paper, which is included with this letter.

We urge you to raise these human rights abuses by the Indonesia military with the other forum leaders, as well as with the Indonesian representatives at the post forum dialogue meeting.

We also urge you to encourage the Indonesian government to reassume the peaceful dialogue, which was started by the West Papuan leadership as a way forward for the province. It is through dialogue that many of the problems in the province could be solved-the human rights abuses, the exploitation of resources at the expense of the local people and the status of the province itself, in relation to Indonesia.

Yours sincerely Joe Collins AWPA, Sydney




Brief Historical Background

In 1883 the island of New Guinea was partitioned by three Western powers, the Dutch claiming the western half, while the Germans and British divided the eastern half into German New Guinea in the north and British Papua in the south.

The Republic of Indonesia was created in 1949 when The Netherlands granted independence to the colonised peoples of the former Dutch East Indies. West New Guinea however, due to its distinct Melanesian population and cultural characteristics, was retained as a colony by the Dutch and during the 1950s the Dutch government prepared the territory for independence. President Sukarno meanwhile consistently maintained Indonesia’s claim to all former territory of the Dutch, and when his demands were not met armed conflict ensued from 1962.

Under pressure from the United States to come to terms with Indonesia, the Dutch agreed to secret negotiations. In August 1962 an agreement was concluded in New York between the Netherlands and Indonesia, under which the Dutch were to leave West New Guinea and transfer sovereignty to UNTEA (the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority), for a period of six years until a national vote was to be conducted to determine Papuan preference for independence, or integration with Indonesia.

Almost immediately however, Indonesia took over the administration from UNTEA, and the oppression of the West Papuan people intensified. A sham referendum was held in 1969, and the UN sanctioned a vote by 1025 handpicked electors, coerced into unanimously choosing to "remain with Indonesia."

The UN Representative sent to observe the election process produced a report, which outlined various and serious violations of the New York Agreement. In spite of the "duly noted" report and in spite also of testimonials from the press, the opposition of fifteen countries and the cries of help and justice from the Papuans themselves, West Irian was handed over to Indonesia in November 1969. The inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, across the border, achieved full independence in1975.

Resistance to Indonesian Rule

Once Indonesian took over responsibility for administration of the province they brutally repressed any West Papuan not accepting the takeover. Uprisings began to take place against their brutal rule in various areas such as Biak Island and in the Central Mountains. The Indonesian military responded by exterminating entire villages. There is no exact figure on the number of West Papuans killed in the resistance, but it is believed to exceed 200,000.

Recent Events

Since the 1st December 2000, the anniversary of the first flying of the West Papuan Morning Star flag in 1962, the TNI has cracked down on the West Papuan People. Many have been killed and their leaders have been arrested. A subversion trial of five of the key leaders has been set for May 14th. They include Theys Eluay, Reverend Herman Awom, Don Flassy, John Mabor and Thaha Al Hamid. The five presidium members were arrested in Jayapura on subversion charges in the days surrounding last year’s commemorations on December the 1st.

Most recently large numbers of the TNI have been sent to West Papua exacerbating the already highly volatile situation. The Indonesian air force has also been flying Hawk jet fighter aircraft (supplied by Britain) low over villages in an effort to terrorise the population

The most recent build up is on the area bordering Papua New Guinea. It was reported in The Jakarta Post of the 21st April that three new battalions coming from outside Irian Jaya have been deployed for an ongoing 'Security Border Operation.’


During this period (late 2000-2001) over 400 refugees (the majority of whom are women and children) have fled across the border into PNG, joining approximately 10,000 other West Papuan refugees, many having been there since the early 1980’s. Latest figures indicate that there are now up to 512 (recent) border crossers in the Vanimo area. The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches has made a strong plea to the PNG government to recognize the plight of these West Papuan border crossers. The call comes following a visit by Council of Churches General Secretary Sophia Gegeyo and the Social Concerns Desk Secretary Peter Saroya in April 2001 to Vanimo, where the West Papuans are living.

Human Rights Abuses

There has been consent human abuses in West Papua since the Forum meeting in Nauru last year. We have included one of the graver cases below. We have also included (in the appendix), the report from the Swiss journalists who was arrested after the events of the 1st of December 2000. His eyewitness account makes for horrific reading and vividly describes what can happen to West Papuans believed to have separatists’ tendencies.

