“Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties; it accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils. Human life is reduced to real suffering, to hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap.”
– from Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
Part 1: Overview 5
Part 2: The Personal Toll of War 9
A military architect’s pangs of conscience 9
West Papua 1977: Minor sabotage provokes US backed apocalypse 9
West Papua – extending the atrocities of the colonial era 12
Indigenous rights and a colonial past 15
A boy’s death: A West Papuan story 20
US House of Representatives: No sign of relief: 22
East Timor 24
Part 3: Where on Earth is West Papua? 25
A brief history to West Papua and Indonesia 25
Indonesian occupation of West Papua 26
1961: A merciless military invasion and administration 27
1969: Military annexation 28
US betrayal of West Papua, an ally of WWII 30
Suharto, Freeport and the U.S. 32
Part 4: Militarized Mining and Freeport 34
Riches beyond the wildest dreams: Ertsberg and Grasberg mining district 34
Traditional owners and social impact 36
Traditional owners: Forced removal and conflict 37
Freeport security: underwritten by US ambassadors, spies and military 39
Part 5: 1994 Christmas Day Massacre Triggers Global Opprobrium 42
1994: Freeport’s land holding surges to nearly the size of Switzerland 42
1994 to 1996: Christmas Day massacre and military crackdown 43
Human Rights reports of the Christmas period 1994: 45
Under pressure: fallout for Freeport 49
March 1996: riots and Grasberg shutdown 50
Jim Bob in the eye of the storm 51
Jim Bob’s first option: appease the traditional owners 52
Revenue to royalties: Freeport’s “Option 1” – a low ball offer 54
Jim Bob’s military “Option 2”: A secret meeting; precursor to a large death toll 56
Other human rights reports 57
Eye witness reports of Freeport’s human rights abuses 60
Part 6: Hedge funds, environment, court and revolution 64
Hedge funds and pension funds blacklist Freeport 64
Salient comparisons: PNG mines – Bougainville and Ok Tedi 70
Europe’s new standards to stamp out conflict minerals 71
Part 7: Concerns of Corruption 73
US government sees no breaches 73
Court orders: efforts to sue Freeport 76
The reach of US laws 80
Kissinger hovering in the shadows 81
Part 8: FBI targets Freeport critics 86
Meeting in Freeport’s boardroom: May 1996 86
The strange intrusions start 88
Multiple critics of Freeport systematically targeted 89
Part 9: Wall Street and Intelligence Agencies 93
A toxic culture: foreign financial institutions 93
FBI: Crafting the narrative 94
Western intelligence agencies: distorting perceptions about West Papua 96
Part 10: Conclusion 99
Peace for West Papua? 99
Part 1: Overview
West Papua has always been a sacred land, brimming with natural wonder and indigenous natural and preternatural mystique. Unfortunately, since their arrival, the forces of modern change have cast a different kind of mystery over this glorious land and its people, a dark and violent kind, perpetrated by a military coloniser whose methods are protected by a robust media blackout. Banned and blacklisted reporters, limited travel access by foreigners, violent reprisals against free speech “violators” and leakers, backed by the world’s most powerful elites. The frequent military crackdowns and exacting incursions into West Papuan civil society by the armed forces and intelligence agencies, with US assistance, is motivated by the promise of extracting untold riches, that go way beyond even the most grandiose dreams of men closely involved with this story, some of whom have benefitted immensely at a personal level, like the vainglorious Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State. This story of conquest is about hubris, status and money; fake reputations made and sustained while committing shameful atrocities against defenceless people, including children, in a hidden part of the world.
Their crimes, however, are not hidden to everyone, and those who go looking for the facts behind the sporadic rumours that find their way out into the rest of the world will find evidence of a truly disturbing story in West Papua. One of the world’s largest investment funds, a sovereign wealth fund, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, dropped and blacklisted Freeport McMoran in 2006 and Rio Tinto in 2008 over their role in the Grasberg mine in West Papua. Others, but not many, have followed its lead.
The people of West Papua never agreed to Indonesia’s take-over which ensued from a sham referendum in 1969. They have suffered greatly, experienced gross injustice and violence at the hands of the Indonesian military backed and supplied with western armaments, advice and support. Most shocking has been the intensity of the brutality inflicted against the traditional owners in the communities around the Grasberg mine – those that lived there before the mine was established. They are the forgotten victims of decades of brutal repression that has included the carpet bombing of their villages.
Indonesia backed by American military might has deployed widespread violence against the local inhabitants in a war that has lasted decades and at times mirrored the most horrendous tactics of destruction unleashed in the Vietnam War: napalm, cluster bombs and aerial strafing. This violence is the means by which Indonesia and America, with Australian and UK support, jointly imposed and accelerated cultural change to achieve financial gain in West Papua. No more so is this evident than in the area around Freeport McMoran’s Grasberg mine; a huge area, the leases alone are nearly the size of Switzerland.
The mine has had a devastating impact on the traditional owners, both directly and through environmental degradation. Mine tailings deposited into rivers have damaged fishing and hunting grounds; and the loss of land, military assaults and the forced removal of indigenous inhabitants has caused massive social dislocation.
To assure continued operations at Grasberg, Freeport has built its own private security force, frequently recruiting from US forces, the FBI and CIA. The company has also paid for and provided material support to the Indonesian military and police, to the tune of millions of dollars a year, and offered material support to military operations in West Papua.
Freeport is heavily reliant on the military to maintain control of its operations in West Papua, a project with practices that would not be tolerated in any developed democratic country in the world. Certainly the U.S. would never tolerate any operation like it inside U.S. borders! The US is strict in enforcing the law, drawing on international standards, when it comes to companies operating on its home turf and rightfully so. However, it does not appear to be equally strict on US companies, over which it retains jurisdiction, when they operate in other countries.
Where major environmental disasters have occurred at natural resource projects in recent years within US borders, the government has come down hard on those at fault, such as the large fines levied on Exxon Valdez after the oil spill that contaminated the Alaskan coast line in 1989; or on BP after the massive oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, co-incidentally, not far from Freeport’s former head office in New Orleans, for which vast damages and fines were imposed by US courts for violation of the Clean Water Act. In 2016, BP agreed to settle charges of gross negligence and pay US$20.8 billion – the largest civil settlement by a single entity in history (only US$5.5 billion is deemed a non tax deductible Clean Water Act penalty). BP estimates the entire cost, including clean up of the environment, will exceed US$53 billion.
The deleterious impact to local communities and the environment from tailings deposition directly into rivers, such as Freeport’s discharges from Grasberg in West Papua, has been much more fully revealed and assessed in court documents in relation to the Ok Tedi mine in PNG where BHP has been prosecuted for this practice. There were also attempts to challenge Rio Tinto in US courts over allegations it committed war crimes at its Bougainville mine also in PNG. The parallels of both these operations to practices at the Grasberg mine are ominous for Freeport, though unlike PNG, Indonesian courts lack independence and Freeport’s activities in West Papua appear to be condoned and protected by powerful branches of the US government.
Unlike PNG, the large military presence in West Papua leaves no doubts about who holds the power. Under Suharto, Freeport and its mining interests in West Papua were recognised as national assets. Emblematic of the notion of militarised mining, the area around the mine became the most heavily militarised and arguably one of the most abused regions in Indonesia and the world. The military still is everywhere and permeates all facets of society including the bureaucracy, media and judiciary in West Papua, as with Indonesia more broadly.
Indeed, the project has had a long history of killings continuing up to the present (2017) with many hundreds of deaths of indigenous people documented by human rights agencies, and tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands killed more broadly in West Papua. At times, eye witnesses have reported Freeport involvement in some of the killings, including the 1994 Christmas Day massacre of 7 indigenous protestors, some of whom were reportedly killed at point blank range, inside steel shipping containers on Freeport property. (Alleged human rights abuses were never proven in relation to Freeport in U.S. courts).
The Indonesian government, Freeport and the US government are taking no chances in West Papua with the heavy militarization of the mine site in significant part paid for by Freeport, plus Freeport provides logistical support to the Indonesian military; and in the US, Freeport’s extensive, high level political connections protect it at home. Included in this protection is a dark arts flanking manoeuvre provided by the FBI to silence commentators that might otherwise raise the public profile of the project and jeopardise the company’s legitimacy in the US.
