Watching the Watchers


‘You who are reporting about the human rights situation in Papua are trying to destroy the people. You want evidence of people being killed, I will kill your tribe and your children will become only bones to show that there is only a zone of peace in Papua.’

This text message was received by the Head of the National Human Rights Commission, Albert Rumbekwan, on 11 June 2007, just days after a meeting with the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani .

At the meeting, Rumbekwan had told Jilani about ongoing human rights abuses being committed by the Indonesian military in his province. Since this time, he’s continued to receive further threatening text messages as well as phone calls, and he says that both his home and office are being monitored.

‘They come to the office, they just come in plain clothes but they just park outside the office and stay watching. One day they invited me to go out and have a meeting with them but I was uncomfortable with it so I just stayed in the office,’ he said.

Rumbekwan feels that his life and those of his wife and four children are in danger. He cannot be certain, but from their demeanour he believes the men have links to the Indonesian military.

‘I am still afraid and I don’t know where to go. I already went to police and I reported this to the Human Rights Commission in Jakarta, but nothing has happened.’

Rumbekwan’s case is not an isolated incident. Three other human rights activists who met with Jilani in June have faced intimidation and death threats from individuals who either work within the Indonesian military (TNI), or work for them.

Yan Christian Warinussy, the Executive Director of the Institute of Research, Analysis and Development for Legal Aid based in Manokwari, West Papua, has also reported being under surveillance at both his home and office, following a meeting with Jilani in Jayapura, West Papua’s capital.

Federika Korain and Prenius Kogoya, a priest, both work for the Peace and Justice Commission for the Diocese of Jayapura. They also met with Jilani, during her visit in mid-June. According to a report by the Asian Human Rights Commission, after flying back from a meeting in Jakarta with Jilani, a police car containing occupants who freely admitted they were intelligence commanders for the military regional command of Trikora rammed into their car as they travelled home from the airport. This has been interpreted as an act of intimidation.

This fall-out from a visit by such a weighty international figure on human rights has thrown a spotlight into a corner of the world kept deliberately dark by TNI-imposed restrictions that prevent most foreign journalists from entering this part of the country.

West Papuans hold up the banned symbol of independence, the Morning Star Flag, and a letter to Kofi Annan demanding self-determination. Photo by Alex Rayfield

However, people with personal experience of the province say these stories of intimidation are nothing new. West Papuan human rights activist Paula Makabory, who previously worked with human rights group ELSHAM, now lives in exile in Melbourne. She says she experienced similar intimidation while working on a case in 2002 in Timika in West Papua, near the Freeport Grasberg gold mine. The case involved allegations of military involvement in the murder of a group of teachers.

‘They used to do that all the time. I experienced that myself during my involvement in the Freeport ambush investigations. They also crashed into my car,’ Makabory said.

While Indonesian and international human rights groups have reacted with horror to the situation, Rumbekwan says that police appear to have done little to investigate who is behind the intimidation, aside from interviewing some of his colleagues.

Clinton Fernandes, a senior lecturer with the University of New South Wales and author of Reluctant Indonesians: Australia, Indonesia and the future of West Papua, has spent time in West Papua. He says that given the track record of intimidation meted out to other activists, these four individuals have every reason to be in fear for their lives. ‘The threats are very real.’

Fernandes points to the poisoning of prominent Indonesian human rights activist Munir Said Thalib in 2004, on board a Garuda flight.

‘Munir was poisoned almost certainly under the order of Indonesian intelligence services whilst flying from Jakarta to Singapore on route to Amsterdam. He was poisoned with arsenic. [As Young Muslim of the Year], he was highly visible and they showed no compunction in killing him. It’s quite natural then that for less visible people there is even more danger.’

In the Munir case, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned a guilty verdict against the only man to be implicated in the murder case, off-duty pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, saying there was not enough evidence and no witnesses. Indonesian State prosecutors are appealing the decision.

Makabory is concerned about the ramifications for her colleagues, given what happened to Munir, and she remains frustrated that so little is being done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

‘Lots of letters have been sent from international NGOs and local NGOs in West Papua and also national NGOs in Jakarta about this, but nothing has happened.’

Speaking on behalf of the Indonesian Government, the spokesperson for the Indonesian Embassy in Australia, Dino Kusnadi, said that the Government condemned the actions of those carrying out the intimidation, but stressed that there was not yet evidence to implicate the military.

‘We condemn any intimidation by any parties, but at this point we can’t say and I don’t have any information that these actions were carried out by the TNI or the security forces. These actions could be carried out easily by any person on behalf of the TNI just to ruin their reputation.’

Kusnadi maintained that the case would be thoroughly investigated by the local police.

While West Papua remains closed to all but a few foreign media each year, international human rights activists can travel to the province though this is dependent on visas being granted by the Indonesian authorities.

Fernandes says the actions against the four human rights workers need to be seen as part of the TNI’s agenda to keep the conflict in Papua off the international news pages.

‘The TNI is doing its best to localise the situation in West Papua rather than internationalise it. The presence of Hina Jilani runs counter to their strategy,’ he says.

‘They are trying to exclude foreigners who are there to monitor human rights, they’re trying to exclude journalists and they’re trying to keep the province in the same state of international isolation that East Timor was kept in from 1975 to 1989.’

Kusnadi denies claims that the Indonesian military continues to act with impunity and sidestep responsibility for past and present human rights abuses. He also stressed that the international community must focus on those who are working to reform the military.

‘I would say that even within the TNI there are reformers, they are positive people, even within the security forces and the police there are still idealist people who want Indonesia to become a better country.’

But Makabory maintains that the manner in which Indonesia acts in relation to this case will be the true test of whether it is truly on a reform path.

‘Indonesia is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. And they sent the Special Representative to carry out her work in defence of human rights defen
ders. Attacks on those human rights defenders who have communicated with Jilani should be treated extremely seriously as they exhibit a wanton disregard for Indonesia’s international obligations.

‘Indonesia cannot promote itself as a democratic country if this is still happening.’

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