Human Rights in Papua: An overview

Conference “Autonomy for Papua – Opportunity or Illusion?”, 04-05.06.2003

by Neles Tebay

Neles TebayFoto: Hans-Georg Gaul

Neles Tebay

photo: Hans-Georg Gaul



I have been asked to present an overview on human rights in Papua. The presentation will be limited to the human rights situation before the approval of the Special Autonomy Law by the national Parliament, the DPR, in October 2001. I would like to begin with a quotation regarding human rights taken from the Elucidation of the Draft Law on Special Autonomy for the Province of Papua proposed by the Provincial Government of Papua. The Government recognises that “… the people of Papua understand very well what it is to suffer from the violation of human rights. The people of Papua have clearly experienced a trauma from violations of fundamental human rights in the past which has ceaselessly haunted many Papuans until today.”1 Following this official acknowledgement by the Government, I would like to present a general picture on the human rights situation before October 2001.

Period from 1961 to 1963: The denial of the right to participation

When Indonesia declared its independence on August 17, 1945, Papua was not included in the territory of the new republic. In fact, Papua remained a province of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch Government then began preparations for Papua to become an independent state by the 1970s.2 However, the Indonesian Government opposed this preparation.3 Papua then became a disputed land between the Governments of Indonesia and the Netherlands. The Indonesian Government claimed that Papua was an integral part of Indonesian territory. Meanwhile the Dutch Government rejected the Indonesian claim and was committed to the establishment of an independent state of Papua. The Papua case was then discussed in several bilateral meetings between the two Governments as well as in a number international forums.4 Under the influence of the United States,5 on August 15, 1962, both Governments signed the New York Agreement. The Agreement contained several guiding principles to settle the Papua case through a so-called Act of Free Choice. The formal transfer of power over Papua was to take place on May 1, 1963.6 Indigenous Papuans, however, had not been involved in any of the discussions, neither during bilateral nor during international meetings, not even when the New York Agreement was signed. This means that the future of the Papuans was discussed without the involvement of any Papuan. The Papuans were ignored and entirely excluded from the entire decision-making process. This constituted a clear denial of the Papuans’ rights to participation.

Period 1963-1969: The denial of the right to self-determination

According to the New York Agreement, the Indonesian Government was obligated to hold the Act of Free Choice in Papua. Seeking to win the Act of Free Choice, the Indonesian Government began eradicating the Papuans’ idea of independence through the destruction of artefacts connected with Papuan life-style. The national anthem was prohibited from being sung and the Papuan national “Morning Star” flag was also prohibited from being raised.7 After having immediately dismissed the Papua Parliament, whose members had been elected by the Papuans through the general election in February 1961, the Government established a new regional assembly that included none of the elected Papuan Parliamentarians.8 The Government prohibited the Papuans to express their rights, such as the right to freedom of expression, to freedom of movement and to freedom of assembly. The prohibition was laid down in the Presidential Decree No. 8/1963, as follows:

“In the region of West Irian, it shall for the time being, be prohibited to undertake political activity in the form of rallies, meetings, demonstrations or the printing, publication, announcement, issuance, dissemination, trading or public display of articles, pictures or photographs without permission of the Governor or an official appointed by him.”9

The prohibition was then strengthened by Anti-Subversion legislation, i.e. Presidential Decree No. 11/1963. Political activities by the Papuans were often considered as subversive and repressed with reference to the Anti-Subversion legislation.10 The resistance of the Papuans was responded by the Government through military operations, such as Operation Consciousness (Operasi Sadar, 1965-1967),11 Operation Brathayudha (1967-1969),12 Operation Authority (Operasi Wibawa, 1969).13 Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong disclosed the hidden motivation of the latter military operation:

“The planning and implementation of Operasi Wibawa was a clear sign that the Soeharto regime realised that a massive military operation was essential if the Act of ‘Free’ Choice was to be steered to a ‘successful’ conclusion.”14

When the Act of Free Choice drew closer, the Indonesian security forces were not only killing the Papuans through their military operations but also intimidating and terrorising them not to vote for independence. As Brian May, an AFP correspondent in Papua at the time, noted: “Indonesian troops and officials were waging a widespread campaign of intimidation to force the Act of Free Choice in favour of the Republic.”15 The rights abuses culminated in the exclusion of the majority of the Papuans from exercising their voting right in the Act of Free Choice in 1969: Out of 815.906 Papuans at that time, the Indonesian Government selected only 1.026 people as representatives entitled to participate in the Act of Free Choice. Here, the Papuans’ fundamental right to self-determination was violated.

