Saturday, January 21, 2006



There is no persecution in West Papua

That's the response of the Indonesian government to the asylum claim made by 43 West Papuan refugees who landed in Australia on Wednesday. The group reportedly includes several high profile Papuan independence activists, who claim to have a well-grounded fear of persecution for their views. The Indonesian government denies that there is any reason to fear, and a spokesperson has said that

The grounds for requesting asylum for these people are baseless

"Baseless"? Here's some of what the US State Department 2004 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Indonesia said about what is happening in West Papua:

Security force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily detained civilians and members of separatist movements, especially in Aceh and to a lesser extent in Papua...

Security forces continued to commit unlawful killing of rebels, suspected rebels, and civilians in areas of separatist activity [which includes West Papua - I/S], where most politically motivated extrajudicial killings also occurred. There was evidence that the TNI considered anyone its forces killed in conflict areas to have been an armed rebel...

The Government made limited progress in establishing accountability for numerous human rights violations committed in Papua in previous years, including those committed in Biak, Abepura, Wasior, and Wamena. During the year, a human rights court in Makassar began proceedings against police implicated in abuses and killings of Papuans in a 2000 incident in Abepura. The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), created and funded by the Government but not a government agency, completed its report on the 2001 Wasior incident, in which police allegedly killed 12 civilians following an attack on a police post that left 5 policemen dead, and the Wamena incident, in which dozens of residents of the Central Highlands area of Kuyowage allegedly were tortured by unknown parties during a military operation that followed the April 2003 break-in at the Wamena armory. The Commission found that soldiers and police had committed gross human rights violations, including murder, evictions, and torture. Komnas HAM categorized these violations as crimes against humanity and, on September 2, submitted its report to the Attorney General's Office (AGO) for possible prosecution...

Or there's the report by the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies on Genocide in West Papua [PDF], which accuses the Indonesian military of widespread human rights abuses in the province, including rape and torture. Here's a small excerpt:

...On 17 September, Kopassus [an Indonesian special forces group widely linked to human rights abuses] killed the Reverend Elisa Tabuni, a 40 year old male. He was found with his hands handcuffed together in a praying position. His son, Weties Tabuni, also a pastor, fled with his hands handcuffed after seeing his father shot by Kopassus. Weties was also shot and was wounded in the back of the head.

On 7 October, a militia group under the TNI/Kopassus, the Wonda Marunggen group, with Anton Tabuni, shot and killed a primary teacher named Kius Wenda. On 13 October an unknown group shot six civilians. It is still unclear whether the information about the dead bodies is correct or not, because no family has yet said they've had a relative killed. Subsequently six school buildings were burnt down by Kopassus. These were the schools at Wonaluk, Yarumungun, Dondo, Pagarugom, and Ambitmbit.

In addition, 371 homes of indigenous inhabitants have been burnt down by Kopassus. The number of refugees still taking refuge in the jungle as at end of 2004 was 6393. To compound the hardship of the Lani tribes who were made refugees by this operation, all the pigs owned by the community, valued as a form of currency when traded and an important food and source of protein, were loaded onto trucks and sold by Indonesian soldiers. The chickens were shot by soldiers, the fences and gardens were smashed and burnt.

Nope, no persecution there, nosiree...

Any claim for asylum must of course be assessed on its merits. But against this background of persecution and widespread abuses, claims from West Papuans can hardly be dismissed outright as "baseless".

21 comments:

I/S, you might be interested to know that the persecution is religious in nature. From Islamic radicals demand guilty verdict for Christians

Here are the relevant paragraphs :

An Indonesian correspondent known only as Ibrahim B. says their agenda is spelled out in an Indonesian-language book with an English title, "Jihad and the Foreign Policy of the Khilafah State."

Ibrahim told Assist News Service the book is freely available in Indonesian bookstores and "teaches a vision of aggressive and violent jihad to establish an Islamic caliphate, and from there to launch jihad against other nations to bring them into the Islamic Empire."

"This is the new imperialism and the new colonialism my country is facing, and it is evident in the militant mujahideen who gather at the court in Indramayu each week to demand the death of three accused housewives who cared enough about children to try and save them from a future in prostitution," he said.

According to Ibrahim, "The radicals want Indonesia to be the foundation of a Southeast Asian caliphate that will launch jihad against other nations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and Papua New Guinea until they have all submitted to Islam."


In one of your previous posts on East Timor - did you know the East Timorese are Christian? It's not a territorial or racial dispute, it's religious.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/21/2006 12:21:00 PM

It's my experience that the Indonesian government's interest is economic, and also an attempt to keep disparate groups of peoples together through hypernationalism and when that fails to use particularly vicious state force.

The patterns of oppression used in the past in East Timor, and currently in Maluku, West Papua, and until recently in Acheh are the same. Acheh incidentally is predominantly Muslim - even then the army encouraged Muslim radical groups like Laskar Jihad in to the region to stir trouble. Religion is used as a way to exploit divisions in the community - I think the heart of these conflicts is nationalism and economic interests.

