Tag Archives: Indonesia

Global Petition for West Papua

Free West Papua Campaign

There is a very significant grassroots campaign that is currently taking place in West Papua, and around the world.

In January the Free West Papua Campaign launched a petition calling on the UN to urgently act on the situation in West Papua, and we’d like to inform you & invite you to take action too.

As you likely know, West Papuans have been fighting for independence against Indonesia since 1963, in what has become one of the world’s longest-running military occupations of the 21st century. Hundreds of thousands of West Papuans have lost their lives in the occupation, and reports of Papuans being shot, imprisoned, kidnapped and tortured are still a weekly occurrence. Indonesia continue to enforce strict regulations on media and NGOs, so much of what happens continues to avoid international attention.

Just Last week 17 people were shot, including children, in Deiyai. One person was killed and others are still in recovery. Furthermore, Between 30th June and 6th July, over 130 West Papuan people were arrested, including children, and many of them tortured, by the Indonesian police for peaceful actions. The Indonesian government has denied these reports but the ICP Human Rights report for further information.

The global petition for West Papua has been run for the last six months and has so far collected over 150,000 names of international solidarity for West Papua. 

The Indonesian government have reacted by criminalising and banning this petition and the host website, Avaaz, across the country, and have arrested West Papuans for signing it. West Papuan deputy leader, Yanto Awerkion, of the KNPB in Timika, is currently still being detained by Indonesian police, and is facing charges of treason, and 15 years in jail for collecting signatures for the petition.

Despite this, tens of thousands of West Papuans have been meeting in secret to sign this petition. Compare these numbers to the 1026 (0.2 % of the population) who were forced at gunpoint to raise their hands in favour of being annexed with Indonesia in 1969, during the illegal “Act of Free Choice”. There was NO vote, West Papuans have never exercised their right to self-determination under international law.

This petition carries the message directly from the people of West Papua, to the UN asking them to review this right that they have been calling for for 55 years. Therefore, please join us in ‘One voice of International solidarity for One voice from West Papua’, and help the West Papua voices be heard at the UN this August.

The petition will be run until August 30th, when the Swim for West Papua team will swim the petition 69 kms, taking approximately 30 hours, across Lake Geneva, handing the petition with our names on it directly in to the UN headquarters. 

For more information please do not hesitate to contact us office@FreeWestPapua.org or go to our website www.freewestpapua.org

Leave a comment

Filed under West Papua

The $100bn gold mine and the West Papuans who say they are counting the cost

Grasberg mine in the Indonesian province has been a source of untold wealth for its owners, but local communities say it has brought poverty and oppression

The delta of West Papua’s Aikwa river, on Kamoro tribe land. Papuans claim tailing sediment from the mine has suffocated the fish and shrimp on which their diet and economy are based. All photographs: Susan Schulman

The delta of West Papua’s Aikwa river, on Kamoro tribe land. Papuans claim tailing sediment from the mine has suffocated the fish and shrimp on which their diet and economy are based. All photographs: Susan Schulman

Susan Schulman | The Guardian | 2 November 2016

In 1936, Dutch geologist Jean Jacques Dozy climbed the world’s highest island peak: the forbidding Mount Carstensz, a snow-covered silver crag on what was then known as Dutch New Guinea. During the 4,800-metre ascent, Dozy noticed an unusual rock outcrop veined with green streaks. Samples he brought back confirmed exceptionally rich gold and copper deposits.

Today, these remote, sharp-edged mountains are part of West Papua, Indonesia’s largest province, and home to the Grasberg mine, one of the biggest gold mines – and third largest copper mine – in the world. Majority-owned by the American mining firm Freeport McMoRan, Grasberg is now Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, with reserves worth an estimated $100bn (£80bn).

But a recent fact-finding mission (by the Brisbane Archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission) described a “slow-motion genocide” (pdf) taking place in West Papua, warning that its indigenous population is at risk of becoming “an anthropological museum exhibit of a bygone culture”.

grasberg-map

Since the Suharto dictatorship annexed the region in a 1969 UN referendum largely seen as a fixed land grab, an estimated 500,000 West Papuans have been killed in their fight for self-rule. Decades of military and police oppression, kidnapping and torture have created a long-standing culture of fear. Local and foreign journalists are routinely banned, detained, beaten and forced to face trialon trumped-up charges. Undercover police regularly trail indigenous religious, social and political leaders. And children still in primary school have been jailed for taking part in demonstrations calling for independence from Indonesia.

