Violence against Papuan women – the resource extraction link

Cover of 'Enough is Enough!' report

DTE 91-92, May 2012

A new report makes clear the links between natural resources extraction and violence against Papuan women. Enough is Enough! is the result of an initiative begun in 2009, to document incidences of violence and human rights abuses against women in Papua over the past four decades.

Based on interviews with victims of violence, the findings are divided into cases of state violence, cases of domestic violence, plus cases of layered violence where victims of the state violence also become victims of domestic violence. Testimonies of women victims of the many military operations launched to deal with political opponents of Indonesian rule are included in the report, and the links between natural resources conflict and violence, including mining and oil palm, are explored.

The first major resource extraction project in Papua involving a foreign-owned business was the Freeport mine. The authors remind us that the Indonesian government’s contract with Freeport McMoran (USA) was signed in 1967 - two years before Papua’s political status was determined.[1] This mine, with the help of investment from UK-based mining company Rio Tinto, was to become the giant conflict-ridden copper and gold operation which remains in the headlines today.  

Military security posts to guard the mine have been in operation since 1977[2]and the presence of security forces has meant that many girls experienced violence, according to the authors. One case of the repeated rape of an 11-year old girl by Battalion 753/Nabire troops in 2005 is documented in some detail: the girl  suffered psychologically as well as physically and eventually died of her untreated wounds. Her parents were too afraid to complain about the repeated rapes, for fear of being shot.

The situation in the mining town of Timika, says the report, is an example of state policies related to the exploitation of natural resources and corporate behaviour eventually leading to a situation “where violence was rampant, including tribal war and sexual violence against women.” Freeport’s attempt to allay growing anger against its operations by offering 1% of its annual profits to local indigenous peoples, led to increased conflict sparked by misuse of funds and unfair distribution. Discussions by the documentation team with women in two villages showed that women gained no benefit at all from these funds. The women in these villages were in alarmingly poor health, they were poor and had minimal access to education and the economy, as well as being vulnerable to various forms of violence. Inter-ethnic conflict in 1996, 2003 and 2006 in one village near Timika resulted in numerous casualties and one interviewee relates how she was abducted and raped by an opposing ethnic group.[3]

The development of oil palm plantations in Papua has also been marked by human rights abuses. One testimony relates how in the early 1980s, a tribal chief signed over communal land in Arso, Keerom district, at gunpoint. The land was taken by a state-owned plantation company to develop oil palm under the infamous nucleus-smallholder estate (PIR) system. The original agreement of 500 hectares now extends to 5000 hectares. Women felt the impact most on traditional sources of food, as sago stands were cleared along with other forest resources. As the community became increasingly impoverished, women often experienced domestic violence, as told by a Keerom woman.

The report highlights the fact that women are protected from violence and human rights abuses in theory – Papua’s Special Autonomy Law, for example, states that the government has an obligation to promote, empower and protect women as well as men so that there is gender equality. However, there continues to be a wide gap between what is legal and what actually happens.

Enough is Enough! also includes sections on the growth of women’s organisations in Papua, on domestic violence and equality in the context of Papuan indigenous institutions. The authors pose the question: how can this happen in post reform-era Indonesia? They point to five major findings that create the conditions that allow and encourage violence against women in Papua: 1) the state’s security approach to dealing with political opposition and with conflicts over natural resources. 2) discrimination against women in Papuan tradition and culture resulting in permitting violence against women 3) natural resources and political conflicts, plus power struggles which foster a situation where both state and domestic violence against women in increasing; 4) lack of a political will from the government to resolve conflict in Papua in general , or the problem of violence against women in particular; and 5) overlapping layers of trauma and powerlessness that are not addressed, which give rise to a cycle of victimisation.

Among its detailed recommendations to the Indonesian military, police, different layers of government, various relevant government bodies, religious institutions and civil society organisations, the authors call on the Jakarta government to reduce troop numbers, punish and dismiss perpetrators of human rights violations, and conduct a dialogue with the people of Papua, ensuring that at least 30% of the dialogue participants are women.

Recommendations to private companies and investors are:

  • Obey provincial regulations that apply to their operations
  • Cease the exploitation of natural resources and of the Papuan people, especially women and children
  • Impose strict sanctions on staff members or employees who commit violence against women and do not ciminalise women victims of violence
  • adopt work principles in accordance with human rights values, especially in the use of state security forces to guard company assets and products.

The full report, prepared in cooperation with the National Commission on Violence Against Women, the Working Group of the Papuan People’s Assembly and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) Indonesia, can be viewed at:

[2] Military and police expenses have been paid by Freeport-Rio Tinto for many years, though the company failed to reveal this until obliged to do so by dissident shareholders – see DTE 68, February 2006 for more background.

[3] The report also refers to the torture of Yosepha Alomang and Yulia Magal, near the Freeport mine. Yosepha Alomang’s story was published in Yosepha Alomang, the struggle of a Papuan woman challenging oppression (Pergulatan seorang Perempuan Papua Melawan Penindasan). See DTE No 63, November 2004 for more details.