Skip to content

etan-key AI Annual Report: Indonesia 2016/2017

February 24, 2017

Back to Indonesia

Indonesia 2016/2017

Broad and vaguely worded laws were used to arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association. Despite the authorities’ commitments to resolve past cases of human rights violations, millions of victims and their families were still denied truth, justice and reparation. There were reports of human rights violations by security forces, including unlawful killings and the use of excessive or unnecessary force. At least 38 prisoners of conscience remained in detention. Four people were executed.


In January, the armed group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in the capital, Jakarta, in which four attackers and four civilians were killed. In response, the government proposed changes to the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which could undermine safeguards against torture and arbitrary detention and expand the scope of the application of the death penalty. In July, retired General Wiranto was appointed as Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Law and Security Affairs. He had been indicted for crimes against humanity by a UN-sponsored tribunal in Timor-Leste. He was named as a suspect in the inquiry initiated in 1999 by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), for gross violations of human rights in East Timor surrounding the 1999 referendum. No charges had been brought against him by the end of the year.

Freedom of expression

Broad and vaguely worded laws continued to arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association, and of religion or belief. In July, Yanto Awerkion and Sem Ukago, Papuan political activists in Timika, were charged with “rebellion” under Article 106 of the Criminal Code. In November, prisoner of conscience Steven Itlay, leader of the Timika branch of the West Papuan National Committee was sentenced to one year in prison for “incitement” under Article 160 (see below). Another activist from Ternate, North Maluku, was charged with “rebellion” for posting online a photo of a T-shirt with a caricature of the communist hammer and sickle symbol. In May, Ahmad Mushaddeq, Andry Cahya and Mahful Muis Tumanurung, former leaders of the disbanded religious group, Gafatar, were arrested and later charged with blasphemy under Article 156a of the Criminal Code, and with “rebellion” under Articles 107 and 110 of the Code. They were penalized for peacefully practising their beliefs.

Vague language in the 2008 Electronic Information and Transaction (ITE) Law allowed for the wide interpretation of definitions of defamation and blasphemy, and the criminalization of expression. Haris Azhar, Executive Coordinator of the human rights NGO KontraS, was threatened by the police, the military and the National Anti-Narcotics Agency with defamation charges under the Law. This followed an article he published on social media linking security and law enforcement officials to drug trafficking and corruption. The charges were suspended. 1 In August, Pospera, a pro-ruling party organization, filed a criminal defamation complaint under the ITE Law against I Wayan Suardana, a human rights defender from Bali. The complaint was made in response to I Wayan Suardana’s using Twitter to mock supporters of a large-scale land reclamation project by a commercial developer in Benoa Bay, southern Bali. 2 The police were still investigating the complaint at the end of the year. At least 11 other activists were reported to the police by state or non-state actors for criminal defamation under the ITE Law after the activists criticized government policies.

Between April and September, at least 2,200 Papuan activists were arrested after participating in peaceful demonstrations in Jayapura, Merauke, Fakfak, Sorong and Wamena in Papua and West Papua Provinces, in Semarang in Central Java Province, in Makassar in South Sulawesi Province and in Yogyakarta Province. Most were released without charge after one day. The arbitrary arrests highlighted the ongoing repressive environment for political activists in the Papua region. 3

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Discrimination increased against LGBTI people after officials made inflammatory, grossly inaccurate or misleading statements in January on the grounds of “defending the country’s public morality and public security”. In February, police disbanded a workshop organized by a leading LGBTI NGO in Jakarta and prevented a pro-LGBTI rally from taking place in Yogyakarta. 4 In the same month, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission issued a letter calling for a ban on any television or radio broadcasts promoting LGBTI activities, to “protect the children”.

Also in February, amid increasing anti-LGBTI rhetoric, the Islamic school for transgender people, Al Fatah in Yogyakarta, was forced to close following intimidation and threats by the Islamic Jihadist Front. In June, the government voted against a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, and again at the UN General Assembly in November, to appoint an independent expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Freedom of religion and belief

Discriminatory legislation continued to be used to restrict the activities of members of minority religious groups who faced harassment, intimidation and attacks. In January, a mob set alight nine houses belonging to members of the Gafatar movement in Menpawah District, West Kalimantan. After the attacks, at least 2,000 people were forcibly moved by local security forces to temporary shelters in Kubu Raya District and Pontianak City, West Kalimantan Province, and later transferred to locations on Java without prior consultation.

In February, a Joint Ministerial decree (No.93/2016) was issued by the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General and the Minister of Home Affairs proscribing the Millah Abraham religious belief, adhered to by former members of Gafatar. 5

Members of the Ahmadiyya community, whose teachings are viewed as “deviant” by the government, were intimidated and threatened in various locations. 6 In February, at least 12 members were forced to leave their homes in Bangka Island, off the east coast of Sumatra, after being intimidated by a group of at least 100 local residents. Members of the Ahmadiyya community had been under threat of expulsion since January when the Bangka District government issued an order that they convert to mainstream Sunni Islam or leave the district. Local authorities allowed them to return after three weeks following national and international pressure.


In April, the government organized a symposium on the 1965-66 mass human rights violations that brought together survivors, scholars, activists and artists, as well as military and other government officials. In October, the government announced that it would redress the violations using non-judicial measures to ensure “national harmony and unity”. Victims and NGOs raised concerns that this process may prioritize reconciliation while abandoning the quest for truth and justice. Authorities continued to silence and disband activities relating to 1965-66, including a film screening and a cultural festival. 7

The authorities took limited steps to address serious human rights violations. In March, the National Human Rights Commission completed its investigations into the 2003 human rights violations by security forces in Jambo Keupok village, South Aceh. The Commission found that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that crimes against humanity occurred, as defined in Law No.26/2000 on Human Rights Courts. The Commission made similar findings in June in connection with security force violations in 1999 in Simpang KKA, Dewantara sub-district, North Aceh. No criminal investigations or prosecutions had been initiated by the end of the year.