“There is no justice in this country,” whispered one indigenous villager on condition of anonymity, looking over his shoulder fearfully. “It is an island without law.”

****

Dozy had not set out to find gold in 1936; his goal was to scale the region’s highest glacial peak. But his discovery sparked the interest of Freeport Sulphur – later to become Freeport Minerals Company and then, through a 1981 merger with the McMoRan Oil and Gas Company, Freeport McMoRan – whose board of directors included the well-connected Godfrey Rockefeller (serving from 1931 until the early 1980s) and Henry Kissinger (1988-1995).

Today, indigenous tribes such as the Kamoro and the Amungme claim their communities have been racked with poverty, disease, oppression and environmental degradation since the mine began operations in 1973.

“We are a coastal people, and we depend on the environment,” says the Kamoro’s chief, Hironimus Urmani, in Tipuka, a lowland village down-river from the Grasberg mine. “Nature is a blessing from God, and we are known by the three Ss: sago [trees], sampan [canoes] and sungai[rivers]. But life is very difficult now.”

Urmani motions to the river opposite, languishing green and motionless. He claims that tailing sediment from the mine has raised the riverbed, suffocating the fish, oysters and shrimp on which the Kamoro diet and economy are traditionally based. A 2012 report from Earthworks and Mining Watch Canada asserts that mine waste from Grasberg has “buried over 166 square kilometres of formerly productive forest and wetlands, and fish have largely disappeared”.

Although most Kamoro still try to eke out a living fishing and foraging for food, they struggle to find paid work, says Urmani. “We need to earn money. But now we face major competition from non-Papuan migrants.”

Locals fear that the government’s controversial transmigration programme, which resettles Indonesians from high-density islands such as Java to low-population areas, is wiping out their population completely. Indigenous Melanesian Christians – they comprised 96% of the population in 1971 – now make up a 48% minority, with numbers expected to fall to 29% by 2020 if migration rates continue.

Ethnic Papuans will make up just 29% of the population by 2020
west-papua-demographics

Clashes between the indigenous Christians – and migrant Indonesian Muslims – have also resulted in riots, fires and injuries.

“Land has been taken away, directly by Freeport … and indirectly, as the Indonesian settlers have appropriated it,” says Dr Agus Sumule, professor of agricultural socio-economics at the province’s University of Papua.

“The stresses [on indigenous people] are intense,” says Sumule. “They have been very negatively impacted.”

The Indonesian government signed over to Freeport the right to extract mineral wealth from the Grasberg site in West Papua in 1967. A 2002 report from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) details that land agreements were not negotiated with the Amungme until 1974, a year after the mine opened, and with the Kamoro in 1997.

The compensation paid for Kamoro and Amungme land has been mainly in the form of communal benefits, such as the building of homes, schools and places of worship. The IIED report notes, “Perceptions of land rights and historic compensation claims are a continuing source of dissatisfaction and conflict in the mining area.”

Recent census data shows Papua’s GDP per capita at $3,510, compared to the Indonesian average of $2,452. Yet Papua has the highest poverty rate in the country, nearly three times the national average. It also has the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in Indonesia, as well as the worst health indicators, and the poorest literacy rates.

The scale of destitution is best observed from the highland Amungme village of Banti, just 20 miles down from the Grasberg mine.

The river Aikwa, near Banti, is turned thick and silver with the tailings from the mine. Here, artisanal miners pan the tailings for gold.

The river Aikwa, near Banti, is turned thick and silver with the tailings from the mine. Here, artisanal miners pan the tailings for gold.

Estimates from Earthworks suggest that Freeport dumps as much as 200,000 tonnes of mine waste, known as tailings, directly into the Aikwa delta system every day. The practice has devastated the environment, according to Earthworks and locals, turning thousands of hectares of verdant forest and mangroves into wasteland and rendering turgid the once-crystal waters of the highlands.

The tailings from the Grasberg mine are so rich with ore that Papuans walk for as long as a week to get here. Crowding the length of the river and the delta wasteland, thousands of unlicensed panners shore up small sections to slow the river’s flow and dig into the thick sediment on the side.

Although some of these panners are located within Freeport’s official mining operations, they are not evicted or controlled in any way, they said. Instead, they claim they sell their findings to the police and military who work as security on the mine. (An anonymous Freeport source also confirmed this).

