The Indonesian government has long colluded with foreign and domestic corporate interests in the exploitation of West Papua's vast natural resources. Deforestation has long been a problem in Papua, accelerated by illegal logging facilitated by corrupt soldiers and police. Freeport McMoRan's destruction of Papuan environment is widely known.
In recent years, Jakarta has sought to exploit West Papua's vast agricultural potential. Ignoring Papuan land rights, the Indonesian government has expropriated vast tracts of mostly forested land to establish food and palm oil plantations.
Throughout the archipelago, Indonesian officials have looked the other way as foreign and domestic corporations cleared land for oil palm plantations. The companies often take advantage of dry season conditions to clear large tracts of forest. The annual, illegal burning has been common especially in Sumatra and Borneo (East, West and Central Kalimantan), and the toxic haze produced by the burning has affected local populations and raised health alarms throughout Southeast Asia.
An analysis of satellite photographs by Sam Lawson of Earthsight on behalf of Aiwas MIFFE found fires in two areas undergoing conversion for oil palm in southern Papua. One area contains intact primary forest, while part of the other is on peat soil. The concessions concerned are both owned by the large Korean conglomerate Korindo.
Other recently published maps use a different source on deforestation -- tree cover loss data from the University of Maryland -- which gives an indication of which parts of forest are lost each year. This can then be overlaid on a map of hot spots detected by NASA MODIS satellites the same year. Both sets of data are available to browse on the Global Forest Watch.
As in other parts of the archipelago where corporate burning has been rampant, spokespersons for the corporate culprits and the Indonesian government have sought to blame small local farmers. But conservation experts who visited West Papua say that small farmers generally employ sound conservation practices. While small farmers do employ fire to clear land, this is not comparable to corporation use of fire to clear vast tracks of land, often for oil palm plantations.
Jakarta and its corporate partners appear bent on replicating the destructive use of fire to clear Papuan land While the fires in West Papua thus far are much less extensive than in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Jakarta's ambitious focus on Papuan natural resources, particularly its forests and rich agricultural lands, suggest an ominous future for Papuans and the global environment.
Filep Karma Finally Released; Scores of Papuan Political Prisoners Remain Behind Bars
Filep Karma, West Papua's best known political prisoner, was finally freed on November 19 after spending more than 11 years in prison for leading a peaceful protest. Supporters in West Papua and around the world welcomed his release.
The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), called his release a "democratic inevitability."
"[Filep] should not have been arrested over freedom of expression," Haris Azhar, the human rights group's coordinator said in a statement. Filep should "continue voicing injustices taking place in Papua and speak of ways to solve them," he added.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International's South East Asia Campaigns Director called Karma's jailing an "outrageous travesty of justice" He spent more than a decade of his life in jail when he shouldn't even have been jailed for a day." Amnesty had declared Karma a "prisoner of conscience."
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) wrote that "As we celebrate Filep's freedom, we remember those still in prison and those still harassed, arrested and tortured for exercising their freedom of speech in support of West Papua's freedom and human rights."
According to Papuans Behind Bars at least 45 Papuan political prisoners continue to languish in Indonesian jails. In its August/September report that "restrictions on freedom of expression are wide-ranging and can affect any attempt to criticize the government." Additional political prisoners continue to be held in the Malukus.
As Claudia Vandermade wrote in the September 2015 West Papua Report Karma's prison termed stemmed "from his [December] 2004 arrest for peacefully raising the Morning Star flag at an independence rally of several hundred people in Abepura." On May 26, 2005, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison on criminal charges contained in article 106 (which criminalizes as treason or rebellion peaceful, political speech), article 110 ( conspiracy) of Indonesia's criminal code and other violations
Karma repeatedly rejected offers of remission and clemency saying that these involved an admission of guilt. Although he refused a latest remission, the authorities forced him to leave the prison. On leaving prison, Karma refused to leave his fingerprints on his photograph in the prison's registration book. Soon after, he attended an event marking the seventh anniversary of the pro-self-determination KNPB (National Committee of West Papua).
"The reason given remission is for good behavior. Did I misbehave in the community? I am a good person. My belief on what is truth made me put into prison. Let me finish the sentence." Karma told Jubi, after refusing clemency several months ago.
Karma commented that his release in fact made no difference "This remission gives [sic] no different as if escaping from the small jail to the big one. The Indonesian jail, the imperialist jail."