In July the local Aceh provincial parliament selected seven commissioners to the Aceh Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was expected to operate between 2016 and 2020. The Commission was established to examine the circumstances which led to past abuses during the Aceh conflict between the Indonesian security forces and the Free Aceh Movement, in particular between 1989 and 2004.

In September, President Widodo made a public pledge to resolve the case of human rights defender Munir Said Thalib. In October, the Public Information Commission ruled that the 2005 report into his killing, which reportedly implicated senior intelligence officers, should be made public. The government appealed against the ruling.

Police and security forces

Reports continued of unnecessary or excessive use of force, including the use of firearms, by police and military, and of the lack of independent, effective and impartial mechanisms to investigate violations by security forces. Criminal investigations into human rights violations by police were rare, and attempts to hold alleged perpetrators to account, mostly through internal disciplinary mechanisms, left many victims without access to justice and reparation. There was no progress towards holding to account those involved in the killing of four men in December 2014 after police and military personnel opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Paniai regency, Papua Province. An inquiry in March by Komnas HAM made no progress.

In April, the then chief of the Indonesia National Police confirmed that an alleged terrorism suspect had died after being assaulted and kicked by members of the Detachment-88 counter-terrorism unit. In May, two members of Detachment 88 received administrative sanctions after an internal police hearing.

In August, officers of the Mobile Brigade (Brimob) shot dead a Papuan teenager in Sugapa, Intan Jaya regency, Papua Province. Otianus Sondegau and four others created a road block to ask for money and cigarettes from passing traffic. Police attempted to disperse the blockade violently and fired shots at the five teenagers at which point they threw stones at the police. Five officers were found guilty of “misusing firearms” after internal disciplinary hearings; four served 21-day prison sentences and another was sentenced to a year in prison related to the shooting.

In October, members of the Madiun Infantry 501 Raider Battalion attacked a journalist from NET TV who was covering a brawl between members of a military unit and a martial arts group in Madiun, East Java Province. They beat him, destroyed his camera’s memory card and threatened him if he reported the incident. Despite promises by the Armed Forces chief to investigate the attack, no one had been held to account at the end of the year.

Prisoners of conscience

At least 38 prisoners of conscience remained in detention, many for their peaceful political activism in Papua and Maluku. Prison authorities delayed access to adequate and free medical treatment to Johan Teterissa and Ruben Saiya who were suffering long-term health conditions. The two men were among at least nine prisoners of conscience from Maluku held in Java, more than 2,500km from family and friends. Steven Itlay, imprisoned in Timika, Papua, suffered ill health as a result of poor conditions and was granted only limited access to his family and lawyer. 8

In May, three leaders of the Millah Abraham religious group were arrested and detained by the Indonesian National Police and were charged with “blasphemy” under Article 156a of the Criminal Code and “rebellion” under Articles 107 and 110.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment continued. In September, Asep Sunandar died in police custody in Cianjur, West Java Province. He had been arrested, with two others, without a warrant, by three officers of the Cianjur Resort police. He was taken to an undisclosed location and later reported dead. His family said that when they visited the hospital, they saw multiple gunshot wounds to his body and his hands still tied behind his back. No investigation into the death is known to have been carried out.

Cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment

Caning was used as a punishment under Shari’a law in Aceh for a range of criminal offences including selling alcohol, consensual relations, and being alone with someone of the opposite sex who was not a marriage partner or relative. At least 100 people were caned during the year. The law was applied to non-Muslims for the first time in April when a Christian woman received 28 strokes of the cane for selling alcohol. 9

In October, the House of Representatives ratified Government Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perppu) No.1/2016, which amended Article 81 of Law No.23/2002 on the Protection of Children. The revised law imposed forced chemical castration as an additional punishment for those convicted of sexual violence against a child under 18. According to the revised law, chemical castration would be carried out for up to two years after the expiry of the offender’s prison term. The Indonesian Doctors’ Association stated that it would refuse to administer the procedure.

Death penalty

In July, one Indonesian national and three foreign nationals were executed, three of them while their appeals were pending. Ten other prisoners who had been moved to Nusa Kambangan Island, where the executions took place, were given last-minute stays of execution to allow for a review of their cases.

  1. Indonesia: Defamation investigation suspended (ASA 21/4734/2016)
  2. Indonesia: Defender under investigation for defamation (ASA 21/4833/2016)
  3. Indonesia: End mass arrests and crackdowns on peaceful protests (ASA 21/3948/2016)
  4. Indonesia: Stop inflammatory and discriminatory statements that put the LGBTI community at risk (ASA 21/3648/2016)
  5. Indonesia: Authorities must repeal joint ministerial decree (ASA 21/3787/2016)
  6. Indonesia: Religious minority members forcibly evicted (ASA 21/3409/2016)
  7. Indonesia: President must not undermine efforts to seek truth, justice and reparation (ASA 21/3671/2016)
  8. Indonesia: Poor prison conditions for Papuan activist (ASA 21/4085/2016)
  9. Indonesia: End caning as a punishment in Aceh (ASA 21/3853/2016)

Indonesian rights violations in Papua triple

February 23, 2017

Indonesian rights violations in Papua triple

Groups blame emphasis on economic development, militarist approach for being behind sharp increase in abuses

Indonesian rights violations in Papua triple

Police use water canons on protesters, mostly university students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance in Jakarta in this Dec. 1, 2016 photo. The protesters were rallying against Indonesian rule over the eastern region of Papua. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta

February 22, 2017

Human rights violations in Papua more than tripled last year, undermining Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s post election pledge to solve longstanding grievances in the restive region, church and rights activists said.

