“Indonesia’s Abu Ghraib” Revealed on Eve of Obama Visit

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.

ETAN was founded in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for Indonesian-occupied Timor-Leste. Since the beginning, ETAN has worked to condition U.S. military assistance to Indonesia on respect for human rights and genuine reform. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. Read other articles by East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), or visit East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)'s website.

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  1. Rehmat said on October 20th, 2010 at 2:48pm #

    Is not East Timor free of Indonesia and in the lap of its former colonists, the Dutch?

    Indonesia’s Friends of Obama Foundation erected a bronze statue of a 10-year-old Barack Obama in Taman Menteng Park (Jakarta), near the place where Barack Obama lived with with his American mother, his Indonesian stepfather and his half-sister, from 1967-1971. The statue is reported to cost more than US$10,000 in a country where 17.8% of population live below poverty line (Israel has 21.65% of its population living under poverty line even after USAID$3,000 billion since 1960s).

    Indonesia is world’s largest Muslim nation-state. Muslims make 89% of its total population of over 220 million. Such a country honouring a Christian leader, who just announced to kill tens of thousands of more innocent people in the occupied Muslim lands such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine – is not only amazing but borders at stupidity.

    Interestingly, while Obama’s national popularity has taken an historic dive – from 78% down to 53% (Gallup Poll, October 2009) – he is still idolized in several Muslim countries.

    Well some Muslims may boast it as an act of Islamic tolerance – but doesn’t change how Muslim minorities are persecuted in the US, France, Switzerland, Russia and many other countries. Such Muslims should study Haroon Siddiqui’s (a former member of the Editorial Board of Canada’s largest daily, The Toronto Star) column, titled Why it is essential to stand up to bigots, saying:

    Last winter the Israelis attacked minarets in Gaza. Last month the Swiss voted to ban non-existent minarets. The reasons proffered in both cases were patently false. Bombed Gaza mosques probed by Justice Richard Goldstone (a South African Zionist Jew) were found not to have been hiding Hamas arms or militants.

    Minerats are definitely not proliferating in Switzerland, there being only four in a nation with 350,000 Muslims – most of them refugees, ironically, from European ethnic-cleansing in Bosnia and Kosova.

    Minarets, aesthetically as pleasing or irritating as steeples, pagodas, or onion domes – are as symbol of Islam. Those targeting them may use different methods but their mission is the same.

    There is little traction for the argument by some Muslims that they should be explaining Islam better, as though good PR is antidote to xenphobia and hate. There is no sugar coating what has transpired Swiss church spires won’t come down but minarets won’t go up. Churches will continue to dominate the Swiss landscape but mosques remain hidden.

    Such Muslim-only-rules, so reminiscent of some Nazi laws against Jews, have been popping up across Europe – and Canada.

    German restrictions on mosques, the French ban on Hijab in schools, Canadian bans in soccer and tae kwon do tournaments; Nicholas Sarkozy’s (a Zionist Crypto Jew) proposal to ban the niqab, Ontario’s hysteria over letting Muslims use the Arbitration Act or having their religious schools funded, and Stephen Harper’s bid to ban niqabi women from voting.

    While European and North Americans have learned not to invoke free speech to peddle anti-Semitism, they routinely cite it to rationalize anti-Islamism (the Danish Cartoons, and the tirades of Maclean’s magazine, the National Post, etc.)

    It follows that it’s not Muslims who need defending – they can’t possibly demonized any more than they have been post-9/11 – but rather our secular democracies. So the relevant Canadian lesson of the Swiss vote on minarets is this: “When liberals fail – as have Canada’s Liberasl and New Democrats – to stand up to demagogues, they commit the cardinal sin of silently watching the erosion of some of our most cherished collective values.”

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/obama-bronzed-in-indonesia/

  2. Jonas Rand said on October 20th, 2010 at 3:19pm #

    Rehmat, East Timor was never colonized by the Dutch; Indonesia was. It was colonized by Portugal.

    And I don’t get it. Sarkozy a “Zionist Crypto Jew”?