Papuans reject autonomy, call Freeport/Rio Tinto to account

Down to Earth No 49 May 2001

The shooting of demonstrators, killings in police detention and increased military presence are making the prospects for peace in West Papua even more remote. Meanwhile international companies, like Freeport-Rio Tinto, continue to profit from the territory's rich resources - but they are coming under greater scrutiny from the West Papuan provincial authorities who want more revenues and a greater say in their activities.

A meeting called to discuss the government's regional autonomy programme in West Papua ended in tragedy in late March when police opened fire on crowds demonstrating outside. One man, Philipus Murib, was shot, then beaten by police. He later died in hospital. Seven other people and nine policemen were injured during the protests. Fourteen students were arrested and taken to police headquarters.

The meeting, which was attended by around 400 people and chaired by Papua's governor JP Salossa, had been called to hear the views of Papuan representatives from all 14 districts on what they wanted included in 'special autonomy' arrangements offered by Jakarta.

Special autonomy - as yet undefined - has also been offered to conflict-torn Aceh, as opposed to regional autonomy, which is being introduced in Indonesia's districts, municipalities and provincial authorities (see also Oil Palm Article and DTE 46 & 48 for more background).

According to one participant, the meeting was told that if West Papuans supported autonomy, this would protect them from attacks by the Indonesian military. The meeting quickly turned into a political protest, with delegates announcing one after the other that they rejected autonomy and only wanted independence. They then walked out of the meeting and joined the crowds which had gathered outside who were chanting "independence, not autonomy."
(Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 30/Mar - 1/Apr/01)

The death of Philipus Murib is the latest in a succession of killings that have characterised the tougher stance adopted by the security forces in West Papua in recent months. The deteriorating situation has led Amnesty International to conclude that there is little difference between the tactics used by the current government in West Papua and those used by the Suharto regime.

One of the worst incidents in recent months was the killing of at least 37 people - most of them non-Papuans - during and after riots in the central highland town of Wamena last October. The bloodshed was sparked when members of the Indonesian military tried to take down the West Papuan flag (see DTE 47). In February, five local members of the pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council were sentenced to between four and four and a half years on charges of 'hate-sowing' and 'separatism'. Seventeen others were sentenced to shorter terms for taking part in the riots. Other examples of the security forces' clamp-down include:

  • A police raid on December 7th on a student and school pupils’ hostel in Jayapura, in which one student was fatally wounded. Two more Papuan youths later died after severe beatings in police detention (scenes witnessed by a Swiss journalist also in detention at the time). The raid was a reprisal action for the earlier attack by unknown assailants on a police station in which two policemen and a security guard were killed;
  • The arrest and detention of five senior members of the Papuan Presidium Council, including its chairman, Theys Eluay on subversion charges. The trial is set for May;
  • The arrest and trials of four West Papuan students who participated in a pro-independence demonstration on December 1st in Jakarta. They were assaulted by mobile brigade (Brimob) police officers;
  • The arrest of a Free Papua Movement (OPM) leader, Mathias Wenda in Papua New Guinea - presumed to be in response to Indonesian prompting;
  • Shootings at flag-raising incidents in Merauke on December 2nd and in Tiom on December 17th. Troops killed six people. 
    (For more details see Tapol Bulletin 161, March/April 2001. Also AFP 1/May/01)

UN HR Commissioner pledges support

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, expressed her concern over human rights violations in West Papua and the need for peaceful dialogue there when she met with West Papuan human rights advocates in Switzerland in April.

The West Papuans asked Mrs. Robinson to use her influence to pressure the Indonesian authorities to:

  • immediately stop the human rights violations;
  • enter into a dialogue with the community leaders in Papua;
  • recognise that a reconciliation process is a key strategy for peace building in West Papua;
  • support the KOMNAS HAM (Indonesian human rights commission) investigation and extend it to cover other incidents
  • order the release of the 22 prisoners of conscience detained in Wamena and
  • bring to trial those guilty of human rights violations.
Mrs Robinson committed herself to working to improve the situation. 
(Source: Media release from John Rumbiak/ELSHAM 6/Apr/01)


