The Human Tragedy of West Papua

The suspicious death of a rebel leader is the latest in a long line of alleged human rights abuses.

By Gemima Harvey

The people of West Papua have been calling for self-determination for half a century – a struggle for liberation from an Indonesian military occupation that has seen as many as 500,000 Papuans killed. A recent development in this long campaign is the suspicious death of a commander of the rebel Free Papua Movement (OPM), Danny Kogoya, on December 15. The cause of death, as described in the medical report, was liver failure, bought on by the presence of “unusual chemicals in his body,” raising concern that he was poisoned.

At the time of his death, Kogoya was at Vanimo hospital, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), receiving treatment for his leg. His leg was amputated in 2012 – without his consent – at a police hospital in Jayapura, West Papua, after Indonesian security forces shot him during an arrest. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a doctor at Vanimo hospital alleged that the chemicals were administered while Kogoya was at the police hospital in Jayapura and that he had been slowly poisoned to death by the Indonesian state authorities.

When Kogoya’s family submitted a request, with the medical report attached, to Vanimo Court House, asking for his body to be buried in West Papua, the Court decided to treat the death as a murder and called for an autopsy. AHRC reports that when the autopsy was scheduled, four individuals – two of them identified as Indonesian consulate staff – met with hospital management and prevented the autopsy from taking place.

A series of subsequent negotiations between family members, Indonesian consulate officials and PNG local authorities resulted in the autopsy being agreed to. But latest reports indicate the autopsy is yet to happen.

Whether foul play is proven in the death of Kogoya or not, the incident is another in a long line in the liberation movement in West Papua, which has seen civilians with suspected links to separatists tortured, political activists murdered and perpetrators act with impunity.

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Geographically, West Papua sits beside PNG, forming the western half of the resource-rich island of New Guinea, about 300 km from the northern tip of Australia. The West Papua region is split into two provinces: West Papua and Papua. Its indigenous people have Melanesian roots, making them culturally and ethnically similar to their counterparts in PNG, but the formers’ turbulent colonial history and ongoing struggle for self-determination sets them starkly apart from their neighbors.

After WWII, the Dutch, who colonized West Papua, began making preparations for its liberation, while Indonesia continued to lay claim to the territory. In 1961, Papuans raised their flag – The Morning Star – sang their national anthem and declared their independence. Soon after, Indonesia invaded, supported and armed by the Soviet Union. Fearing the spread of communism and with mining interests in West Papua, the U.S. intervened, and along with the UN, brokered the New York Agreement, giving interim control of West Papua (under UN supervision) to Indonesia in 1963, until a referendum could take place granting West Papuans a vote for either integration into Indonesia or self-determination.

Over the next several years, before the vote, it’s estimated that 30,000 West Papuans were killed by Indonesian military, in a brutal silencing of dissent and suppression of liberationist ideals. In 1969, the vote – ironically called “The Act Of Free Choice” was fraudulent, the outcome controlled. Just one percent of the population was selected to vote, and those chosen were intimidated by security forces, resulting in a unanimous vote for West Papua to be ruled by Indonesia. A man claiming to be part of the one percent who voted describes the scenario in a documentary, his face obscured, saying that a gun was held to his head, as he was given the ultimatum – vote for Indonesia or be killed.

Paul Barber, coordinator of TAPOL, which works to promote human rights, peace and democracy in Indonesia, told The Diplomat that members of the military have committed horrific human rights violations in West Papua over the last fifty years, and have enjoyed complete impunity. A recent example occurred in June 2012, when security forces stationed in Wamena (in the Central Highlands), ran amok, bayoneting civilians and burning houses and vehicles.

‘’Violations often occur in remote areas, including the border area, and many go unreported. Troops tend to be unwelcome and underpaid, and their arrival usually precedes military business rackets, illegal logging, and human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and girls.’’

Barber said that political activists and human rights defenders are frequently branded as separatists and traitors and that the Indonesian Government continues to “isolate, silence and stigmatize its critics” as a means of denying the political nature of the problem.

The Security Approach: Silencing Voices of Dissent

The liberation movement comprises both violent and non-violent groups.

Militant group OPM, (which Kogoya was involved in), leads a low-level insurgency, and have attacked military, police and occasionally civilian targets over the years. A 2002 Amnesty International report found that counterinsurgency operations by Indonesian security forces have resulted in: “gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detentions.”

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Given the omnipresent suspicion that all West Papuans are separatists, or support separatist movements, the response of Indonesian troops has often been the same whether groups use peaceful tools, like demonstrations, or guerilla tactics. In other words, West Papuans need not be armed fighters to be persecuted, arrested, tortured or executed.

The shocking prevalence of torture by Indonesian security forces was revealed by a recent study, which found on average, one incident of torture has taken place every six weeks for the past half century. Of the 431 documented cases reviewed, just 0.05 percent of those tortured were proven to be members of militias – the vast majority of victims were civilians, most commonly farmers and students.

The PhD thesis of Dr. Budi Hernawan concludes “that torture has been deployed strategically by the Indonesian state in Papua as a mode of governance…with almost complete impunity.”

Take the example of Yawan Wayeni, a tribal leader and former political prisoner, whose killing in 2009 was filmed and leaked online the following year. AHRC reports that Indonesian Police (Brimob) shot Wayeni in the leg, before plunging a bayonet into his belly, spilling out his bowels. He utters the word “independence,” while slowly dying in the jungle, to which a police officer responds, ‘‘You Papuans are so stupid, you are savages.’’ In an interview with Aljazeera the police chief dealing with the case, Imam Setiawan, said that his men did not violate Wayeni’s human rights and had to stop him from talking about independence and tell him, ‘’You will never get your independence. We are the unified state of Indonesia. Don’t ever dream of your freedom.’’