Abepura Incident December 2000

Following an attack on the police station at Abepura (near Jayapura) on the 7 December 2000 by an unidentified group (in which two police officers and one security officer where killed), the police and anti-riot troops retaliated by raiding student hostels in the area, although there was no evidence that the students were involved in the attack on the police station. Hundreds of students were taken into police custody and were beaten and tortured. (See account by Swiss journalist below.)

The National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas Ham) who investigated the incidence confirmed at a press conference in April that torture and other inhumane deeds had been committed by police and Brimbo personal against local West Papuans. An official said that two people were killed while 34 others suffered serious wounds while in police custody.

International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

In another disturbing event, two members of the Australian branch of the ICJ (International Commission of Jurists) were refused visas by the Indonesian authorities to enter West Papua. They had been invited by the local human rights organisation in Jatpura to observe separatist trials in Jayapura and Wamena. Justice Dowd of the ICJ said the refusal from Jakarta was the first time Australian ICJ observers had been formally rejected by Indonesia. Justice Dowd said the exclusion of international observers reduced the chances of a fair trial. "We know now that some of them are being seriously intimidated, some are being subjected to torture and assaults, he said. "There is no fair trial if that’s what is happening."




Oswald Iten

A member of the NZZ editorial staff, Oswald Iten, was held in the municipal jail of Jayapura, Irian Jaya, from 2 to 13 December. The charge: illegal journalistic activity. Most of his fellow inmates were Papuans fighting for West Papua’s independence from Indonesia. Iten witnessed the incredible brutality that marked the prisoners' everyday life.

When the door to the cell slammed shut behind me, the first thing I noticed was the stench of urine and other human excreta. Then I saw, through the dim, humidly hot air, bodies lying on the filthy concrete floor, packed one next to the other like sardines. It was one o’clock in the morning. Someone in the lineup of bodies handed me a cardboard box, so that I’d at least have something clean to lay my head on.

The police had taken me into custody the previous day and grilled me for nine hours, because on 1 December, I had taken "political photos" ostensibly not permitted by my tourist visa. That was the day on which Papuans fighting for independence from Indonesia commemorated the day in 1961, while the Dutch were still the colonial masters, when a declaration of West Papuan independence was made which was acknowledged by no one else in the world.

Since then, the flag with the morning star had been their symbol of freedom, and anyone raising that banner had had to reckon with the danger of being shot by occupying Indonesian troops.

President Wahid, who took office last year, had issued a directive permitting limited use of the flag, but the Indonesian security forces, who have been operating with increasing autonomy, had declared that this year’s 1 December would be the last day on which the morning star banner would be permitted to flutter unhindered beneath Papua’s skies.

Poorly Organized Rebels

So there I was, in a cell with about 40 other prisoners. Among them were 26 members of the "Satgas Papua," a militia of the independence movement, which had established posts throughout Irian Jaya and was responsible for guarding the freedom flag. Despite the ultimatum issued by the police, the militia’s top leaders had let themselves be taken by surprise and rounded up like snails - which says a great deal about the Papuan rebels’ level of organization. Among the prisoners was militia chief Boy Eluay, son of Theys Eluay, the head of the Papuan presidium (a body of selected leaders advocating independence), and Alex Baransano, city commander of the Satgas in Port Numbay, as the West Papuans now call Jayapura. Mixed in with the dark-skinned Melanesian prisoners were a few Javanese who had come to Irian Jaya under Indonesia's hated "transmigration" (that is, settlement) program and were now accused of some violent crime or other.

The members of the Satgas Papua were physically unharmed. That could not be said of all the prisoners. During my first night in the cell, a drunk was hauled in, and the guards punched and kicked him in the face. Almost every night some drunk was brought in to sober up and, this being the month of Ramadan, was treated to special physical abuse designed to leave him with a lasting souvenir in the form of a missing tooth or a broken nose. At first I tried to get the guards to ease up, but they grew angry and completed their violent work in the guardroom near the entrance to the cells. Dizzy from both alcohol and the beating, the victims were then thrown into our cell and released the following morning.

At 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, 7 December, noise from the guardroom penetrated the stuffing I’d put in my ears to help me sleep. At first I thought the guards were doing some rhythmic gymnastics, but it also sounded like blows landing on a body. My fellow prisoners were wide-awake, and they tried to hold me back when I went to the entranceway of our cellblock. The upper part of the door was merely barred, so I had a view of the guardroom. And what I saw there was unspeakably shocking.