One of the panners, Martine Wandango, 25, bends over her pail of water as she filters out rocks and searches for ore. “You can only survive with money, and you can only find money from gold,” says Martine, who followed her husband to the delta 15 years ago by walking 60 miles over the mountains from their remote highland village.

The Aikwa river, which used to provide the Kamoro people with the staples of their existence.

The Aikwa river, which used to provide the Kamoro people with the staples of their existence.

“I work really hard as I want to give my children better lives, so they can go to school. But it isn’t enough, so she helps me here mining,” says Martine of her daughter, nine, who swings a gold pan in her hands. “On a good day, I can get three grammes, which I sell either to the police or [to buyers] in Timika.”

A tiny village when Freeport arrived here 40 years ago, Timika is now a boom town dotted with bars, brothels, gold-processing shops and various military personnel. Under Indonesian law, Freeport is a designated “strategic industry”, which mandates that external security for the mine, its access roads and its pipelines all be provided exclusively by Indonesia’s security forces. Freeport has never been implicated in any human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Indonesian military in Papua.

Freeport McMoRan, based in Phoenix, Arizona, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The company’s website defends its method of disposal of tailings at Grasberg, managed by PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI), an affiliate company: “PTFI’s controlled riverine tailings management system, which has been approved by the Indonesian government, uses the unnavigable river system in the mountainous highlands near our mine to transport tailings to an engineered area in the lowlands where the tailings and other sediments are managed in a deposition area.”

A 2009 report by the company says it utilises levees to contain tailings in the deposition area, and that the tailings management programme costs Freeport McMoRan $15.5m (£12.7m) each year. According to the report, company monitoring of aquatic life in the rivers found that fish and shrimp were suitable for consumption, as regulated by Indonesian food standards, while water quality samples met Indonesian and US Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards for dissolved metals. In a 2011 BBC report on alleged pollution in the area surrounding Grasberg, the company says that the tailings management method was chosen because studies showed the environmental impact caused by its waste material was reversible.

Elsewhere on its website, the company says: “We are committed to respecting human rights. Our human rights policy requires us (and our contractors) to conduct business in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to align our human rights due diligence practices with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles).”

The company also emphasises its work with indigenous people in West Papua. A 2015 Freeport McRoRan report on working towards sustainable development said: “PTFI has engaged with indigenous Papuan tribes for decades, including through numerous formal agreements to promote workforce skills training, health, education and basic infrastructure development … In 2015, PTFI continued to evaluate the effectiveness of alternate options for Kamoro community members whose estuary transport routes are impacted by sedimentation associated with the controlled riverine tailings management system. Provision of smaller sized boats, in addition to 50 passenger vessels, for route flexibility as well as additional local economic development programmes were identified as additional mitigation measures during the year.”

Back in the area surrounding the Grasberg mine, many Papuans, struggling for work, find themselves pulled into the bar and sex industries that cater to the miners, particularly around the highland village of Banti. Here brothels and bars line up side by side, allegedly with help from the Indonesian military, who are said to supply sex workers and alcohol, according to a Freeport source who wished to remain anonymous.

Indigenous chiefs have watched as a newfound promiscuity has brought sexually transmitted infections that have ravaged their communities. “Traditional Papuan culture forbids free sex, but alcohol makes our communities vulnerable,” says the Amungme chief, Martin Mangal. “And brothels make it easy to contract HIV.”

HIV rates in West Papua are of “epidemic” proportions, according to the UN, 15 times higher than anywhere else in Indonesia. Driven almost entirely by unsafe sex, HIV is also far more prevalent among indigenous Papuans. Yet the existence of only one hospital – built by Freeport – means that most people, particularly those in remote highland villages, don’t get the help they need.

Late last year, the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, claimed he was willing to work towards a “better Papua”: “I want to listen to the people’s voices.”

However, human rights violations have actually increased since Widodo took power, according to Indonesia’s Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which has logged 1,200 incidents of harassment, beatings, torture and killings of Papuans by Indonesian security forces since his election in 2014.

The Indonesian government did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The country’s military has consistently denied any wrongdoing in Papua.

Despite everything, there have been small glimmers of hope. This summer, Dutchhuman rights law firm Prakken D’Oliveira submitted a formal legal complaint against Indonesia to the UN Human Rights Council, accusing the government of “long-term, widespread and systematic human rights violations” and the “complete denial of the right to self-determination of the people of West-Papua”.