What is little known, and never reported is the role the FBI has played over this time to protect Freeport from scrutiny and lower the profile of its controversial Grasberg operation by silencing discussion in the US through means that include targeting Wall Street analysts. The use of FBI power in this way is all the more disturbing given the agency’s dual role in helping to identify and interview eyewitnesses to the alleged Freeport human rights abuses on location in West Papua.
The economic returns to Freeport in profits, and to the US and Indonesian governments in taxes and royalties, have been huge. Encouraged and empowered by support from their countries, these men have had the ability to take what they wanted and used every means at their disposal to do so.
A few facts about the Grasberg mine: It is owned and operated by the United States conglomerate, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc (Freeport) through its 90.64 per cent interest in PT Freeport Indonesia (PTFI). The Indonesian government holds the remaining 9.36% and parts of the Grasberg mine are held in joint venture with Rio Tinto. Freeport’s head office is in Phoenix (previously it was in New Orleans) and the company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It is one of the largest copper and gold mines in the world; expected to remain in operation till at least 2040, at its peak it produced operating profits of nearly $3 billion ($3,000 million) per year. Freeport’s long term Chairman, also the company’s CEO for many years, James Robert Moffett—Jim Bob Moffett to his friends, was removed in 2016 after activist investor Carl Ichan took a large position in the company.
The American electorate would be aghast if it knew the killings of indigenous people in West Papua by the US government and corporate backed Indonesian military was one of the tactics to maximise profits and dividend streams to Freeport’s shareholders. The governments responsible seem to think there are no available alternatives to military action: No possibility of a moratorium on mining; no possibility of conducting operations in line with international environmental and social standards as per those you find in the US; and no possibility of the expense of paying much higher royalty payments to traditional owners dispossessed by a commercial mining operation – that is, royalty payments at levels in line with that received by landowners who hold mineral rights in the US.
Part 2: The Personal Toll of War
A military architect’s pangs of conscience
US Secretary of Defence and Vietnam War architect, Robert McNamara in his old age panged with guilt declared ruefully in the documentary The Fog of War: “How much evil must we do in order to do good?”
The ten year Vietnam War saw the US escalate conflict to absurd levels – blanket bombing by B52’s, immeasurable quantities of napalm, massacres – most infamous being My Lai, and estimated 2 million innocent civilians slaughtered. McNamara’s confession was as unexpected as was the scale of the calamity of the war itself. What was clear to much of the public at the time, US foreign policy advisers had made serious errors in judgement; the war should never have been fought. If McNamara’s wartime actions are to be damned, his contrition and public confession is to his eternal credit.
Vietnam was not his, or America’s, only dirty war. Laos, Cambodia too. And later, the same destructive and terrifying battlefield tactics were used in East Timor and West Papua indiscriminately killing men, women and children; apocalyptic massacres in small, isolated villages.
McNamara could have said the same of West Papua as he said about Vietnam, where the US Vietnam era military tactics have been deployed with no less devastating impact. It has been a silent, ruthless war in West Papua supported by U.S. money, advisers and weapons. It is especially the brutal killings and other violent human rights abuses that stem from their military assaults, the asymmetric and systematic napalming of villages, strafing and bombing of indigenous communities, innocent people living traditional forest lifestyles that so forcefully renders the psychic scars, not only on US political and military leaders but on the public they represent. The silence surrounding the slaughter is testimony to the strength of the fear that enforces it, a fear that will remain with these officials to their graves and beyond.
One can’t help but wonder how much US supported violence around the world against foreign nationals, including in West Papua, would be the subject of similar cleansing confessionals if the responsible officials were as honest and strong as McNamara. There is still time for others from that era, and obviously officials from more recent eras, to kneel and confess before the public altar. In McNamara’s case, the weight of conscience as a force to confess, and hope of atonement, presumably overwhelmed him as the reality of his own impending death dawned.
West Papua 1977: Minor sabotage provokes US backed apocalypse
Reflecting the dissatisfaction of the local traditional owners to the presence of Freeport’s mine, and the loss of their ancestral land and homes, a key slurry pipeline was sabotaged in 1977 by the indigenous independence movement OPM. This caused the mine to temporarily close.
In response, the military unleashed a brutal reprisal against the local people; a scorched earth policy to which they were virtually defenceless. Overwhelming force against a stone age people armed with bows and arrows included use of cluster munitions and napalm reminiscent of a US style Vietnam War offensive – a war which the US had recently lost. It was only 2 years’ since the US surrender, ending the Vietnam War on 30 April 1975. But the tactics used in the that war survived its end.
The small villages built around extended family units were napalmed, strafed by modern military aircraft, bombed, shelled and invaded by well armed US backed land forces. It was a full scale military assault by Indonesian forces using American supplied hardware, armaments, munitions and advisors. Surrounding villages at Akimuga, and later Ilaga and throughout the Baliem Valley, once dominant Dani communities, were systematically napalmed, then strafed using Bronco OV-10 aircraft, followed up with commando raids involving 10,000 troops. Entire villages were wiped out by the grotesque weapons of modern warfare: men, women and children killed – bombed, burned and shot. The death toll from the Akimuga and Ilaga massacres alone stand at about 3,000 villagers.
The ability to run into the jungle and hide was the main means of protection for the locals and even that had severe shortcomings. Malnutrition, starvation and exposure to the elements frequently claimed further lives. There was no guarantee to life and limb, let alone any law that recognized traditional land holder rights or offered compensation for their taken land.
Robin Osborne, an officer with an Australian military mission in the area in 1977 reports:
“We were sitting in Wamena, having a break, when we saw Bronco aircraft land, reload and then take off again, heading along the valley northwesterly. We saw them dump napalm on villages and follow up with strafing…and…quite a few villages were wiped out.”
The operation against the local villagers in and around the Freeport concession was described by academic Denise Leith: “American Broncos and helicopter gunships carpet bombing, strafing, and reputedly napalming the surrounding villages. This operation was aimed at punishing the perpetrators and deterring further attacks on the mine.”
An investigation at the time by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) confirmed that the military used helicopters and other military equipment supplied by Australia and the US to bomb with various munitions, including cluster bombs and napalm, and strafe the local villages which indiscriminately killed men, woman and children:
“[A] member of the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] assigned in Wamena at that time also mentioned that he witnessed several Bronco planes drop napalm bombs over villages around the Baliem valley. One of the survivors interviewed by the AHRC confirmed the RAAF officer’s stories by mentioning that at least three planes landed on Yangguruk Hill in Bolakme. The planes dropped bombs on the villagers around that area who were told earlier that the planes were delivering aid from Australia. The British newspaper Morning Star reported that on 5 July 1977, over 1,000 villagers were killed by napalm and anti-personnel cluster bombs dropped in the Yamsi-Arso border area.”
A Yale Law School report for the Indonesia Human Rights Network (April 2004) reported:
“Strafing and bombing missions killed numerous West Papuan villagers and caused thousands to flee their homes into the jungles. In May 1977, OV-10 Broncos dropped antipersonnel “Daisy Cluster” bombs near the village of Ilaga, located on the other side of the Puncak Jaya mountain chain from Freeport’s mine. At the end of August, two OV-10 Bronco Bombers shelled the region of Akimuga. Soldiers also destroyed most of the food gardens belonging to Papuans in the region. As a result, many Papuan children suffered severe malnutrition.”
A footnote stated: “Daisy Cluster” or “Cluster bombing” is a high-altitude delivery of a 15,000-pound conventional bomb designed to kill everyone present within a huge area. Originally it was designed to create an instant clearing in the jungle.
The Yale Law School report also cited a report by Amnesty International:
“The military arrested and detained local Papuans, many for months. According to Amnesty International, the army used steel containers to incarcerate thirty men in total darkness for three months in the Freeport mining site, where night temperatures approached the freezing point.”
Australian academic Denise Leith reports the operation against the indigenous people in and around the Freeport concession:
“American Broncos and helicopter gunships carpet bombing, strafing, and reputedly napalming the surrounding villages. This operation was aimed at punishing the perpetrators and deterring further attacks on the mine.”
The Amungme people from the highlands near the mine were especially targeted by the military to clear them from the area of the mine. Those that that survived this napalm fuelled fire were forced to move to the lowlands where many died from malaria, a pervasive disease to which highland people had little or no resistance.
After being bombed and strafed, the Indonesian military swept highland Dani villages with impunity, beating, torturing and killing as it went. People, homes and infrastructure were targeted. Most terrifying, the tribal chiefs and leaders were singled out for special treatment.