About half a dozen policemen were swinging their clubs at bodies that were lying on the floor and, oddly enough, did not cry out; at most, only soft groans issued from them. After a few long seconds, a guard saw me looking and struck his club against the bars of the cellblock door. I quickly went back to my usual spot, from where I could still see the clubs, staffs and split bamboo whips at their work. Their ends were smeared with blood, and blood sprayed the walls all the way up to the ceiling.

Sometimes I saw the policemen hopping up on benches, continuing to strike blows from there or jumping back down onto the bodies below (which I could not see from my cell).

Thousands of Blows

Thousands of blows must have descended on what was to me an unknown number of people. I thought: That’s what it means to "thrash" somebody. By about 5:15 a.m. things quietened down and I heard the sound of water from a hose. But then the orgy of torture resumed, apparently with a new load of prisoners. My fellow inmates told me that a police post had been attacked during the night. At one point, a guard came into our cell and indicated to me that what was going on outside was to be understood as the normal retribution for the death of policemen. The attack had taken place at 1:30 a.m. in the suburb of Abepura, and two policemen and a private guard had been killed in the course of it.

At 7:30 a.m. the torturers went outside for morning muster, things quieted down and I looked over into the guardroom: the floor was covered with blood, as in a slaughterhouse. Some of my fellow prisoners were ordered out to clean the place up.

Shortly before 10 o’clock, noise broke out again. The cell block door was opened, and with the ends of their staffs the guards drove about three dozen new prisoners in, whose hair had been marked with white from a spray can, like sheep earmarked for shearing. The newcomers were jammed into a single cell. Then the cellblock door was opened again and one body after another was tossed into our already crowded cell, some of them more dead than alive.

Disfigured Faces, Damaged Bodies

Most of them remained motionless where they fell, either unconscious or utterly exhausted. They must have been the men who had been tortured earlier that morning. A mask maker would find it difficult to conjure out of his imagination such horrifically distorted faces and damaged twisted bodies.

One of the tortured men was virtually blind and had to be led in by the hand by another prisoner; I couldn’t tell whether his eyes had been totally destroyed or were merely swollen shut. The last one to enter was a large man, who fell over the bodies on the floor and lay there groaning horribly. He tried repeatedly to straighten himself up, only to fall back down again.

Now and again the faces of guards appeared at the barred window, looking down impassively at the tangle of maltreated bodies. In the back of the big man’s head, there appeared to be a coin-sized hole through which I believed to spot some brain tissue. After nearly an hour and a half of groaning and spasmodic movement, his suffering visibly neared its end. About two meters from me, his powerful body raised itself again and his head struck the wall. A final labored breath issued from him, then his head dropped down onto the cement floor. At last his agony was over. After a while, three lackeys came and dragged the body out.

Later I learned that the man who had been tortured to death was named Ori Dronggi. I saw a picture of his corpse in the newspaper Cenderawasih Pos. The dispatch said that three dead Papuans had been brought to the morgue, and the police stated they had "died in the fighting." I don’t know how the other two men died; one of them may have been the second man I had seen with a hole in his head, who had wiped his blood away with the same rag my cellmates generally used in their attempts to keep the toilet clean. I had no longer seen him among the prisoners the following day. (All the men who had been arrested after the attack on the police outpost were released after 36 hours.)

Ori Dronggi was one of 18 men from the highland town of Wamena, all of whom had been arrested in a dormitory near the university in Abepura immediately following the attack on the police post. The chances are he had had nothing to do with the attack; the same was true of the 35 other men who had been tortured (I had counted them the following day).

A rumor went around that the police post had been attacked because one of the men on duty there was the one who had torn the morning star flag down on 6 October. About half a dozen Papuans had been killed back then, and in the days after it - and several times that many Indonesians, who fell victim to the Papuans’ blind vengeance. As a result of that chain of events, thousands of Indonesian settlers had fled from Wamena and the Baliem Valley. The "negative" balance of casualties was seen as a disgrace for the police; their rage at the people of Wamena had already become legendary, so it was no surprise when, following the attack at Abepura, they chose to take prisoners from that group of people.

A Witness in Danger?

