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".


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 Lucia Maria : 1/21/2006 12:21:00 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

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 Anonymous : 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 Anonymous : 1/22/2006 09:04:00 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 Lucia Maria : 1/23/2006 07:47:00 PM

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

Posted by Lucia Maria : 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 Anonymous : 1/24/2006 04:41:00 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 Lucia Maria : 1/24/2006 02:37:00 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 Anonymous : 1/24/2006 04:02:00 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 Anonymous : 1/24/2006 05:53:00 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:,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 Anonymous : 1/25/2006 03:28:00 AM