This is not the only torture video to be leaked.

In October 2010, a video of Indonesian military personnel torturing two West Papuan men, who human rights group describe as simple farmers, surfaced online. They are accused of having information about weapons caches. One man, Tunaliwor Kiwo, is kicked in the face and chest, his genitals seared with a burning stick. The other, Telangga Gire, is threatened with a knife, the blade pushed against his throat and dragged across his face. Kiwo later recounts in a recorded testimony, that he escaped on the third day of the ordeal, and describes how he was also suffocated with plastic bags, had his toes crushed with pliers, and chillies smeared in his burns and cuts.

In January 2011, three soldiers involved in the abuse were sentenced to terms of eight to 10 months for “not following orders.” Despite Indonesia ratifying the UN Convention Against Torture in 1999, the military criminal code does not recognize torture as a punishable crime. In a speech to military and police forces just days before the sentences were handed out, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono dismissed the case as a “minor incident” and claimed that “no gross violations” of human rights have happened since he took office in 2004.

It’s true, he was not in power when the Biak Massacre took place in 1998, in which scores of peaceful demonstrators allegedly shot at, tortured, raped and mutilated, survivors loaded onto navy ships and dumped at sea to drown, their bodies later washing up on shore. Crimes against humanity, for which, according to the findings of a citizens’ tribunal held in Sydney last month, none of the perpetrators have been held accountable.

And it’s correct that Yudhoyono was not leader in 2003 when, Amnesty International reports, nine civilians were killed, 38 tortured and 15 arbitrarily arrested during a series of police raids in Wamena, which displaced thousands of villagers, dozens later dying from hunger and exhaustion.

But he was certainly in power in October 2011, when security forces were filmed opening fire at an independence rally, reportedly killing six protestors.

And in June 2012, when political leader, Mako Tabuni “was gunned down by police in broad daylight” in a killing that allegedly involved Densus 88 (aka Detachment 88) – a counter-terrorism unit funded and trained by Australia and the U.S. following the Bali bombings. Tabuni was deputy chairperson of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), a non-violent organization, campaigning for a referendum.

TAPOL report notes that of 20 people charged under the treason law (Article 106) in 2012, their alleged activities ranged from carrying documents associated with KNPB, or guerrilla group OPM, to organizing a celebration of the UN Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to raising the Morning Star flag, to suspected involvement in the National Liberation Army (TPN).

Paul Barber, Coordinator of TAPOL, commented that, ‘’The security approach is still in full swing.’’

“Protests should be welcomed as a sign of a flourishing if noisy democracy, but security forces feel threatened and crack down. This approach is trapping Papua in a futile cycle of repression and fear.”

Former head of Densus 88, Tito Karnavian, was appointed as Papua Chief of Police in late 2012 – a move that corresponded with a sharp increase in the number of political arrests and a spike in reports of abuse and torture among detainees.

Barber explains that activists and peaceful protestors are routinely subjected to surveillance, threats, harassment and beatings, and are sometimes killed or disappeared. “Speaking out against injustice in Papua is extremely risky. At best you may lose your dignity, at worst you will lose your liberty, your mind or even your life.”

Foreign journalists and international non-government organizations are barred from accessing West Papua. In recent years, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been expelled and Peace Brigades International forced to close its offices, when restrictions made carrying out work impossible. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are also routinely denied visas. Fortunately, the spread of mobile phones is making it harder for human rights abuses to go unnoticed.

Economic “Development”: Entrenching Poverty

WikiLeaks released cables in 2010, revealing that U.S. diplomats blame the Indonesian Government for “chronic underdevelopment” in West Papua, and believe that human rights abuses and rampant corruption are fuelling unrest. Still, military ties between the two countries were renewed.

The cables also confirmed that U.S.-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which owns the word’s largest gold-copper mining venture – called Grasberg – in Papua province, has paid millions of dollars to members of the Indonesian security forces to help “protect” its operations.

Concessions for this company were granted by Indonesia in 1967, two years before the dubious independence vote. Declassified U.S. policy documents divulge its support for Indonesian rule – this arrangement meant the U.S. could carry out its plans to carve up Papua’s rich natural resources. The then-national security adviser, Henry Kissinger wrote to President Richard Nixon just prior to the vote, that a referendum on independence “would be meaningless among the Stone Age cultures of New Guinea.” Kissinger later became a board member of Freeport. He is described in a 1997 CorpWatch article as being the “company’s main lobbyist for dealings with Indonesia.”

Freeport is Indonesia’s biggest taxpayer, reportedly channeling $9.3 billion to Jakarta between 1992 and 2009. And yet, Papua, where Freeport’s Grasberg mine is located, is the poorest province in Indonesia, with one of the “most alarming food insecurity and malnutrition rates.” About 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, compared to 13 percent in East Java and the infant mortality rate in West Papua is at least twice the national average.

Survival International’s Asia Campaigner Sophie Grig told The Diplomat: ‘’The mine has caused environmental devastation by discharging waste directly into the local river, on which the local Kamoro tribe depends for drinking water, fishing and washing, and Indonesia employs soldiers to protect the area resulting in reports of grave human rights violations such as torture, rape and killings of Papuans.’’

She notes that the HIV/AIDS rate in Papua province is up to 20 times higher than the rest of the country.

Years of Indonesia’s transmigration policies have resulted in non-ethnic Papuans forming 50 percent of West Papua’s population. With development and urban influences comes a change to the traditional way of life, the influx of workers and security personnel, for example, resulting in the emergence of karaoke bars and prostitution. In 2011, the Papua AIDS Prevention Commission revealed that the area with the highest increase of cases and overall infection rate was Mimika district, which is home to the Grasberg mine.