As if further intimidation were required, the military captured the headmen at different villages in the Baliem Valley, took them up in helicopters and hurled them to their deaths into the jungles or sea below. It was a chilling tactic of fearsome colonial domination. Eerily, the tactic is reminiscent of Chile’s US backed dictator general Augusto Pinochet who dealt in a similar way with Chilean dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s – kidnapped, drugged, and pushed from helicopters far out at sea. It seems a strange and frightening common thread of military dictatorships supported by the West, and USA in particular, a cold blooded campaign of murder intended to neutralise opposition to the regime.
Later, a systematic campaign of state sanctioned assassination of West Papuan political leaders “is all but affirmed” according to reporters. It included the assassination of West Papuan’s attempting peaceful, diplomatic pathways to independence. The highest profile killing was the 2001 slaying of Chief Theys Eluay, widely reported, who was strangled in his car after attending an Indonesian military dinner.
West Papua – extending the atrocities of the colonial era
Colonial history is repeating in West Papua in the 21st century. Large numbers of traditional landowners have been killed in recent decades in an undeclared war that has wiped out villages, entire communities, their livestock – all trace of them gone. It is the frontline of another, seemingly interminable war, financed and supported by America in the jungles of South East Asia. Unlike colonial wars in Australia, and the war in Vietnam, this war is on-going, part of a grim “general silence that surround[s] the process of occupation.”
Where colonial-era powers washed their hands of the plight of indigenous populations in Australia, and in America, today the Anglo Bloc leaders inculcated with that same cultural mindset, wash their hands of responsibility for the conflict they have unleashed and still support in West Papua, from which their geopolitical and corporate interests benefit.
The parallel history of the Anglo onslaught against the Australian aboriginals, nearby neighbours to the Melanesian natives of New Guinea, in the 18th and 19th centuries is harrowing, recounted by historian and poet Judith Wright, no less noted as an Australian national treasure. “[I]t was Evolution, not Divine decree, which had doomed the Aboriginal races and the dark people of all other lands to extinction in the interests of Western Civilization,” declares Judith Wright in her book The Cry of the Dead . Here she provides a detailed record of the plight of Australia’s indigenous people confronted with “merciless persecution, murder and exclusion from their own land.”
The parallels between the indigenous conquest of West Papua and Australia are indeed striking. The brutality of colonialism is mostly silent, brooding and bloody warfare supported by the chilling indifference and callous connivance of distant powers. It is a state of undeclared war against indigenous people: a frontier in which murder and conquest is inspired by legendary heroes and rewarded with bloodied spoils and untold wealth.
The quest for ownership and control through a formal system of property rights that motivates Western Civilization is not the only form by which people may hold a sense of attachment to land. Indigenous people everywhere have held a strong attachment to land, though a different kind of attachment, that of steward as opposed to owner. Theirs is a connection based on birth, and a deep gratitude for the bounty and life that the land nourishes them with, a lifelong connection based on hunting, gathering, farming, housing and protecting their families, and as homes to the spirits of their ancestors that dwell as totems in the trees, forests and the natural landforms. The Dani and Amunge and Kamoro, as with the other indigenous people of West Papua, have a deep connection to their ancestral lands through an attachment that is accepted as an inalienable right.
West Papuan’s face the same impacts and destiny as many indigenous people under 18th-20th century European colonialism. West Papuan’s today live under the rule of military annexation and gun boat forced cultural assimilation, political oppression with claims of genocide. These attacks are still occurring, not yet something relegated to a distant past, closeted in a dark and white washed history of antiquity, but in the present. A present, with like tactics to the colonial era, defined by silence, by journalist and media blackout, travel restrictions, government dissemblance, legal corruption, business complicity and of course, military force. However, as Wright perceptively points out, it is not only the vanquished that bear the burden of injury: the victors too pay a high price amidst the carnage they unleash – forever they carry the “psychic wounds and pangs of conscience”.
In West Papua today, the toll on indigenous people is no less horrific than that experienced by others in colonial times. Innocent and defenceless people have died “violently and miserably” across West Papua as a result of this secret war. UN reports estimate 100,000 indigenous people have been killed as a direct result of military assault; and for every individual that dies of violence and trauma, there are many more that die or suffer from “shock, deprivation and displacement.” Survivors traumatised, their lives thrown into extreme flux, with the almost unimaginable pain of what it must be like to survive the loss of family, community and land. Their physical and spiritual connection to the land uprooted, their cultural identity fragmented, as these living souls are set adrift without any more consideration or compassion than that given to the direction of the napalm smoke that blows away on the wind.
Judith Wright described an 1837 British report in relation to the Australian Aboriginals that said: “Native populations have an incontrovertible right to their own soil.” Like American influence in West Papua, the government of the day heeded neither the letter nor the spirit of the law. In defiance of their own laws, through murder and forced removals they assumed the land of the native population. The government was complicit and at best there was “very little care taken to protect [the native population] from the dregs of our country men.” At worst, direct government complicity enabled and hid the myriad tragedies in schemes of violence and fraud.
In West Papua, as in Australia, historians tell of the killing of the local indigenous population that occurred with impunity: unaccountable encounters and attacks to take and secure the land for the colonists. The indigenous people targeted have little or no sense of the motivations of their “opponents”; there was “no way the locals could guess the assumptions on which the invaders worked.” Facilitated by a shamed but greedy ruling power, the new occupants’ excesses are, as they were then, beyond the reach of the law.
In West Papua, just as in colonial Australia, the results of the inquiries into the killings and atrocities were predictable. The murder and massacres of the indigenous populations were not seen, almost never officially acknowledged, eyewitness reports never filed by officials, or muted and suppressed. Just as the aborigines in Australia were officially declared British citizens, as are the Melanesians in West Papua declared Indonesian, the government turned a blind eye to their killing and ensured the deaths were not officially reported or investigated: “whites drew together in a conspiracy of silence that was never to be broken.” Any investigations, on the rare occasions they occurred were invariably perfunctory, partial and incomplete, the political leaders of the day exonerated in predetermined outcomes. Those who attempted to make official complaint through the nation’s political authorities and institutions of law and order were marginalised, denied justice and insulted by their colleagues. Appeals direct to the public offered about the only chance of remedy.
Indigenous rights and a colonial past
The rights of indigenous people have long been overlooked. Recognised by the father of the anti slavery movement in the UK 200 years’ ago William Wilberforce, and officially recognised more recently by the UN in 2007 with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is little consolation to West Papuan’s today that the truth of the atrocities committed a century or two ago in Australia, the US, South America, Africa, Asia and everywhere colonisation occurred only partially raises world awareness of the nature of the oppression they live under. Only slowly is the extent of the atrocities being acknowledged in the official history of those countries.
Understanding the pattern of historical colonial treatment of indigenous people offers clues as to what the West Papuan experience is today. Australia, with its brutal treatment of indigenous people by its Anglo masters, sheds light on how future generations might think about events of the past.
Below are some excerpts that describe the unvarnished process of colonisation during a brutal period that denied the rights of indigenous people, and a brief reminder of what those rights are.
The first is from Australian colonial era squatter and Premier – William Forster whose evocative poem describes a brutal reality of colonial rule. Next is the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, who in a seminal speech at Redfern park in 1992, acknowledged the impact and injustices for the aboriginal people of the colonial period and its legacy. Thirdly, the now famous abolitionist, distinguished UK politician William Wilberforce argued, nearly two centuries ago, for the rights of indigenous people. Finally, these rights accorded specific recognition by the UN in 2007 with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – included here as a reminder to modern day leaders that still seem all too often to act as if traditional landowners presence is an impediment their own development agendas.
Forster: blood and tears
William Forster wrote of the brutality of Anglo colonisation and conquest. A nineteenth century colonial Australian squatter, he was later Premier of New South Wales and Colonial Secretary. His poem offers poignant insight into the conquistador mindset still prevalent in frontiers like West Papua today.
‘Tis thus – a fatal race – where-e’er we go
Some phase of fitful tragedy appears.
We strew the earth with murder, crime and woe…
We pave our path with terror, blood and tears…
Thus with whatever good
Our conquest brings, or deems to bring,
Perpetual evil mingles or conspires.
Pale death and ruin round our footsteps spring,
And desolation dogs our civilized desires.
