West Papua and the Pacific Islands Forum

Indonesia Human Rights Committee
Box 68-419,

11 August, 2008

Media Release: Pacific Island Forum leaders urged to respond to the humanitarian crisis in West Papua

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee has written to each of the Heads of Government of the Pacific Island Forum Nations ahead of their annual meeting next week. IHRC is calling on the Forum leaders to prioritise the issue of Indonesian-ruled West Papua.

“If the Forum has any meaning as organisation concerned with regional peace and security it cannot sidestep the plight of the MelanesianWest Papuan people who are facing a humanitarian crisis,’ said Maire Leadbeater speaking for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee. ‘Life-giving forests are disappearing, and people are dying from cholera and an escalating HIV/AIDs epidemic.’

‘Just this past weekend a man Opinus Tabuni was killed during a peaceful ceremony for the World Day for Indigenous People. Some 20,000 people were violently dispersed by Indonesian security forces and it is believed that Mr Tabuni was shot when police opened fire. This is just one example of ongoing grave human rights abuses in the territory.’

Pacific Forum leaders are urged to grant West Papuan representatives observer status to attend Forum meetings and also to seek ways to mediate a dialogue between the West Papuan people and the Government of Indonesia. The Forum should also propose a fact-finding mission to the territory.

For further information; Maire Leadbeater 09-815-9000 or 0274-436-957

Letter follows:

10 August 2008

Dear Pacific Island Forum Leader,

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee urges you and all leaders of Pacific Island Forum countries to give priority to the issue of West Papua at this year’s Forum.
We note that in the Forum Communique for 2007 the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made a commitment to hold discussions with the President of Indonesia about West Papua. Along with other international and Papuan human rights groups we are anxious to know the outcome of these talks.

The human rights situation in West Papua has not improved, and there are many indications that the level of tension and fear is rising. We would draw to your attention that the security forces cracked down on a peaceful July demonstration in Fakfak arresting 41 participants. Six young people remain in jail and are likely to face charges of subversion.

Just yesterday, World Day for Indigenous Peoples (9 August, 2008), a young man was killed as he participated in a ceremony during which the flags of Indonesia, and the United Nations were raised alongside the West Papuan Morning Star flag. It is too soon to be clear about all the facts about this Wamena tragedy, but several reports state that the military opened fire directly at the demonstrators.

Two other political prisoners in West Papua, Filep Karma and Yusak Pakage, received jail terms of 15 and 10 years respectively for merely taking part in a rally in December 2004 where the West Papuan national flag, the Morning Star was raised. In a letter to the Indonesian President (29 July 2008), forty members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter urging him to work for the “immediate and unconditional” release of these two prisoners of conscience.

Recent Reports of Human Rights abuses

In February this year the Office for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jayapura published a report entitled “The Practice of Torture in Aceh and Papua 1998-2007” . The report documents 242 cases of torture in Papua and other cases of abuse by military forces leading to human rights violations, including the large-scale destruction of entire villages. In a foreward to this report Chris Sidoti states “Papua remains the last part of Indonesia where the military, supported by the police has absolute freedom to do whatever it likes whenever it likes. The military repress with violence every expression of Papuan sentiment, even the peaceful display of the Morning Star Flag.”

In May of this year the U.N. Committee against Torture reported on ‘numerous, ongoing, credible and consistent allegations’ of abuse in Indonesia on the part of the security forces. The Committee identified abusive military ‘sweep’ operations which have taken place in Papua and other conflict areas.

The Annual Report of Amnesty International for 2008 also confirms this disturbing picture:
‘The low-level conflict between the security forces and pro-independence militants in Papua continued. The military repeatedly threatened local community members who supported independence through peaceful means. An army official who had been indicted for crimes against humanity in Timor-Leste, but had yet to face trial, was nominated as military commander in the Papuan capital, Jayapura. Reported human rights violations by security forces included extrajudicial executions, torture and excessive use of force.’

Other recent issues of concern

Indonesian military forces have been responsible for serious breaches of the border agreement with Papua New Guinea. There have been a number of border incursions this year during which Papua New Guinea citizens were assaulted and Papua New Guinea property defaced. In one incident the reports state that 100 villagers in the Western province were made homeless after Indonesian soldiers raided their village and burnt houses. Indonesia has acknowledged and apologised for the incursions, but these events give rise to grave concern that the Indonesian military is operating with reckless disregard to the rights of defenceless civilians.

We are deeply concerned about the low and declining health status of the indigenous people of West Papua. There have been reports of an outbreak of the disease of cholera in the remote highlands. Although the figures cited by official sources and those cited by Church and human rights groups differ, there is no doubt that scores have died. It has also been suggested that some of the deaths should have been attributed to HIV/AIDS instead of to the cholera outbreak.

West Papua has a rapidly increasing rate of HIV/AIDS – so serious that the Australian Government's aid agency, AusAID says that by 2025 the HIV/AIDS infection rate is projected to balloon to seven per cent of the territory’s people, comparable to some African countries.

West Papuan people frequently express great concern about the exploitation of their environment and natural resources and the impact this has on the long-term wellbeing of the people. Recently there is a particularly strong focus on the issue of illegal logging and the loss of pristine rainforest cover – an issue that West Papua shares with Papua New Guinea. The rate of deforestation looks set to escalate as more areas are opened up for profitable palm oil plantations. Local people gain no benefit from this exploitation.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee urges the Pacific Islands Forum Heads of State to raise the deteriorating human rights, health and environmental situation in West Papua with the Indonesian President and urge him to take immediate action to address these grave problems. The Indonesian President should also be encouraged to use his powers to ensure the release of all West Papuan political prisoners as a means of showing good faith to the West Papuan people and paving the way for constructive dialogue to resolve these grave problems.

Oberver Status for West Papua

The Forum’s membership categories have been broadened over the last few years. We note that New Caledonia and French Polynesia, previously Forum Observers were granted Associate Membership in 2006 and that Forum Observers now include Tokelau (2005), the Commonwealth (2006), the United Nations (2006), and the Asian Development Bank (2006). Timor Leste has been a Special Observer since 2002. Wallis and Futuna may shortly upgrade its status to that of an "associate member” following the recent visit of a team of Forum officials to Wallis and Futuna to look into this issue.

We advocate that the territory of West Papua should now also be granted observer status at the PIF. West Papuan leaders have been appealing for some years for regional help to facilitate and mediate a dialogue process with Indonesian representatives. The PIF already has good communication with Indonesia which is a Post Forum Dialogue partner at the Forum. The granting of observer status to West Papuan representatives would therefore make it much easier for the PIF to play a key role in helping facilitating dialogue between the two parties.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee therefore urges the Forum to grant observer status to West Papua at this year’s meeting in Niue. We also urge the Forum to send a fact finding mission to West Papua to investigate the human rights situation.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater
(for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee)


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