Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions on Papua

To access the full report including the extensive footnotes visit the International Crisis Group website (registration required).

NO PART OF INDONESIA generates as much distorted reporting the western half of New Guinea that has been home to an independence movement since the 1960s. Some sources, mostly outside Indonesia, paint a picture of a closed killing field where the Indonesian army, backed by militia forces, perpetrates genocide against a defenceless people struggling for freedom. A variant has the army and multinational companies joining forces to despoil Papua and rob it of its own resources.

Proponents of this view point to restrictions on media access, increasing troop strength in Papua of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), payments to the TNI from the giant US copper and gold mining company, Freeport, and reports by human rights organisations as supporting evidence for their views.

Others, mostly inside Indonesia, portray Papua as the target of machinations by Western interests, bent on bringing about an East Timor-style international intervention that will further divide and weaken the Indonesian nation. pecifically, according to this view, Western interests are encouraging an international campaign to review and reject a 1969 United Nations-sponsored plebiscite, called the Act of Free Choice, that resulted in Papua’s integration into the Indonesian republic. Should that campaign be successful, the international legal grounds for a referendum on independence would be established. They believe that the independence movement consists of a small band of criminals who have no real support in the population at large.

Neither portrayal of Papua is accurate, but both are extraordinarily difficult to dislodge – particularly because both contain kernels of truth that fuel false assumptions. Papua is not a happy place, but neither is it a killing field. Historical injustice and chronic low-level abuse on the part of security forces are facts. Solidarity groups concerned about Papua are more active now than five years ago, and some parliamentarians in Western countries have taken their cause to heart; this has not, however, translated into growing international support for Papuan independence.

Failure to understand the complexities of the Papuan problem not only produces bad policies in Jakarta, but can also have severe international consequences, as witnessed by the plummeting of Indonesian-Australian relations in early 2006 over Australia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to a group of Papuan political activists.


Implicit in the image of Papua as a place of persecution and oppression is the idea that non-Papuan Indonesians are in control. This is simply not true. The directly elected governors of Papua and West Irian Jaya, the two provinces within the broader territory of Papua, are indigenous Papuans, as are the heads of all 29 districts. Nor are these Papuan leaders puppets of Jakarta – under Indonesia’s decentralisation laws, and even more under a 2001 law granting special autonomy to Papua, these local government leaders have significant political and fiscal authority. The central government has devolved control over every policy area but five to Papua: foreign affairs, defence and security, fiscal and monetary policy, religious affairs and justice.

However, in many ways, Papua is as poorly governed under local leaders as it was the under non-Papuan administrators sent by Jakarta. The problems of corruption and neglect cannot be explained away as only a legacy of the Soeharto era. Indeed, one major problem in recent years has been not too much attention from Jakarta, but too little. Once the special autonomy legislation was passed, it was as though officials of successive post-Soeharto governments took it as license to ignore poor performance by local Papuan officials, including lengthy periods of absence in Jakarta or Jayapura. It is only at the urging of the new governor, Barnabas Suebu, that Papua’s provincial budget is now being scrutinised by the national anti-corruption commission.

Governance of Papua has been complicated by the Megawati government’s controversial (and illegal) 2003 decision to create the province of West Irian Jaya. Before the legal status of the new province was resolved, the Ministry of Home Affairs authorised elections for governor there, and a 70 per cent turnout last March gave legitimacy to a political fait accompli. The problem was that the special autonomy law and the body that was to be its centrepiece, the Papuan People’s Council (MRP), applied to a single entity. The special autonomy law now needs to be revised to take into account the second province. Many Papuans see this as an opportunity to hold widespread consultations on what else should be revised in the interests of strengthening self-government.


TNI officers continue to use their power to exploit economic resources and have primary responsibility for counterinsurgency actions against the small guerrilla group known as the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM), but they do not govern Papua. The decision to divide Papua was a political, not military decision, apparently initiated by the National Intelligence Agency and the ministry of home affairs, two institutions that do not always see eye-to-eye with the armed forces, even though the heads are almost always former military officers.

The commander of the TNI’s Trikora division based in Jayapura remains an important element of the local power structure but cannot and does not make decisions about local policies. Even most local security problems are left to the police, not the military, and police are gradually replacing the latter as the designated protector of “vital national assets” such as the Freeport mine. (This is not always an improvement, however, given the abusive behaviour of some police, especially Brimob, the paramilitary police who have begun to replace the military at Freeport since July 2006.) Outside the towns of Jayapura, Timika, Wamena and Merauke, military officers are often as notable by their absence as civilian leaders.