The latest “development” project, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE), is already showing signs of entrenching poverty in the region.

August 2010 marked the launch of the mega MIFEE project, which Yudhoyono announced would “Feed Indonesia, then feed the World.” The venture earmarks 1.28 million hectares in southern Papua for crops such as: timber, palm oil, rice, corn, soya bean and sugar cane. Indonesia produces roughly half of global supply of palm oil and plantation expansions in other parts of the archipelago have been linked to rapid rates of deforestation and land conflicts. A report by the Asian Human Right’s Commission exposes MIFEE as being part of a “global land-grabbing phenomenon,” which strings together powerful state and private actors in a dubious chain of collusion. The report notes that specific to MIFEE is “the military-business-political framework and the climate of political intimidation and oppression present in West Papua.” The report highlights that key players in MIFEE are all politically connected, raising serious questions about the blurring of political, security and corporate interests. The Comexindo Group, for example, is owned by Hashim Djojohadikusumo, the brother of Prabowo Subianto, the ex-special forces general and son-in-law of former President Suharto.

Customary land tenures are being wiped out without the free, prior and informed consent of local villagers. Compensation given to communities that are duped into handing over their land is beyond inadequate; lured by empty promises of greater prosperity or intimidated by a company’s security personnel – indigenous people are left hungry and with deep regret. According to Awas MIFEE, a network of activists monitoring the mega project, the average rate of compensation to an affected community is about $30 per hectare, a “pitiful” amount considering the many generations a forest can sustain.

MIFEE is touted as a source of jobs for impoverished Papuans but numerous accounts contest this. Indigenous Papuans lack the knowledge and experience to gain meaningful employment in these plantations and are given menial jobs that pay below a living wage, while lucrative positions go to migrants. A massive influx of workers is expected. Government predictions, reported by The Jakarta Globe, suggest the population of Merauke could rise from about 175,000 to 800,000 as a result of the project, making Papuans the ethnic minority in their ancestral lands.

Papuans are traditionally hunter-gatherers, living on staples of sago starch and wild meat, foraging for tropical fruit, and cultivating plots of sweet potato and other plants in small gardens. Since chunks of forest in Zanegi were cleared to make way for acacia and eucalyptus plantations, the resulting timber destined for power stations in Korea, the villagers are having a harder time finding food. A local nurse, interviewed in the documentary Our Land is Gone, points to the rise in cases of infants suffering chronic malnutrition — from one a year in the past up to a dozen since the forest was destroyed. In the first half of 2013, five infants reportedly died of malnutrition. Pollution from fertilizers and wood-chipping has also caused a surge in cases of bronchitis and asthma. A man interviewed in the documentary laments that the company, a subsidiary of Medco Group, broke its promise to leave a buffer of 1500 meters around sacred sites and cleared sago groves and destroyed birds of paradise habitat. Another villager said, ‘’We thought they had come here to develop our village but in reality they are crushing us, to put it bluntly, they are stomping on us.’’

Two UN experts have warned that moves to convert 1-2 million hectares of rainforest and small-scale farming plots to export-led crop and agro-fuel plantations in Merauke could affect the food security of 50,000 people.

Survival International’s Grig said, ‘‘It is ironic that a project designed to ensure food security is robbing self-sufficient tribal people of their land and livelihoods – which have sustained them for many generations. The same human rights problems that have plagued the communities around the Grasberg mine are now beginning to emerge in the MIFEE area too. It is an emerging humanitarian and environmental crisis.’’

The struggle continues

The West Papuan struggle for self-determination is unwavering despite half a century of Indonesian security forces brutally muzzling independence sentiments.

ETAN, a group which advocated for the independence of East Timor from Indonesian rule, astutely wrote that by branding all Papuans as enemies of the state every time they try to exercise their right to freedom of expression, and by continuing to commit gross human rights abuses, the resolve of the Papuan people to be liberated will grow stronger – Indonesia’s fears will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This month, the Free West Papua Campaign (FWPC) opened an office in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where the Mayor raised the Morning Star Flag alongside the PNG national flag in a show of solidarity. FWPC wrote on social media: ‘‘Indonesia can draw as many lines on the map as it likes, but it can never separate the spirit of the people of New Guinea. We are one people, one soul, one Kumul [bird of paradise] Island.’’

Gemima Harvey (@Gemima_Harvey) is a freelance journalist and photographer.


Claim Aussie choppers used in Papuan ‘genocide’

A report claims Australia provided Indonesia with helicopters which were used used to carry out ‘genocidal’ attacks in West Papua.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

A report claims Australia provided Indonesia with helicopters which were used used to carry out ‘genocidal’ attacks in West Papua in the late 1970s.

The report by the Asian Human Rights Commission says Australian helicopters were among aircraft used to carry out napalm and cluster bombing in the West Papuan highlands.

And a warning, this report contains some disturbing material.

(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)

The startling report claims West Papuan independence supporters were burned and boiled alive; women were raped, had their breasts cut off and internal organs pulled out; while other villagers were sliced with razors and forced to eat soldiers’ faeces.

Entitled “The Neglected Genocide – Human Rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands”, the report estimates more than four-thousand people from 15 communities were killed in 1977 and 1978.

The Asian Human Rights Commission’s Basil Fernando says it’s upsetting that Indonesia and its neighbours have failed to recognise what he says was genocide.

“Such a large number of people being killed, but has not been a preoccupation for the Indonesian government as well as for the neighbouring countries – such as Australia – that is one of the most shocking aspects of this report.”