Later this year, West Papua is expected to be granted full membership of theMelanesian Spearhood Group, an important sub-regional coalition of countries including Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

The Brisbane commission, which warned of the risk of genocide, is calling on Indonesia to allow Papua, once and for all, the right to self-determination.

Yet some fear the opportunity for change in Papua is long gone.

“Is healing even possible?” asked Professor Agus Sumule, shaking his head. “It could be too late.”

3 Comments

Filed under Environmental impact, Financial returns, Human rights

Global Conservation Body Votes to Ban Marine Mine Waste Dumping

Tailings waste from the mine flows through the Porgera Valley in Papua New Guinea’s remote Enga Province. Photo: Emily Allen

Tailings waste from the Porgera mine in Enga Province. Photo: Emily Allen

Shreema Mehta | EARTHWORKS | September 12, 2016

Mining companies move staggering amounts of earth to extract small quantities of minerals like gold and copper. Much of this waste is contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals used to extract metals from ore. Dealing with the resulting waste is a constant problem — for the industry, environment and nearby communities.

In select places around the world, notably Indonesia, Papua New Guinea — and now, Norway —  mining companies handle this problem by simply dumping their waste into rivers, lakes and oceans. In fact, mining companies are dumping more than 180 million tonnes of hazardous mine waste each year into the world’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

This week, thousands of activists, academics and policymakers from around the world are gathering in Hawaii to attend the IUCN World Conservation Congress to discuss the state of global natural resource conservation, including the issues of marine mine waste disposal.

IUCN, or the International Union of Conservation in Nature, is a global network of over 1,300 government and civil society organizations. Every four years, the IUCN passes motions during this Congress that, like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, set priorities for the global conservation community.

This year, IUCN members almost unanimously approved a resolution calling for an end to the disposal of mine waste into marine and coastal environments, as well as an end to current sites of marine mine waste disposal.

As noted by the resolution, most national governments do not allow marine tailings dumping, given both the severity of its impacts and available alternatives.

Dumping mine tailings into oceans is destructive to marine life. Tailings are the waste leftover when the desired mineral, such as gold or copper, is separated from its ore. This waste is an often toxic sludge of waste rock and processing chemicals that can contaminate water, smother aquatic plants, and poison fisheries on which coastal communities depend.

Earthworks has documented some of the egregious examples of marine mine waste disposal in a report, Troubled Waters. The toxic mine waste has led to reduced populations of fish and bottom-dwelling organisms in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and local groups in both countries found higher concentrations of toxins such as arsenic or mercury in some surviving fish. In Norway, tailings have been found to be dumped into designated national salmon fjords, which support huge fishing and tourism industries.

But coastal communities around the world are fighting back. Norway, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia have seen communities rally against mines that are polluting the coastal waters on which they depend.

Just this past February, more than 100 local activists conducted a powerful act of peaceful civil disobedience to protect majestic fjords from toxic mine waste. The protesters blocked test drilling from Nordic Mining, which proposes to build a rutile mine that would dump waste into the Førde fjord. Norwegians of all types — from fishers to student activists — have united in opposition to companies proposing to dump tailings into fjords.

Norway was among the only countries to oppose the IUCN’s ban on marine mine waste dumping.

The world’s oceans should not be considered dumping grounds for the mining industry. Mine tailings dumping is an egregious practice that should have been phased out decades ago, but instead, the practice continues – and is being considered in new, fragile marine environments like fjords and intact coral reefs.

The almost unanimously approved IUCN resolution shows wide consensus among civil society, governmental and academic organizations that dumping tailings into oceans and rivers is environmentally destructive and unacceptable. National governments, particularly those of Norway, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, should respond to this signal of public will to by banning the dumping of tailings into oceans. Mining companies should take a stand too — by publicly committing to ban marine dumping for future operations and phasing out the practice at existing operations.

It’s time to bring the mining industry into the 21st century and end marine mine waste disposal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

Rio Tinto operating in the middle of West Papua genocide

rio tinto west papua

1 Comment

April 27, 2016 · 2:57 pm

Why Is Mine Waste Being Dumped Directly Into the Ocean?

“Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway lead the way using DSTP at their mines”

The Los Pelambres Mine in Chile proposes to dump wastes into the ocean.

The Los Pelambres Mine in Chile proposes to dump wastes into the ocean.