The TNI has over 12,000 troops in Papua, and there are between 2,000 and 2,500 paramilitary police. Rumours notwithstanding, there is no evidence that troops pulled out of Aceh are being systematically redeployed in Papua. But the numbers have increased over the last two years, as the size of three infantry battalions permanently stationed in Papua (751, 752 and 753) has increased from 650 to 1,050 soldiers each. A similar expansion is planned for three other battalions by the end of 2007. The TNI’s own statements suggest the expansion is bigger than it actually is. In March 2005, for example, Army Spokesman Brig. Gen. Hotmagaradja Pandjaitan announced plans for a new Kostrad (strategic reserve command) division in Papua, with an additional 15,000 troops to be deployed between 2005 and 2009. This plan was shelved in December 2005 but the rumours persist. Misunderstandings are also caused by confusion over routine annual troop rotations.

There are two ways in which the overall troop level in Papua could be affected in the future. The first is through the administrative decentralisation process known as pemekaran. Although it is not stipulated in any law, there is an established convention of setting up new military (and police) commands in each new district and sometimes sub-districts as well. Since 1999, the number of districts in Papua has grown from nine to 29, the number of sub-districts has increased from 173 to 220, and at least another nine districts are being planned. Thus far, the new districts do not appear to have spawned new military commands. A liaison arrangement with the “mother” district is put in place instead. New commands in the future, however, cannot be ruled out.

The second reason for a possible troop build-up in Papua is the TNI’s effort to step up border security nationally. The number of posts along the 760-km. border with Papua New Guinea (PNG) will increase from twenty to 94. As part of this effort, and to step up patrols against illegal fishing, transport of illegally logged timber (and probably Papuan asylum seekers), the navy is talking about increasing its presence in Papua. New naval bases are planned for Merauke (2006), Kaimana and Teluk Bintuni (2007) and Sorong (2008) but it is not clear when they will actually be built.


Many Papuans feel they were cheated out of independence promised to them by the Dutch colonial administration. Before Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1963, the government of Dutch New Guinea had prepared Papuans for independence. It actively encouraged Papuan nationalism and helped establish the fledgling institutions of a national government envisaged to take over in 1970. However, Dutch Papua policy became entangled in Cold War politics. Under intense international pressure, the Netherlands agreed in 1962 to transfer sovereignty to Indonesia within a year, via a temporary UN trusteeship. As a face saver for the Dutch, the agreement brokered by the U.S. stipulated that a plebiscite would be held by the end of 1969 to determine whether Papuans wanted to remain with Indonesia or to establish an independent state.

The agreement further stipulated that every Papuan adult man and woman was entitled to participate in the plebiscite, “in accordance with international practice”. Papuans widely interpreted this to mean “one person one vote”, but Indonesian officials argued that it would be more practical, given the logistical challenges, to convene representative assemblies. The UN and the Dutch government quickly agreed. Papuan protests calling for a referendum were dispersed by Indonesian troops. In April 1969 the Indonesian government hand-picked 1,022 Papuan leaders to vote through eight regional councils (on behalf of some 700,000 people) under Indonesian military supervision – and in many cases intimidation – in the “Act of Free Choice” on Papua’s future. Unsurprisingly, they voted unanimously in favour of integration with Indonesia. Many Papuans question the legitimacy of that exercise, as did many diplomatic observers at the time.

When the special autonomy law was being prepared in 2000 and 2001, a consensus Papuan draft included a provision calling for “historical rectification”. The phrase was removed by the Indonesian parliament. Jakarta’s worst fear is that an international campaign to review and reject the Act of Free Choice will gather momentum, eventually laying the legal basis for internationalisation of the issue.

Some form of “historical rectification” should occur, and the UN should formally acknowledge the shortcomings of the 1969 vote. But Papuan leaders also need to understand that the chances of any UN action to review the Act of Free Choice, let alone to void it, are close to nil. The government of Indonesia enjoys strong support in the General Assembly and Security Council, and no UN action on Papua is conceivable without Indonesian acquiescence. But Jakarta’s willingness to see the historical record set straight, in a way that could be reflected in Indonesian textbooks, might help lay a better foundation for better relations with Papua.


