Obama and Congress called to act on human rights in West Papua

By agency reporter
April 12, 2009

Three human rights organizations have urged the US government and Congress to investigate and act on the continued, disturbing violations of human rights in West Papua.

The letter from the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT), Land Is Life, and the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) highlighted the deteriorating security situation in West Papua.

As the plea was being sent, the security situation in West Papua continued to deteriorate, with reports of additional armed clashes in the Papuan capital of Jayapura as well as in the cities of Biak, Nabire and Wamena. Violent mass arrests were also taking place.

"These developments underscore the urgency of US Government and Congressional action to address the crisis in West Papua," said Ed McWilliams of WPAT. McWilliams is a retired senior US Foreign Service Officer who served in Jakarta. "Washington must press Jakarta to deal with Papuans' fundamental grievances."

The letter called on the US to investigate and condemn recent human rights violations and urged "the US Government and Congress... to press for an internationally facilitated, senior level dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans, including Papuan civil society, to address long-standing Papuan concerns and grievances."

Among these grievances are calls for demilitarization of the territory and an end to repression and release of those arrested for peaceful protest, provision of essential services and self-determination.

The letter was also sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and key members of Congress on East Asian and foreign affairs.

The full letter reads as follows

April 9, 2009

Senator John F. Kerry, Chair, Foreign Relations Committee
Rep. Howard L. Berman, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

In the past week, the Indonesian military and police have reacted with extreme violence to growing peaceful, public protests in several cities throughout West Papua. On April 6, Brimob police shot at least eleven peaceful protesters, four of whom are in a critical condition. A primary-school age child was among the wounded, according to hospital officials. On April 3, police in the West Papua capital Jayapura, broke into the office of the Papuan Customary Council, a legally recognized organization representing over one million Papuans, arresting over a dozen people, an unknown number of whom remained incarcerated. The police also seized Customary Council office files and equipment. In Wamena, the police arrested three Papuan students.

This latest spate of government violence targeting peaceful protesters follows a series of arrests of dissenters under charges of "subversion" and "incitement," two provisions of law dating back to the Dutch colonial era that have been widely criticized by the UN and human rights organizations.

In recent months, Papuans have been demonstrating in support of calls for the release of Papuans detained for peaceful exercise of their rights to assembly and freedom of speech, as documented by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch among others. Demonstrators also have demanded action to afford Papuans their right to self-determination, a right denied them in a referendum organized by the Indonesian government in 1969, widely recognized to have been rigged.

Indonesian military and police continue to restrict international efforts to monitor developments in West Papua. Four Dutch journalists last week were detained and deported notwithstanding the fact they held appropriate visas. Those few international officials who do manage to enter West Papua endure disruption of their itineraries by security forces. The 2007 visit by Congressman Eni Faleomavaega and Ambassador Cameron Hume is one example. Indonesian security forces also threaten many Papuans who seek to communicate with visiting officials such as UN human rights official Hina Jilani in 2007. Even Jakarta-based diplomats face bureaucratic hurdles in attempts to visit West Papua.

The US Government maintains that it respects the territorial integrity of the Indonesian state and on the basis of this policy position, has been reluctant to address the growing human rights crisis in West Papua. At the same time, the US Government and the international community have a responsibility to protect human rights in those circumstances where a local government either will not protect those rights or is complicit in their violation.

We call on the US Government and Congress to investigate this clear evidence of human rights abuse in West Papua.

The US Government and Congress should also publicly express to the Government of Indonesia in the strongest terms, their opposition to these violations of human rights.

We also urge the US Government and Congress, in concert with others in the international community, to press for an internationally facilitated, senior level dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuans, including Papuan civil society, to address long-standing Papuan concerns and grievances. These include calls for demilitarization of West Papua, an end to repression of Papuans exercising their human rights and release from detention of those arrested for peaceful dissent, provision of services essential to health and economic security, and Papuan self-determination.


John M. Miller
National Coordinator, East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)

Brian Keane
Director, Life is Life

Ed McWilliams
West Papua Advocacy Team

Keywords:west papua | Pacific
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