Posted by John Anderson : 1/21/2006 09:11:00 PM

Generally I think nationalism is dominant.
The country in question can’t believe that it would be better for those people to be on their own (1) and no one wants to preside over the collapse of their country into tiny sub-states (2).

1) isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds in that IF lets say Arche rebels didn’t spend all their time fighting Indonesia it is quite likely it would be much richer and better off than even if it was independent.
2) Is just to do with the job of a leader of a country splitting your country up is like doing yourself out of a job bit by bit. Few people who want to be leaders want to do that.

Generally crushing terrorists/freedom fighters costs more than it makes unless there is something pretty fantastic in that country.

Posted by Genius : 1/22/2006 12:40:00 AM

You mean stuff like mining, timber and oil interest

Posted by Anonymous : 1/22/2006 08:29:00 AM

In Acheh don't forget the gas...and the fact like West Papua it has a long history of independence and sovereignty.

The economic factors for the Acheh conflict are explored here:

http://www.preventconflict.org/portal/main/greed.pdf

Posted by John Anderson : 1/22/2006 05:22:00 PM

To what degree this can be passed off as a nationalist conflict seems beside the point given the appalling nature of the treatment of Christians in Indonesia. To overlook the religious dimension to the genocide in Timor, and the continuing opressions of Christian minorities in West Java and West Papua is to turn a blind eye to one of the squalid truths regarding 'nationalism' in Islamic countries - that it is frequently tied to a relgious supremacism.

Posted by adrien : 1/22/2006 05:54:00 PM

If I am the president of Indonesia, I'm going to give every piece of Indonesian territory (all the provinces) to the Western countries, either Anglo-American or Non-Anglo-American countries. Let them govern and control Indonesia, with all resources Indonesia has. I will let those countries getting richer and make Indonesia vanish. Then, Indonesia will go to heaven and forget all earthly matters we have. So, help me God.

Posted by jeffry : 1/22/2006 09:04:00 PM

To overlook the appalling treatment of all dissenters in Indonesia and differentiate on the basis of religion is short-sighted and prejudiced.

To ignore the material economic basis for these attrocities is also extremely odd, and invites speculation that you are more interested in running down all muslims than the actual matter at hand.

I also wonder if those in Western Papua who could be defined as animist, and receive discrimination, would have your sympathy as well.

Posted by John Anderson : 1/23/2006 04:03:00 PM

Ah, John, Muslims like animists even less than Christians. In Islam, "The People of the Book" are offered the chance to convert, everyone else is killed outright.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/23/2006 07:47:00 PM

Sorry, used the wrong word. It's not "convert", it's "revert" to Islam.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/23/2006 07:55:00 PM

There's no economic basis to discrimination John, put your tired edition of Das Kapital back on its dusty shelf and explain to the board why Saudi Arabia, a wealthy Muslim state, has such an appalling human rights record. Try to keep your blinkers on while you struggle for an answer that evades mentioning 'Wahhabi Islam'. Migrant workers existing in sexual or bonded slavery, freqent honor-killings, active persecution of the shia minority, complete supression of all dissidence... I'm waiting for your Marxist 'blame the west' tirade to start...

Posted by Adrien : 1/24/2006 04:41:00 AM

lucyna,

Yes, the religious factor matters. But you're claiming that "the persecution is religious in nature", and that it's not territorial or economic in nature. I think that goes to far.

Also you are painting a picture of the bad muslim govt oppressing the poor Christians and animists, which is overly simplistic.

First, those 'radicals' you speak of aren't the Indonesian govt. As John mentions: in Aceh the Indonesian govt is fighting a separatist movement of fundamentalist muslims. They want to secede to form a more radical muslim state (and then launch a jihad). Indonesia has more and less radical muslim parts, and non-muslim parts. Those parts are in conflict.

Secondly, nationalism and religion are often intertwined, and that doesn't mean the nationalistic conflicts are just "religious". Consider Spain and the New World. Consider the USA when it was a much nastier place 150 years ago, the genocide and displacement of the godless indians was the Manifest Destiny of the Christian Americans. In the 50s McCarthy didn't just hunt "commies": he hunted "godless commies", etc.

But Christianity wasn't the real cause of Spanish raids/invasions and genocides in the New World. Or the cause of the US attacking and displacing the Amerinds years ago, or of the anti-communist witch-hunts, despite these all being dressed up with christian rhetoric.

Which is why, while I agree with you that the persecutions are religious in nature, I also agree with John that they are economic in nature, and territorial in nature.

Posted by Icehawk : 1/24/2006 10:58:00 AM

Anyone who thinks that corrupt rulers presecute people for religious reasons is dreaming. Why should they care about religion? All they are after is more for themselves, so greed (economic factors) is the primary motivating factor. Sure, they might use religion (or race or nationalism etc.) to get support, but they are hardly going to get support if they say, "Please kill and torture xxx so that I can get richer!"

