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West Papua Report November 2013: Divesting Freeport, MIFEE, MSG, New Provinces, Travel Restrictions, 1970s Massacres

November 5, 2013

West Papua Report

This is the 115th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This series is produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments, and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. This report is co-published by the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). Back issues are posted online at edmcw. If you wish to receive the report directly via e-mail, send a note to etan. Link to this issue:

The Report leads with "Perspective," an opinion piece; followed by "Update," a summary of some developments during the covered period; and then "Chronicle" which includes analyses, statements, new resources, appeals and action alerts related to West Papua. Anyone interested in contributing a "Perspective" or responding to one should write to edmcw. The opinions expressed in Perspectives are the author’s and not necessarily those of WPAT or ETAN.For additional news on West Papua see the reg.westpapua listserv archive or on Twitter.


This month’s PERSPECTIVE covers the growing international movement for divestment in Freeport-McMoran. This reflects growing international concern on the mining operation’s violations of human rights and ecological destruction in West Papua.

UPDATE looks at a new report that details the Indonesian military’s use of U.S. and Australian provided aircraft to devastating effect on Papuan civilians in the 1970’s. A plan to create new Papuan provinces will further disenfranchise West Papuans. Despite claims by the governor of Papua province, severe Indonesian government restrictions on journalists and other international visitors to the region remain in place. An Indonesian military-linked businessmen reportedly bribed Solomon Island officials in advance of Melanesian states consideration of a Papuan application for membership in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). International NGOs and others have written to the MSG urging the regional Melanesian organization to accept the application. Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) continues to face criticism.

In CHRONICLE we note the publication of two important books dealing with West Papua; new statements by ETAN and WPAT, and a new report on the impact of the proliferation of new political districts in Papua.


Divestment in Freeport-McMoRan Continues
by Ed McWilliams

The Swedish national pension funds have announced that it will exclude investment in the U.S.-based firm Freeport-McMoRan. For more than 40 years, the company has operated a massive copper and gold mine in West Papua. In a statement, Sweden’s Ethical Council, which advises the pension funds, stated that Freeport was "linked to serious adverse environmental impacts that contravene the UN Convention on Biodiversity through its mining operation in Papua."

The Swedish decision follows a similar one by New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund in 2012 . The New Zealand fund said that Freeport had "been excluded based on breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces by the company…" In 2008. Norway’s Ministry of Finance announced it had withdrawn more than US$25,440,000 in investments in company, because of "serious environmental damage."

The Freeport mining operation deposits more than 200,000 tons of tailings into the Ajkwa and Otomona river systems which make their way eventually into the Arafura Sea. The tailing deposits, which include concentrations of copper, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and selenium, have created a massive artificial delta that extends over 20 miles to the sea. At various points, the deposit is more than four kilometers wide.

A day of hiking down and across the delta some years ago revealed a moonscape of nearly barren terrain which was in stark contrast to the broader region’s dense, pristine tropical jungle. Only a single type of thin bladed grass grew sparsely on the surface which contained no insect life or bird activity. The starkness of the terrain was unlike a carefully managed half acre "garden" that Freeport established on the margins of the delta and which Freeport displayed to visitors to support its contention that the tailing deposits are not toxic. A man employed to maintain the Potemkin "garden" acknowledged to one visitor that the garden thrives on soil and nutrients introduced into the half acre by Freeport.

Along the margins of the delta are broad stretches of dead and dying trees which have been smothered by the tailing deposits which frequently overflow flimsy dike systems built by Freeport. Many of the destroyed trees are sago trees, the pulp of which indigenous peoples have used for millennia as a food source. The original Ajkwa river is now a series of small streams which flow mainly along the eastern edge of the delta. They appeared to have no fish and were devoid of plant or algae growth. At various points the deep tailing deposits have been wind blown into mounds or bowls. The latter are hazardous to anyone who ventures out onto the delta. The fine tailing texture creates a quick-sand effect which can trap the unwary hiker.

At the Arafura Sea delta terminus, ocean currents are distributing the tailing deposits along the shore line where they are killing the dense mangrove forests which protect the shoreline and provide habitat for local fauna.

While the tailing deposits are the most obvious environmental consequence of the Freeport mining operation, the mining accounts for other threats to the environment and the local Amungme and Kamoro people. The mining operation has exposed vast areas of mineral-bearing rock. This rock, once exposed to the air and the regions heavy rainfall produces acid mine drainage which contaminates local water sources. The drainage is revealed in rainbow-colored rock faces located at the mine site, miles from the coast. Despite the distance, the contaminated water flows down to the coast where local people contend the contaminants have poisoned wells and shellfish, a staple in the coastal Kamoro people’s diet.

The decision by responsible international agencies in Sweden, New Zealand and Norway to act in the face of Freeport-McMoRan’s decades of environmental destruction points to an ethical path open to other investors who recognize the threat posed by the company’s mining operation to the region’s environment and its people.

see also

Empty promises whitewash Freeport’s rights, responsibility record

Statement on the operations of the Freeport McMoran Mine in West Papua, to the U.S. Senate hearing on Extracting Natural Resources: Corporate Responsibility and the Rule of Law UPDATE

US-Provided Military Aircraft Were Key to 1970’s Indonesian Assault on Papuans

An extensive report from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Human Rights and Peace for Papua (ICP) documents how thousands of West Papuans were killed in aerial raids in response to pro-independence uprisings in the aftermath of national elections in 1977.

The report — The Neglected Genocide: Human rights abuses against Papuans in the Central Highlands, 1977-1978

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