In a report released on Feb. 20 by rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were 107 recorded cases of rights violations in 2016, which included arrests, torture, forced dismissals, killings and intimidation.

This was a sharp increase on the 2015 figure where only 30 cases were recorded, the report said.

More than 2,200 civilians were victims of violations, and included the arrest of more than 500 people on Dec. 19 during rallies calling for self-determination. Dec. 19 is the anniversary of Indonesia’s invasion of Papua in 1961.

President Joko Widodo’s emphasis on economic and infrastructure development, as well as his military approach in dealing with Papuan issues, caused the sharp increase in rights abuses, according to Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chief of the Setara Institute.

"President Widodo claimed that he would take a different approach from those followed by previous presidents. But what happens is that human rights violations continue to occur," he said.

"This is dangerous because it can jeopardize relations between the central government and the Papuan people," he said.

It could eventually result in complete lost of trust in the central government, he said.

Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network, described the human rights situation in the region as "gloomy."

The sharp increase in violations showed that "the Papuan people are still regarded as a state enemy that needs to be destroyed," he said.

"Continued violations have strengthened the spirit of nationalism among Papuans," the priest said.

"It makes people proud if they can raise the Morning Star flag in public places even though they would end up being arrested and jailed," he said.

Papuans look upon the flag as their national flag.

Father Tebay said Papuan people want central government to respect their rights and dignity.

He suggested Jakarta should hold dialogues with Papuan people to seek ways to resolve human rights violations.

Related Reports

MEDIA STATEMENT – 22 February 2017, Federal Republic of West Papua

February 21, 2017

Dr.Jacob Rumbiak – Foreign Minister

Justicia Aequitas? West Papuan activist facing charges of trespass in the Indonesian Consulate, Magistrates Court, 233 William St, Melbourne, Thursday 23 February 2017 : 9am.

West Papuans are wondering why one young man is facing charges for occupying the roof of the Indonesian Consulate in Melbourne for sixty seconds, while Indonesia has never been prosecuted for occupying their homeland with genocidal policies for sixty years. “Why is the Australian Government using all these resources—police time, judges time, court space, lawyers fees—against a spontaneous symbolic protest, which the Indonesian Consul didn’t even notice until he saw it on Facebook” said Jacob Rumbiak from the Federal Republic of West Papua office in Docklands.

Dr Rumbiak believes the young roof-sitter’s act of civil disobedience was illegal, but barely culpable compared to Indonesia’s crimes against humanity in West Papua which he was seeking to draw attention to (see, for example, The Neglected Genocide by the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong).

Supporters protesting outside the Magistrates Court between 9 and 11am include: Ballarat Friends of West Papua, Maritime Union of Australia, West Papua Rent Collective, Australia West Papua Association, FRWP Office in Docklands, The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the Ballarat and West Victoria Trades Hall.

INQUIRIES Jacob Rumbiak 04978 67070; John Lawrance 04315 54354

International Relations and Hegemonic Determinism on the Future of West Papua

February 19, 2017

Written by Virginia Reid, George Mason University



International relations are essentially intrinsic phenomena in the globalized world. The establishment of positive economical and political connections among nation states is paramount for the adequate development and maintenance of country, as well as for granting nations the right to self-determination and the recognition as member of a transnational network.

International coalitions formed by developed countries such as NATO, the European Union and the United Nations, alongside Hegemonic nations are deterministic forces who exert power over underdeveloped countries deciding their fate according to selfish objectives. According to Colin Flint, Hegemony is an economic process for selfish goals, and not global benevolence. (Flint, 2011, p. 198) Although the geopolitical actions of powerful countries in the world may at times benefit poorer countries or even the world as a whole, they primarily focused in strategic protocols that seek to guarantee benefits to their political and economic needs.

A well depicted example of the determinism on poor nations caused by International coalitions and hegemonic powers is the dispute over the territory of West Papua[1]. Its status as Indonesian territory has been conceded through international negotiations among Indonesia, the Netherlands, the U.S., and other nations and international alliances, without truly considering the needs and wants of the native Papuans.

Geopolitics seeks to explain the relationship between land and power, by analyzing how political interests affect national and international struggle over the land and resources. It is in the geopolitical light that the struggles over the Papuan territory as well as the deterministic role of Hegemonic countries over the Papuans are explored in this paper.

The dispute over West Papua

The origin of disagreement over possession of the territory of West Papua, for the purposes of discussion in this paper, was a result of “The Round Table Agreement” of 1949, when the Netherlands granted independence to the archipelago nation of Indonesia, after being deserted by important allies, the U.S and Australia, who allegedly wanted to see an end to the era of colonialism. After that agreement, Indonesia and the Netherlands still had shaky relations and a heated disagreement over the possession of West Papua.

