Rape of a Nation
Armed and financed by Western corporations, Indonesia
is waging a brutal and unreported war against a tribal
people with little more than bows and arrows to defend
The Ecologist, April 2005
Nona Kogoya was two years old when she died. She had
been a normal, healthy young girl; but that was before
the soldiers came. In February Nonas village,
in the highlands of New Guinea, was attacked by heavily
armed Indonesian soldiers. The soldiers came without
warning, running from home to home, firing their automatic
rifles at random and dragging civilians, including Nona,
from their thatched huts. Then they set fire to the
houses. Nothing was spared: even the church was burned
to the ground. As the houses burned, the soldiers trampled
the villagers crops their only source of
food for the coming year and, to ensure that
no hope was left, impounded their livestock.
Terrified, the villagers ran for their lives into the
forest. They kept running for days, and they stayed
there for weeks. They were safe from the soldiers, but
they had no shelter, and had to survive on what food
they could find in the forest. Nona, unsurprisingly,
fell ill. The soldiers had the forest surrounded, and
wouldnt let anyone take food, supplies or medicines
to the refugees.
On 10 February Nona died and was buried in a shallow
grave in the forest. She was not the first innocent
child to die in West Papua, and she will not be the
What happened in Nonas village was not an isolated
incident: it has been repeated across the highlands
of West Papua for months. Indonesian soldiers have been
burning villages, attacking civilians, raping women
and killing men in a widespread and planned military
operation. As you read this, at least 5,000 refugees
are living precariously on the slopes of cold mountains
and in deep forests, hiding from the army. International
observers, journalists and aid workers are banned by
the Indonesian government from getting into the country.
It is a huge, horrific and deliberately planned attempt
to cow and terrify an entire population. But you would
be forgiven for not having heard anything about it.
The worlds media didnt report it. The worlds
politicians, so concerned about human rights abuses
under Saddam Hussein and North Koreas Kim Jong
Il, said nothing.
You would be forgiven, too, for not having heard of
West Papua, the country in which these atrocities are
taking place. For the Papuan people, this is par for
the course. They have got used to the fact that the
ongoing genocide of their people and their nation is
routinely ignored by the rest of the world. For the
soldiers and politicians of Indonesia, the nation that
has occupied West Papua, against the will of its people,
for almost half a century, this was just the way they
What the Indonesian military is doing in the Papuan
highlands is known as a destabilising operation.
It has happened many times before, and it works like
this: first, the special forces of the Indonesian military,
Kopassus (known as Indonesias SS),
murder some innocent civilians: in this case a number
of priests and schoolteachers. Then, Kopassus issues
a statement claiming that Papuan rebels fighting for
independence from Indonesia were responsible for the
killings. Finally, the soldiers enact a bloody price
on the civilian population in revenge for the killings
that they themselves carried out. The result, at least
in theory, will be a terrified population, too scared
to stand up to the occupying forces of a brutal foreign
This is Indonesias secret war: a war carried
out by a sophisticated modern military machine against
a tribal people with little more than bows and arrows
to defend itself; a war for gold, timber and cultural
supremacy; a war that will go on until the world wakes
up to the horrors that happen every day in the highlands
of this forgotten nation.
West Papua, the western half of New Guinea (the worlds
second largest island), is one of the most remarkable
places on earth. Between them, its million or so inhabitants,
who live in tribal communities in largely untouched
rainforest, speak around 500 separate languages. It
is home to hundreds of unique species, including the
bird of paradise and the tree kangaroo. Though nominally
a part of the Dutch East Indies during the 19th century,
Dutch New Guinea, as it was then known, was left virtually
unmolested until the middle of the 20th century. Then,
life for its people was to change swiftly, brutally
and for ever.
After WWII the Dutch East Indies became a new nation
state: Indonesia. But the Dutch wanted West Papua to
become independent. The Melanesian, animist Papuans,
they argued, had nothing in common with the Asiatic,
Muslim Indonesians. They should have their own country.
The Indonesians, in turn, insisted that West Papua was
On 1 December 1961 the Dutch, in a defiant gesture,
ceded independence to West Papua. A new Papuan flag,
the Morning Star, was raised as West Papuas people
proclaimed their freedom. Celebrations were to be short-lived.
The UN, under pressure from the US, Indonesias
newest ally, refused to recognise the new nation, and
in 1962 an Indonesian invasion force parachuted into
the Papuan rainforests.
The UN intervened and promised the Papuans a referendum
on independence, but Indonesia objected. The savages
of Papua, said the Indonesian government, were too backward
to cope with democracy. Instead, Indonesia would choose
1,022 representative Papuan leaders and
ask them which they wanted: an independent West Papua,
or absorption into Indonesia.
In 1969, as the UN looked on, Indonesian soldiers instructed
the Papuans to choose. Some had been warned that their
tongues would be cut out if they voted for independence.
Others had been told in graphic detail what would happen
to their wives and children if they made the wrong decision.
None of them did. Unanimously, they voted for West Papua
to become Indonesias 26th province.
