US Congress’ historic hearing on Papuan human rights abuses

October 4, 2010

Dani man, Papua © Adrian Arbib/Survival

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The US Congress held an open hearing last week to hear testimonies from Papuans and academics about human rights violations in West Papua. The hearing, hosted by the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, was titled, ‘Crimes against humanity: When will Indonesia’s military be held accountable for deliberate and systematic abuses in West Papua?’

This was the first time that Papuans had been given the opportunity to speak in the US Congress about the horrors they have experienced at the hands of the Indonesian military. Papuan Henkie Rumbewas told of how the arrest of his father, the disappearance of two uncles and the murder of a cousin by Indonesian soldiers, persuaded him to speak out against the human rights abuses and political repression in West Papua.

Anthropologist and expert on West Papua, Eben Kirksey, told the hearing that he was on the Papuan island of Biak in 1998 while a massacre took place. From his hotel he could hear the police and army firing into a crowd of men, women and children who had raised the banned West Papuan flag.

An eyewitness told Mr Kirksey that they had watched soldiers loading the bodies of dead and dying protestors into trucks. Survivors were taken by navy ships, and dumped overboard. In the coming weeks 32 bodies were washed ashore, some missing their heads, hands or genitals. Survival reported on this massacre at the time, but the world’s media paid little attention and, despite international calls for justice, there was never an official inquiry and no soldiers were prosecuted.

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega who chaired the hearing said, ‘It is an indisputable fact that Indonesia has deliberately and systematically committed crimes against humanity and has yet to be held accountable.’

In July this year, 50 congress members wrote to President Obama stating that there were strong indications that the Indonesian government has committed genocide against the Papuans. They also called upon the President to ‘make West Papua one of the highest priorities of the Administration.’

Papuan Tribes