Terry Odendahl, Roy Young and Gary Wockner** | Eco Watch | March 4, 2016 

Picture a 4-foot diameter pipe running into the ocean filling the offshore canyons at a rate of 160,000 tons per day. The pipe runs from an enormous gold and copper mine directly into the Indian Ocean. The pipe is filled with mine “tailings”—a toxic sludge of heavy metals, rock and coagulants mixed in with the pulverized mine wastes that spreads and covers the seabed dramatically impacting plant and animal life and polluting the surrounding water. That is the Deep Submarined Tailings Disposal (DSTP) system at Newmont Mining’s Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Indonesia.

Although Batu Hijau is the biggest mine that is using DSTP, at least 16 mines in eight countries are also using DSTP, with others to follow. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway lead the way using DSTP at their mines. In Chile, mines in the mountains north and east of Santiago are proposing to run pipes 50-100 kilometers so they can dump into the canyons of the Pacific Ocean off of the Chilean coast. The enormous Los Pelambres Copper Mine in Chile proposes to use DSTP in the future, discharging its wastes directly into the ocean.

The 4-foot diameter pipe dumping mining wastes into the ocean at Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia.

The 4-foot diameter pipe dumping mining wastes into the ocean at Batu Hijau mine in Indonesia.

While you might think this mining disposal would be limited to the unregulated developing world, Norway actually leads with the most mines using this polluting disposal system. The mining wastes are dumped into Norway’s pristine fjords, filling much of those fjords over time. One such mine has prompted a backlash by Norwegians who, working with Friends of the Earth International, have started the Save The Fjords campaign.

As stated on their website, “In April 2015, the Norwegian government gave its final permission for an open-pit mine in a mountain called Engebo. The mine will dump more than 250 million tons of chemicals and waste into the pristine Forde fjord.”

The Forde Fjord in Norway would be partially filled with mining wastes.

The Forde Fjord in Norway would be partially filled with mining wastes.

The Norwegian proposal sparked the “biggest civil disobedience actions in newer Norwegian history” where hundreds of people protested and 80 people were arrested blocking the mining action and trying to save the fjord. Through Global Greengrants Fund, a grant has been given to Friends of the Earth International to help inform Norwegians about the Engbo mine and its ocean disposal.

wegian protestors rally against filling their fjords with mining wastes.

Norwegian protestors rally against filling their fjords with mining wastes.

It could make sense in some cases to dispose of mining wastes in the ocean, but only if those wastes were non-reactive and only if the toxic heavy metals in the wastes are removed. In addition, if ocean disposal does take place, it should be closely monitored and regulated and it should only happen where local people are not dependent on the marine environment for food. Proposals to use DSTP along the coastline of Chile threaten the Humbolt Current System (HCS) which sustainably produces almost 20 percent of the annual harvest of fish biomass. The HCS is the most productive marine ecosystem on the planet. Just four mines would dump one million tons of mine waste into the HCS every day, one gigaton every three years.

Over the last 25 years, international regulatory bodies including the 1996 London Convention and Protocol by the International Maritime Organization and the 1992 Oslo Paris Convention have attempted to set minor regulations for DSTP, but those standards are mostly being ignored.

In the very few places where monitoring has occurred, studies have measured dramatic decreases in the amount of benthic meiofauma (animals less than I millimeter long) as well as all forms of benthic macrofauna (larger than 1 millimeter), which, along with phytoplankton, form the basis of the food chain in marine environments. Almost no research has occurred about the consequences of dumping 100’s of millions of tons of mine wastes at current DSTP sites. This phenomenally destructive pollution is virtually unregulated across the planet’s marine environments.

** Terry Odendahl, PhD, is president and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. Roy Young is the former executive director of Global Greengrants Fund and founder of Nature’s Own. Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist, writer and consultant to Global Greengrants Fund.

3 Comments

Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

Freeport Indonesia CEO resigns after latest scandal

freeport grasberg mine

Latin American Herald Tribune

Maroef Sjamsoeddin submitted his resignation on Monday from his post as the President Director of Freeport Indonesia, a U.S.-based mining company with controversial gold and copper operations in the eastern Indonesian province of Papua, Tempo.co news site reported today.

In a letter sent to all Freeport Indonesia employees, Sjamsoeddin said that his tenure as president has ended and that he didn’t accept parent company Freeport McMoRan’s offer to extend his contract, which began in January last year.