For the Dutch, West Papua was important in the past due to it being an outer defense perimeter against foreign incursions on the eastern flank of the Netherlands East Indies. Although that importance became meaningless after the dissolution of the Dutch empire, they still wanted to hold on to the territory of West Papua as remains of the empire they were once proud of, in addition to showing superiority over the Indonesians by retaining a territory that was desirable to them. Simply handing over West Papua to Indonesia would mean complete loss of a great empire legacy and hurt the nationalist pride of the Dutch. Christopher McMullen, a history PHD from Georgetown University, argues that the Dutch policy of retention of West Papua was a form of revenge against Indonesian nationalists who had rejected Dutch rule. (McMullen, 1981, p. 3)

For the Indonesians, allowing the Dutch to keep control over West Papua would jeopardize their new and fragile national cohesion. The Indonesians still felt great resentment against the Dutch due to their efforts to fragment the Indonesian nation through the imposition of a loose federal system prior to independence. Additionally, the Indonesians believed the Dutch were secretly involved in separatists’ movements against the establishment of the Indonesian National Revolution. The Dutch presence in West Papua was a constant threat to accomplishing the territorial goals of Indonesian Revolution as well as a vestige of colonialism. (McMullen, 1981, p. 2)

After the initial years post “The Round Table Agreement” of 1949, both Indonesia and the Netherlands appealed several times to the United Nations attempting to gain approval in the control of West Papua. Although none of the parties were able to get a substantial number of votes on general assemblies for the resolution of the matter. Relations between the two countries escalated. The Indonesian government, adamant about possessing the Papuan territory sought help from the communist bloc countries. It accepted large amounts of military and economic aid from the Soviet Union, and was ready to go on war to guarantee that West Papua became permanently part Indonesian territory.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government realized it would be costly and dangerous to fight the Indonesians, who had been actively and tactically getting ready for a war. Attempting to avoid complications in the international arena, which condemned colonialism, and preventing war against the Indonesians, the Dutch took a more philosophical approach on the matter. They changed their policy in regards to the Papuan issue by recognizing that the Papuan people were distinct from the Indonesians and should be allowed to determine their own political future. Instead of claiming control over the Papuan territory the Netherlands asserted that the Papuans should be granted opportunity for self-determination, and decide whether they wanted to be under Indonesian rule through a plebiscite. The Dutch started investing on the development on West Papuan public services and education of the people, preparing them for the possible independence to come. (Fernandes, 2006, p. 53-54)

Initially, the United States did not get involved in the Papuan territorial disputes. The U.S. stood for the principle of “freedom” and had been previously involved in the process of self-determination of other countries such as Indonesia itself. However, on the context of the cold war, interfering in a mere territorial dispute and assisting the Dutch on the self-determination act of West Papua was not a priority at first. The Unites States was already involved in conflict in Laos and in the Vietnam, and could not afford to get deeply involved in another war context; therefore it just maintained a position of neutrality for a while. (McMullen, 1981, p. 7) Additionally, the Australian Government sympathized with Indonesia’s nationalist and anti-colonialist position and was also supporter of the process of independence of Indonesia, being in favor of its dominance over West Papua. (Fernandes, 2006, p. 18)

The failure of bilateral negotiations between The Hague and Jakarta resulted on increased tensions. With the growth and expansion of communist sentiment through the PKI, a Moscow- oriented Communist Party, the Indonesians threatened to fight the Dutch for the Papuan territory. At that time, the American government felt the need to diplomatically intervene in the negotiations and attempt to pacify the Indonesian government. The United States and Australia feared that if a war between Indonesia and the Netherlands occurred, it would trigger deeper issues of polarization since they would have to align with the West and support the Dutch, while the Indonesians would be supported by the communist camp. Such polarization would translate in a deeper entrenchment of communism in Indonesia conceding strategic advantages to Soviet Union and Communist China. (McMullen, 1981, p 7-8)

In late 1961 the American president, Kennedy, issued letters to Indonesian and the Netherlands governments urging the importance to avoid war and settled the territorial dispute peacefully. Both countries selected an American, Ellsworth Bunker, to serve as a mediator during the negotiations. Bunker was tasked by the American government to prepare a thoroughly crafted proposal that would ideally benefit both parties, ensuring that Indonesians would not pursue war and that the Dutch would be conceded that the right for self-determination would be granted to the Papuans. The negotiations were heated. The Indonesians requested that West Papua be conceded as their territory immediately ending any further dispute. Meanwhile, the Dutch wanted a transition period, with the UN being responsible for overseeing West Papua during the preparation of the people for the plebiscite. (McMullen, 1981, p 9-13)

According to McMullen, the United Nations was an important instrument for the Dutch to save face on the Papuan issue. The Dutch were aware of the ramifications that a war with the Indonesians would provoke on the context of the cold war. They also knew that the United States and Australia’s reluctance in backing them up with military personal at first, indicated that those countries were more concerned about the negative impact the conflict would bring for containment of communism. Therefore, the Dutch came to terms that they might not be able to secure the possession of the West Papuan territory, and just wanted the world to know that they did not give up in the matter and attempted to protect the Papuans right for self-determination. (McMullen, 1981, p 13 and 42)

On August 15, 1962, the Netherlands and Indonesia’s governments came to an agreement, accepting the terms of the Bunker- Stavropolous plan, also known as the New York agreement, which was crafted by the United States’ mediator and adjusted by the contending governments to ensure that both parties’ requirements were satisfied. The plan stated that The Netherlands would transfer control of the Papuan territory to the UNTEA (Unite Nations Temporary Executive Authority) and its personnel, which would manage the territory for a year. The plan also stated that the Indonesian armed forces had the right of presence in that land if they stayed under the authority of the UN commissioner until the complete transfer of the Papuan territory to the Indonesians occurred in no later than May 1, 1963. Following the transfer of administrative authority to Indonesia, UN personnel would remain in West Papua to advise and assist in the preparations for the conduction of the decision over self-determination, which was supposed to take place within six years of the Indonesian sovereignty. Lastly, it stated that full diplomatic relations between Indonesia and The Netherlands would be restored after the signing of this agreement. (McMullen, 1981, p. 38-64)

