Extracted from the paper delivered by
Sophie Grig of Survival International
PAPUA, LAND AND LIFE
WHEN the Dutch handed over
The Papuans, who have no ethnic or
geographical connection with the rest of
Under pressure from the US which was fearful of an Indonesian-Soviet alliance, the Dutch agreed in 1962 to a deal brokered by the United Nations, in which the UN would administer 'West New Guinea' in preparation for a referendum.
In this referendum, the “Act of Free
Choice”, the Papuans were supposed to vote either for independence or to become
Six years later, the Act of Free Choice'
finally took place. It is commonly known in Papua as the 'Act Free of Choice',
as only 1,025 handpicked Papuans were allowed to vote, some literally with guns
at their heads. Unsurprisingly, they voted unanimously to become part of
Papua's tribal peoples were deeply unhappy at the Indonesian takeover of their land. The Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM - the Free Papua Movement) was formed, and the armed independence movement is still active.
The biggest threat to the peoples of Papua is the Indonesian military which has a long and shocking history of human rights violations, including murder, rape, massacres and torture.
Amongst all the terrible abuse of all the
terrible abuse of tribal people in the modern world,
'Operation Annihilation', begun in 1977, was a violent attack against the peoples of the central highlands. The military bombed villages from planes; tribal leaders thought to be sympathetic to the OPM were dropped out of helicopters over villages as an 'example'. The rivers were full of bodies, and almost every family in the highlands lost someone to the violence. Many families were wiped out completely.
Today the military operates more subtly, and the army bans all outsiders, including Papuans, from many areas where it is operating. What information it is possible to get suggests that the abuse, although not matching the appalling scale of the late 1970s, is still horrendous.
In one incident in July 1998, a large group
of independence supporters gathered peacefully around the banned Papuan flag on
In total, an estimated 100,000 Papuans have
been killed by the Indonesian armed forces since 1963. A recent paper by Yale
Law school concluded that the evidence 'strongly suggests that the Indonesian
government has committed proscribed acts with the intent to destroy the
Exploitation of their natural resources is another major problem for the peoples of Papua.
The Grasberg mine in the south-central highlands, said to be the largest copper and gold mine in the world, has had a devastating impact on both the highland Amungme, whose land it occupies, and the lowland Kamoro, who suffer from the effects of the mine's waste. Neither tribe has had their rights recognised or received proper compensation.
The Amungme see the mountains as sacred, and where the souls of men go when they die. This is why the destruction of the mountains by the mining company has been so painful to them
The arrival of the mining company in 1967 has
forced many of them to move to coastal areas, where they were never meant to
live. Their land and forests are also under pressure from the many outsiders
who have moved into the area for jobs. The Kamoro have also been relocated
because of the pollution, which has flooded their rivers and killed not only
the fish, but also the sago trees which are their main source of food.
The mine is seen as a 'vital project' by the government of
Logging is also a serious threat.
The big new threat to the peoples of Papua is
the pro-Indonesia militia. A number of different militia groups have been
Human rights defenders are also being
targeted. In September last year, the respected human rights organisation,
ELSHAM had their Jakarta offices ransacked by thugs and since then two senior
staff have had to flee the country
because of death threats.
Elsham has built up a network amongst the different tribes in Papua to report on attacks by the military or militia, and also to support the victims.
In past months, the Papuans have become increasingly concerned about the military crackdown, and this has led to different tribes coming together to try to find a peaceful solution.
Now tribal elders, human rights organisations, church groups, rebel leaders and even the police and navy are working together in support of a peaceful solution to Papua's problems - an initiative they call 'the zone of peace'.
Survival International has been campaigning
for the rights of the peoples of
Survival International, however, has pledged to continue to campaign for the lives, land and human rights of the people of Papua.
Sophie Grig works as a
researcher for Survival International, 6