Freeport/Rio Tinto named biggest polluter
PT Freeport Indonesia - miners of the giant Grasberg copper and gold deposit in West Papua's central highlands - has been publicly identified by Indonesia's environmental protection agency (Bapedal) as one of the two worst polluters in eastern Indonesia. The other is PT Newmont Minahasa Raya, owned by US-based mining multinational Newmont, which operates the Minahasa Raya gold mine in North Sulawesi. Both mines were said to be causing "severe" environmental destruction. Bapedal is headed by environment minister, Sonny Keraf, who has been the mining companies' only consistent critic in the Indonesian cabinet. In January Keraf again told Freeport to improve its waste management and said the government may require compensation for damage caused in the past. (Petromindo 20/Jan/01) In April, Indonesian environmental NGO WALHI revealed further evidence of the environmental damage caused by the Freeport/Rio Tinto mine. Using data from the National Space and Aviation Institute, WALHI said tailings from the mine had polluted 35,820 hectares of land downstream of its operations, and 84,158 hectares offshore, mostly in the estuaries of the Mawati and Kamoro rivers. The pollution had also reached the Lorentz National Park through the Mawati and Otoka rivers. WALHI director Emmy Hafild called on the company to stop using rivers to dump tailings and urged Bapedal to conduct an in-depth investigation into Freeport’s tailings disposal. Freeport maintains that tailings disposal through a pipeline may increase environmental impacts and “would have a significant financial cost.” 
(Kompas 18/Apr/01; Petromindo 18/Apr/01; 2/Apr/01)

In March it was reported that the West Papua Bapedal branch had signed a memorandum of understanding with Freeport and other agencies, including World Wide Fund for Nature and USAID, on environmental management programmes. (Petromindo 8/Mar/01)

In January, President Wahid visited the mine. He said he was there to check whether Freeport/Rio Tinto was improving its environmental management and community relations. He also took the opportunity to warn foreign companies not to meddle in political affairs either at local or national levels. He called for representatives of both of the main tribal groups affected by Freeport's activities - the Amungme and the Kamoro - to be appointed to Freeport's Board. Currently, Tom Beanal, leader of the Amungme Tribal Council, LEMASA, and pro-independence Papuan Presidium Council leader, is on the company's Board of Commissioners.


Local government demands

West Papua's authorities have displayed a mixed attitude towards the giant mining operation that has long been at the centre of so much environmental, political and social controversy in the territory. Their criticism of Freeport/Rio Tinto's record on environmental damage and social disruption is aimed not only at improvements in these areas, but also at getting more financial benefits out of the company. West Papua's governor, JP Salossa and the provincial parliament (DPRD) are mounting a campaign to wrest shares from the company - the latest suggestion is that the shares held by the now imprisoned Bob Hasan, should be handed over to the local government. Hasan controls around 4.7% of the company's shares, through his 20% owned Nusamba Group. The DPRD also wants Freeport to be more forthcoming with information about the mine's production and income levels so that the local administration can get its correct share of the royalties and other levies.

Freeport has been accused of hiding behind a regulation issued by Suharto in 1994, which allows 100% foreign ownership of mines, to avoid its contractual responsibility to divest shares. According to mining minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, the Jakarta government - which supports the West Papuan provincial stance - is now considering revoking that regulation. (For more background on the controversy over Freeport/Rio Tinto's contracts see DTE 45)

The large reservoir of resentment against the company is linked to the distinct lack of benefits that have been passed on to West Papua. Local parliamentarians are using this sense of grievance in an attempt to secure promises of improvement in future.

In April Agustin Iwanggin, chair of the provincial assembly's commission on human rights and the environment, said Freeport's actions had disregarded people's basic rights and caused long-term conflict. The presence of Freeport had increased poverty and had polluted rivers and lakes. The demand for independence and special autonomy, he said, was just one manifestation of this. Iwanggin was explaining why Freeport had been excluded from the previous month's meeting to discuss special autonomy measures for West Papua. Irian Jayans [Papuans] had also been refused employment at the mine, he said, with the excuse that they were not capable. "If they're not capable, Freeport should be responsible for making them capable. They have their traditional lands, their natural resources and they are the official owners of the land. But to this day there is not one single indigenous Irian Jayan employed in an influential position at that company." He revealed that 300 former Freeport workers had protested to the local assembly against their sacking in 1999. They said they had received no severance pay or compensation from the company and were dismissed because they couldn't work in accordance with Freeport's requirements. 
(BBC Worldwide Monitoring 3/Apr/01; Kompas 3/Apr/01)


