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Open Letter to President Obama on The Eve of His Visit to Indonesia

November 5, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

November 4, 2010

Dear President Obama,

The West Papua Advocacy Team welcomes your upcoming visit to Indonesia as an opportunity to deepen U.S.-Indonesia ties and to encourage further democratic progress in Indonesia. This progress has been impressive in the decade since the overthrow of the Suharto dictatorship and has facilitated the expansion of U.S. cooperation with this important nation.

Critical to Indonesia’s democratization is the expansion of respect for human rights. However, respect for human rights — and democratic progress more generally — continue to face threats from security forces that continue to evade full civilian control and remain largely unaccountable before Indonesia’s flawed judicial system.

The United States maintains significant influence with Indonesian military, due in large measure to the Indonesian military’s long-standing desire for U.S. training and equipment. It is imperative that your administration employ this influence as leverage to promote the full subordination of the Indonesian military to civilian control and accountability before the law. The recent decision to renew contact with the notorious Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and continued U.S. support for Detachment 88 ignore numerous credible reports of human rights abuse and unaccountability before the law by both organizations.

This policy of support for Indonesian forces acting criminally and with impunity sabotages the courageous efforts by Indonesian NGOs and citizens, who often face intimidation as they work to secure fundamental reform of all the Indonesian security forces.

Nowhere in the Indonesian archipelago is military insubordination, corruption, abusive behavior and unaccountability more on display than in West Papua, where the military continues to operate in a manner that reflects the rules and practices fostered under the Suharto dictatorship. Papuan human rights activists face intimidation, arrest, torture and extra-judicial execution.

Recent video evidence of Indonesian security force employment of torture targeted against Papuan civilians, continued security force involvement in illegal activities including unlicensed logging, prostitution and extortion, reveal rogue state forces bent on repression and the plundering of Papuan resources.

Recently, the international community has been shocked by graphic video footage of Indonesian security personnel torturing Papuan civilians. Less than ten days before your scheduled arrival in Jakarta a cyber attack was launched against international websites that carried the video. The resources required for such an attack indicate that elements within the Indonesian government were behind it. This is in line with determined Indonesian government efforts to prevent the international community from monitoring developments in West Papua.

Also in recent weeks, Indonesian security forces destroyed the Papuan village of Bigiragi. For decades, especially in the Puncak Jaya region, security force "sweeping operations" have driven villagers into the surrounding mountains and forests where hundreds have died due to lack of access to food, medical care and adequate shelter. Security force refusal to allow humanitarian relief to these displaced civilians has exacerbated their plight.

The United States played a central role in the undemocratic process by which Indonesia annexed West Papua in the 1960s. Since then, the Papuan people have suffered decades of marginalization due in large measure to the government-organized migration of non-Papuans into West Papua and the systematic failure of the government to afford minimal health care, education, or employment opportunities for Papuans. Instead, the government has colluded with Indonesian and international corporations to effectively cleanse Papuans from their traditional lands with minimal or no compensation.

Your visit affords an opportunity to press for genuine reforms and further democratization in Indonesia and specifically in West Papua. We urge you to discuss with Indonesia’s leaders the failure of their policies in West Papua, notably the Indonesian government’s resort to a "security approach" which has exacted a tragic price on ordinary Papuans. The Indonesian government’s decade-old "Special Autonomy" policy has manifestly failed to raise living standards and has been overwhelmingly rejected by Papuan governmental and non-governmental organizations and by citizens demonstrating peacefully in the thousands.

In your meetings with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono we urge you to pursue real reforms that reflect the agenda of issues championed by human rights advocates in West Papua. These include:

* an end to human rights violations, including an end to military "sweeping operations" by Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and others which regularly displace thousands of Papuans;

* replacing the culture of impunity with genuine accountability of military and police personnel before the courts for past and ongoing human rights crimes and corruption;

* a transparent investigation of the torture of two Papuans revealed in recent video footage and the prosecution and sentencing commensurate with the crime of those responsible;

* an end to the use of force by military and police against peaceful protests by Papuans, whatever flags and banners may be used;

* release of Papuan political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including all those who have been detained for peaceful protests;

* cessation of the practice of conflating political protest with "separatist" activity and an end to conflating such peaceful protest with "terrorist" activity under the Indonesian government’s functional definition of terrorism;

* demilitarization of West Papua and an end to military protection of and operation of business operations, many of which have had a devastating impact on Papuan natural resources;

* an end to restrictions on access to and travel within West Papua now imposed on international journalists, researchers, humanitarian workers and diplomats and permitting the return of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to its offices in West Papua.

* opposition to the employment of cyber attacks targeting websites disseminating human rights and other information about West Papua;

* and addressing persistent Papuan concerns including policies such as "transmigration" and "special autonomy" which marginalize Papuans in their own land.

We also urge you to encourage Indonesia to respond positively to long-standing calls by the Papuan civil society and Papuan officials for a senior-level, internationally mediated dialogue between the Indonesian government and Papuan civil society, building on the success of the earlier dialogue in Aceh.

Finally, we urge you to publicly acknowledge the historical reality that the Papuan people have not been afforded the right of self-determination inasmuch as the 1969 "Act of Free Choice" was a fraudulent exercise undertaken under blatant coercion.

Your visit to that country, provide an opportunity for United States involvement in support of civil society efforts to end the systematic abuses suffered by Papuan over the past nearly five decades.


Ed McWilliams, West Papua Advocacy Team

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