Karma Warns Against Divisions Among Papuans
Speaking days after his release, Filep Karma warned of the dangers posed by racism to West Papua. He told Jubi that "Racism is not only coming from non-Papuans but also emerging among Papuans. We accuse the Indonesians of being racist, but the fact is we are also racist against them. It means we are doing the same thing. Instead of solving the problem, it will trigger a new problem. We don't have to be vengeful. Striking back with violence would not solve the problem but create a new one instead."
Karma worried that once West Papua becomes independent tensions among Papuans could explode. "I am concerned if Papua gained independence there would be a tribal war. If Papuans killed each other, I would regret the fight for its independence," he said.
He accused the Indonesian government of engineering intra-Papuan tensions in order to divide Papuans, including through the creation of political divisions such as the formation of separate Papuan provinces. As a consequence, he contended, Papuans are beginning to identify themselves by region, as "highlanders," "beach" or "coastal" Papuans or as northerners, southerners or "valley" Papuans.
"It is not different from the divide and rule politics used in Dutch era," he said
Arrests, Flag Raisings Mark December 1
Radio New Zealand reported that "up to four civilians were shot dead by security forces in the town of Serui on the anniversary."
In Jakarta, two foreign journalists attempting to cover a pro-Papua rally by Papuan students were assaulted by police. A spokesperson from the Jakarta Legal Aid Foundation said that at least 128 (and as many as 306) students had been detained by the police, with some detained before reaching the protest site.
Archicco Guilianno of ABC Australia and Step Vaessen of Al Jazeera were covering the demonstration when police reportedly asked Guilianno to erase his footage. After he identified himself as a journalist, he was beaten by an officer. Vaessen recorded the incident and was also ordered to erase the images, which the police forcibly did so.
Alghif M. Isnur, the head of LBH Jakarta's case management division said that the forced disbursal and arrest of the demonstrators was accompanied by repressive actions by police including hitting and kicking demonstrators. The police reportedly fired tear gas at the protesters after rocks were thrown. The demonstration was organized by the the Alliance of Papua Students (AMP).
Police detained 17 people who were preparing an area at Taman Bunga Bangsa Papua in Nabire for a prayer rally to mark the December 1. The Legal Aid Institute (LBH) in Jakarta reported that the "Nabire police made the arrest without apparent reason, without a warrant or detention letter. Those who were arrested include Markus Boma, Frans Boma, Habakuk Badokapa, Sisilius Dogomo, Agus Pigome, Matias Pigai, Jermias Boma, Yohanes Agapa, Ales Tebai, Yesaya Boma, Adolop Boma, Matias Adli, Martinus Pigai, Aluwisius Tekege and 3 others."
Antara reported that the Papua Police Chief Inspector General Paulus Waterpauw said the 17 civilians were arrested for resisting police as they attempted to disperse them. The Papuans had submitted a letter about a planned celebration of West Papua Independence Day on 1 December, including plans to raise the morning star flag. Waterpauw added that the police destroyed the flagpole.
Morning Star flags were displayed throughout the world including Vanuatu, at the Australian parliament, the Indonesian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste, and in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Senior State Department Officials Ignore Violations of Rights in West Papua
Two senior State Department officials misrepresented the human rights environment in Indonesia in testimony to the U.S. Congress. Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and James Carouso, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Maritime and Mainland Southeast Asian Affairs, spoke on November 19 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.
During their remarks on the region and in specific comments about human rights observance in Indonesia, the officials failed to address the brutalization of Papuan civilians and demographic policies that amount to genocide.
This failure is all the more significant when a recent International Coalition for Papua report (see below) described West Papua as among the worst areas for human rights observance in Asia: "West Papua ... continues to be one of the regions of Asia most seriously affected by human rights violations and an unresolved long standing political conflict. The living conditions of the indigenous Papuan peoples are in stark contrast to those of the trans-migrants from other parts of Indonesia."
Amnesty International in a recent overview of the human rights situation in ASEAN wrote that "security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 264 Papuan political activists in May  during peaceful protests when President Joko Widodo's visited the province."