The Indonesian military launched the alleged attacks in response to West Papuan independence uprisings following 1977 general elections.

University of New South Wales West Papua expert, Associate Professor Clinton Fernandes, explains:

“In the 1970s the Indonesian military was annexing West Papua and some of the Papuans who were resisting had to be crushed by force. The Indonesian air force’s doctrine was to destroy agricultural areas, destroy foodstocks, buffaloes, paddy fields and so on. And they would use napalm and they would do that in order to starve the resistence into submission.”

The report claims two helicopters provided by Australia were used in bombing attacks on the Central Highlands villagers.

But Associate Professor Fernandes says it’s very difficult to obtain a fuller picture of Australia’s involvement in West Papua at the time because many of the relevant diplomatic cables have yet to be released.

That’s despite the fact they were due to be de-classified five years ago.

Associate Professor Fernandes says the Department of Foreign Affairs is objecting to their release on national security grounds.

“It looks like the Australian government is claiming national security problems but really is afraid of embarrassment about what the public would think of it, were it to realise how closely involved we were with the Indonesian military.”

Associate Professor Fernandes says what is known is that between 1975 and 1978 Australia spent $26-million helping to modernise the Indonesian military.

He says it’s impossible that Australian authorities didn’t know Australian choppers were being used in the attacks in West Papua.

“It’s inconceivable. Anybody who provided the helicopters as well as Australian intelligence would have been writing detailed reports about what they knew, how they’d been used and so on simply in order to inform out own intelligence services about the doctrine, training and operational capabilities of the Indonesian airforce. Bureaucrats can never say they knew nothing. It’s possible that certain high level politicians may not have read certain reports and so on but this is all the more reason for the government to declassify its holdings from the 1970s.”

Tom Clarke from the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre is calling on the federal government to launch a comprehensive review of Australia’s relationship with the Indonesian military and security forces.

He says it’s not only historical ties between the two nations that are of concern.

“Detachment 88 is Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit and this is a detachment that is accused of committing human rights abuses in West Papua in the last few years. So this is a unit that the Australian government provides support to. So the Human Rights Law Centre would like to see a complete review of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia’s military to make sure we’re not in any way complicit with human rights abuses.”

In a statement to SBS Radio the Department of Foreign Affairs says the contemporary human rights situation in West Papua does not resemble the situation portrayed in the Asian Human Rights Commission report.

The Department says it is unable to comment on the situation 35 years ago.


The West Papuan independence movement – a history

West Papuan students in Yogyakarta protesting in support of independence for the territory, which has been part of Indonesia since 1969. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty
West Papuan students in Yogyakarta protesting in support of independence for the territory, which has been part of Indonesia since 1969. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty

Indigenous Papuans still fight for self-determination, more than 40 years after Indonesia acquired the territory in a sham ballot

Indonesia officially acquired West Papua in 1969, after a sham ballot on independence in which only a handful of the local population were allowed to vote.

The region, which makes up the western part of the island of New Guinea to Australia’s north, was once a Dutch colony, but the Netherlands began to prepare for withdrawal in the 1950s.

In 1961, West Papuans held a congress to discuss independence and raised the West Papuan “morning star” flag.

But a newly independent Republic of Indonesia began to assert its claim over the province and a conflict broke out between Indonesia, the Netherlands and the indigenous population.

A key requirement of the treaty was that all West Papuans be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence, which was to be overseen by the UN.

But when the ballot was held in 1969, it was far from free and fair: the Indonesian military handpicked 1,026 leaders to vote on behalf of the entire population, and threatened to kill them and their families if they voted the wrong way.

In this environment, the outcome of the so-called “Act of Free Choice” was unanimous – and Indonesia’s takeover of West Papua was rubber-stamped by the UN.

Almost all indigenous Papuans reject the referendum, dubbing it the “act of no choice”, and many continue to demand a real vote on self-determination to this day.

This history forms the basis for West Papuans’ call for independence – but it is not just historical injustice that fuels the movement today.

Indigenous West Papuans face daily surveillance and intimidation by the Indonesian military and police, and many report living in constant fear. Thousands have been killed, detained and tortured since 1963.

Those who agitate for independence openly do so at a high personal cost. It is illegal to raise the morning star flag and many of the province’s leaders are sitting out long jail terms for peaceful acts of defiance.

The region has an armed movement for independence that has been responsible for the deaths of Indonesian security personnel and actively engages in armed skirmishes, but there is a much larger civil movement that is also heavily suppressed.

In October 2011, the Third Papuan People’s Congress, a civilian gathering that addressed issues of self-governance, was violently quashed by Indonesian forces. Six people were killed and dozens more injured.

Indonesia guards its “territorial integrity” jealously. And it’s no surprise – the massive Freeport McMoran gold and copper mine in West Papua is one of the country’s largest taxpayers.

For its part, Indonesia argues that since West Papua was once a part of the Dutch East Indies, it should also be part of today’s independent Indonesian Republic.

Both major Australian political parties support them in this stance.

Indonesia is seen as an important political ally for Australia, and politicians from both sides are loth to antagonise their Indonesian counterparts. Australia maintains close ties with the Indonesian military. It also provides training and funding for its counter-terror police unit, Detachment 88, which has been involved in recent crackdowns on the independence movement.

But Australia is home to a significant West Papuan community and a large network of supporters of West Papuan independence. The West Papuan Freedom Flotilla is the latest in a long history of co-operation between activists from the two countries.



West Papuan independence leader Willy Mandowen joined Jana Wendt in the studio.

