Historic U.S. Congressional Hearing on West Papua
On September 22, a key U.S. Congressional subcommittee held a historic hearing, the first ever to be devoted to the subject of West Papua.
The hearing was chaired by Representative Eni Faleomavaega, the leading member of Congress regarding developments in West Papua.
In his opening statement Chair Eni Faleomavaega spoke bluntly about the plight of Papuans that had prompted the hearing. He described Papuans as facing “slow motion genocide.”
He observed that the definition of genocide under international law “accurately describes the crimes against humanity perpetuated by Indonesia’s military.”
He recounted in detail his own effort to visit West Papua at the invitation of the Indonesian President Yudhoyono. That visit was repeatedly impeded by action of the military.
Faleomavaega was equally blunt in his description of the U.S. role in critical diplomatic initiatives in the early 1960’s and its calculated acceptance of the 1969 annexation of West Papua by Indonesia through the “Act of Free Choice” which Faleomavaega termed the “Act of No Choice.”
Faleomavaega cited declassified official U.S. documents that revealed the cynicism that shaped the U.S. approach:
“Documents reportedly indicate that the United States estimated that between 85 and 90 percent of Papuans were opposed to Indonesian rule and that as a result the Indonesians were incapable of winning an open referendum.”
Faleomavaega said, “the United States expended the hopes and dreams and the lives of some 100,000 West Papuans who consequently died as a result of Indonesian military rule.”
Regarding the Indonesian annexation he added: “Although some challenge this estimate, it is indisputable fact that Indonesia has deliberately and systematically committed crimes against humanity and has yet to be held accountable.”
Faleomavaega placed current U.S. policy in the context of U.S. policy choices made in the 1960’s when the U.S. endorsed Indonesian action “in exchange for Suharto’s anti-Communist stance.”
He warned that the Obama Administration’s search for allies in its “war against Islamic militancy,” should not come at the expense of the pain and killing and suffering of the people of West Papua.”
Faleomavaega said that he had yet to receive a substantive response to a June 2010 letter to the administration signed by 50 members of Congress which urged that the Obama administration assign its highest priority to West Papua.
In describing the urgency of the situation in West Papua, Faleomavaega drew attention to demographic changes: “migration by non-Melanesian Indonesians from elsewhere in the nation appears to be a critical part of the mounting tensions. By some accounts, Melanesian Papuans will be in the minority in their own homeland by the year 2015.”
He also noted the role of international corporations such as U.S.-based Freeport-McMoran in bringing “shameful woe” to West Papua.
Senior State Department Official Acknowledges Looming Minority Status for Papuans
Joseph Yun, from the Departments of State and Defense, after stating standing U.S. policy asserting respect for Indonesia’s territorial integrity and support for “special autonomy,” proceeded then to break new ground in his blunt assessment of trends and conditions in West Papua.
Responding to penetrating questions from Faleomavaega, Yun acknowledged that Papuans were on a course to become a minority in their own homeland.
Yun said: “My observation is that they are not yet a minority. I think the numbers show that about a 60-40 at the moment … however, clearly if this trend continues, they will be minority and probably in quite a short time.”
He added that he thought Special Autonomy offered “some protection for Papuans, a lot of protections for Papuans and this is why it is important to implement those laws.” (WPAT Note: Special Autonomy does not in fact address natural migration or government-organized migration into West Papua in any meaningful way.)
Yun also expressed public U.S. concern over denial of access for journalists, international NGOs and others to West Papua and called specifically for the return of the International Committee of the Red Cross which has been banned from West Papua since 2009.
In discussion with Faleomavaega following his formal statement Yun appeared to acknowledge the widely held view that the 1969 “Act of Free Choice” did not represent a genuine act of self determination.
Yun noted: “So we do have to recognize integrity of Indonesia, its territorial integrity. But that does not mean that we should ignore history. But at the same time we cannot correct history.”
***these have been highlights from a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans produced by the non-profit West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) co-published with the East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN). you can read the entire report clicking here.