Excerpts of Keating’s speech at Redfern Park
In December 1992, celebrating the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous People, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating in the spirit of recognition and reconciliation gave what became a widely acclaimed speech acknowledging the impact of European settlement on Australian aboriginals. The audience comprised mostly aboriginal people at Redfern Park, an urban aboriginal enclave in an historically derelict inner city suburb of Sydney. Perhaps disingenuous, it is nonetheless seen as the beginning of the reinterpretation of Australia’s official history to reflect the extent of injustices by Europeans and impact on aboriginals of the colonial period and later. In his speech, history starts to accord more closely with the facts, such as those accounted for by historian Judith Wright in her work The Cry for the Dead.
Ironically, Keating was the presiding Prime Minister (1991-1996) in 1994 at the time of the US backed (with support from the UK and Australia) Christmas Day and other massacres in West Papua part of the military crackdown on the indigenous people there. John Howard became Prime Minister 11 March 1996, during the Grasberg riots and shutdown, the day before my analyst report was published on 12 March, and was the presiding PM at the time when ASIO and the FBI commenced their attack against me, and presumably others to silence dissent.
Excerpts below of Keating’s Redfern Park speech:
And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition.
Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing.
We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.
We brought the diseases. The alcohol.
We committed the murders.
We took the children from their mothers.
We practised discrimination and exclusion.
It was our ignorance and our prejudice.
And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds.
We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?
As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded us all.
Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions.
Economic contributions, particularly in the pastoral and agricultural industry. They are there in the frontier and exploration history of Australia.
They are there in the wars.
In sport to an extraordinary degree.
In literature and art and music.
In all these things they have shaped our knowledge of this continent and of ourselves. They have shaped our identity.
They are there in the Australian legend.
We should never forget – they have helped build this nation.
And if we have a sense of justice, as well as common sense, we will forge a new partnership.
As I said, it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we had lived on for fifty thousand years – and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.
Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless.
Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight.
Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books.
Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice.
Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.
Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it.
It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine its opposite.
And we can have justice.
By doing away with the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners prior to the settlement of Europeans, Mabo [land rights] establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice.
Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson said in 2007: It was “a great speech because it was about leadership, principle and courage… He placed before Australians the truths of our past and the sad reality of our contemporary society. He laid down the challenge for our future, as a nation united and at peace with its soul.”
Unfortunately, Australia has not delivered on the promise, if anything, in recent decades it seems to have regressed on respect for human rights with frequent aboriginal deaths in custody, frequent abuses by its domestic intelligence agencies and illegal detention and abuse of asylum seekers – the last two points documented in a UN human rights report in 2016 highly critical of the Australian government.
Wilberforce: slavery and indigenous rights
William Wilberforce is well known as the English politician that led the anti slavery movement for 20 years’ against the British slave trade. His efforts culminated with the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire (though slavery itself was not abolished for another 26 years’ with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833). At his death in 1833 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Not as well known, Wilberforce was also a passionate campaigner for the rights of indigenous people. He had recognised the injustice of their plight in the colonies during the age of European colonial expansion. His effort to free indigenous people from this oppressive scourge was as determined as his effort to abolish slavery, fuelled with conviction motivated by Christian principles that all people are created equal.
Two of his quotes appear below that shed insight into how he thought about the world:
“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.”
“We have different forms assigned to us in the school of life, different gifts imparted. All is not attractive that is good. Iron is useful, though it does not sparkle like the diamond. Gold has not the fragrance of a flower. So different persons have various modes of excellence, and we must have an eye to all.”
Unfortunately, his enlightened attitudes on indigenous rights seem to have largely fallen on deaf ears, and the passing of centuries has brought little relief for West Papuans. Irrespective of the formal end of colonialism, and proclamations from the UN on indigenous rights, the secret killing goes on in West Papua. Paraphrasing a well known aphorism: “Colonial powers established human rights in all their colonies. They simply forgot to abide by them themself.”
Excerpt: UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
As a blight on “civilised” people everywhere, the rights of indigenous people have been slow to be recognised, but in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which incorporates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. An excerpt follows:
“Concern[ed] that indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests,
Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources,
Recognizing also the urgent need to respect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples affirmed in treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements with States,”
Reinforcing the universality of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General said in 2012, “Indigenous voices are recounting compelling stories of how they are combating centuries of injustice and discrimination, and advocating for the resources and rights that will preserve their cultures, languages, spirituality and traditions. They offer an alternative perspective on development models that exclude the indigenous experience. They promote the mutual respect and intercultural understanding that is a precondition for a society without poverty and prejudice.”
There are 370 million indigenous people in the world today depending on how indigenous people are defined – non state, marginalised, with spiritual-ancestral-historical ties to the land. That’s about 4% of the world’s population – it is more people than the entire population of the US and about the same number as Europe. Indigenous people are spread across the globe and live on every continent except Antarctica. Of the 5,000 or so cultures documented in the world, indigenous cultures account for about 95%. Similarly, indigenous people account for a huge percentage of the world’s languages.
5000 years ago, everyone would have been considered part of an indigenous culture. Over the years many of these indigenous groups have been displaced, absorbed or killed. Surprisingly perhaps these groups survive today, despite none being outside the reach of global capitalism and all areas being claimed by at least one state. History is no excuse for the excesses of today. As modern civilised democracies, where government decisions supposedly reflect the will of the people, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is a commitment signed by the US, UK and other powers to protect human rights. Similarly, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) is an undertaking to advance the interests and protections afforded the world’s indigenous people. It is time our representatives lived up to our nations’ commitments to protect the most basic of human values.
A boy’s death: A West Papuan story
Statistics can be numbing, revealing the scale of the death toll in West Papua, as in East Timor, while at the same time hiding the human tragedy that exists behind each number. The very personal journey of each of the victims and the friends and family that survive them, the heart ache and grief that churns palpably.
Author Peter Matthiessen , however, poignantly captures the human face of this tragedy, distils the tens and hundreds of thousands of deaths, into a single recounting of the death of a young West Papuan boy named Weake, and the impact his death had on his friends, family and village.
Ambushed near the river where he and a couple of his young friends were playing, Matthiessen describes how a young boy was taken back to his village. Weake had more than 20 wounds that lacerated and pierced his body. Badly wounded and in deep pain, small cries emanated initially with each breath as the adults in attendance tried to comfort him, powerless to do much else. His parents were not present as his father had been killed the previous year and his mother fled leaving the boy in the care of his warrior uncle.
No hospital existed in the region and the traditional means to dress Weake’s wounds were to no avail. Water was poured over the wounds, and where required, they were prodded with the stems of taro leaves in an effort to push the extruding intestines back into the stomach. The body was battered, nearly lifeless with little sound or movement, swelling around the head and with dry lips. It was difficult to speak on account of the pain. Peter Matthiessen describes that the suffering lasted many days, the wailing of village women, the tears of his muscled warrior uncle, snuffles from the old men. After many days of tending the dying boy, exhausted emotionally and physically, no more reserves of magic or bush medicine to draw on, the boy’s condition deteriorated and his uncle could see the end was close. Matthiessen recounts that the uncle in a final effort to save the boy, offered all that he had left, helpless pleas for the boy to stay with him in the darkness of the night: “You will stay with us, You will stay with us, and the child said Yes, yes, yes, and did not speak again”.
Weake’s funeral now followed the same rituals as for the rest of society in a process that can last in stages for months. Indigenous children traditionally grow up in the jungles playing hunting games if they are boys, with spears and bows and arrows from a young age, practical details of the natural world and mysteries of the spiritual world and where they overlap, learning about magic and their ancestors, and the importance of family. In West Papua children are valued all the more so given the high mortality rate, and those that survive beyond their infant years are warmly loved and preciously nurtured.
The morning after he died, his body was carried from the small, dark hut. The man bearing his small body knelt for a while in the morning sun after a long cold night’s vigil, holding him in the early rays of warm light. After a while Weake’s wounded body was placed naked in a chair in a foetal position with his knees pulled up under his chin. His legs were bound and tied to the chair, his head propped up by a banana leaf running under his chin. The chair and body were placed in the open yard of the village compound and anointed with special ointment like a magical elixir.
During the day extended family, friends, neighbours from nearby villages and their children arrived with traditional gifts, greeted each other and sat around the body on the ground. During the morning over two hundred neighbours and friends arrived from nearby villages to join the vigil, including many of Weake’s young friends. Wails and songs of mourning filled the air throughout the day.