The answer to this question depends on how one defines the movement. Pro-independence sentiment is widespread, thanks to poor governance, a sense of historical injustice, a feeling of cultural and racial difference from the rest of Indonesia and chronic low-level abuse, extortion and indignities on the part of security forces. More serious human rights abuses do occur, but with less frequency than in the past and often in response to acts of violence that have caused police or military casualties. Much, but not all, of that pro-independence sentiment could probably be addressed by a more benign government that provided genuine services to the population.

Pro-independence sentiment is less evident in the area that is now the province of West Irian Jaya and along the southern coast than along the northern coast or the central highlands. Many moderate Papuans who believed that their best hope lay with autonomy rather than independence have been alienated by Jakarta’s repeated failures to deliver. But organised political activity in support of independence is fractious, prone to ethnic divisions and lacking in strong leadership.


The OPM is a guerrilla movement with an armed wing, the National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional), that has been fighting for an independent state of West Papua since 1964, shortly after the Netherlands ceded sovereignty to Indonesia. Estimates of its strength range from less than 100 (according to the TNI) to several thousand (the OPM’s own figure), but it controls no territory, has few modern weapons and does not pose a serious security threat to Indonesia. It has no social program, but fighters generally enjoy some logistical support from local populations in their areas of operation and are assisted with communications and supplies by a network of couriers.

The OPM is believed to consist of as many as six commands that for the most part work independently of each other, each organised around local commanders with small but loyal followings. Only three or four appear to be currently active, however.

Mathias Wenda, the man widely acknowledged as the commander in chief, is based in Baweni, Papua New Guinea, and is responsible for the Arso area in Keerom district, just over the border. Arso wa an early transmigration site, and settlers from Sulawesi and Java greatly outnumber indigenous Papuans there. Wenda’s men have periodically attacked non-Papuan Indonesian settlers (transmigrants) in the area as well as TNI posts.

The local TNI command announced that an attack on Post 509 of the army’s elite strategic reserve (Kostrad) in Wembi on 10 April 2006 was the work of Wenda’s group. Later, however, Lukas Tabuni, from another faction active in the Bolakme area in the northern Baliem valley, claimed responsibility in an interview broadcast on Australian television.

Kelly Kwalik is one of the OPM’s most elusive commanders. To many in Papua he is also one of the “purest” in terms of devotion to the cause. He has been leading a group of fighters in Mimika since 1977, when he joined a local uprising there. Two of his better known associates are Daniel Kogoya, who has worked closely with him since 1977, and Titus Murib, a fighter with his own following in Ilaga sub-district.

Kwalik’s efforts have focused on attacking the Freeport mine and taking hostages to gain international attention. His group kidnapped and killed eight Javanese students who were hiking in the highlands in 1986. In January 1996, he commanded the kidnapping of twelve members of a scientific research team, the Lorentz Expedition. The four Indonesian, four British, two German and two Dutch biologists were held hostage for four months, and two of the Indonesians were killed during the military’s rescue operation.

In June 2001, Kogoya’s men, under Kwalik’s orders, took two Belgian journalists hostage in Ilaga and held them for two months until a team of Indonesian journalists negotiated their release.

The most notorious operation linked to Kwalik, however, is the 31 August 2002 attack on a convoy of Freeport vehicles at Mile 62-63 in Tembagapura in which one Indonesian and two U.S. civilians employed by Freeport were killed and another nine injured. The only suspect to have confessed to involvement, Antonius Wamang, admitted to receiving the order directly from Kwalik. He insists, however, that he thought he was targeting a military convoy. There are also persistent allegations of TNI involvement in the incident, including from Wamang, but as yet no hard evidence.

Hans Yuweni is the TPN/OPM commander for Jayapura and Sarmi districts, with reach as far west as Waropen district, according to local military sources. There are regular reports of defections from his unit, most of which are hotly contested by independence activists. Goliath Tabuni is based in Puncak Jaya, the site of TNI operations for several months in 2005, but operates throughout the central highlands. Tadius Yogi has been active in Paniai since 1980 but reportedly privately concedes that armed struggle is futile. Bernard Mawen, the eldest of the field commanders, leads a small group in Merauke but is not very active.

The OPM relies on hit and run attacks like the one on 10 April 2006 in Wembi, using traditional spears and bows and arrows more often than guns, but even these attacks are infrequent and uncoordinated. Its main targets are the TNI and police. It has never been strong enough to threaten Indonesian territorial control but its political efforts inside and outside Papua, and its very existence as a symbol of resistance, have helped to keep the ideal of an independent West Papua alive.


