After Bali…

Down to Earth No 55  November 2002


military clamp-down is bad news for communities struggling to defend rights

October's bomb atrocity in Bali, which killed nearly 200 people and injured hundreds more, is an appalling tragedy - for the victims and their families as well as the wider Balinese community. There will be a huge impact on local people who depend upon tourism for their livelihoods. But as the international community puts immense pressure on Indonesia to hunt down terrorists, the bombs will also have a serious impact on the lives of many other ordinary Indonesians living on islands hundreds of miles away from Bali. With their newly enhanced anti-terrorist role, Indonesia's security forces will be able to act with even more disregard for justice and human rights than they do already. The clamp-down on terrorists is likely to become a pretext for stepping up action against anyone who stands in their way: human rights defenders, pro-independence movements in Aceh and West Papua, journalists who expose brutality and corruption, and local communities living near mines, plantations and logging concessions, who stand up for their rights.

The killing of three Freeport staff in Timika, West Papua - two Americans and one Indonesian - in August - has already sparked a campaign of intimidation against the human rights organisation ELSHAM. It is likely that the security forces will become even more virulent in their attacks against human rights defenders and civil society in general, if their powers are not reined in.

Communities living near major mining and oil installations such as the ExxonMobil gas operations in Aceh, the TotalFinElf gas fields in Kalimantan, and BP's Tangguh gas project in West Papua may be among those first affected. Two days after the Bali atrocity, Indonesia's chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the army had taken steps to back up the police in securing "vital sites" all over Indonesia, especially in the energy sector, following information that the energy sector would be targeted by terrorists (Miningnews 14/Oct/02). The heightened security alert throws even more doubt on BP's policy of keeping the security forces away from the Tangguh site.

It is imperative that, before approving a carte blanche for the Indonesian security to clamp-down on terrorists and increase protection for foreign companies, the international community remembers that the military and police are responsible themselves for atrocities which have claimed many more victims than the Bali bombs. Some of these are isolated incidents - like the shooting dead of indigenous miners at the Australian-owned Indo Muro Kencana goldmine, or involve multiple victims, like the torture, and murder of Papuan villagers in Wasior. The international community should not forget that it is not just terrorists that inflict damage: the transnational companies from the USA, Europe, Australia, Japan and South Korea who enjoy the "protection" of the Indonesian security forces and take over land and resources with military assistance, have also brought terror to local populations.