West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) — A new video shows the torture of helpless men in the Indonesian-ruled territory of West Papua. Monitoring groups are already describing the footage as “Indonesia’s Abu Ghraib.” The video reveals indisputably Indonesian security force brutality, and raises serious questions about the Obama administration’s decision to embrace cooperation with Indonesian security forces engaged in active and ongoing torture.
Indonesia’s security forces continue to operate with impunity under the old dictatorship’s rules: peaceful dissent is criminalized; civil society leaders are humiliated and intimidated and the international community is precluded from any effective monitoring of conditions in this besieged community.
The video is the second in recent months to offer graphic footage of Indonesian security force torture of Papuans. In it, a Papuan man is held to the ground while a hot stick, still smoldering from a fire, is held against his genitals. A plastic bag is wrapped around his head several times, a rifle held against him. Another man has a large knife held against him while he pleads: “I’m just an ordinary civilian, please…” One of his interrogators responds: “I’ll cut your throat… Do not lie, I will kill you! Burn the penis!” The video appears to have been taken on the cell phone of one interrogator. Although the interrogators are dressed in plain clothes, they speak in Javanese and in Indonesian with non-Papuan accents. Plain clothes dress is common for Indonesian security forces in West Papua. The techniques used used mean they are almost certainly trained security personnel in the Indonesian army or police. The dialect of the victims places them in the Puncak Jaya region, where security forces are accused of repeated rights abuses.
The extreme brutality revealed in this footage is not new. What is new is that there is now additional video evidence of the brutality suffered by Papuans for nearly five decades. The international community can now clearly witness the indisputably harsh reality of life for Papuans. While Indonesia continues on the path of democratization and peaceful resolution of disputes, one region is sent on the opposite path: towards ongoing military domination, widespread suppression of political activity, and routine use of torture and other severe violations of basic human rights. In West Papua, the brutal and unaccountable Indonesian military and its accomplices, the militarized police (Brimob), special forces (Kopassus) and “anti-terror” force (Detachment 88) continue to operate with impunity under the old dictatorship’s rules: peaceful dissent is criminalized; civil society leaders are humiliated and intimidated and the international community is precluded from any effective monitoring of conditions in this besieged community.
Thanks to the courage of Papuan human rights advocates in the face of harsh security measures designed to silence them, the world periodically has been witness to the harsh rule of West Papua. In the past, the faith in international justice and humanity demonstrated by these courageous Papuans has been betrayed by the international community’s deference to the Indonesian government’s insistence that neither its course nor rule there not be challenged. Numerous governments have placed the territorial integrity of Indonesia and the desire to support its democratization process first. In the process, however, they have abandoned what could have been constructive efforts to uphold human rights in West Papua, which continue to be systematically violated.
Geopolitical and commercial goals led the U.S. government to ignore Suharto dictatorship atrocities targeting its own people and the people of East Timor for decades. President Bill Clinton acknowledged this when East Timor gained its independence in 2002, saying: “I don’t believe America or any of the other countries were sufficiently sensitive in the beginning and for a long time, a long time before 1999, going all the way back to the ’70s, to the suffering of the people of East Timor.” It was the suffering of the people of East Timor that led to Congress deciding to suspend military cooperation with Indonesia.
Despite the continued human rights violations, the Obama administration has continued the Bush administration’s policy of support to the Indonesian security forces through the IMET program, and support to the notorious Detachment 88 of the Indonesian National Police, credibly accused of torture and other rights violations. It has resumed cooperation with the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus) notwithstanding that unit’s decades-old record of human rights abuse.
The system of security force rule and repression of peaceful dissent has been dismantled in much of Indonesia, but the same security system and the same systematic human rights violations continue in West Papua today. Such stopgap solutions as “special autonomy” have been clearly rejected by the Papuan people. Despite the continued human rights violations, the Obama administration has continued the Bush administration’s policy of support to the Indonesian security forces. It has continued support to the Indonesian military through the IMET program, and support through the Anti-Terror Assistance Program to the notorious Detachment 88 of the Indonesian National Police, credibly accused of torture and other rights violations. It has resumed cooperation with the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus) notwithstanding that unit’s decades-old record of human rights abuse including recent, credible accounts of brutality targeting Papuan civilians. In so doing the Obama Administration, like its predecessors, has wittingly or unwittingly made itself complicit in the repression now underway in West Papua.
The United States, under President John F. Kennedy, was responsible for the transfer of West Papua to Indonesian rule. In that act, the United States made itself co-responsible for the outcome of its actions. Successive administrations have not been sufficiently sensitive to the ongoing human rights violations, including torture to this day, which resulted from Indonesian rule.
President Obama’s upcoming visit to Indonesia offers an opportunity to end the silence on West Papua, and to craft new policies that advance human rights rather than lending support to human rights violators. Information about the ongoing human rights violations in West Papua was heard on September 22 by the House of Representatives Sub-committee on Asia, the Pacific.
The Obama administration should:
- Insist upon an investigation and prosecution of those who recently tortured Papuans in Puncak Jaya
- Seek an investigation by relevant United Nations human rights rapporteurs of this and other instances of torture in West Papua
- Suspend cooperation with Indonesian security forces accused of systematic human rights violations, including Detachment 88 and the Brimob (Mobile Brigade) of the National Police and the Indonesian special forces (Kopassus)
- Call for full and open access for journalists, humanitarian assistance personnel including the International Committee of the red Cross and other international monitors to all of West Papua
- Seek meetings between President Obama and Papuan human rights and civil society leaders during his visit to Indonesia
- Call upon the Indonesian government to carry out an internationally facilitated, senior-level dialogue process with Papuan officials and civil society designed to resolve the Papuan conflict peacefully, as was done in Aceh province.