Period 1970-1998: Gross human rights violations

The Papuans were officially recognised as Indonesian citizens on February 17, 1971, through the Presidential Decree No. 7/1971. Indonesian citizenship did, however, not change the human rights situation for the Papuans. Papua declared to be a Military Operation Zone The Indonesian Government declared Papua to be a Military Operation Zone (Daerah Operasi Militer, commonly referred to as DOM), which granted the Indonesian military full control over the territory of Papua and was upheld until 1998. Some regions in Papua were even closed to the public. Any person who wanted to visit the regions needed a surat jalan or a written permission from the police or the security forces. In order to get a permission, purpose and duration of the visit needed to be clarified; furthermore, the visitor was required to report on all the items and belongings he or she wanted to take along during the stay. Thus, for example, a priest who wanted to visit several villages in the closed regions for Christmas or Easter celebrations was obliged to get a written permission from the local police or military station. After his arrival at one of these villages, the written permission should as soon as possible be submitted to the military or police personnel deployed there. The priest should tell them for how long he would be there and when he would leave the village. The same procedure was applied when visiting other villages in the closed regions.16 Conducting military operations In the name of maintaining the Indonesian territorial integrity through the eradication of any separatist movement, the Government conducted several military operations. These included military operations in Jayawijaya regency (1977),17 Operation Clean-Sweep (Operasi Sapu Bersih) I and II (1981),18 Operation Reinforce (Operasi Galang) I and II (1982),19 Operation Clean-up (Operasi Tumpas, 1983-1984),20 Operation Clean–Sweep (1985)21 and another military operation in Mapnduma, Jayawijaya regency (1996).22 The denial of Papuan cultural expressions Any cultural expression by the Papuans was considered as a manifestation of a separatist movement. Papuans who sang in their local language were beaten, tortured, detained and even killed by Indonesian security forces in the name of eradicating any separatist movement.23 For example, Arnold Ap, a Papuan musician and the curator of the Cendrawasih University Museum, was killed by the Indonesian military after having been detained.24 The traditional cultures in Papua were also considered as uncivilised. The Chinese-Indonesian medical doctor Joseph Lukman Ojong who has been working in Papua for more than 17 years notes that the majority of Indonesians most likely considers Papuan culture as uncivilised and primitive.25 The denial of Papuan cultural identity26 The Papuans were not allowed call themselves Papuans or Melanesians. Those who openly professed their cultural identities were often beaten tortured or even killed for allegedly being separatists or supporters of the separatist movement. As a substitute, the Government taught the Papuans to refer to themselves as ‘Indonesians from the Province of Irian Jaya’. So a Papuan should not call himself or herself a Papuan, but ‘an Indonesian from the Province of Irian Jaya’. The Government did not apply similar teachings to other Indonesians. Thus, a Javanese can freely and proudly refer to him- or herself as Javanese, the Government never taught them to refer to themselves as ‘Indonesians from the Province of Central Java’. The denial of the Papuans’ right to ancestral lands In former days, under customary or adat law, Papuans were the owners of the forests. The forest had an economic as well as a religious meaning for the Papuans: It was considered as a source of food, a shelter in times of tribal wars and a place to communicate with ancestral spirits. To the Papuans, the meaning of the forest is embodied in their saying: “The forest is our mother.” As the Papuans of the Amungme tribe express it: “The mountain is the symbol of the head of our mother, the rivers are the symbols of mother’s breast milk. So the exploitation of forest and mountain is an expression of sexual abuse against our mother earth.”27 However, under Indonesian rule, the Papuans were no longer the owners of their ancestral land. Papuans’ ancestral land was plundered under the pretext of national development, their forests were expropriated and exploited. Many forestry concessionaries have invaded the Papuans’ ancestral forests. Companies with their head office in Jakarta have divided among themselves the forests of Papua. The authorities and business people who are non-Papuans have become owners of the forest and the land. The Papuans, who are the true owners of their land, have now become more the guardians of the forests which belong to other people. As the renowned Indonesian human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis notes: “The people have lost their lands and daily activities.”28 If a mine is discovered in a forest concession, the company wishing to exploit the mine must pay for the mining area to the concessionaire, who claims to be the owner of the forest, not to the local community or the Papuans.29 Once a private company has begun with its exploitation activity, the local inhabitants are not allowed to enter into the claimed forest, not even to collect firewood. All private companies are safeguarded by the Indonesian security forces.30 When the native Papuans demand their rights of ownership of the forest, they are always accused of being supporters of the separatists, of being anti-Government or anti-development. All these labels give justification to the security forces to use violence in the name of development, national stability and national security. Many Papuans have been beaten, tortured, detained, intimidated and even killed by the security forces.31 As noted by John Rumbiak, a leading human rights activist, “… all abuses in West Papua were caused by military and police presence aimed at protecting mining firms, forest concessions and timber estates exploiting natural resources.”32 The Papuan’s ancestral land is easily grabbed through the collaboration between the Government and the private companies. As Papuans of the Amungme tribe point out: “By using the label of separatist and a gun pointed at us, the Government, private companies and the Indonesians easily rob our land without consulting us.”33 So the Papuans have been victims of military operations, extra-judicial killings,34 torture and maltreatment,35 arbitrary detention,36 rape37 and other forms of oppression. Muridan S. Widjoyo, an Indonesian researcher, recognises that the Papuans have been suffering too much from intimidation, killings, discrimination and marginalisation.38 Papuans have been enduring deep suffering and experiencing jeopardising fears that render them helpless.39 The rights abuses have wounded their hearts that are not easily to be healed. Their experiences of rights abuses have led the Papuans to a collective awareness of being colonised, exploited, discriminated, oppressed and powerless.40

From 1998 until 2001: Peaceful demands versus violence

Peaceful demands by the Papuans The fall of Soeharto brought about a little space for democracy. The Papuans used this space to express their demand for a genuine dialogue to settle the Papua case. They began to express their demand for the right to self-determination in a peaceful manner, which is through peaceful demonstrations in the cities. In every demonstration they raised the West Papuan Morning Star flag. In each of the demonstrations, many Papuans took part. The demonstrations were held in Biak town (July 2-6, 1998), Wamena town (July 7, 1998), Jayapura (July 1, 1999), Sorong town (July 5, 1999) and Timika town (November 10 – December 2, 1999). On December 1,1999, the Papuans jointly raised the Morning Star flag in 13 towns in Papua. In a meeting with the third President of Indonesia, B.J. Habibie, on February 26, 1999, the Papuans expressed openly that they wanted to establish an independent state of West Papua. Their reques

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