Although the New York agreement had been signed by the Indonesian president Sukarno, it was the new leader, the repressive and authoritarian Major- General Suharto, who devised a plan to guarantee that the Papuan territory would stay under Indonesia’s rule. Suharto claimed that due to the unique social and geographical difficulties of the Papuan territory. He affirmed that the one person one vote system was not adequate in the rural areas of Papua because the population was not politically educated enough. Suharto determined that the best alternative to conduct a poll of the opinion of the Papuan people over the question of self-determination would be through the process of “musywarah”- a process towards decision-making based on discussion, understanding, and knowledge of the problem. The United Nations diplomat, Fernando Ortiz, was sent to Indonesia to participate and oversee the Papuans decision in regards to their self-determination. The Indonesian government purposefully delayed his entrance into the country in order to intimidate the Papuans to accept Indonesian sovereignty, through the means of air and ground attacks, torture, and mass killings. In the summer of 1969, the act of free choice, as denominated by the Indonesian governor, took place involving only 1022[2] West Papuans handpicked and coerced by the Indonesian government without the supervision of the United Nations. The act of free choice, which resulted in the unanimous vote of the selected delegates Papuans expressing their will in continuing being part of Indonesia, was accepted by the UN General Assembly, making of west Papua the 27th province of Indonesia. (Fernandes, 2006, p. 56-58)

A maritime odyssey by forty three West Papuans in a traditional outtrigger canoe. They circumnavigated their huge homeland before crossing the bottleneck of currents between New Guinea and Australia, then beached their canoe at Mapoon on the west coast of North Queensland on 17 January 2006.

Damien Baker of Torres News ( a small weekly newspaper based on Thursday Island ) took the first photograph of the group, sitting under a tree at the edge of a lagoon, and immediately uploaded his photo to the internet. When the group was granted asylum, Indonesia withdrew its ambassador from Canberra, Australia.

The Papuan People and consequences of Hegemonic determinism

West Papua represents half of the second biggest island in the world, which was divided in the mid-19th century between Germany and the Netherlands. The Germany share was the eastern portion, called New Guinea, and the western portion denominated West Papua. West Papua is home for thousand of Melanesian natives who first occupied the island approximately 50,000 years ago. The natives are divided among hundreds of tribes, speaking 250 distinct dialects. As accounted by Clinton Fernandes, lecturer in strategic studies at University of South Wales, “the collision of the Indo-Australian and Pacific geological plates, about 10-20 million years ago, created the mountains of over 500 meters located in the southeast and northwest of the island. It also set off volcanic eruptions that pumped molted material from the ocean floor into the mountains, forming large mineral deposits of copper and gold.” (Fernandes, 2006, p 45)

For Indonesia, taking legal control over West Papua represented the achievement of complete nationhood; for the Papuans it was the beginning of its ruin. The population of Papua have been suppressed and denied the expression of their culture as well as the possibility of ameliorating its economical status. According to Dale Gietzelt of the University of Sidney, the Indonesian government had systematically tried to forge new identities for the indigenous Papuan people, as Indonesians (Malays) rather than Melanesians. This acculturation process seeks to fully incorporating the West Papuan population into the Indonesian nation-state through the education system, the media, economic development and trans- migration. Gietzelt calls this process ‘Indonesianization’, which implies forced instilment of the Indonesian world-view on the Papuans with the premise that they are more advanced and civilized. This process would also ensure greater trouble-free exploitation of the rich resources in the region. (Gietzelt, 1989, p 201)

Likewise, Peter King, a researcher and member of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies form University of Sydney, denounces that the Indonesian government’s main goal in the acquisition of Papua and the acculturation of its people is due to it being substantially profitable because of its biodiversity and vast natural resources. The Indonesian Government started exploring Papuan natural resources in early 1963, before the act of free choice. Later, in 1967, they signed a contract with New Orleans Company Free Port McMoran to exploit the copper and gold resource of Papuan Land. After this transaction, Freeport found itself owner of the largest gold mine and most profitable copper mine in the World. Fifty percent of the Papuan territory’s national GDP come from these mines. In addition, lucrative natural-gas fields are operated by several companies, with the large operation in Tangguh by BP. However, profits and royalties of these activities are drained away to Jakarta and to the brutal militias who ensure protection of the mines and gas fields. The native West Papuans have lived in extreme poverty and segregation situations. They are treated as a minority in their own country, suffering innumerous counts of human rights violations. (King, 2004, p 23) Amnesty International has estimated that over 100,000 Papuans have been killed by Indonesian troops and police since Indonesia assumed control of West Papua. (Asia Sentinel, June 2012)

Fernandes argues that Papuans had a distinct ethnicity identity long before Europeans entered the region and they have attempted to maintain their sense of own racial and cultural distinctiveness[3]. Furthermore, King states that Papuan have mobilized to assert their rights to greater participation in decision-making and self-determination. Fernandes affirms that formal Papuan resistance to Indonesian rule started as early as 1963, with the emergence of OPM (Organisani Papua Merdeka- Free Papua Movement). The OPM is insurgent militant group which has engaged in physical confrontation against Indonesian militias and police. (Fernandes, 2006, p 57).