This process, which the UN proceeded to rubber-stamp,
in one of the most shameful moments of its history,
was known as the Act of Free Choice. Papuans
have referred to it scornfully ever since as the Act
of No Choice. It was to open the door to the most
brutal period in Papuan history.
Under their new dictator-president, general Suharto,
Jakarta embarked on a campaign to Indonesianise
its new province and to wipe out Papuan culture. Hundreds
of thousands of Indonesians from Java were moved to
West Papua, often against their will, and dumped in
transmigration camps carved out of the rainforest.
Raising the Morning Star flag, singing Papuan songs,
wearing traditional dress, and even talking in public
about independence were banned.
Those who resisted this ethnic cleansing were murdered,
tortured or disappeared with a horrific
ferocity. Rebels were shot in front of their families,
tortured to death in prison cells, thrown from warships
to the sharks in the Pacific or dropped from helicopters
back onto their villages as a warning to others. Officially,
more than 100,000 Papuans have been killed by the Indonesians
since occupation; unofficially, the figure is said to
be as large as 800,000.
Visit Papua and trek into some of the more remote communities,
and almost everyone you meet will have a story to tell
about the suffering they have seen or endured. When
I visited the country in 2002, I was told of massacres
and assassinations, shown huts where torture had taken
place and streets where demonstrators had been gunned
down. The people talk about it as if it were part of
everyday life; it is.
Why does Indonesia bother? In a word: resources. For
West Papua is a literal goldmine, which the Indonesians,
with the help of some of the worlds worst corporations,
have been exploiting for decades.
Even before it took control of West Papua, Indonesia
had been negotiating with the US mining company Freeport,
which wanted to open up what looked like a vast copper
deposit in West Papua. In 1969 Freeport moved in. In,
too, came the Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell, and a clutch
of other mining and oil prospectors. The Indonesian
government, thousands of miles away in Jakarta, laid
out some maps of West Papua on a table and drew lines
on them to designate the forestry concessions
(taking up much of Papuas vast rainforest, second
in size only to the Amazon) that it was going to hand
out to logging companies.
The notorious case of the Freeport mine is the best
example of how corporate exploitation is affecting the
people of West Papua. Freeports Grasberg gold
mine contains the largest gold reserves, and the third-largest
copper reserves, anywhere on the planet. It is both
an engineering marvel and an act of breathless colonialism:
the company has, literally, sliced the top off a previously
inaccessible mountain, a mountain that was home to the
mother goddess of the local tribes, thousands of whom
were forcibly evicted from their land by the company.
The Grasberg mine produces more gold in three months
than most gold mines produce in a year. It provides
a fifth of Indonesias entire tax base and accounts
for half of West Papuas GDP. By the end of Grasbergs
life, Freeport expects to have dumped three billion
tons of waste rock into the valleys surrounding the
mine: thats twice the volume of earth extracted
during the construction of the Panama Canal. It has,
according to observers, damaged 30,000 hectares of rainforest
in the last three decades, and every day it dumps up
to 200,000 tons of mine waste, laced with acid and heavy
metals, into the sacred Aikwa river, from which local
people used to drink and fish. All of this without one
single Papuan giving permission for it to happen; and
all of this made possible only by a ring of Indonesian
soldiers guarding the mine from the original owners
of its stolen land.
But Indonesia has not had everything its own way. Since
the beginning of the occupation, the Papuan people have
been resisting. And in recent years that resistance
has grown to the point at which, with international
help, the Papuan struggle could, at last, begin to succeed.
The first stage of Papuan resistance was the creation
of the OPM, or Free Papua Movement, a guerrilla army
formed in 1970. Small, determined and hopelessly outgunned,
the OPM has nevertheless kept the flame of freedom alive
for 35 years. Recently, much to the chagrin of the Indonesian
government, that flame has been fanned by the arrival
of a new generation of independence campaigners.
Many of these came out of a daring mass meeting held
in 2000, known as the Papua Peoples Congress.
The year before, Suharto had been toppled as president
of Indonesia, and a new climate of openness seemed possible.
That year, for the first time in three decades, the
Papuans had celebrated their independence day,
1 December, and raised the Morning Star flag without
an ensuing massacre.
At the congress, 3,000 delegates, some of whom had
hiked barefoot through the mountains for weeks to get
there, created a new organisation: the Papua Council.
Made up of 500 tribal leaders, the council was exactly
what the Papuans had never had: a respectable, non-violent
lobby group calling openly for independence.
At the same time, other peaceful pro-independence groupings
Demmak, a pan-tribal coalition, AMP, a student
organisation, and others sprang into life. The
OPM declared a ceasefire, in solidarity with them. Papuan
human rights workers began issuing reports critical
of Indonesia. And for the first time, Papuan leaders
were travelling the world, openly calling for independence.
Indonesias secret war was being exposed to the
It couldnt last. Despite its nominal new status
as a democracy, Indonesias attitude
to separatists in its midst has not changed.
Senior military and police figures who had been responsible
for so much bloodletting in the recently independent
Indonesian province East Timor were brought in to deal
with the Papuans. Kopassus got down to doing what it
does best: murder, rape and torture.
