Another Riot, Another Crackdown

The human rights situation in the villages near Freeport-McMoRan's huge gold and copper mine in western Papua, New Guinea continues to deteriorate. Last month, four Ekari tribal members were killed -- two in mysterious circumstances, two by gunshots delivered by Indonesian soldiers. Predictably, more unrest followed the deaths, provoking a further crackdown by the Indonesian military. According to reports from a local human-rights group and from other sources, the Indonesian military flew in hundreds of additional soldiers after the deaths of the Ekari men.

According to reports from the region, some 6,000 Indonesian soldiers are now stationed in the area in and around the mine.

A week after the deaths of the Ekaris, the Indonesian military issued an order that will likely promote further resentment against Freeport and the occupying army. On August 27, the local military command ordered the tribal people near the mine to surrender "all sharp implements such as spears, arrows and knives that are used for unclear purposes. These spears, arrows and knives should be handed over to the nearest police command."

LEMASA, the Amungme tribal council, responded to the order by saying that it "clearly applies to implements that our traditional societies use for hunting and cultivating the land. If implements that we use for hunting and tilling the land (arrows, spears and knives) have to be handed over, how are we expected to live?"

On August 29, The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in Washington asked the Indonesian National Commission on Human Rights, known as Komnas Ham, to investigate the killings. It also asked the commission to further investigate and prosecute the Indonesian soldiers involved in the killing and torture of several dozen local people in and around the mine in 1995 and 1996. In his letter to Marzuki Darusman of Komnas Ham, RFK Center director James Silk wrote that despite earlier recommendations from the commission to prosecute the miscreants involved, "no military personnel have been brought to justice for at least five other incidents involving several dozen soldiers."

In addition, Silk points out that "the role of Freeport in these human rights abuses has never been investigated." And he adds, "No independent human rights monitors have yet been granted access to the site." Silk recommended that Komnas Ham "review the entire human rights situation" in the area of the Freeport mine.

Shortly after the RFK Center sent its letter, LEMASA also asked for a complete investigation of the human rights situation in Freeport's area of operation, which covers some 6.5 million acres.

But it appears unlikely that the Indonesian government is going to do any serious investigations of the human rights situation at the mine. While members of Komnas Ham did visit Timika for one day, they did not investigate the most recent killings, nor did they interview any witnesses. And it does not appear that Komnas Ham will do any further investigation. On September 5, Darusman told the Jakarta Post that the problems at the Freeport mine "should be immediately handled by the central government in order to prevent national disintegration and division among Irianese communities."

Finally, on September 8, Tom Beanal, a member of LEMASA and the lead plaintiff in a $6 billion class action lawsuit against Freeport that is now pending in a federal court in New Orleans, was awarded the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for Excellence in Public Advocacy by the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation. The award, which includes a cash grant of $5,000, was given to Beanal and Richard Moore of New Mexico for their work in improving the welfare of their communities. Of Beanal, the Tides Foundation said his efforts have "resulted in increased awareness of the environmental destruction and human rights abuses caused by this American multinational [Freeport]."

As always, to get the latest on the Freeport saga, go to Robert S. Boyer's web page at: -- R.B.

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