Herman Wainggai – Leader of Nonviolent Struggle in West Papua

Other insurgent groups take a more pacifist approach, such as political nonviolent activists groups directed by highly educated Papuans, which have mobilized the population to demand the right for a democratic conduction of the act of free choice, and forged Papuan councils in preparation for economic and political autonomy of the country. Herman Wainggai, a member of the West Papuan National Authority and leader of nonviolent political actions, states that the nonviolent struggle in to achieve Merdeka (Freedom) is restless and ongoing. He affirms that the Indonesian government has arrested incarcerated and tortured nonviolent political activists since the 1980’s. It also has committed several counts of human rights violations against activists and civilians in order to contain the Merdeka movement. Wainggai also affirms that the Indonesian government ensures isolation of the Papuan people being very restrictive in allowing diplomats, NGOs and media in the territory, to avoid leakage of its inhumane practices in the international arena. Wainggai asserts that the Papuans struggle for freedom will not end until it is achieved, and the Morning Star Flag[4] rises as the national symbol of a Papuan country. (Wainggai, 2012)


The interplay among Hegemonic powers was a deterministic force that manipulated the situation of the territorial dispute of West Papua and affected the reality of its native people today. The forging o the New York agreement by US officials along with the Dutch and Indonesian government reflected entirely and simply the warranty of the fulfillment of their national interests. The United States and Australia were satisfied in securing the avoidance of war and polarization that could have strengthened the communist bloc during their containment policy. The UN helped save face of the Dutch by avoiding a direct transference of the Papuan territory to Indonesia, however denying the Papuans a fair opportunity to self determination and closing its eyes to the corruption and unfairness of the Act of Free Choice. The Dutch gained a good reputation by posing as Papuan benefactors by being adamant that the Papuans had a right of self-determination, when their chance of securing the territory as their own became slim. As a result, the Indonesian rule over West Papua has been an abusive and authoritative form of neocolonialism, that has oppressed the people, exploited the land without providing opportunity for Papuans descent living. The Hegemonic determinism may deny the Papuans acknowledgment of their distinct and rich culture and identity, as well as the right to their land. However, I believe that it may not quench their hope in their heart for Merdeka!


 Works Cited

Correspondant. Asian Sentinel. 14 June 2012. 23 July 2012.

Fernandes, Clinton. Reluctant Indonesians; Australia, Indonesia, and the future of West Papua. Carlton North, Australia: Scribe Publications, 2006.

Flint, Colin. Introduction to Geopolitics. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Gietzelt, Dale. “The Indonesianation of West Papua.” Oceania March 1989: 201-221.

King, Peter. West Papua & Indonesia since Suharto; Independence, Autonomy or Chaos? Sydney: UNSW Press, 2004.

McMullen, Christopher J. Mediation of The West New Guinea Dispute, 1962; A Case Study. Washington DC: Library Of Congress, 1981.

Wainggai, Herman. Interview. Virginia Reid. 25 July 2012.


Join us for a protest outside the Indonesian Embassy, Washington, D.C

February 17, 2017

Dear All,

We kindly invite everyone to join us, if you are in DC.

What: World-wide protest demanding that Indonesia end military colonization of West Papua and free all West Papuan political prisoners.

When: Saturday, March 18, 1 p.m– 2:30 p.m.

Where: Indonesian Embassy, Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, March 18, from 1:00 p.m to 2:30 p.m., the Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team in Washington DC will rise in solidarity with activist groups around the world in protesting Indonesia’s brutal colonization of West Papua, and demanding the immediate, unconditional release of all Papuan political prisoners.

The Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team is a group of academics and human rights activists who are willing to stand up for what is right and work toward a free West Papua that is independent from Military and corporate colonization.

We work to raise awareness about the issue because we believe that knowledge can change the countries fate!

Human Rights Watch reports that Indonesia has incarcerated nearly 200 activists from Maluku and West Papua for peacefully voicing their patriotism and political views. One of those refugees, Herman Wainggai, here at GMU as a visiting scholar, leader of nonviolent struggle in West Papua, was imprisoned for more than two years after daring to raise the West Papuan flag, and his uncle died in prison for the same reason.

Please share this event and invite your friends to help spread the word. We hope to see many of you outside of the Indonesian Embassy in D.C

Thank you!
Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team- DC.

Stand up for West Papua.

Stand with West Papuans against genocide and torture.

Video Interview: Herman Wainggai, Former Political Prisoner of West Papua

February 17, 2017

In this On The Ground interview, ICNC speaks with Herman Wainggai, one of the leaders of West Papua’s nonviolent, self-determination struggle against the Indonesian government.

The Players

Herman Wainggai is a West Papuan educator and organizer who has dedicated his life to his homeland’s self determination movement. In January 2006 Herman was granted political asylum in Australia after he and 42 other West Papuans escaped the island, crossing the Arafura Sea in a traditional double-outrigger canoe. Since then he’s been able to take on a new role as an advocate for West Papuan liberation by raising international awareness of the struggle.

Once part of the Dutch East Indies, West Papua underwent a rapid decolonization process in which administrative control over the territory was handed to Indonesia in 1963 following one year of UN transitional rule. Interested in gaining control of West Papua’s rich natural resources, Indonesia’s formal acquisition of the territory was affirmed in 1969 after a manipulated election known as the Act of Free Choice.

Only a hand-selected and extremely frightened 0.01% of the population were allowed to vote in the referendum, after Indonesia waged a campaign of blatant intimidation, disappearances, arrests and killings. None of this was ever cited as cause to challenge the legitimacy of the Act of Free Choice, although the UN later acknowledged that an overwhelming majority of West Papuans were not in favor of becoming Indonesians. These events triggered a self-determination struggle in which Indonesian rule was initially challenged by a small, poorly equipped band of guerilla fighters.