Company spokesperson Riza Pratama confirmed the former president’s resignation, saying only that he resigned for “personal” reasons.

No stranger to criticism, Freeport Indonesia was involved in a recent scandal, in which former House of Representatives speaker Setya Novanto allegedly tried to seek favours in return for extending the company’s work contract. Novanto resigned in December of last year.

Sjamsoeddin had testified in front of the House’s ethics council in hearings into the affair.

Freeport has also for several years faced allegations that its 50-year-old Grasberg mine in Papua, which holds the world’s largest gold ore reserves, has caused environmental damage and been linked to human rights abuses.

For months, the company has been criticized in street protests in Jakarta calling for it to be expelled from the country, as well as calls for the nationalization of the Indonesian unit of the U.S.-based mining firm.

Sjamsoeddin’s decision comes amid ongoing efforts of the provincial Papua government to secure ownership of its share of Freeport.

“What’s important is that Freeport Indonesia has its duties and obligations according to a work contract and obeys the laws and regulations that apply,” Bangun Manurung, head of the Energy and Mineral Resource Department in Papua said yesterday.

Papua Governor Lukas Enembe said recently that he wants Papua’s shareholder status in Freeport to be decided this year.

“The government and the indigenous people of Papua should have a dividend every year. That is what we are still discussing,” Enembe said on Dec. 16 last year.

As an interim measure, Robert C. Shroeder, executive vice president of Freeport Indonesia, has taken over as president director of the mining company.

Papua is Indonesia’s largest and easternmost province and borders the country of Papua New Guinea to its east. Until 2002 the province was called Irian Jaya.

Leave a comment

Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Human rights, Kiribati

West Papua: Mining in an occupation forgotten by the world

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

A protester from the Papuan Students Alliance holds West Papua’s banned Morning Star flag in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Image: Ulet Ifansasti/Equal Times

Pacific Media Centre

Now more than ever, say activists, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to a planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it. Nithin Coca reports.

It is a region rich in natural resources, the biggest source of tax revenue for the fourth most populous country in the world and, under de-facto military rule – it is also a place where activists are jailed, tortured, disappeared and assassinated.

So why doesn’t the world know more about West Papua?

Quite simply, because Indonesia’s restive, easternmost region is home to “one of the least covered armed conflicts in the world,” says Bob Dietz, Asia-Pacific director for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), of the more than 50-year conflict.

There are no official statistics but estimates put the number of Papuans killed by Indonesian authorities at anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people.

Four decades of heavy restrictions on media and human rights groups’ access to West Papua has resulted in a near media blackout.

Linked to all this is a United States-based mining giant, Freeport-McMoRan.

Though its Phoenix, Arizona, headquarters is almost 15,000 kilometres away from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, it is the country’s largest taxpayer.

State security
In 2014, Freeport contributed a massive US$1.5 billion to the Indonesian state coffers.

Not surprisingly, a huge percentage of its profits and revenue depends on its Papua operations – and this has wider implications.

“Freeport needs a lot of government security support to operate,” says Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

“In remote areas like Papua, this means less monitoring and more potential rights abuses taking place in their mining operations.”

In fact, national police and military are in charge of ‘maintaining order’ so that copper and gold can be safely extracted, and tax revenues can flow into Jakarta.

Freeport’s massive Grasberg mine – one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, with a minority stake held by global mining giant Rio Tinto – is essentially closed off to outside access.

“I like to joke that even if Jesus Christ wanted to visit [West] Papua, I don’t think he would get a permit,” says Harsono, noting that official permission requires signatures from 18 separate ministries and security agencies – an impossible task.

“Any bureaucracy that requires so many signatures to get a permit means there must be something terribly wrong in the area they want to enter.”

A history of oppression
West Papua (known by the Jakarta administration simply as Papua) forms the western half of the island of New Guinea (the eastern half being the independent nation of Papua New Guinea) and has long been a crown jewel for aspiring global powers.

It has, at various times, been controlled by Germany, The Netherlands and Australia, before it was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a military-run election in which about 1000 hand-picked representatives were forced to vote for ascension.

West Papua was then ruled with the strongest of iron fists during Indonesia’s ‘New Order’ era under General Suharto.

“Suharto was a brutal dictator who savagely treated Papuans like animals and ordered many bombings and massacres in West Papua,” says Benny Wenda, leader of the Free West Papua.

These attacks were aimed chiefly at destroying the region’s independence aspirations and forcing its people to become Indonesians.