JANA WENDT: Willy Mandowen, Indonesia is offering you a form of autonomy; what`s wrong with the offer?
WILLY MANDOWEN, WEST PAPUAN INDEPENDENCE LEADER: It`s insignificant, from the people`s point of aspiration. It has never been discussed thoroughly with the people, and it has been the issue that people rejected. People want full independence in West Papua.So you have decided to reject this offer outright?WILLY MANDOWEN: That`s been the decision from the people since the first dialogue with Habibie in February `99, the meeting with Gus Dur, President Wahid, on December `99, and the decision of the current congress of people of West Papua in June.

You are on your way to the South Pacific Forum – so is PM John Howard. Do you expect any support from Australia in this push for independence?

WILLY MANDOWEN: Undeniably, Australia must support West Papua. It`s a part of the body they cannot ignore. It`s geopolitical of Australia and Pacific in general. And the future of Pacific, also, very much depends on West Papua. So we would expect that the Australian Government, through the PM, would play a passive role in encouraging other states in the Pacific to look at West Papua.

You`re going to the South Pacific Forum to talk, but back in West Papua, it`s not talk anymore representing the pro-independence cause. 65 Indonesians are being held hostage by tribesmen; they`re threatening to kill them if Indonesian authorities take down the Morning Star flag. Do you support the tribesmen`s action?

WILLY MANDOWEN: The intention to kill we wouldn`t support, because it`s already stated that a peaceful dialogue, a democratic process towards independence is the basis of the freedom movement in West Papua.

But I would appreciate the fact that the world, including Australia and the Pacific states, must look at West Papua case, look at the Morning Star flag as a reflection of a longstanding decolonisation issue in the Pacific. West Papua, which has been betrayed and denied by United Nations, USA and other developed countries, that the people who try to symbolise this issue to the world, that`s why they maintain the flag.

This is some symbol – 65 hostages. And it`s not just that – we`ve already seen a bloodbath earlier this month, where your supporters slaughtered Indonesian settlers. Is this getting out of control?

WILLY MANDOWEN: I think it is another way of some introductions of militia activities, because it`s been an accumulation – it`s not only areas such as Teum, but it`s been accumulating from time to time that the issue of the flag has been used to violate the situation, including the killings of the West Papuans. I`m sure the killing of some migrants is a spontaneous thing from the people. They don`t plan that.

So it`s not a planned campaign, you`re saying. Papua People`s Congress Vice-President Tom Benau was recently quoted as saying that “every West Papuan death would be avenged by the death of an Indonesian migrant”. Do we take those sorts of comments seriously?

WILLY MANDOWEN: Some cultural groups in West Papua – you know, there is 253 local language ethnic groups – have some values that revenge is part of their way of living. When they are threatened, they have to take revenge. But I`m sure there is a common understanding of a peaceful process, through dialogue, for freedom. So there is a way that presidium of Papua council, the members, could mediate the talks with the Government, with the local people on how to deal with the issue.

But so there is, from what you`re saying, a split between those in the independence movement who prefer to use words, and those who prefer to use blood?

WILLY MANDOWEN: I think the agreement in the last Congress was that the freedom movement would proceed though democratic means; only that the dualistic, non-coherent policy from the central government, the differences between President Abdurrahman Wahid and Megawati are now reflected on the ground, that the local police took severe action to lower the flag by force. This made people unhappy, and in return, they protested because of this non-coherent policy.

December 1 is planned as a very big day for you – another flag-raising ceremony. If Indonesian authorities intervene, what will happen?

WILLY MANDOWEN: Indonesian authorities look at West Papuans as people – the people that has the right to raise the flag. December 1, I think not only Indonesia but the world should look, and I`m sure that it would go peacefully, except the Indonesian military police are taking very severe actions of oppression towards the people.


West Papua Issue On MSG Agenda

The 19th Melanesian Spearhead Group Leaders summit has integrated into its agenda the issue of the movement of West Papua.

Incoming chair and FLNKS representative at the Foreign Ministers Meeting (FMM) Caroline Manchoro said currently MSG’s stand is only to assess and monitor.

“We will be looking, assessing and monitoring regularly to find a solution to the West Papua issue,” Ms Manchoro said.

“But we have to keep in mind the issue relating to West Papua due to the bilateral relations between countries that are concerned.”

Ms Manchoro said under FLNKS chairmanship, no decision would be made that endangers the bilateral relations of MSG member countries.

“We (FLNKS) have to make sure that the decision taken does not jeopardize the relations among countries including the solidarity of MSG,” Ms Manchoro said.

Fiji and Papua New Guinea stance in dealing with the West Papua issue is to include Indonesia in any discussions undertaken on the matter due to it being a sovereign state.

More discussions on the issue will be undertaken when the Leaders Summit proper begins today.


Source: FIJI SUN

The long walk to freedom

The long walk to freedom
The long walk to freedom

In 1983, Andy Ayamiseba and the rest of the Black Brothers band descended from their flight to Port Vila’s Bauer Field airport, to be greeted by the entire cabinet of the newly fledged government of Vanuatu. They were, by Melanesian standards, superstars. They had come to assist Father Walter Lini’s Vanua’ku Pati in its first re-election campaign, and to pass on the message of freedom for West Papua. So began a relationship that would span a lifetime of activism, a liberation dream long deferred, and ultimately, a first glimmer of hope for political legitimacy for the West Papuan liberation movement.

The Black Brothers were already widely known and loved in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Touring PNG in the late 1970s, the band members first met Vanuatu independence figures, including Hilda Lini, Kalkot Mataskelekele and Charles Hakwa. Students at the University of Papua New Guinea at the time, they returned to Vanuatu to play key roles in Vanuatu’s move to independence.