Several other groups actively support independence. The asylum seekers who reached Australia in January 2006 were from a group called Bintang 14 (Fourteen Stars) that emerged in the mid-1980s advocating the independence of Papua as “West Melanesia”. Its founder, Thomas Wanggai, an ethnic Serui, was one of Papua’s most highly educated civil servants; he met his Japanese wife while a student at Okayama University. He was arrested after leading an independence rally on 14 December 1988 and died (of natural causes) in Cipinang Prison, Jakarta, in 1996. His nephew, Herman Wanggai, was the leader of the asylum seekers and has himself been twice arrested for pro-independence activities.

The movement is now led by Edison Waromi in Abepura. Waromi was arrested with Wanggai in 1989, served nine years in prison and was convicted again on treason charges in 2002 for raising the Bintang 14 flag, along with Herman Wanggai. The majority of the remaining Bintang 14 supporters in Papua are in Jayapura and in Wanggai’s native Serui and the north coast but there are also small numbers in the central highlands.

After Wanggai was jailed in 1988, many Bintang 14 supporters fled to Papua New Guinea, and some went on to Australia. Jacob Rumbiak represents Bintang 14 in Australia, and several of the 43 asylum seekers who fled there in January 2006 are Bintang 14 members.

Bintang 14 and the OPM have no particular history of collaboration – Bintang 14 having always rejected violence. In late 2005, however, some marginal OPM commanders came together with Bintang 14 leaders and church, student and community leaders in Papua New Guinea to establish a broader coalition called the West Papuan National Authority (Otoritas Nastional Papua Barat), committed to struggling for Papuan independence through peaceful means. There have been several initiatives of this kind but neither Kelly Kwalik nor Mathias Wenda has been involved.

Another important player is the radical student movement. The principal organiser of the anti-Freeport actions around the country in February and March 2006 was the Front Pepera Papua Barat (United Front for the West Papuan People’s Struggle) network, led by Hans Gebze. It is the hard-line faction of the student movement and has been at the forefront of student activism in recent years.. Freeport remains its major advocacy focus, partly due to the direct experiences of some of its members and their families, but also for ideological and pragmatic reasons. Freeport is a powerful symbol of Papuan grievances ranging from economic exploitation and environmental degradation to human rights abuses by the military (which Freeport pays to provide security at its mine site).

Front Pepera organises demonstrations, press conferences and petitions and regularly posts information on the Internet, which is also used for fundraising. Student activists are in regular contact with exiled independence leaders, and some also maintain close links with the TPN/OPM.

The Papuan independence movement only enjoyed strong civilian leadership between 1999 and 2001. In the period of political openness after Soeharto fell, a broad civil society-based movement emerged but as it gathered strength and confidence, its repeated open demands for independence precipitated a nationalist backlash that critically weakened it.

In July 1998 church leaders, intellectuals and NGOs established the Forum for Reconciliation for the People of Irian Jaya (FORERI), which became Jakarta’s dialogue partner in a series of meetings leading to a “National Dialogue” between 100 Papuan leaders and President Habibie in February 1999.

Two important meetings took place in 2000, the Papuan Mass Consultation (Musyawarah Besar Papua, Mubes) in February, and the second Papua Congress (Kongres Papua II) in May, with thousands of participants representing all of Papua’s districts, including some members of the TPN/OPM and delegates from Papuan communities abroad. The 200-strong Council established at the Mubes deliberately distanced itself from the OPM, however, to emphasise its commitment to peaceful means.

Presidium Dewan Papua (PDP), with Tom Beanal and Theys Eluay as chairmen. Throughout 2000 and 2001, pro-independence leaders, including Presidium members, were rounded up and arrested on charges of rebellion and “spreading hatred”. They were all released within a few months but the Presidium began to lose momentum as a result of the constant harassment and intimidation of its leaders. The height of the crackdown was the assassination of the Presidium chairman, Theys Eluay, in November 2001. This dealt a major blow to the Presidium but there were also internal political and financial problems.

The Presidium has not been functioning effectively since 2001 but most of its key leaders are now active in two other institutions: the Dewan Adat Papua (Papuan Customary Council) and the Majelis Rakyat Papua (Papuan People’s Council, MRP). The Dewan Adat is a grouping of tribal elders that was established in mid-2002 ostensibly in preparation for a conference on conflict resolution in the U.S. but its function has in effect been to provide a new forum for Presidium members to come together without the political stigma of that body.