One notable omission from the gathering was Woluklek. He did not attend, bearing the psychic scars of a survivor with the unreasonable burden of guilt and shame, a sense of personal responsibility he felt for Weake’s death having been the one that innocently led the three boys to the river where they were ambushed.
Many in attendance that morning bore traditional gifts. From the men belts made of colourful, precious shells were placed on the boy and over the chair, and from the women special nets were likewise draped. The body was again anointed with ointment.
Four pigs were killed for the funeral feast to be held in the afternoon, and the dead boy’s friends covered in yellow clay for mourning brought wood for the fire and the roasting of the pigs in the fire pit. Each of Weake’s friends in attendance was closely involved with the funeral.
I remember how it felt to bury a friend as a boy, a sense of acknowledgement of the loss to be included as part of the ritual; the responsibility; to bond with others there in celebration of life and acknowledgement of death, a connection to something bigger, transcendent. I imagined these boys had similar feelings as they let go and endeavoured to understand.
Near dusk, with the heat of the afternoon sun and feast finished, the valuable shell belts covering Weake’s body and chair were removed and distributed by the clan leader to selected family members and friends. The wood for the pyre was brought and arranged and holy stones placed within the fire pit. The body was then annointed for the last time and the ceremonial shooting of bow and arrow ensued to release the boy’s spirit from his body.
With the fire burning, Weake was laid on his side as if asleep atop the pyre, a log for a pillow to cushion his head and promptly the smoke and flames engulfed him.
Matthiessen’s account concluded: “The last of Weake was a sweet choking smell, carried upward by an acrid smoke from the crackling pyre, and diffusing itself at last against the pine trees, the high crest of the mountain wall, the sky.”
The next morning, in respect and silence, the clan’s holy stones were removed from the ashes of the pyre by the older men and warriors, wrapped and placed on mats for safe keeping. It is stage 2 of the funeral, and another feast is held later in the day during which time other ceremonies take place. Often, a third day of feasting follows, and sometimes months later, stage 3 of the funeral occurs with a gathering and further feasting.
Weake’s death was not the result of US backed Indonesian military, though many deaths like his have been. It is the young especially, killed in their innocence with bright hopes for the future that are powerful symbols of disappointment and injustice. All the more so in a state where children are born into a world fused with the injustices of apartheid. Concerns of apartheid and genocide have frequently been levelled at West Papua but never been adequately investigated.
In South Africa where the apartheid state became a notorious symbol of man’s inhumanity, like Weake, another poignant symbol of injustice and oppression arose in the form of Hector Pieterson, a 13 year old boy shot and killed by police. In 1976, he was protesting in the streets of South Africa with other students against apartheid when he was killed: his death became a rallying point that marked the turning of the tide against the brutality of apartheid government policies. The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto on the outskirts of Johannesburg now stands as a memorial on the street where he died.
US House of Representatives: No sign of relief:
A speech to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 by U.S. congressman Faleomavaega directly informed congress of concerns about US mining company, Freeport McMoran, alleged human rights abuse:
“Since Indonesia subjugated West Papua New Guinea, the native Papuan people have suffered under one of the most repressive and unjust systems of colonial occupation in the 20th century.
Like in East Timor where 200,000 East Timorese have died, the Indonesian military has been brutal in West Papua New Guinea. Reports estimate that between 100,000 to 200,000 West Papuans have died or simply vanished at the hands of the Indonesian military.
While we search for justice and peace in East Timor, Mr. Speaker, we should not forget the violent tragedy that continues to play out today in West Papua New Guinea. I would urge our colleagues and our great nation and the international community to revisit the status of West Papua New Guinea to ensure that justice is also achieved there.
Geo-politics aside, since the Indonesian government seized control of West Papua, the Papuans have suffered blatant human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions, imprisonment, torture and, according to Afrim Djonbalic’s 1998 statement to the United Nations, ‘environmental degradation, natural resource exploitation, and commercial dominance of immigrant communities.’
Sadly, Mr. Speaker, a U.S.-based company mining copper, gold, and silver in West Papua New Guinea allegedly shares in the exploitation and abuse of Papuan lands and its people. In West Papua, New Guinea, Mr. Speaker, Freeport-McMoRan, an American company in partnership with the Indonesian leaders and leading Australian and British mining companies, operates the world’s largest gold mine and the world third largest copper mine in West Papua, New Guinea.…Freeport pays Indonesia more money than any other company in the entire country.”
‘‘Specific allegations have been made to Freeport’s direct association with human rights abuses undertaken by the Indonesian government on Freeport land. Freeport facilities are policed both by Freeport security and the Indonesian military; Freeport feeds, houses, and provides transportation for the Indonesian military; and after any incidence of indigenous resistance against Freeport, the military responds while Freeport looks on.
In 1977, when West Papuans attacked Freeport facilities, the Indonesian military bombed the natives using U.S.-made Broncos and a Freeport employee sent an anonymous letter to Tapol on August 6, 1977, writing ‘any native who is seen is shot dead on the spot.’ …. Although Freeport likes to shift blame onto the Indonesian government, press reports that ‘One recent Western traveller was told by a Freeport security employee that he and his coworkers amuse themselves by shooting randomly at passing tribesmen and watching them scurry in terror into the woods and Amnesty International reported that the military used steel containers from Freeport to incarcerate indigenous people.’
Mr. Speaker, ultimately I believe in the goodness of people and in the goodness of the Members of this body. I believe that, as we are made aware of human suffering and gross injustice, we will rise to say enough is enough.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has done very little to redress the injustices of West Papua which still seem a long way off.
The extent of human rights abuses committed by the US backed Indonesian military is evident in not only West Papua but also the Indonesian provinces of Ambon, Aceh, Maluku Islands, and East Timor. In particular, it was the horror of East Timor that caught the world’s attention.
West Papua is not the only region to have been brutally annexed by the Indonesian military. East Timor was colonised by Portugal in the 16th century. It came under Indonesian rule in 1975 following Portuguese withdrawal and subsequent military invasion by Indonesia, and was ruled as a province of Indonesia for 24 years till 1999. Following a brutal and highly public massacre, the Dili Massacre, in 1991, Indonesia experienced global opprobrium and came under deeply critical international scrutiny. The Asian currency crisis and collapse of the Indonesian economy saw the forced resignation in 1998 of Indonesia’s President Suharto. Still under the world’s glare and verging on pariah status, Indonesia’s new leaders reluctantly relinquished control of East Timor in August 1999 after accepting the result of a UN managed plebiscite.
It is the same military that in 1975 invaded newly independent East Timor with the approval of President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In the aftermath of the US defeat in Vietnam, US leaders were reportedly keen to maintain amicable relations with Indonesia, no matter the cost. The invasion of East Timor proceeded on the 7 December 1975 with US grace, the day after Ford and Kissinger met in Jakarta with Indonesian President Suharto.
It was a bloodbath from the outset. Reports indicate around 100,000 to 180,000 East Timorese died at the hands of the military , about one third of Timor’s population. Like in West Papua, the Indonesian military conquest in East Timor involved ethnic cleansing, rape and torture.
East Timor, subsequent to independence in 1999, indicted 391 individuals for crimes against humanity, though none of them has been brought to justice by the international community.
Part 3: Where on Earth is West Papua?
A brief history to West Papua and Indonesia
Indonesia ranges across an archipelago of around 17,500 islands spanning over 5,200 kilometres from South East Asia to Australasia. Much of the archipelago is difficult to access, wild and remote. Indeed over 11,000 islands are uninhabited, exotic, and amidst the remote tropical mystique are towering cloud crested mountain peaks over 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) in height that dominate the terrain clad in jungle, in places equatorial glaciers, and over 400 volcanoes, 90 of which are active. In contrast to this, parts of modern Indonesia are densely populated, the country contains 250 million people (the world’s 4th largest country by population) most of Asian ethnicity who live on the main island of Java; it is predominantly conservative Islamic, and has a rapidly growing economy.
The island of New Guinea is the second largest island in the world covering around 900,000 square kilometres, and lies directly to the north of Australia. It is populated predominantly by people of Melanesian ethnicity and culture and is split into two countries. The western half known as West Papua is now part of Indonesia. The eastern half is the independent country of Papua New Guinea (PNG).
One of the most surprising things about the island is its extraordinary linguistic abundance. As a result of the extreme topography (among other factors) communities had little interaction with each other and over time the relatively small region developed around 840 distinct languages among 6.2 million people. It accounts for about 12% of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages, an average of about 7,500 people per language. West Papua itself accounts for about 300 of these distinct languages and an additional 200 dialects.