In November 2001 the leader of the Papua Council, Theys
Eluay, was abducted and murdered by Kopassus. Demmak
was banned and its leader, Benny Wenda, arrested, imprisoned
and tortured. He might have suffered the same fate as
Eluay had he not managed to escape and flee to Britain,
where he has now been granted political asylum. Student
demonstrations were broken up and their leaders arrested.
John Rumbiak, West Papuas leading human rights
advocate, received so many death threats that he fled
to New York, where he now lives in exile.
One Papuan leader who was beaten during interrogation
by Indonesian police later reported the words of his
tormentors. We have experience in operations in
East Timor, they told him. Be careful
we will shoot you all
We will shoot you and your
We are not afraid.
But perhaps the Indonesians are afraid. Officially
the government line on West Papua remains defiant and
consistent. Like any other country, said
Indonesias then president Megawati Sukarnoputri
last year, we will not and never will let any
group or movement break up our unitary state. This is
a non-negotiable principle. Since then, Indonesia
has elected a new president. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
isa former general who spent some of his formative years
suppressing rebellion in East Timor. Yudhoyono, unsurprisingly,
is no keener on Papuan independence than his predecessors
have been. He does know, though, that Papuan anger is
real and growing.
Hence Indonesias recent decision to grant the
Papuan people something called special autonomy:
a small degree of control over their resources and government.
It was hoped that this would dampen down demands for
independence, but every representative Papuan organisation
has rejected it as inadequate and redoubled its calls
for freedom. Indonesia has brutalised the Papuans for
too long for them to be fobbed off now.
Yet despite this, there are increasing signs of hope.
Exiled Papuans are spreading the word around the world.
Websites are springing up, presenting evidence smuggled
out from West Papua about what is happening within its
borders. Solidarity meetings are being held in Europe,
the US and Australia. International NGOs like Amnesty
International and Human Rights Watch are focusing on
West Papua as never before.
Here in Britain a new national campaigning organisation,
the Free West Papua Campaign, will be officially launched
this month, with the support of MPs from all political
parties and activist groups all over the UK. The campaigns
aim is to expose what is happening in West Papua and
to battle on the national and international stages for
what every Papuan group is now calling for: a re-run
of the previously rigged UN vote on their independence;
a chance for their voice to finally be heard.
For a long time, Papuan leaders have been saying that
West Papua is the new East Timor, which
eventually succeeded in winning independence from Indonesia.
For years this seemed a far-fetched claim. Today, it
seems highly likely. Slowly but surely, the Papuans
are bringing their case before the world. What they
need now is for as many voices to join them as possible,
as they call for the freedom they have been denied for
so many years.
What you can do
If you are concerned about the situation in West Papua,
please get involved. Every voice makes a difference.
- Write to your MP. Request him or her to ask the
government what it is doing about the current internal
refugee crisis in West Papua. Demand that the government
pressurises Indonesia to allow international monitors
into West Papua to assess the situation.
- Write to the foreign secretary Jack Straw. Explain
that the colonised people of West Papua have not been
allowed the right to self-determination, as guaranteed
to all by the Charter of the United Nations. Ask that
the government supports a new referendum on independence
for the West Papuans.
- Contact the Free West Papua Campaign. It will put
you on its database and keep you regularly updated
about campaigns, events and more. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
West Papua is rich in resources, and some of the worlds
biggest corporations are profiting hugely from them.
Despite their public statements about corporate
social responsibility and environmental
sustainability, all of them seem happy to operate
in a country in which tribal people are violently suppressed
by an occupying power.
Here are some of the guilty parties. If you want to
write to any of them and ask them how they justify operating
in West Papua, their email contacts are listed below.
Please send copies of any replies to email@example.com.
BP is preparing to open a liquefied natural gas
extraction plant in West Papuas Bintuni Bay.
BP says it is concerned about human rights and the
Papuan environment. But it also says it may use Indonesian
soldiers as security for its project:
a sure-fire recipe for oppression. Ask BPs CEO
Sir John Browne to explain himself: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Freeport McMoran
Operates the worlds biggest goldmine in
the Papuan highlands, with a history of corruption,
environmental destruction and human rights abuse as
long as the list of Papuan dead. Freeport pays the
Indonesian military millions of dollars a year for
providing its security. CEO Richard Adkerson
should be taken to task: email@example.com
- Rio Tinto
The British mining company owns a 40 per cent
stake in Freeports Grasberg mine in West Papua.
Ask CEO Leigh Clifford how he justifies his part in
the genocide of a people: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rolls Royce
Rolls Royce does not operate in West Papua itself,
but it does sell military aircraft engines to Indonesia.
The aircraft they power have been used to strafe Papuan
villages. We aim to meet societys expectations
by setting a high standard of business conduct and
personal behaviour, says Rolls Royces
website. Ask Sir John Rose, Rolls Royces CEO,
how he squares this circle: email@example.com
- BAE Systems
Formerly British Aerospace, BAE has been a long-time
supplier of military aircraft to the Indonesian regime.
Write to CEO Mike Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about the new Free West Papua
Campaign, send an email to email@example.com,
or visit www.freewestpapua.org