The Dewan Adat does not advocate independence, focusing instead on Papuans’ basic rights and welfare. It has formally rejected Special Autonomy, but this was essentially as a protest at the central government’s lack of sincerity in implementing the law’s key provisions. With no clear political program, the Dewan Adat is not able to muster the support the Presidium once enjoyed but it has significant province-wide influence through its district and village-level membership. There were signs at its last annual meeting that it is beginning to concentrate on substantive issues such as improving education, oversight of the provincial budget, police reform and HIV/AIDS.

The Presidium’s other successor is the MRP, the institution mandated under the Special Autonomy law to protect and defend Papuan values, culture and basic rights. Its Chairman, Agus Alua, is the deputy secretary general of the Presidium, and there are several other Presidium leaders among its 42 members. The MRP was elected in a reasonably democratic way and is broadly representative of Papua’s ethnic and cultural diversity. It is in the very difficult position, however, of needing to maintain legitimacy with Papuans and credibility with the central government at the same time. It has struggled on both counts in its first nine months.


Papuan exiles, many of them OPM members, have established representational offices in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Australia, the Netherlands, Sweden, the UK and the U.S. All purport to be legitimate representatives of the Papuan people but seem to spend as much energy criticising each other as the Indonesian government. Their common cause is to lobby foreign governments and international organisations for a review of the Act of Free Choice and a new act of self-determination, causes that are regarded with great suspicion within Indonesia. The governments of Vanuatu, Nauru and Tuvalu have officially supported a new act of self-determination since mid-2000. No other national government, and no international organisation, advocates self-determination for Papuans but the campaign has some support in civil society in all the countries where it has established a presence, and several others as well.
In Australia, neither the federal government nor the opposition Labor Party supports a new act of self-determination, but two smaller opposition parties, the Greens and Australian Democrats, do. The arrival of the 43 asylum seekers in January 2006 has given a huge boost to the advocacy efforts of the Australian West Papua campaign, already strong on campuses and in churches.

In Ireland support among students and parliamentarians is strong and growing. It has been a focus of advocacy efforts in recent years, with Benny Wenda, John Rumbiak, John Ondawame and Viktor Kaisepo making visits. In March 2004, 88 members of the Dáil (parliament) signed a letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan criticising the UN for overseeing a “sham” plebiscite.

In the U.S., 37 members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter in March 2005 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kofi Annan asking them to support West Papua’s right to self-determination. A clause with the same request was tacked on to House Appropriations Bill 2601 by Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa’s non-voting representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, in June 2005 but was removed before the bill was passed.

There is also some support in the UK, particularly in Oxford around Benny Wenda’s Demmak office, and the British Free West Papua Campaign. A small number of parliamentarians led by the member for East Oxford, Andrew Smith, established a twenty-member all-party parliamentary group on Papua in July 2006.

While UN officials have unofficially acknowledged the shortcomings of the Act of Free Choice – in November 2001, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, the Under Secretary General involved in overseeing the work of the UN mission in Papua at the time of the Act, called it “a whitewash” – there is little interest in reopening the issue.

Papuan activists were disappointed in their hopes for a big boost from the release in November 2005 of an in-depth report on the Act commissioned by the Dutch parliament. The independent study by Dutch academic Pieter Drooglever unsurprisingly concluded that the Act of Free Choice was far from free but this had no impact on government policy, which regards Papua as an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia.

Overall, then, while the campaign has succeeded in building support in national parliaments and among civil society groups, it has failed to change the policy of any government, save for the three small Pacific island nations noted above.


Two reports widely circulated in pro-independence circles have suggested, without stating decisively, that Indonesia might have been responsible for genocide in Papua. If those charges could be proven, they would at the very least undermine Indonesia’s moral right to govern Papua and boost the argument for independence. But neither report – “Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control”, authored by a group of students at Yale Law School, nor “Genocide in West Papua? The role of the Indonesian state apparatus and a current needs assessment of the Papuan people”, by Sydney University’s John Wing and Peter King – makes a strong case, and the Yale report is marred by many factual errors. That said, few would deny that the Indonesian military has been responsible for severe human rights violations in the past.

The questions are whether those abuses ever amounted to genocide and whether a case can be made for genocide today.


