Papuans say special autonomy has failed, freedom of expression being gagged

Kompas – March 18, 2010
West Papuan protest action in front of the US Embassy (Merdeka)
West Papuan protest action in front of the US Embassy (Merdeka)

Jakarta – Around 35 representatives of students and civil society groups from Papua demonstrated on Wednesday March 17 in front of the United States Embassy and the State Palace in Central Jakarta.

The group, which was demonstrating in the name the West Papua People’s Struggle Coalition (KPRPB), was not opposing the upcoming visit by US President Barack Obama but rather they were requesting Obama’s assistance to overcome the poor conditions that the Papuan people are living under.

“We wish to convey our welcome to Obama,” said coalition chairperson Okama Kossay. “Papua’s problems still involve responsibility on the part of the US because the US is one of the sponsors of otsus (special autonomy). And, it can now be seen that otsus (in West Papua) has failed”, said Kossay.

In a statement the coalition said that to this day the Papuan people’s freedom of expression is still being gagged. “The people are suffering because the Indonesian government uses the law in Papua as a tool to oppress the Papuan people,” said the group.

The Freeport case

Speaking separately, Papuan People’s Defense Team (TPMP) member Jhonson Panjaitan requested an opportunity to meet with President Obama. The agenda they wish to convey to the president is related to the actions of Freeport McMorran Copper & Gold Inc in taking over and damaging the people’s traditional lands and human rights violations against the Amungme tribe.

The defense team, which represents Titus Natkime, the child of the chief of the largest Amungme tribe, has also reported the environmental damage cause by the US company as a result of tailings waste disposal. “The Amungme tribe is no longer able use water from our rivers,” said Panjaitan.

Since 1967 to this day the Amungme tribe has never derived any direct benefits from the copper and gold mining by Freeport. They have also never received any compensation whatsoever.

“Because of this therefore, in accordance with prevailing laws in Indonesia, the Amungme tribe as the legitimate owners of the traditional tribal lands are entitled to be paid compensation”, read a letter that they will present to President Obama.

The Amungme tribe has already launched a class action suit in the South Jakarta District Court against PT Freeport Indonesia and Freeport McMorran Inc. The suit dated March 8, 2010 is seeking compensation of around US$50 billion or almost 500 trillion rupiah. (edn/fer)

[Abridged translation by James Balowski.]