In the night following the orgy of torture, the guards felt that I should no longer sleep in the cell with the other prisoners, whose number had by now swelled to 124 and many of whom were covered with suppurating wounds.

The policemen wrinkled their noses, indicating to me that the Papuans smelled bad. I was told I could sleep in the guardroom - but the countless bloodstains there, even on the bench on which I lay, were a constant reminder of what had happened the previous night. The next morning, Police Chief Daud Sihombing, who also served as superintendent of the prison, noticed that I had not slept in the cell. Furious, he ordered the guards to bring me back there. He also confiscated the mosquito net one guard had brought me. I asked Sihombing if he wanted me to contract malaria. In a voice brooking no contradiction, he replied: "You’re no different from the other prisoners. If they get malaria, so will you. From that time on, I feared that I had seen too much and was in danger as an incriminating witness.

Not a hair on my head was touched. In fact, the otherwise sadistic guards went out of their way to be nice to me. But the mistreatment of other prisoners continued. On 11 December I again witnessed a horrible scene. About 2:45 A.M., three new prisoners were brought in. Two of them were badly beaten outside my field of vision. The third Papuan fell right in front of the one-man cell to which Chief Sihombing had exiled me.

A booted guard kicked the man in the head; the prisoner’s head banged loudly against my cell door, blood spurting from it onto my leg. The guard was apparently fascinated by the head going back and forth between his boot and the bars of my cell door, like some outsized ping-pong ball, so he kicked it a few more times.

A second guard joined in with a swift kick to the middle of the prisoner’s face, knocking him unconscious. But that still wasn’t enough. A third guard, who had been watching the scene with rifle in hand, now struck the butt of his weapon about five times into the senseless man’s skull, which made a horrible sound. I could hardly believe it, but the victim was still alive the next day. He was taken away for interrogation.

"Zero Tolerance"

It was all part of the day’s work in an Indonesian prison on Irian Jaya. Superintendant Sihombing was obviously not at all disturbed that I, a foreign journalist, should have witnessed such scenes after being arrested for taking some harmless "political photographs." According to his logic, my identity was as irrelevant as had been the barbaric and transparent behavior of the Indonesian police and military after the referendum on East Timor. In fact, by imprisoning me, Sihombing was demonstrating that the policy of zero tolerance toward the independence movement, which had gone into effect on 1 December, also applied to foreigners.

Visitors with a temporary journalist’s visa are not granted the official Indonesian permit necessary for travel to the interior of Irian Jaya. My case could serve as a warning to other journalists not to travel to West Papua masquerading as tourists. In his autocratic and self-righteous manner, Sihombing gave the press almost daily briefings on my "important case." His goal was to underscore his demonstration of power by bringing charges which could get me a prison sentence of as much as five years. I felt like Sihombing’s hostage, my ransom value going up with each passing day. But after 12 days, the man’s calculations were upset when Jakarta issued an order for my deportation. To save face, he presented my release to the press as his own act of clemency in honor of the forthcoming holiday of Christmas.

The fact that I was not harmed in the prison at Jayapura was due, among other things, to the swift arrival of Norbert Bärlocher, the deputy mission chief of the Swiss embassy in Jakarta. He traveled 3,800 kilometers to the capital of Irian Jaya in order to extend his protection to me until my deportation on 16 December. But several dozen less privileged prisoners remained back in the cell, with the Satgas militiamen still among them. Their life in prison will doubtless continue to be as I experienced it, marked by violence. Mornings and evenings they hold a one-hour prayer service, conducted by three catechists who managed to keep their Bibles with them.

At the end of each service, they all shake hands. The prisoners receive two adequate meals a day from the police, for which they express their thanks by saying grace. And they are allowed a one-hour family visits every afternoon. Each morning, while the police hold their muster, a loudspeaker broadcasts the Indonesian national anthem through the prison bars. At that point, the Papuans in their cells join in singing their independence anthem. Indonesia can never win the hearts of the Papuans with clubs and rifle barrels; it will simply remain the hated occupying power.

(In one of his last articles before his arrest, "High Noon in West Papua," the author sums up the present political situation in Irian Jaya. 22 December 2000 / Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 22 December 2000. (Neue Zurcher Zeitung, Zurich website. (Dec 22, 2000).

f P c N interCutural Web: http://www.fPcN-global.org  Email: webmaster@fPcN-global.org 

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Add new comment