Genocide is defined in the 1948 International Convention as a pattern of acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such”. Both the above reports cite campaigns by the Indonesian military in the 1970s that killed thousands of Papuan civilians. These operations could conceivably fit the definition of a war crime or crime against humanity, but not genocide. Neither of the reports provides any evidence of intent on the part of the Indonesian government or military to destroy the ethnic Papuan population as such in whole or in part. Nor have there been killings of civilians on anything like that scale since the 1980s.

Both reports cite dozens of cases of torture and killing over a 40-year period, demonstrating a pattern of serious human rights abuse, but, again, falling far short of anything that could be considered genocide.

The Yale report argues that the influx of non-Papuan Indonesian migrants is diluting the ethnic Papuan population – and lists the government’s transmigration program as part of “the act element of genocide”. There is no doubt that the transmigration program dramatically altered the demographic balance in Papua. Non-ethnic Papuans made up 35 per cent of the population in 2000, but that year the government of Abdurrahman Wahid officially ended transmigration to Papua in response to these concerns. “Spontaneous” migrants – those who come without government sponsorship for trade or business – account for the majority of migrants in urban centres, and make up over half of the population in Jayapura, Timika, Merauke, Sorong and Fak Fak. Spontaneous migrants continue to arrive in relatively large numbers but there is no government program to increase the number of non-ethnic Papuans in the region.


Post-Soeharto governments have made efforts to acknowledge and redress Papuan grievances, and the human rights situation has certainly improved with democratisation, but serious abuses still occur, and officers responsible are seldom held accountable. This violence by security forces against civilians is more the product of a culture of impunity than any systematic campaign of killings.

Three recent cases of violence between civilians and security forces are indicative of the nature of current human rights problems in Papua. The first began as a scuffle between a police officer and a local teenager and resulted in a civilian being shot dead and four others being seriously injured. The second was a student demonstration during which the outnumbered police who tried to break it up with tear gas and rubber bullets were attacked by students, resulting in the deaths of five officers. The third incident involved around 100 lightly armed and unarmed civilians obstructing the arrest of a corruption suspect and a police response that claimed the lives of three civilians and produced dozens of injuries.

All these cases were products of the antagonistic relationship between the community and the security forces and indicative of the level of tension in the province. They demonstrate the tendency of security forces to react with excessive force, but also that state violence is sporadic rather than systematic, and that the violence is not always one-sided.

The Waghete shootings: On 20 January 2006, a minor dispute turned into a major incident. Two youths from Puwe Gakokebo village near Waghete in Paniai, Petrus Pekey and Melanius Douw, tried to charge motorists a toll for a section of road they had repaired. Police and soldiers objected. After a brief scuffle, the youths fled but were pursued by soldiers from Kostrad Battalion 753, who beat Melanius Douw with rifle butts. When the unarmed youths tried to run, soldiers fired at them, killing passer-by Moses Douw and injuring Petrus and one other. The soldier responsible for the fatal shooting was sentenced by a military tribunal to eight months in prison.

The Abepura riots: On 16 March 2006, militant student protestors refused to disperse despite repeated negotiation attempts. When riot police attempted to break up the crowd by force, initially using tear gas, protestors threw large rocks (apparently gathered in advance) and bottles at them. In the clash that ensued, the protestors beat and stabbed to death three police and a military intelligence officer. Another police officer beaten by the crowd died of injuries within a week. Twenty-four civilians were hospitalised with injuries inflicted by the police and the mob, including five with gunshot wounds. Security officers fired mostly into the air but film footage shows at least one man in plain clothes firing into the crowd.

In the days after the clash, police from the same unit as those who had been killed conducted sweeps of student dormitories, reportedly beating civilians and firing shots into the air. A stray bullet hit a ten-year-old girl in the back.

Ferdinadus Pakage and Luis Gedy, two of the rioters, were each sentenced to fifteen years for murder on 2 August, and eleven others received sentences of between five and six years for lesser offences. Credible reports have emerged, however, that some of the defendants were tortured in police custody. No action has been taken against the Brimob officers who committed violence against civilians in the days after the March riots.