Wenda currently lives in exile in the United Kingdom, travelling around the world to raise awareness of the brutal atrocities committed by Indonesia against his people.

He witnessed this personally, when, as a child, the Indonesian military bombed his village and killed members of his family.

Crucial role
Natural resources have played a crucial role in the trajectory of Papuan history.

Just four years after its annexation, Freeport arrived, marking the beginning of a long relationship which has proved prosperous for the company, the Indonesian government and few others.

Meanwhile, the people of West Papua have endured great pain and suffering.

There was hope when Suharto’s dictatorship fell in 1998, bringing free elections to the archipelago, and even an independence referendum in East Timor, which was itself invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, and faced similar, bloody oppression.

It turned out to be false hope for West Papua.

“It looked as though an independence referendum was imminent but the new Indonesian government became incredibly scared of losing West Papua,” says Wenda.

Theys Eluay murdered
“So [Papuan independence leader] Theys Eluay was murdered by the Indonesian authorities, and ever since then, the situation in West Papua has only declined. There have been no real attempts to help with human rights or self-determination from any Indonesian government since.”

What has changed, however, has been an even greater investment in resource development, and the continued inflow of migrants from Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s two most populous islands, into West Papua to manage resource development.

“Indonesia’s in-country migration is coming close to making Papuans a minority in their traditional homeland,” says Dietz.

Of a population of 3.5 million, only about half are from the hundreds of Melanesian Papuan ethnic groups, with the remainder of the population coming from Javanese, Sundanese, Malay and Madurese migrants, nearly all of whom have arrived since 1969.

Moreover, Indonesia plans to further exploit Papua by expanding palm oil plantations into traditionally-held forested land, and increasing downstream mining revenue by building smelters and other industrial facilities along the coast.

“I’m concerned with how the government uses [all this] tax money,” says Eric Samudra, a Jakarta-based governance researcher. “Is it being used for the good of the people, especially Papuans? The answer, obviously, is no.”

Disengaged public
Despite the news of police killing four protesters ilast December, many Indonesians remain silent on their government’s occupation of a minority, mostly non-Islamic people who have been waging a low-level insurgency for freedom and justice.

“The problem is most people choose not to do anything about it, while some others believe that nothing can be done,” says Samudra.

However, recent documentaries such as the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing are slowly opening Indonesians eyes to the country’s troubled past, which includes a bloody repression of its nascent Communist Party in the 1960s.

John M. Miller, the National Coordinator of the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network, who publishes a monthly update on the situation in West Papua, believes that while public awareness is growing, it still has a long way to go before real change can occur.

“The silence is beginning to be broken, but a broad understanding isn’t there yet.”

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to bring greater development and autonomy to Indonesia’s outer islands, and the December killings brought Papua to the forefront of his administration’s efforts.

But questions remain about whether he will really be able to change the Papua situation.

“We believe President Jokowi would like to make a difference in Papua, and he has already made some moves to do that,” said Harsono, pointing to the president’s pledge to visit Papua frequently and listen to local concerns.

“But moving the security and civilian bureaucracy over [West] Papua is not easy.”

Empty words
That is one reason why many Papuan activists, including Wenda, are tired of empty words and want a referendum.

“We do not believe that any outcome other than full independence for West Papua can ever be a solution.”

On the ground, government policy seems to be going in the opposite direction.

A case in point: the planned new smelter, to be operated by Freeport and an Indonesian partner, will be built on traditional Kamoro lands in the Arafura coast, south of Freeport’s existing mining operations in the region.

The smelter was negotiated directly between the Indonesian government and Freeport, with no say or consultation from the local people.

Not surprisingly, locals groups oppose the smelter, which they fear will further pollute their lands and destroy their traditional way of living. If plans move forward, tensions will likely rise.

Dominikus Mitoro, acting chair of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation leadership council, has said publicly:

“Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems,” and that “no business will run smoothly until it leaves [our lands].”

According to activists, now more than ever, media access to West Papua is crucial in order to bring global attention to the planned smelter, and to give the world a true understanding of the human rights situation in the region – and Freeport’s role in it.

But that access seems unlikely for now.

“Indonesia’s leaders appear determined not to lose another part of its far-flung archipelago by having troublesome reporters, international or Indonesian, expose what is happening in Papua,” says Dietz.

Freeport McMoRan declined to comment on this story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Human rights, West Papua