A generation later, it’s hard to imagine the immediacy, the passion and the dynamism of the time. Kalkot Mataskelekele, who would later serve as Solicitor General and on the Supreme Court bench before becoming the republic’s 6th president, was a young firebrand operating a pirate radio service from the bush north of the capital. Hilda Lini, sister to two prime ministers and the first woman elected to Vanuatu’s parliament, was a tireless organiser, working behind the scenes to promote what would become the Vanua’ku Pati.

In hindsight, it seems almost inevitable that the dynamism of this callow young political leadership would mesh and meld with the creative iconoclasm of the Black Brothers. But it had to wait before it reached its full fruition. In 1980 the Indonesian government expelled Ayamiseba and the other band members. Stateless, they sought shelter in the Netherlands. Hilda Lini had contacted them in 1980 during a visit to Europe, but it wasn’t until 1983 that they obtained refugee status and official residency. Finally able to travel again, their first destination was Vanuatu.

It was a triumphal entry. They were welcomed by Father Walter Lini’s government and a large crowd of adoring fans. Likewise, on their first visit to Solomon Islands, the roads were so packed that it took the group two hours to get from the airport into town. Their concert the next day was attended by 28,000 fans.

This week’s visit to Honiara will be somewhat more low-key, and yet perhaps more epochal than the original Black Brothers crusade. With funding and official support from the government of Vanuatu, independence leaders John Ondawame and Andy Ayamiseba are continuing their tour of Melanesian Spearhead Group members, soliciting support for membership in the sub-regional organisation. The West Papua National Coalition of Liberation, or WPNCL, is an amalgam of two previously divergent wings of the OPM (in English, the Organisation for Papuan Freedom) and a number of political groups advocating for West Papuan independence. Having met already with the Fijian and Vanuatu prime ministers as well as the incoming chair of the MSG and head of the FLNKS, Andy and John are hopeful that their meetings with Solomon Islands prime minister Darcy Lilo will be equally fruitful. In an interview last week, Ayamiseba explained that he had met and befriended Lilo during his sojourn in Honiara in the mid-90s.

Should Solomon Islands decide to voice its support for WPNCL membership in the MSG, most of the political hurdles will have been cleared for what might prove to be the first crack of light through the doorway of political legitimacy for the cause.

Arguably, the critical opening came weeks before, when Sir Michael Somare voiced the opinion that the MSG is not an intergovernmental organisation, but an organisation of peoples, joined by culture and geography. The statement, made during a celebration of the MSG 25th anniversary, came as a surprise to some. In 2008, it was Somare who flatly blocked a motion to consider West Papuan membership in the MSG. (Admittedly, the motion was ill-timed and ill-prepared. Ayamiseba himself admits that his group had no prior knowledge, and were caught by surprise when it was tabled.)

Political legitimacy for West Papuan independence in the Pacific has long been subject to the vicissitudes of Melanesian politics. While Ayamiseba’s group were the darlings of the Vanua’ku Pati, and by extension the government of Vanuatu, the association came at a price. They were expelled from the country following the party’s schism in 1989, forcing Andy to seek asylum, first in Australia, then in Solomon Islands. His friendship with then-PM Mamaloni notwithstanding, efforts to further the independence movement stalled.

Progress elsewhere in the world was also stymied by realpolitik. In 1986, even nations such as Ghana, which had objected to the manner in which West Papua was brought under Indonesian rule, were less than responsive to overtures by John Ondawame, who had officially joined the independence movement’s leadership following its reunification the year before in Port Vila.

It is saddening to observe that, despite the fact that it clearly flouted international law in its annexation of the territory, no country outside of Melanesia offered significant criticism of Indonesia’s actions in West Papua.  Not, at least, until new media and the internet began to break down the wall of silence that had been erected around the territory. But even in the face of clearly documented torture, assassination and political oppression, many nations are still loth to legitimise the independence movement.

Even in Vanuatu, arguably the home of West Papuan independence, the road to freedom has been a long one, as full of pitfalls and obstacles as Port Vila’s physical thoroughfares – and sometimes, just as poorly managed. When Barak Sope became prime minister in 2000, he brought together nine members of the West Papuan leadership and brokered an accord that would finally bring all independence efforts under one roof. Later that year, his delegation to the UN General Assembly included three West Papuans, two OPM members and one from the Presidium. There, in an alarming example of fervour trumping political savvy, they met with the Cuban delegation.

For all of his energy, support and contributions to Melanesian identity, Barak Sope’s political ineptitude soon brought his government down. His failure even to produce a budget caused significant domestic turmoil, which effectively forced West Papua onto the back burner.  It wasn’t until 2003 that foreign affairs minister Serge Vohor welcomed back the Black Brothers, and facilitated the opening of the West Papuan People’s Representative Office, a front for the OPM.

Even then, international awareness and support were limited. Vanuatu continued to fumble the issue, balking at formal political support while continuing to express public sympathy and tacit approval. Elsewhere, tribal leader Benny Wenda’s escape from Indonesian custody and flight to the UK opened another front in the campaign. Indonesia did itself no favours when it abused the INTERPOL red list by listing Wenda as a criminal.

For several years, the movement seemed paralysed, unable to organise itself, beset by legal constraints and barely able to manage its own processes. Vanuatu politicians proved fickle, with VP president Edward Natapei voicing support but doing little. Ham Lini, whose personal commitment to the cause remains strong, was unwilling to expend more political capital on the effort after the 2008 MSG debacle. Sato Kilman, the next prime minister in line, wilfully ignored the advice of his own cabinet, supporting Voreqe Bainimarama’s move to allow Indonesia observer status at the organisation.