Commenting on the misrepresentations by U.S. officials testifying before Congress human rights campaigner Carmel Budiardjo wrote:
How is it possible to produce a statement about Democracy in Southeast Asia (including Indonesia) without drawing attention to situation in West Papua where democracy is a mockery? In West Papua, anyone who raises the Morning Star flag or holds a banner calling for Merdeka (Freedom) is attacked by heavily armed troops of the TNI (Army of Indonesia) or members of the Police Force, is arrested or beaten up for being involved in a peaceful demonstration and exercising the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
On this day, we are welcoming West Papua's best known political prisoner, Filep Karma who has at last been released after spending more than ten years incarcerated in Abepura. There are still dozens of political prisoners in West Papua who, like Filep Karma, are being held in prisons across the territory for raising the Morning Star flag. Shame on You!
see also July 2015 West Papua Report: State Department Rights Report Tempers Criticism of Indonesia over West Papua
Papuans Condemn Continue Transmigration Policy
Papuan youth leaders criticized Jakarta's plan to launch a massive transmigration program to West Papua. In early October, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan signed an agreement with the West Papua provincial government to accept approximately 700 households each year. The former Minister of Manpower and Transmigration, Muhaimin Iskandar said the government targeted an area of 5,870,642 hectares in West Papua province for transmigrants from several regions in Java.
The chair of Indonesian Eastern Region Youth Forum (FPKTI), Yanto Ijie, called the influx of migrants from other parts of Indonesia a demographic threat to indigenous Papuans.
Four Members of the KNPB Sentenced
The courts sentenced four National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) activists to 18 months in jail. Those convicted were among 70 arrested during a May 20, 2015 demonstration in Manokwari. The demonstrators had demanded that the Indonesian government immediately open the territory to foreign journalists, as President Widodo had promised, and supported the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
The public prosecutor for the Manokwari District Court has appealed the sentence as too short. The four activists are: Alexander Natkeme, Othen Gombo, Nopinus Humawak, and Yoram Magay.
Indonesia Continues to Fail in Provision of Basic Health Services
A recent article in Jubi underscores Indonesia's continued failure to provide adequate health care to West Papuans. Nason Utti, a Papuan legislator spoke of his own frustrations with efforts to improve services, calling hospital service "poor." Public hospitals lose doctors to better paying private clinics, he said, and several hospitals lack appropriate medicines. He said that Papuan officials are attempting to address health services shortages which are particularly notable in areas in Papuan "customary areas."
WPAT Comment: The plans for addressing the crucial need for health services, at best, are works in progress. Jakarta's failure to address fundamental health needs during its 54-year occupation of West Papua -- notably in areas where Papuan populations dominate -- is an indictment of Jakarta's malign neglect of Papuans fundamental needs.
ICP Releases New Human Rights Report 2015
In its latest report, the International Coalition for Papua brings together the research of 25 organizations and experts from inside and outside West Papua to describe the situation of human rights, indigenous people, and the conflict. The report details in particular demographic developments and the violence by security forces that targets indigenous Papuans.
During 2013 and 2014 the human rights situation deteriorated compared to the period (October 2011 and March 2013) covered by the ICP's previous report. The 2015 report covering events from April 2013 to December 2014, shows an increase in arrests at demonstrations, with 470 arrests in May 2014 alone.
ICP writes that "A lack of adequate access to health-care and education as well as demographic and economic marginalisation and discrimination undermine Papuans' living conditions. The heavy presence of the Indonesian security forces, a lack of access for international observers such as journalists, as well as corruption and transmigration from other parts of Indonesia, aggravate the situation."
A Bahasa Indonesia translation is planned.
Human Rights Watch Documents Access Restrictions
Something to Hide, a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW), details the many ways that Indonesia has hindered the media and others from monitoring the situation in West Papua. Based on interviews with journalists, humanitarian workers, government officials and others, the report finds that "Past restrictions have far exceeded what is permissible under Indonesia's international law obligations."
The report summarizes and add details to the instances when Jakarta has hindered international NGOs, journalists and human rights investigators from reporting from West Papua. It provides an important service by providing details on the threats and other barriers locally-based journalists face in carrying out their work. These include beatings, detention, and the placement of intelligence officers in newsrooms.
Confusion has characterized Jakarta's policy since President Widodo announced an end to restrictions on foreign journalists visiting the territory. HRW urges the government to "promptly and officially end its restrictions on travel to Papua by foreign media outlets and nongovernmental organizations, and take all necessary steps to ensure that Indonesians and foreign nationals alike who go to Papua are not subjected to threats, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses."
The full report is in English. The summary and recommendations are also in Indonesian.
Salvaging Democracy for West Papuans in the Face of Australia--Indonesia Obstruction
argues in The Asia-Pacific Journal
that Australia and Indonesia fail to live up to their
democratic ideals when it comes to West Papua and
West Papuans. "Such shortcomings are legitimated by mainstream
media's exoticist portrayals of West Papuans, particularly in Australia,"
Webb-Gannon writes, but "democracy, as practiced by civil society
actors at the grassroots and digital network level in Australia and
West Papua, creates cracks in the official Australia-Indonesia state
on Civil Resistance
in West Papua