Well known author and academic Professor Jared Diamond who has visited and studied extensively in New Guinea for over 50 years points out that if Italy had an equivalent language density per person, there would be about 10,000 languages spoken there!
West Papua has been known by many names, always driven by political influences, the flux of which has led to some confusion. During the Dutch colonial period, West Papua was called Dutch New Guinea. In 1963, after the UN passed administration of the territory to Indonesia it was renamed West Irian, and in 1973 Irian Jaya in an attempt to ward off claims that it is naturally part of the singular Melanesian island of New Guinea. In 2000 it was renamed Papua in anticipation of being given “Special Autonomy” status from 1 January 2001, and in 2003 the region was split into two provinces – Papua and West Papua. General convention is to refer to the two provinces jointly as West Papua, the Melanesian name, for the western half of the island of New Guinea.
The colonial history of New Guinea was divided between the Dutch in the western part of the island (subsequently West Papua); and the eastern half (subsequently PNG) divided between the British and Germans, which was an Australian protectorate for much of the twentieth century till 1975 when it was granted independence. PNG today contains about 5 million people, while West Papua has about 1.2 million people.
The rest of Indonesia is territorially remote, as well as ethnically and culturally distinct from the people of New Guinea. The ethnicity of the indigenous people of New Guinea – both West Papua and PNG – is Melanesian, a black race with West Africa ancestry. The people traditionally live subsistence and hunter gatherer lifestyles with animist beliefs and scantily clad. It sits in stark contrast to the rest of Indonesia which is Asian, predominantly modern, Muslim and conservative, including in traditional Muslim dress code.
The racial and ethnic tensions between the people, as well as Indonesia’s political aspirations form an important antecedent to the political turmoil in modern day West Papua.
West Papua, Indonesia is situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea.
Indonesian occupation of West Papua
The colonial era of Indonesia, including West Papua, was dominated by the Dutch, who occupied the archipelago from the 1600s and colonised it in the 1800s. Dutch rule in most of the Dutch East Indies ended after the Japanese invasion and occupation of WWII. After the war ended in 1945 Indonesia declared independence, though it was not until 1949, following 4 years of military conflict, that the Dutch formally ceded the Dutch East Indies to Indonesia.
Initially, the Netherlands resisted handing West Papua over despite pressure from Indonesia. The Dutch were cognisant that the Melanesian population of West Papua, geographically part of Australasia, with different languages and ethnic background to Southeast Asia, was opposed to integration into Indonesia. The Dutch were also aware of the vast wealth of West Papua – timber, oil and minerals. Accordingly, West Papua was retained as a colony of the Dutch with the intention of eventually establishing it as an independent state under their patronage.
Like their neighbours in PNG, tribal West Papuans did not have a historical background as unified a nation state. The Dutch however, had promised the West Papuans independence. They invested in building democratic institutions in the province and groomed a small group of well educated West Papuan leaders for independence. By 1 December 1961 the New Guinea Council had been established and the independent state of West Papua was all but formally declared with the opening of the Papuan parliament. The name West Papua had been agreed for their country, a police force, military and national anthem established, and the West Papuan Morning Star flag flew alongside the Dutch flag. West Papuans had claimed key elements of sovereignty, however, officially they shared power with the Dutch. Today, West Papuans celebrate the anniversary of 1 December as their independence day though nominal self determination was short lived. Before the state of West Papua had a chance to gain international recognition and legitimacy, Indonesia invaded.
On 19 December 1961, less than 3 weeks after establishing the Papuan parliament, Indonesia launched an invasion under the command of the young General Suharto on the basis that Indonesian president Sukarno had ambitions to take control of all former Dutch territory in the region. The Indonesian military has been active there ever since. Within 8 months of West Papuan independence, in October 1962, the Indonesians had effectively taken control and the Dutch withdrew.
1961: A merciless military invasion and administration
The US keen to avoid a Cold War confrontation with Indonesia, and aware of Indonesian support for American access to the vast resource wealth of West Papua, chose to appease Indonesia’s aggression instead of defend West Papuan sovereignty. The US chose the pragmatic option, preferring to do business in West Papua as part of a unified Indonesia, where it could deal with Indonesia’s military leadership, rather than as a nation state under the rule of disparate tribal groups. As such, Indonesian unification and control of West Papua served America’s economic interests, and the dirty pragmatic military work to make that happen would ostensibly be Indonesia’s challenge, not America’s. There was no question of the US nurturing and backing a moderate to lead Indonesia. The well informed leaders of the West, like Kissinger, knew Indonesia well enough to know how bloody those efforts at control would be. They set their sites on, nurtured and backed a man of ruthless mien with the track record to make it happen, General Suharto.
The Indonesian government, with support from the US government national security establishment under President John F. Kennedy, and US companies interested in oil and minerals in West Papua, brokered a deal in 1962 between the Netherlands and Indonesia known as the New York Agreement. Under the agreement, the UN took responsibility for West Papua and in 1963 formally placed it under the authority of Indonesian administration with the condition that a referendum for West Papuan self determination be conducted within 6 years to ascertain the genuine preference of West Papuans.
Indonesian authority in West Papua between the years 1963-1969 was ruthless from the outset, even before formal annexation. The Asian Human Rights Commission reported:
“[t]he military approach by Indonesia resulted in civilian deaths, refugees and growing resentment. The use of national symbols and the words Papua or Melanesia were prohibited and serious limitations were set on freedom of assembly and opinion, while the education system was disintegrated.”
1969: Military annexation
The populist summer of love in 1967 had not long passed in the West when political ambitions were set on adding West Papua to the ranks of the world’s annexed territories, joining the likes of Palestine, Tibet and formerly East Timor. Like people in these territories, West Papuans were about to be torched in the forced military integration of one people subjugated by another.
The mandated referendum for West Papua in 1969 was a sham, and widely viewed to be such, managed by the Indonesian military with coercion and violence. It was anything but genuine and free. Nonetheless, with US support it received United Nations ratification which bestowed international legitimacy on the process. In reality, the annexation of West Papua has been a ruthless, brutal and bloody process of incorporation of this half of the island into Indonesia, similar in carnage to Indonesia’s earlier invasion and occupation of East Timor.
The 1969 referendum in West Papua was contentious to say the least with the military handpicking 1026 delegates to indirectly “represent” a population of 800,000 people, of whom 1024 voted as a unanimous show of hands. It was not a free and direct election as required. The delegates were under duress to vote in favour of Indonesia’s annexation, with widespread reports of coercion and death threats by the military . Perversely named the “Act of Free Choice”, the process was unequivocally corrupted, the evidence supporting such views well documented by the UN itself through UN appointed observers. Despite the fact the referendum did not reflect the genuine will of the people, and therefore did not meet Indonesia’s obligations under the New York Agreement, the UN and Western powers, concerned with practical matters of access to West Papua’s wealth rather than justice, ratified the outcome nonetheless. In doing so, they ensured the subjugation and brutalisation of West Papuans by the Indonesian military for generations to come. The reality was, and still is, that there is widespread popular support in West Papua to be independent of Indonesia.
Handing West Papua to Indonesia was an arbitrary political settlement that satisfied US interests, but did not meet any of the normal claims to nation statehood, particularly those of ethnic and cultural unity. The outcome, predictably, has resulted in widespread resentment, resistance and bloodshed in West Papua.
Excerpts of statement by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa
….It is with deep concern I have learned about the United Nations’ role in the take-over of West Papua by Indonesia, and in the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice” of 1969. Instead of a proper referendum, where every adult male and female had the opportunity to vote by secret ballot on whether or not they wished to be part of Indonesia, just over 1,000 people were hand-picked and coerced into declaring for Indonesia in public in a climate of fear and repression.
The UN had just 16 observers to this Act for a country the size of Spain. The then Secretary-General’s Representative reported on the conduct of the Act to the UN General Assembly in 1969, which noted his report on 19 November of that year.
One of the senior UN officials at the time, Chakravarthy Narasimhan, has since called the process a “whitewash”.
A strong United Nations will be capable of, among other things, acknowledging and correcting its mistakes.
I would like to add my voice to growing international calls for the UN Secretary General to instigate a review of the UN’s conduct in relation to the now-discredited “Act of ‘Free’ Choice”.