1% Fund causes unrest

The one percent fund - Freeport/Rio Tinto's main community relations programme - is a shambles, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review. The fund, launched in 1996, is supposed to channel 1% of gross profits per year to foundations for the benefit of the Amungme, Kamoro and other tribes. Large amounts of cash are going to individuals rather than communities, says the report, and the cash is causing an increase in social and health problems, including a rising incidence of HIV/AIDS. According to Tom Beanal, the blame lies with the company, because it failed prepare people through education before handing out the cash. (Petromindo 10/Mar/01; Australian Financial Review 9/Dec/00)


WALHI court case opens

Environmental NGO WALHI says Freeport should be held responsible for environmental damage caused by its mining activities and for spreading misleading information about last May's fatal accident at Lake Wanagon.

Wanagon is used by Freeport/Rio Tinto to dump overburden - surface material covering the ore - stripped from the Grasberg minesite. Last May the lake spilled over and a wave of rocks, sludge and water cascaded into the valley below, sweeping away with it four of seven construction workers at the site. It then hit the village of Banti which lies 16 km downstream of the lake. This was the third spillage from the dump, with the previous incident only two months before.

WALHI's latest case against Freeport opened in March at the South Jakarta district court. The NGO says the company has violated Law No 23/1997 on environmental management on two accounts: the obligation to prevent pollution and environmental destruction and the obligation to provide accurate and correct information about its environmental management activities. According to WALHI, Freeport provided incorrect information in press releases following the accident, in a hearing with a national parliament commission in June 2000 and in its 1998 annual report. It its May 2000 press release, Freeport said that an early warning system set up in Banti village, 16 km from the Wanagon basin, had worked perfectly. WALHI says that, according to Banti villagers, the alarm was sounded only about half an hour after the flood and that they had fled when they'd heard the thundering noise of earth and water. The company also deliberately implied that the accident had been the result of natural causes - there was high rainfall before the accident - when it knew that the dumping area was hazardous. It claimed there was no threat towards human health of long-term environmental impact arising from the incident. However a Bapedal report in May, said the spillage had contained toxic and hazardous material.

WALHI is demanding that Freeport issues public apologies in the local, national and international media in order to set the record straight.

Freeport's lawyers responded that, since Freeport has fulfilled all obligations required of it by the Indonesian government, WALHI's suit had no legal basis and should be thrown out. A previous attempt by WALHI to bring the case to court was dismissed last year on a technical error.

In the meantime, the Jakarta government has given Freeport clearance to resume higher levels of production - 230,000 tonnes per day - after a study carried out by the Bandung Institute of Technology found that the lake could receive up to 260,000 tonnes per day. Following the May 2000 accident, the company reduced the throughput rate to 200,000 tonnes per day. 
(Jakarta Post 16/Dec/00, WALHI Press release: Gugatan WALHI Melawan PT Freeport Indonesian Company March 2001; 8/Mar/01; Petromindo 8/Jan/01)


Bigger profits

Despite the reduced production volumes imposed after the Wanagon accident, Freeport’s final quarter earnings for 2000 - $58.1 million on total sales of $529.8 million - were the highest ever per share in the company's history. This year production at the mine is expected to reach 1.6 billion pounds of copper and 3.1 million ounces of gold. Earnings for the first quarter of this year were US$ 38 million.

Freeport's exports account for 93% of West Papua's total non-oil and gas exports and 4% of national non-oil and gas exports, according to the company.

In March Freeport McMoran (Freeport Indonesia’s parent company)announced the appointment of former US Ambassador to Indonesia, Stapleton Roy, to its board of directors. Roy, who served in Indonesia from 1996-1999, replaces former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who now becomes "Director Emeritus" 
(Reuters, 18/Jan/01, 18/Apr/01; Petromindo 3/Jan/01; Freeport Press Release 13/Mar/01)