Posted by Anonymous : 1/24/2006 02:04:00 PM

Icehawk, I don't disagree with you. The only part I disagree with is the extent to which there would have been persecution if both the East Timorese and the Indonesians had been of the same religion.

What I find annoying is that I've just recently discovered this religious disparity - it's not even reported. Like anon says, why should people care about religion.... Well, human beings have been involved in one religion or another for thousands of years. It figures very highly in importance for a great many people. Even the non-religious communists persue their non-religiousness with a religious fervour.

Posted by Lucyna : 1/24/2006 02:37:00 PM

To Adrien:

Umm I'm not Marxist, I'm an anarchist and please don't call me a Bakunist (that would just be depressing).

There is an economic basis for discrimination, persecution and oppression in Indonesia - all reports illustrate this that I have read.

While there are transnational corporations that have crimes to answer for in Indonesia - there's not much point in blaming the West for the oppression in Indonesian provinces. Although if you can't see the continuing impact of colonialism on Indonesia you are not even on the right page.

To Icehawk:

The separatist movement GAM is determinedly Nationalist opposed to fundamentalist, and I have never seen them talk about waging Jihad - in fact they booted a crew of visiting Laskar Jihad out of the province several years ago. If you have credible resources which point to this information I would be interested. I have discussed this issues with several Achehnese civil society members who are in contact with GAM leadership and am confident that you are incorrect.

Posted by John Anderson : 1/24/2006 02:40:00 PM

My apologies, Mr. Anarchist. And to a degree I agree with you regarding "colonialism", be it Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, American or Islamic. However, I also very much doubt that any economic basis for persecution in "Asia's Balkans", as Indonesia has been called, explains the brutality of the East Timorese genocide any more than it explains the frequent torching of churches and killing of Christians throughout the archipelago. If you can't acknowledge that, then indeed we're not on the same page. Aceh is of course Muslim, but Timor, Molucca, and West Papua are all predominently non-Muslim. If persecution arose from economic circumstances, one would expect it to be directed foremost at the Indonesian Chinese, who, I read, control 70% -that's right: 70% - of the Indonesian economy. Yet anti-Chinese episodes are comparatively rare.

Posted by adrien : 1/24/2006 04:02:00 PM

Umm there is a long history of anti-Chinese agression and discrimination in Indonesia, and was a key feature of violence during economic downturn in the late 1990s. And only recently have laws been reversed that discriminated against them. One of the reasons for the concentration of economic power amongst a few Chinese in Indonesia is due to restrictions on them being involved in other areas like academia.

The fact is though that the Chinese are migrants there, they do not have claims like the Achehnese and West Papuans have to the natural resources in their territories.

The key to understanding the place of religion in these conflicts is that the Indonesian military used precisely the same techniques to divide the people in predominantly muslim Acheh, as they did in predominantly Christian East Timor. Religion is a tool for occupation and control.

Please bear in mind that I am talking about state discrimination - not about the opinions of civilian, or indeed paramilitary groups.

Posted by John Anderson : 1/24/2006 04:31:00 PM

Indeed there are anti-Chinese episodes, and under Sukarno a whole lot were sent back to the mainland, if I remember rightly. However, one cannot compare the treatment of the Chinese to that of the Timorese or indeed any of the Indonesian Christian minorities, which have been actively slaughtered by both the State military and various 'civilian' mobs and militias. You say that you are talking about State discrimination, but in my experience and understanding, most 'private or paramilitary groups' (meaning the rapists, church-burners, and so forth) operate BECAUSE of the silent acquiesence or benign neglect of the State, hence being intimately connected. What delineates the archipelago is increasinly not ethnicity or geography but religion.

Posted by adrien : 1/24/2006 05:53:00 PM

Can I ask where you are getting this information from to come to this conclusion. I'm really interested in reading it.

Posted by John Anderson : 1/24/2006 06:52:00 PM

Hmm, if most of the reporters want to shy away from adding the religion dimension, or play it down as merely a tool, then there are not going to be a lot of reports about it.

The fact that it is a potent tool speaks volumes.

It's an interesting theory.

Posted by ZenTiger : 1/24/2006 10:24:00 PM

Certainly, although you'll have to suffer a touch of haziness. There was an excellent article about the growing religious tensions in post-Suharto Indonesia in a CS Monitor or Economist from the last year or so. Beyond that, there was wide coverage of the upsurge of religious violence in Poso - one article I do remember was from the Guardian/Observer and is here: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1646661,00.html There are many more, and the NYT and Washington Post both had material on the violence - particularly on the recurring fact that these "gangsters" carry army-issue weapons. I've also read a scholarly article years ago on the religious background to the Timorese genocide, but give me a while to try and remember where that was from. Beyond that, my father has worked for years in Malaysia (oil) and frequently travels in Indonesia.

Posted by Adrien : 1/25/2006 03:28:00 AM