Western powers led by the U.S (and including the UK and Australia) justified their support for Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua by arguing that West Papua would be a Cold War liability if left independent and potentially destabilise the region. However, the US, and corporate interests maintained financial, military and political support for the region, even after the cold war ended in 1991. Another option may have been to unify West Papua with PNG, (which had been an Australian protectorate from 1920 till 1975 when it received independence), with its ethnically identical Melanesian tribal culture to form a unified island of New Guinea, though this would not have satisfied the arbitrary appetite of Indonesia for sovereignty over the entire former Dutch East Indies.
Noam Chomsky eloquently summarises the devastating effect of imposing artificial and discretionary borders that divide people and cultures:
“Like many borders around the world, it is artificially imposed and, like those many other borders imposed by external powers, it bears no relationship to the interests or the concerns of the people of the country — and it has a history of horrible conflict and strife.”
US betrayal of West Papua, an ally of WWII
Many saw the UN decision as a U.S. backed power grab to secure corporate access to mineral and oil wealth in the province. Indeed, Freeport had signed its first Contract of Work (COW) with the Indonesian government in 1967, within months of the US backed President Suharto taking power, and two years before the 1969 referendum. This COW gave the company broad rights to the land and mineral resources around what was to become known as the Grasberg complex in West Papua.
In a stark act of realpolitik the US betrayed West Papua which had served the US as loyal World War II ally under General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of operations, in the critical Pacific War against the Japanese. Now West Papuan’s found that their sacrifice to support American victory in that war was to provide no lasting security.
“Our Melanesian friends of the critical Pacific War years were quickly forgotten when General MacArthur and the Allied forces left their headquarters in Hollandia (Jayapura) [capital of West Papua]. Their post-colonial plight remains a stain on the national and international collective conscience.”
After the 1969 referendum, nationalist freedom fighters’ movements, including the Free Papua Movement (OPM), called for independence, and have persisted to do so ever since. The Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI, TNI ), present since 1962, and already in control of the territory, took measures to secure Indonesia’s sovereignty. At the outset of Indonesian control of the province, the indigenous people rebelled with protests, riots and armed insurgencies directed at the Indonesian military and foreign mining activities.
Anthropologist and academic Hugh Brody, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, wrote in 2011 of the annexation and US betrayal of its former ally:
“What we have to understand is that Indonesia invaded an independent country. It did so with the help of UN confusions and many forms and levels of trickery, and with US collusion. This invasion depended on a profound disregard for the rights and aspirations of the people of Papua.”
“The flow of political turmoil in Jakarta, the resultant deals with US military interests and the unleashing of unrestricted mining in West Papua – this set of events was the underlying cause of the oppression, imprisonment and murder of horrifyingly large numbers of tribal people, as well as the total destruction of many of their homes and villages.“
The history of the Indonesian military, not only under Suharto but since, reveals the military authority in Indonesia acts with a culture of impunity, is responsible for gross human rights abuses including murder, rape and torture. The country has one of the worst human rights records in the world. The indigenous people have never had much of a chance in defending themselves with primitive weapons against an army supplied with modern US weapons, technology and supported by US military advisers. The death toll in West Papua has been horrendous. While it is difficult to pin down firm numbers, Australian observers estimated in 2005 that 100,000 West Papuans have been killed by the military since 1969; and other sources indicated another 100,000 thousand or more people displaced.
The brutality of the Indonesian military in West Papua is documented only sporadically. Nonetheless, enough information has emerged to paint a clear picture of the devastating consequences for the traditional Papuan landowners and in particular the original inhabitants of the Freeport concession area, dominated by the Amungme and Kamoro, but also the Moni, Nduga and other peoples. Though closed to the official media, news reports of ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua still today find their way into the western media via NGO’s and the internet.
The military violence and brutality inflicted on the indigenous people of West Papuans has not been limited only to the various regimes of Indonesian dictators. Indonesia has had democratic elections since 1999, though democracy appears to have offered little in the way of improved conditions to West Papuans, with ongoing reports of military atrocities against the indigenous people that include torture and extra-judicial killings.
Suharto, Freeport and the U.S.
In some ways, the goals set by US leadership in its most fearful and darkest days, were the clearest, most noble expression of a responsible global leader, a government with conscience that reflected the grandest principles set forth in the American Constitution. President John F Kennedy said in his inaugural address in 1961:
‘‘Let every Nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.’’
Living with the heightened threat of nuclear annihilation symbolised by the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s, America faced its most fearful and darkest days, and also its most liberal and enlightened. It was the best and the worst of times. Kennedy was brilliant at expressing positive government aspirations and aligning them with universal human values. The Cold War was a war, first and foremost, for the hearts and minds of the world’s people, not only for Americans, but globally as a bulwark against a communist foe that was intent on global revolution.
Unfortunately, reality rarely lives up to the aspirations of such noble rhetoric. The Kennedy government, keen to prevent Russian influences increasing in Indonesia, was a supportive ally of Indonesian General Suharto who led Indonesian forces in the conquest of West Papua. While the extent of US military involvement in West Papua remains unclear, the government’s strategic intent seems unambiguous:
“it was [US] national policy to sacrifice the lives and future of some 800,000 West Papua New Guineans to the Indonesian military in exchange, supposedly, for Sukarno and Su[h]arto to become our friends, and yet organize the most repressive military regimes ever in the history of Indonesia.”
The military was everywhere in Indonesia, supported by US military advisers and weapons. Following Suharto’s military campaign in West Papua that commenced in 1962, later US administrations successfully backed Suharto for the Indonesian presidency after a bloody, extended coup that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian communists and sympathisers. Suharto’s New Order regime ruled Indonesia for 32 years from 1967 till 1998, when he stepped aside under pressure from the political and economic fallout of the Asian Financial Crisis.
Suharto depended on the military not only to maintain control of the disparate provinces of Indonesia but to retain his grip on power. The abhorrent dictatorial techniques he used to retain power are here described by academic Denise Leith:
“For the thirty-two years of the New Order regime, the apparatus of the state maintained the cohesion of the archipelago by violating the tenets of the Constitution. Coercion, repression, and systematic violation of human rights were instrumental in amassing phenomenal private wealth and power at the center. The ability of one man to remain at the apex of power rested not only on the dispensing of largesse to the newly emerging middle classes in Indonesia but also on his control of the judiciary and the forces of coercion. Through this control Suharto was able to distort the Constitution, delude the public with rhetoric, depoliticize the masses, and suppress working-class opposition while periodically jolting the collective amnesia of the nation by threatening a return to the chaos of 1965 in order to legitimize his authoritarian rule.”
It was during Suharto’s ruthless dictatorship that Freeport consolidated its position in West Papua. Freeport, in an unholy alliance of sorts, paid the Indonesian military millions of dollars every year to fund its activities in West Papua – the military targets the secessionist movements and protects the mining interests of Freeport – one of the country’s key revenue sources. Freeport McMoran continues to provide millions of dollars of financial and logistical support annually to extend the Indonesian military presence in West Papua.
Part 4: Militarized Mining and Freeport
Riches beyond the wildest dreams: Ertsberg and Grasberg mining district
Ertsberg was discovered in 1936 during the era Dutch colonial rule by Jean-Jacques Dozy, a geologist working for the Dutch company Shell Oil. Shell did nothing with it, overtaken by the events of WWII and the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies. The property dropped off the radar screen and it was not till 1959 when the discovery was brought to the attention of Freeport geologist Forbes Wilson that Freeport picked up the ground.
Freeport developed the Ertsberg mine (part of what became known as the Grasberg complex) which produced from 1972 to 1991. Compared to the massive Grasberg mine which commenced production in 1990 and which continues to be mined, Ertsberg was small with ore milling capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes per day. On a global scale Freeport was a relatively inconsequential company. However, after the discovery of Grasberg in 1988 everything changed. It was a massive discovery about 1.9 miles from Ertsberg and it catapulted Freeport into the league of global mining majors.
The open pit mine was depleted in 2016, at which time production shifted exclusively to what is the world’s largest underground mining complex. Production is anticipated to continue for around another 30 years, into the 2040s with further mine life extensions likely beyond this, as additional resources are discovered.
The Grasberg mining district comprises the large Grasberg open cut mine which removed the top part of a mountain 4,100 metres high (2.5 miles), and today includes a number of large underground mines which are progressively expanding production. The complex currently produces with a nominal milling capacity of nearly 250,000 tonnes per day (about 10 times the size of Ertsberg), with approval to expand up to 300,000 metric tonnes per day.
