AN APPEAL TO THE CONSCIENCE OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA CONCERNING WEST PAPUA NEW
Mar 17, 2006 12:52 PST
Article by Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega
AN APPEAL TO THE CONSCIENCE OF THE PEOPLE OF INDONESIA CONCERNING WEST PAPUA
March 14th 2006
In an article entitled A Lost World in Indonesia Yields Riches for
Scientists, the Washington Post recently found this discovery to be worthy
of front page news. Yet the debilitating and gut-wrenching plight of the
indigenous people of West Papua New Guinea has not received a note of
attention from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, other Pacific and European
democratic nations, or the Dutch, West Papua’s former colonial ruler.
Only a few weeks ago, on January 17, 2006, 43 West Papuans, seven of whom
were children, arrived on the shores of Australia seeking asylum. They left
their homes in West Papua New Guinea and sailed some 2200 miles during the
monsoon season in a small, open boat. The 43 Papuans fled a rapidly
deteriorating human rights environment where the indigenous Papuans have
suffered extensive human rights abuses, natural resource exploitation,
environmental degradation, and commercial dominance by immigrant
communities, and some individuals and groups estimate that more than 100,000
West Papuans have been tortured and murdered, primarily during the Sukarno
and Suharto military regimes.
In its 2004 Human Rights report, the U.S. Department of State acknowledged
Indonesia’s brutal record by stating Indonesia “security force members
murdered, tortured, raped, beat and arbitrarily detained civilians and
members of separatist movements in Papua.” While the Indonesian parliament
passed a Special Autonomy Law for West Papua in October 2001 that was
intended to allocate greater revenue and decision making authority to the
Papuan provincial government, the promise of special autonomy has not been
effectively realized and has been undermined in its implementation, such as
by conflicting legal directives further subdividing the province in apparent
contravention of the law and without the consent of appropriate provincial
authorities. Indonesia has reportedly continued to send thousands of
additional troops to West Papua, and military operations in the central
highlands since the fall of 2004 have displaced thousands of civilians into
very vulnerable circumstances, contributing further to mistrust of the
central government by the people of West Papua. On the night of November
10, 2001, Chief Theys Hiyo Eluay, Chairman of the Papuan Presidium and
outspoken advocate for an independent West Papua through peaceful means, was
abducted, tortured and murdered near Jayapura, West Papua.
And this is only an accounting of recent developments. In 1969, 1,025 West
Papuan elders were coerced and manipulated into voting unanimously on behalf
of 800,000 West Papuans for inclusion in Indonesia. This Act of No Choice is
generally regarded in the international community as a fraudulent tactic
that was used by former President Suharto to claim control of the colonial
province of West Papua and its renowned mineral wealth which includes vast
reserves of gold, copper, nickel, oil and gas. The Act of No Choice also
raises concerns about racism.
In 1990, Nelson Mandela reminded the United Nations that when “it first
discussed the South African question in 1946, it was discussing the issue of
racism.” On the issue of West Papua, I believe we are discussing the same.
West Papuans differ racially, culturally, and ethnically from the majority
of Indonesians. West Papuans are believed to be of African descent and
ethnically associated with the people who now inhabit Vanuatu and the
I believe the time has come to end discrimination in West Papua. In 2002,
the people of East Timor achieved their independence from Indonesia through
a referendum sanctioned by the United Nations and I believe the time has
come to end discrimination and allow the people of West Papua to determine
for themselves their own political destiny. The issue of West Papua is not
an internal matter. Neither is it a question of territorial integrity.
West Papua was a former Dutch colony just as East Timor was a former
Portuguese colony just as Indonesia was a former colony of the Netherlands.
The historical evidence is clear on this matter.
It is also clear that the Indonesian Government has failed to implement the
provisions of the Special Autonomy Law that passed five years ago which
leads me to believe that Special Autonomy was simply an effort to divide an
conquer and, therefore, must be an unacceptable recourse for people of
conscience. In his statement before the UN against Apartheid, Nelson
Mandela said, “It will forever remain an accusation and challenge to all men
and women of conscience that it took so long as it has before all of us
stood up to say enough is enough.” On the issue of West Papua, I believe
enough is also enough.
This is why I am making an appeal to the conscience of the people of
Indonesia. After the brutal dictatorial regimes of President Sukarno and
Suharto and the 1965-1966 massacre when some half a million to a million
unarmed Indonesians were killed under the guise of alleged communist
sympathies, the people of Indonesia have come a long way in their 350 year
history in demanding a more pluralistic and democratic form of government.
Now, the time has come for the people of Indonesia to demand the same for
the people of West Papua.
Fearful of the outcome, the Indonesia government has barred all journalists
and media outlets from entering West Papua. However, as President Bush
stated in his second Inaugural Address, “it is the policy of the United
States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and
institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending
tyranny in our world.” For this and other reasons, like Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, I have added my voice to “growing international calls for the UN
Secretary General to instigate a review of the UN’s conduct in relation to
the now-discredited Act of ‘Free Choice.’” I am pleased that as a result of
these efforts US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledge that
West Papua is now on the radar screen and, in the spirit of America’s great
mission of diplomacy to end tyranny in our world, I am also hopeful that the
issues surrounding West Papua will be a primary focus of her discussions
with the leaders of Indonesia.
Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-AS) is a Member of the U.S. Congress and serves as
the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, US House
Committee on International Relations