The forced arrest of David Hubi: On 15 May 2006, Brimob police arrested David Hubi at his residence in Wamena, Jayawijaya. Hubi, the district head (bupati), had been temporarily removed from office while corruption charges were being investigated. His supporters had surrounded his house, some armed with traditional weapons such as spears and bows and arrows. Police first attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas but within a minute and without warning shots, according to protestors, fired rubber and live bullets directly into the crowd. In the clash that ensued, one police officer was lightly injured, and three civilians were killed and dozens more wounded. Several others in the crowd, including a man interviewed by Crisis Group, were hit repeatedly with rifle butts. Video footage shows police kicking and beating unarmed protestors sitting passively on the ground, then herding them into trucks for transport to the police station.

Police argue that one of Hubi’s supporters fired an arrow first; picketers interviewed by Crisis Group insist that police fired on the crowd unprovoked. Even if a Hubi supporter had shot an arrow at an officer’s leg, as police claim, the response of the security forces was vastly disproportionate.

Three of Hubi’s supporters, described by police as “masterminds” of the picket, are being tried for threatening violence and obstructing arrest. Yet, no police officer is under investigation for possible use of excessive force. Papuan provincial police spokesman Kartono Wangsadisastra stated that officers had “acted in accordance with police procedure” and that if they had not fired on the protestors, they would have been in grave danger. Victims plan to pursue their case through the human rights court in Makassar with the help of the National Human Rights Commission.


Political activists are likely to be arrested on rebellion (makar) charges for raising the Papuan nationalist symbol, the “Morning Star” flag, and can face sentences of up to twenty years. They are also likely to be beaten and kicked during and immediately after arrest and to face worse treatment if their actions involved violence.

The likelihood that pro-independence leaders or human rights activists will be disappeared or killed is low but the fear in Papua is real, based on two cases. One is the November 2001 killing of prominent independence leader Theys Eluay by members of the Indonesian army special forces (Kopassus); the other is the September 2004 murder by arsenic poisoning of the Jakarta-based human rights lawyer Munir. One person has been convicted in the latter case but he clearly did not act alone, and questions of involvement by members of the National Intelligence Agency remain unanswered.

Eluay’s death may have taken place in the context of a covert plan to target influential independence leaders, but even if so, political circumstances have changed. Supporters of such tactics, including the then-military commander, Mahidin Simbolon, and the then-army chief of staff, Ryamizard Ryacudu (who termed the killers “heroes”) have been systematically sidelined.

No extrajudicial tactics have been employed by the Yudhoyono administration, but its failure to pursue the Munir investigation and to press for greater accountability in the Eluay case beyond the low-ranking Kopassus soldiers convicted ensures that the fears of Papuan activists will remain high.


Solidarity groups periodically raise the spectre of hard-line Muslim militias working with the army in Papua, which is predominantly Christian. Little hard evidence exists. The salafi militia Laskar Jihad had a few hundred men in Sorong, in what is now West Irian Jaya, in 2001, but the organisation disbanded in October 2002, and there is little reason to believe it survived in Papua when it collapsed everywhere else. Jemaah Tabligh, a non-political missionary organisation, has had a presence in Papua since 1998, and its members, who often wear long white robes and turbans, are frequently confused with Laskar Jihad. They focus on making Muslims better Muslims, not jihad activity.

The influx of migrants has raised fear s among some Papuans about cultural domination by non-Papuans and “Islamicisation”. Some Muslim groups do have active proselytisation programs in Papua, but nothing to compare to the Christian evangelical movement, which is large and growing. The Hidaytullah Islamic school network, based in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, is particularly active in Papua, with schools in Merauke, Wamena and Jayapura.


Access to Papua is restricted but not completely denied. Tourists may travel relatively freely, but there are restrictions on the entry of foreign journalists and NGOs. No particular region has been publicly designated a no-go area, but some NGO staff were denied permission to travel to parts of Puncak Jaya district in 2005 when military operations were underway.

Persons wishing to travel to the province for other than tourism must apply to the police for permission, listing each proposed destination and the purpose of the visit. Diplomats need to apply to the ministry of foreign affairs. Permission is not usually denied outright to diplomats but they are sometimes asked to delay their trips. NGOs must apply for permission, which is usually granted, but those deemed to be conducting “political activities” are closely monitored.

There has been a formal ban on foreign journalists entering the province since 2003. Several Jakarta-based correspondents have received permission to visit in 2006, however – to work on non-political or human rights-related stories – even to sensitive areas in the central highlands. The official reason for the restrictions is that foreign reporters would be used as a platform by Papuan political activists, possibly “threatening Indonesian unity and cohesion”. If the restrictions were lifted, however, Papua-related stories in the international media might reflect more nuance.

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