Things started to change in the 1980s when leaders of the movement, one of them being Herman’s uncle Thomas Wainggai, started to adopt Gandhian nonviolence as the movement’s central strategy. The transition from guerrilla fighting to popular resistance democratized the struggle allowing students and everyday West Papuans to participate in it.
Although West Papuans from all walks of life became the movement’s new backbone, those who opposed Indonesia nonviolently still faced state-sanctioned imprisonment, torture, and killing when they tried to voice core grievances, including the social costs of environmentally destructive development projects, increased competition and conflict over land resources as the government promoted the migration of Indonesians to West Papua, and institutionalized racism in the economy, education and in government bureaucracy.

The Tools and Tactics

Early in the interview Herman explains that the most significant force driving Indonesia’s domination of West Papua has always been the desire to profit from the territory’s natural resources. Jakarta has declared open season for international corporations eyeing those resources, in a land where laws protecting indigenous workers and their environment are virtually nonexistent. Like many other movements, the one for West Papuan self-determination is facing the headwind of a lucrative global commodities market driven by extractive industries and the states that facilitate them. Movement leaders such as Herman have had to devise clever strategies and tactics in order to overcome this tremendously challenging set of conditions.

Most recently, in July 2011, West Papuans organized a strike against one of the world’s largest mining companies, U.S.-based Freeport McMoRan. During the eight-day-long strike, roughly half of the workers laid down their tools at the world’s largest gold and copper mine causing the company to experience losses of roughly $95,000 per day. The strike ended when the company agreed to pay workers for their time spent striking and enter negotiations with union organizers demanding higher wages and humane working conditions. Negotiations were set to wrap up in late August 2011. Many West Papuans are hopeful that this round of negotiations will be as successful as they were in 2007 when workers secured a 98% pay increase following a similar series of events.

Aside from economic hardships, the movement is forced to operate under the constant threat of violence. West Papuans are trying to mute this violence by exposing it to the international community, although it has not been easy to get people outside of Oceania to pay attention to a struggle that they had never heard of. For example, only Australians and New Zealanders generally know that West Papuans are culturally and ethnically distinct from Javanese Indonesians.

The idea of cultural independence is tightly woven into the fabric of West Papuan resistance as it attempts to hold fast against Indonesia’s effort to absorb it. Cultural resisters often incorporate traditional chants, songs, symbols and dances into various acts of resistance as a means of building unity as well as expressing their distinctive identity. The most important symbol of West Papuan self-determination is the Morning Star flag. Raising or displaying the flag is considered to be an incendiary act of political defiance, and until recently, anyone caught doing so was arrested by Indonesian forces.

In the film Struggle in Paradise, Herman travels to the Melbourne Arts Center in Australia with a group of West Papuans who performed traditional songs and dances. In the interview, Herman mentions anthropologist and musician Arnold Ap as one of the actors that guided the struggle from a guerrilla insurgency to a popular movement. During the 1970s and 1980s Ap, along with his music group Mambesak, were some of the first showcase elements of West Papuan culture in defiance of Indonesian rule. Before his assassination in 1984, he was successful in establishing a sense of cultural identity in a time when even identifying as Melanesian or West Papuan was an act of subversion.

The Indonesian government remains very restrictive in allowing foreign media, NGOs, or diplomats to enter West Papua. This, along with the island’s geographic isolation, presents significant challenges to anyone intent on getting information in and out of the territory. Like Herman’s voyage in 2005, someone seeking to share information with the outside world had to take great risks, often having to leave secretly on small boats. But now, as technology such as the internet, camera phones, and social media have begun to reach even the world’s most remote populations, these barriers are being breached.

In 2010 a graphic video of Indonesian soldiers torturing an unarmed West Papuan man sparked international outrage after it appeared on YouTube. Amnesty International as well as other human rights groups caught wind of the story and urged that the soldiers be tried for torture. Despite its brutality, the video was a small victory for the movement because it presented evidence forcing Indonesia to acknowledge its military abuses in the region. As a political refugee now in the West, Herman functions as an outlet for such stories as well as someone with the capacity to share them with a wider international audience.

herman wainggai

Herman Wainggai

He is currently working out of Washington, D.C. where he can focus on his advocacy work by lobbying the U.S. government and U.S. outlets of international organizations. By doing this Herman is tackling one of the movement’s most important challenges: raising international awareness. The practical benefits of which could extend to freeing political prisoners, exposing human rights abuses, economic injustice, and cultural marginalization of the West Papuan people.

The Stumbling Blocks

Herman faces the challenge of educating not only the outside world but various audiences within West Papua as well. As an organizer, Herman understands that the capacity for a movement or campaign to educate its own participants is critical to achieving success, and as an educator he understands that the skills needed to overcome West Papua’s various problems need to be widely distributed amongst its population. It is very challenging for people like Herman to teach nonviolent resistance strategies within West Papua. Aside from the Indonesian government, those attempting to spread knowledge have to make long journeys to remote areas in a land with little infrastructure.

While living in Australia, Herman was able to travel to Papua New Guinea where he conducted civil resistance workshops for West Papuan activists willing make the extremely dangerous boat trip from West Papuan waters controlled by the Indonesian navy to the shores of Papua New Guinea. These trips also allowed Herman to hear the latest news from the front lines of the struggle. Many activists and organizers brought news of unrelenting repression, imprisonment and torture; some tell their stories in a short Youtube video called Struggle in Paradise. (LINK) The film features Herman along with a number of other activists discussing the various obstacles and how their hardships have driven some to lose hope and flee the island.

Since his days as a student activist, Herman has been arrested and jailed several times, once for two years. In the interview he describes the experience of being imprisoned for fundraising and organizing a student protest.

“They said, ‘Herman, this is your room you can stay here,’ but the place I stayed in was full of fresh blood on the walls and I was surprised because the next day when I asked someone why this room was full of blood they told me the other day the Indonesian army just killed one West Papuan student activist in the room.”