Quietly persistent, Ayamiseba and Ondawame continued their efforts. Its moral cause made clearer by stark images of torture and brutality circulated by West Papua Media and others, the leadership (under the auspices of the WPNCL) organised an international tour for Benny Wenda, whose travel restrictions were lifted following legal and media campaigns against Indonesia’s INTERPOL warrant. Even Wenda’s rebuff by the New Zealand parliament only fanned the flames of support. His invitation to speak to MPs inside Vanuatu’s parliament was the first of a series of small but significant breakthroughs. Notably, soon-to-be prime minister Moana Carcasses’ attendance at the event was the first public sign of his political break with Kilman.

A naturalised citizen of Tahitian descent, Carcasses perhaps felt the need to placate the nativist inclination common among Ni Vanuatu. Nonetheless, allowing himself to be photographed holding the Morning Star flag (a key symbol of West Papuan independence) symbolised a shift from sympathy to overt political support for the movement. In one of his first acts as prime minister, Carcasses met with Ayamiseba and Ondawame, personally assuring them of his government’s support in their MSG membership bid, and promising the creation of a West Papua desk in the department of foreign affairs.

Arriving as it did on the heels of a surprisingly warm and supportive reception by Bainimarama and other Fiji government officials, the independence movement appeared finally to be seeing the light of day. Outspoken and unambiguous support for membership from the Kanaky leadership was not nearly as surprising; they’ve formally supported independence since the 1990s. Nonetheless, with the FLNKS assuming the group chair shortly, Kanaky support could prove crucial.

At the risk of counting chickens, it seems that the only remaining piece to fall into place is Papua New Guinea. Wenda’s visit to PNG earlier this year did manage to cement some amount of popular support, but achieved few tangible political results. The tea leaves are few and hard to read, but it’s hard to imagine that Somare’s rather startling shift away from outright opposition would have been made were it to cause discomfort in the PNG political establishment.

One of the more popular songs Ayamiseba wrote for the Black Brothers is ‘Liklik Hope Tasol’, a ballad written in Tok Pisin whose title translates to ‘Little Hope At All’. Its narrator lies awake in the early morning hours, the victim of despair. Only the vision of the morning star and the first birds breaking the pre-dawn hush provide the impetus to survive another day. The song, with its clear political imagery and simplistic evocation of strength in adversity, is quite clearly autobiographical. It is, arguably, the anthem which has animated Ayamiseba’s lifelong pursuit of freedom.

Andy Ayamiseba is old now. While his encroaching frailty complements his unassuming, soft-spoken manner, it masks a dynamism and fervour that only appears after numerous conversations. Once lit, however, that spark provides a momentary glimpse of the man that was, the jazz-funk rebel, walking in his exile hand in hand with equally youthful –and equally naïve– leaders, themselves burdened with defining their respective societies.

What beggars description, though, is the determination required for Ayamiseba and his West Papuan brethren to spend their entire adult lives in pursuit of legitimacy, with only the slightest glint of light to show for that effort. May 1st marks the 50th anniversary of West Papua’s original declaration of independence. Barring any more political missteps or forays into ill-considered revolutionary activity, the coming year might be the one in which its political aspirations begin to be fulfilled. Says Ayamiseba, “You cannot stay blind and deaf for 50 years.”


A new study of the people from the Solomon Islands in Melanesia, a group of islands northeast of Australia, has shown that blond hair evolved differently, genetically speaking, than in Europeans. About 5-10% of the people in Melanesia have naturally blond hair, which is the highest prevalence outside of Europe.

This refutes the hypothesis that blond hair was introduced by colonial Europeans. Carlos Bustamante, a geneticist at Stanford University School of Medicine, in California, and his team published their findings in the journal Science.


Bustamante and his colleagues compared the genomes of 43 blond and 42 dark-haired Solomon Islanders. This revealed that the blond hair was strongly associated with a single mutation in the TYRP1 gene, which encodes an enzyme that influences pigmentation in mice and humans. In Europeans, several genes are known to contribute to blond hair, but TYRP1 isn’t involved.

They compared DNA between more than 900 Solomon Islanders and 900 other people from 52 populations around the world to find that the TYRP1 mutation is probably unique to the Oceanic region that includes Melanesia. About one-quarter Solomon Islanders carry the recessive gene, so two copies are needed to have blond hair.

However, not all occurrences of blond hair are the result of this particular mutation, but researchers have predicted that it accounts for about 30% of cases. Another 16% are attributed to age and gender (young children and women are more likely to have blond hair), while the rest is attributed to sun exposure and other undiscovered genes. It’s unusual that one specific mutation accounts for such a large proportion of an observable trait in a population.

Bustamante thinks that this mutation might have arisen between 5,000 and 30,000 years ago, but hasn’t been able to explain why it has reached such a high frequency in the Solomon Islands.

[via Nature]

A report from the Pacific Institute of Public Policy warns that unless there are urgent reforms to the style of parliamentary democracy practised across Melanesia, autocracy will takes its place.

The report claims it’s well past time to acknowledge that the Westminster style of government that’s been in place in Melanesian countries since their attainment of independence is failing the region.

The institute’s communications director, Ben Bohane, says poverty, a burgeoning youth population and land pressures are among the factors combining to cause some of democracy’s core elements to fray at the edges.

“There’s certainly not enough policy debate going on inside parliament, we’ve got parliaments that are being closed by the governing coalitions to prevent motions of no confidence which are happening on a very regular basis. So what we’re calling for is just the need for a bit more reform of these systems, we’re not saying junk them and throw them out.”

The Pacific Institute of Public Policy’s Ben Bohane.


