Congressman’s visit highlights problems of access PDF Afdrukken

A visit to West Papua in late November by US Congressman, Eni Faleomavaega, ended in a debacle when his time for meetings was reduced from five days to two hours and he was prevented from visiting the capital of Papua province, Jayapura. The curtailment of the visit and the restrictions on Faleomavaega’s movements were imposed by the Indonesian military, TNI, citing security concerns and disregarding commitments made by the Indonesian Government. The events provide a stark reminder of the TNI’s oppressive presence in West Papua and its ability to control access to, and movement within, the territory.

Eni Faleomavaega is the Representative to the US Congress of the Pacific-Island territory of American Samoa. He is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a prominent supporter of self-determination for West Papua.
His visit was timed to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December and followed the Government’s refusal to allow a visit in July 2007 [see TAPOL Bulletin, No. 187, p. 8]. It was the Congressman’s understanding that he would visit the towns of Biak and Manokwari and, most importantly, Jayapura.
In a letter to President Yudhoyono dated 13 December, he said:

‘I was deeply disappointed that upon my arrival I was again denied entry into Jayapura and that my time was reduced from 5 days to only two hours of actual meetings with the leaders and people of Biak and Manokwari due to supposedly security concerns.’

‘Such a decision…begs the question if all is well throughout the provinces of Papua and West Papua, why is security a problem at all?’

Overpowering military presence
He described how, during a meeting in Biak, the highly respected tribal chief, Tom Beanal, was detained by the military. Papuans who had gathered in the streets in Biak ‘were denied the opportunity to meet with us, and US Ambassador Cameron Hume and I had to force our way through a military barricade just to meet with the Papuan people who had to walk several miles from the airport and wait in the hot sun because Indonesian military forces (TNI) barred them from meeting with Ambassador Hume and me.’

‘I was deeply disturbed by the overpowering military presence, which I felt was completely unnecessary,’ Faleomavaega said.

It was even worse in Manokwari, he recalled. He was told that he would meet the Governor of West Papua province only to learn on his arrival that the Governor was in China.

‘Nonetheless, Ambassador Hume and I were put in a car, without any escort and with only a single traffic police unit in front. While we do not require special privileges, we were very aware that our delegation was not given the necessary escort because the TNI was intent on deceiving the Papuans who had gathered on the streets waiting for us.’

‘Arriving at the office of the Governor who was in China, and after meeting for less than 10 minutes with the Vice Governor, I was told that due to weather and security concerns, I would need to depart immediately. In no uncertain terms, I was told by the TNI military leaders that Ambassador Hume and I were not welcome in Manokwari.’

Faleomavaega and Ambassador Hume were driven back to the airport without official escort or accompaniment, meaning they were placed in unfavourable circumstances.

‘While I felt no danger whatsoever from the Papuans who were unarmed and only wanted to meet with us, I was very uncomfortable that the TNI military was so bent on not allowing even a conversation to take place.’

‘It was my hope and understanding that I would be able to meet with the people and leaders of both provinces but, when I saw how heavily armed that the TNI military was, I knew that the military had no intention of honoring the commitment that President SBY and I had made in Jakarta in July of this year.’

Papuans intimidated, harassed and abused
Referring to his promise to support President Yudhoyono in his efforts to implement special autonomy, Faleomavaega said:

‘…as long as the TNI military forces of Indonesia continue to deny Members of Congress real access to the provinces of Papua and West Papua, especially Jayapura, it will be difficult for me to support the goals of Special Autonomy when clearly the Papuans in these two provinces are still being intimidated, harassed and abused by the TNI.’

‘Likewise, I do not consider two hours in Biak and 10 minutes in Manokwari as access. Until I am allowed to visit Jayapura, as I have been promised, and until I am allowed to meet with the people of Papua, as President SBY and I agreed, I cannot in good conscience inform my colleagues in Congress that progress is being made to implement the Special Autonomy Law which has mostly remained dormant since 2001 and, since for the past 60 years, until President SBY's leadership, the government of Indonesia has done absolutely nothing to help the Papuan people who only want to be treated humanely.’

‘…whether or not we move forward is entirely up to President SBY and those who control the activities of Indonesia's TNI military forces.’

Letter to UN Secretary-General
In a letter to UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, dated 14 February 2008, Faleomavaega and fellow Congressman, Donald Payne, expressed their growing concern about human rights violations and ‘the tight restrictions placed upon journalists, human rights activists and diplomats trying to obtain access to West Papua’.

‘As you know, nongovernmental organizations, the media and foreign officials can act as witnesses to and bulwarks against human rights abuses as well as agents of change. So, the failure of these individuals to gain unobstructed access to the country hinders Papuans' stories of human rights abuse, quashing of civil liberties and inability to express their right to self-determination from coming to the fore,’ they said.

The two Congressmen called upon the UN Security Council to ‘address the security concerns posed by human rights abuse in West Papua’ and to appoint a senior official to pursue senior-level dialogue between the Indonesian Government and Papuan leaders to be mediated by a Security Council representative.

The concerns about unreasonable restrictions on international access were repeated by the two Congressmen in a letter to President Yudhoyono dated 10 March 2008. The letter also drew attention to the failure of special autonomy and the misuse of force by the military epitomised by Faleomavaega’s experiences during his visit.