Herman is using new technologies, cultural resistance, training and advocacy to undermine the Indonesian government’s efforts to keep curious global eyes away from West Papua, but as with any case of injustice, international awareness is only aspect one piece of the effort to instigate action.


In 2001 a Special Autonomy package was designed to re-route tax revenue generated by West Papuan development projects from Jakarta into West Papua’s provincial government. In theory this package was supposed to help West Papuans achieve a higher level of freedom and economic benefits while remaining part of Indonesia. But in reality the province lacks the capacity to marshal West Papuan representation and the bureaucratic infrastructure to redistribute the revenue appropriately. Special Autonomy did open up some political space; for example, raising the Morning Star flag is no longer illegal but is still considered to be politically subversive. Today some West Papuans have been able to take part in the provincial government but have still been unable to address many of the population’s core grievances. Because of this, many West Papuans still believe that civil resistance continues to be the most viable option. Despite all the hardships Herman has endured, and all the difficulties he continues to face, he pursues the mission of his people with passion, optimism, and affability. Herman says “The West Papuan people, we don’t have guns but we have the truth, something that the Indonesian government can’t take away from us.”

In this case, Herman’s work as an educator suggests that the most critical factor in this struggle has been and remains the movement’s capacity to educate its people about their opportunity to engage in a worthwhile struggle on their own behalf, distributing the skills needed for effective civil resistance while also raising international awareness.

Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team

February 17, 2017

About Us:

The Free West Papua Political Prisoners Campaign Team is a team of nonviolent activists at GMU and the surrounding areas led by Herman Wainggai, former political prisoner and leader of Nonviolent Struggle in West Papua.

West Papua is the Western half of the 2nd largest island in the world. It is located in the Pacific Ocean and borders the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

In 1962 after the New York Agreement, temporary authority of the formerly Dutch land was given to Indonesia against the wills of the indigenous peoples of West Papua.

The United Nations “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 made West Papua the 26th providence of Indonesia. The name of this Act is deceiving however because the Indonesian government used the procedure of ‘musyawarah,’ which is a consensus of ‘elders,’ and the people of the country were not given a choice about the future of their country. These 1,025 elders were officials that were appointed by the Indonesian government and chose for West Papua to become a part of Indonesia.

Indonesia has imposed a brutal military occupation in West Papua. West Papua is one of the most militarized territories in the world, with one Indonesian-security identity for every 100 citizens (In Iraq in 2009, the ratio was one for every 140 citizens). The West Papuans have endured intimidation, torture, rape, murder and incarceration since this occupation began.

West Papua has the worst health record of all of the Indonesian providences. The major problem faced is the lack of accessible resources available to them. West Papua suffers from extremely low income rates, poor sanitation, high disease rates and high infant mortality.

Meanwhile, their suffering goes unnoticed by the rest of the world.
I personally had never even heard of West Papua and knew nothing about the past and present issues they have faced until I was blessed with the opportunity of meeting Herman Wainggai.

Herman Wainggai

He was imprisoned for over two years for his ‘crime’ of raising the Morning Star flag, the flag that represented Netherlands New Guinea 1949-1962 and is now a symbol of nationalism and pro-independence. Raising this flag is illegal and since 1962 500,000 West Papuans have been killed by the Indonesian Millitary (TNI) for the same crime.

In 2005 -2006, Herman organized the escape of 43 West Papuans in a traditional double-outrigger canoe and crossed the Arafura Sea to Australia, where they were granted asylum.

He has since been an active and nonviolent politician, diplomat and activist, and believes in the dignity of people and has a great respect for culture. He attended the Fletcher Summer Institute for the advanced study of non-violent conflict at Tufts University in June 2009, has learned to speak and write English very well, and is currently located at George Mason University as a visiting scholar, where he is able to reach out to students and the public as well as the US government and UN. He is the most committed, determined and pleasant person I have ever met and to hear his story and just pieces of the stories of his friends and family in West Papua, where the people are ethnically distinct from the Indonesians that control their country, home to hundreds of tribes speaking their unique languages, a place that has become dangerous and discriminatory, a place that he is not allowed to go back to simply for displaying the West Papuan flag.

The West Papuan people are being oppressed and it is a terrible injustice that those who peacefully rally for human rights are being arrested and living their lives in horrific prisons.

The world is changing; the West Papuans don’t have the power to resist through guns. The powerful weapon they hold is the truth. Helping others to know the truth and maintaining a peaceful approach is their goal. Their Gandhi inspired nonviolent campaign leads with sympathetic characters such as my friend Herman and is in need of support from the international community to improve their lives and reestablish a sense of pride in their community and their country.


We are a group of informed United States citizens who share a common goal of informing the general public of the social and environmental issues in West Papua.

The recent history of West Papua is quite disturbing and because of Indonesian bans on international media, much the world is in the dark about the Papuan people and their daily struggle.

We strongly believe that education is the catalyst for change and that EVERY concerned person on this planet can work together in support of the Papuan people and encourage the US government and other Non-Governmental Organizations to support the cause and help determine strategies to assist the West Papuan people.

The support of the international community will give West Papua the voice they deserve, a voice that has been repressed by Indonesia for over 50 years. The voice needed to work toward the release of political prisoners, return of over 10,500 refugees in East Awin and Papua New Guinea and over 150 exiles overseas, and stop the oppression they have endured at the hands of the Indonesian Government. This is a huge force to go up against, but we believe we have the moral high ground and that our dedication can influence others and together we can save the lives of the men and women suffering unjustly in jails for nonviolent shows of national pride.


Amy Frazier
Washington, DC