The Australian Government’s defence think-tank says Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are struggling to survive as nations.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says the Melanesian states are so weak they offer potential havens for terrorists. It says Australia must start nation building in the region, or risk seeing the creation of Melanesian badlands run by criminals, not governments.

DOBELL: The Institute is uncertain about the continued viability of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu as nation states. It says their governments are weak, transient and hard to deal with, corruption is rife and economies are stagnant.

The review says the countries of Melanesia offer potential havens for terrorists and could serve as bases for attacks against Australia.

The author of the review, Aldo Borgu.

BORGU: “One of the issues that certainly has come to the fore since Afghanistan is the prospect of failed states offer and operating a base for a lot of these countries. I wouldn’t want to overstate the capabilities of groups like al Qaeda actually physically operate from the South Pacific.

” I mean in many cases these people would stand out in those areas. The problem is I think largely one of financing and particularly in terms of money laundering being able to go through those areas.

“But it’s also a case of taking advantage of the wider instability that could actually come about from those countries and the general lawlessness that we face. And I mean one of the things though that the South Pacific does also underline is that it’s not just the threat of terrorism that we face.

“I mean these countries have got substantial problems in their own right, which as we’ve seen a couple of years ago will actually call upon the government and the ADF to actually go in and protect and rescue Australian nationals. So it basically serves both purposes”.

DOBELL: The Strategic Policy Institute says Australia risks seeing Melanesia degenerate into lawless badlands ruled by criminals.

The government funded think-tank calls for Australia to take a new and active role in the South Pacific to deal with failing and failed states.

The Director of the Institute, Hugh White, says Australia needs a new policy paradigm for the South Pacific. He says this profound rethink means Australia must be willing to do nation building in the Pacific.

WHITE: “It sounds like nation building because that’s what it is, but you see I wouldn’t support the proposition that that is dangerous.

“Is it risky ? Is it costly ? Is it arduous ? Is it demanding? It’s all of those things, but are there alternatives?

“Well all I can say is under the old policy paradigm, which frankly you know people like me and people of my generation have been supporting and working within for 15 or 20 years.

“All we can say is under that policy paradigm we have in the Solomons a country in very, very deep trouble.

“And in PNG and Vanuatu for example countries whose trajectories are – to put it politely – far from promising.

“So all we know about the old approach is it hasn’t work, so I think we do need to look a bit at the alternatives.

“On the other hand the sort of scary aspect of that phrase nation building does remind us that you need to be very careful about how you get into this business.

“So it’s not just a matter of saying well let’s get in there.

“And in particular let’s not think that this is our reversion to colonialism or whatever else it ought to be it better not be that”.

A new Pacific think tank is being launched by New Zealand to promote fresh thinking on the region.

The Pacific Cooperation Foundation begins work on July the first with a grant from the New Zealand Government of 675 thousand dollars. The foundation’s interim chief executive is Gerald McGhie, a former diplomat with nearly 40 years experience. Mr McGhie says New Zealand has to acknowledge gaps in its understanding and performance in the Pacific.

MCGHIE: “Let’s have a look at our performance in some of these microstates and see how we’ve emerged after 30 years of independence. Things don’t look too good in the Solomons, particularly bad in fact and Papua New Guinea is not an area of tranquility at all. We need to know more about this and we need to get it out more to the community”.

DOBELL: What are the new realities in the Pacific that New Zealand needs to confront?

MCGHIE: “We don’t have such a Melanesian focus I think as Australia does. Ours is more of a Polynesian focus but we are certainly aware of Melanesia. But the realities in the Pacific we have spelled out back in 1970, the late 60s when I was in and around my first posting in the Pacific, you know the ethnicity, governance, those things were seen there in the very early stages with Berry Boyd, one of our academics at Victoria University.

“They were seen as economically non-viable and political and social fragmentation as well as over inflated bureaucracies I think you know were going to become a problem in the Pacific”.

DOBELL: So if those fragmentation issues haven’t changed how do the responses have to change?

MCGHIE: “I think at least we might start with an acknowledgement of the fact that we haven’t had our antenna as acutely tuned as we might have. I’m part of that; I was High Commissioner in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, a particularly difficult country to get your ear to the ground realistically of.

“But the question, you know look at New Zealand’s All Black rugby team for instance and see the huge Polynesian input we have there, people have a tendency to think that we have Samoans and Tongans etc. in our All Black team therefore we understand the Pacific, look how they’re involved with us. It to me is a fragmented involvement.

“But you don’t really get an automatic move to saying ok, terrorism in the Pacific, globalisation and discontent in the Pacific Islands, how is it destroying these communities and what does this mean for us and the inevitable stability of their own areas?”

DOBELL: And what is your prognosis for stability?

MCGHIE: “More of the same with perhaps some more surprises. I don’t think that Fiji presents me with the greatest encouraging outlooks, I led our peacekeeping monitoring team to the Solomon Islands after the Townsville agreement very, very well organised by the Australians I might say, and I think that was just a ceasefire between the hot fighting, between the Malaitans and the Gualies and I don’t see any real change there.

“I think it seems more of the same. Papua New Guinea I’m not quite as apocalyptic as perhaps some Australians are on that, I think there is a bit more stability and also just how fragmented it is makes it very difficult for coups to take place.

“But I don’t make any predictions that are at all comfortable. If you have things like HIV-AIDS coming away in the Pacific I think we could look very much to some real problems for Australia and New Zealand and their health services activities.

“Certainly for New Zealand we have very close links with many countries and I think the failed state syndrome a lot of people think we’ve done enough, we’re doing patrolling, monitoring, visiting, talking to the kids of the place, but the cost of a failed state will be far more than any of the work that we’re doing at the moment it seems to me”.