Grasberg hosts the world’s largest reserves of copper and gold. In 2011 these amounted to 31.6 billion pounds of copper and 32.2 million ounces of gold with an in-ground value approaching 200 hundred billion dollars.
On the back of Grasberg and later, after the turn of the millennium with the boom in demand for commodities fuelled by rapid economic expansion in China, the price of many metals sky rocketed. Grasberg’s principal products of copper and gold went up nearly 5 fold: copper increased in price from around 80 cents per pound to around US$4 per pound, and gold went from around US$360 per ounce to over US$1900. With its fortunes booming, Freeport’s market capitalisation rose into the tens of billions of dollars.
Grasberg is one of the largest, low cost mines in the world. It is also one of the most profitable. In 2011, production costs after allowing for by-product credits from gold and silver were only 9 cents per pound of copper produced, while the average price received on copper sales that year was US$3.85 per pound, a profit margin of US$3.76 per pound – or 98%!
The mine is not only high margin, it also has massive scale – production in 2011 was 882 million pounds of copper and 1.4 million ounces of gold, which contributed US$5.4 billion to Freeport’s revenues and US$2.9 billion to gross profit. It is a huge operation by all measures and its economic, social and environmental impact is felt throughout the region.
Reflecting their responsibility in managing the mine, political relationships in Washington and Jakarta, and the complexities of navigating security and military relationships, the Chairman, and the President and CEO of Freeport receive total annual compensation that routinely exceeds US$20 million. The Chairman of the Board, Jim Bob Moffett (he stepped aside in 2016) had total remuneration of US$36.8 million in 2010. President and CEO Richard Adkerson received total remuneration of US$39.5 million in 2010, down from an even larger total compensation of US$77.3 million in 2008.
Freeport employs approximately 12,300 people in Indonesia, most in the Grasberg minerals district, and an additional 10,500 contractors – for a total number of nearly 23,000 people, only a small percentage of which are West Papuan, though the company has been working to expand indigenous representation.
At the time of discovery the local indigenous population living in the concession area was less than 3,000 people, but by 2002, this number had grown to 120,000, leading to an escalation in social tensions. The growth was fuelled by transmigration to the concession area from other parts of Indonesia, and West Papua. There were also personnel living in the area employed by Freeport, their consultants, development agencies, NGOs, missionaries and security and military personnel.
The project area, due to its remoteness, required Freeport to develop most of the infrastructure in the region necessary to support its operations. This included construction of two towns with housing, schools, medical facilities and all essential services to support the mine work force.
The company also built an access road, port and airport. There were significant challenges on the mine engineering front due to the extreme topography and remoteness of the site that in cases required innovative solutions. For example, an aerial tramway was built to carry the ore from the mine to the processing plant due to the shear topography, a function in less challenging conditions performed by trucks, trains or conveyers.
Bechtel, the large American engineering group was contracted to build much of the mine and supporting infrastructure said it was the most challenging job it had ever undertaken up until then. In particular, Bechtel cites the challenges in building the road to the mine site: 119 kilometres long, carved into the sides of massive mountains and over narrow mountain ridges with huge drops on either side. There was also extensive tunnelling required. It was the first and only access road built to site, and reportedly accounted for about 30% of the initial capital required to establish the project.
From the processing plant, a pipeline 115 kilometres long was built to carry the slurried copper concentrate through the jungles, across swamps and over mountains to the coastal port site at Amamapare. There it is dewatered and shipped for smelting and refining.
Traditional owners and social impact
The indigenous people of West Papua, for the most part, live traditional lifestyles in scattered, isolated communities situated from hot coastal equatorial lowland jungles to the high, rugged, glacial covered mountain highlands, in total comprising about 310 known tribes.
Villages are small, supporting subsistence lifestyles, and centred around family units typically with 4 to 6 houses in each. The predominant traditional owners who occupied what became the Freeport concession around the Ertsberg and the Grasberg mine were the Amungme and the Kamoro. They lived traditional life styles with cultures based on ancestral worldviews. Around 2,000 Amungme occupied the three sparse and harsh highland alpine valleys, raising pigs and sweet potatoes, around where the Freeport mine, mill and associated infrastructure, including town, are now situated. One of those alpine meadows in the Wa Valley is the site for the mine’s massive overburden waste dumps, and the original, traditional village of Wa is now the site of the large company town of Tembagapura. On a nearby area, formerly an Amungme burial site, a helipad has been built. The Kamoro occupied swampy and coastal lowlands, and lived as hunter gatherers where the mine tailings are now deposited and associated infrastructure, including the company town of Timika and the airport are situated.
Initially, it had been difficult to determine who the “rightful” traditional inhabitants of the land were, in part due to the fact that some of them were nomadic. In any event, following annexation by Indonesia, Indonesian law proscribed that the state owned the mineral wealth and the traditional owners were not entitled to compensation.
The original occupiers of Freeport’s concession had no legal recourse to financial compensation for spiritual loss of their lands, though housing and rudimentary infrastructure was compensated. The Indonesian government merely handed their ancestral lands over to Freeport to explore and mine. Freeport believes its land tenure is legal under Indonesian law and says it has agreements in place with certain traditional owners that release the customary or traditional tribal rights for the company to use the land.
The contract, signed under Suharto, gave Freeport “the exclusive right to enter upon and to take possession of and to occupy the Project Area,” and the “right to arrange for the resettlement of any indigenous inhabitants who may be found permanently residing on any part of the Project Areas”. Under Indonesian law, Freeport was able to call on the military to resettle the traditional owners, which the company did, and also gave material support to the military in removing the indigenous people from their ancestral homes.
Traditional owners: Forced removal and conflict
The meeting of modern states with indigenous people that live subsistence lifestyles is always difficult. The clash of cultures and civilisations is frequently bloody, with one or both sides reluctant to embrace change, and each side struggling to come to terms with what can be very different worldviews and values. Expectations about what constitutes quality of life and well being in each society often vary greatly. Western culture defines quality of life by measures such as infant mortality, life expectancy, education and economic output (GDP); whereas traditional cultures measure it by kinship relations, ritual and spiritual connection to the land.
At the heart of the conflict Freeport considered the mining of a mountain as development and was unyielding in exercising its will, whereas the indigenous people considered the mountain sacred and feared its destruction: “The land is ourselves. The land is our mother.”
The significance of land is well described by the Amungme:
“[The Amungme’s] respect toward nature restrains them from causing any destruction to their environment. To destroy the environment is akin to their [own] destruction. To the Amungme, the most important thing is to maintain the harmony among the three elements of life: humankind, the natural environment and the spirit of the ancestors.”
The Amungme leader Tom Beanal indicates how his people felt about Freeport, and the mine’s impact on them:
“They [Freeport] take our land and our grandparents’ land. They ruined the mountains. They ruined our environment by putting the waste in the river. We can’t drink our water anymore.”
The Kamoro communities who are the traditional owners in the lowlands where the tailings are deposited, state:
“The 87 families and 300 people of our villages [who] have suffered from the disposal of mining wastes and environmental damage caused by [Freeport] for over thirty years in this area protest to you strongly about the continuous pollution and devastation of our tribal lands….The floods and the toxic chemicals caused by the mining waste dumped in the River Muamiuwa and River Ajkwa have [made some places dry up and poisoned others]. The sago palms and the trees which provide wood for our homes and canoes are dead; the animals we hunt have fled; the traditional medicine plants have gone. Our culture is starting to die out and we are suffering from increasing serious health problems.”
The mine has had a devastating impact on the traditional owners, both directly and through environmental degradation. Mine tailings deposited into rivers have damaged fishing and hunting grounds; and the loss of land, military assaults and the forced removal of indigenous inhabitants has caused massive social dislocation.
In stark contrast to the natural beauty of the ancestral lifestyle, many indigenous people forced from their lands subsequently live in squalid poverty:
“Separated by just a few kilometers of jungle, the village of Kwamki Lama was built by the company and the government to house Papuans moved from their traditional lands in the concession. It was a desolate place devoid of any redeeming feature and characterized by disintegrating concrete-block houses, children with distended stomachs, and open drains.”
Finding common ground between Freeport and the traditional owners for negotiation where the starting points are so different has been a key challenge for both sides. From the outset, Freeport was determined to develop the project which verged on being an obsession for management, a crazed passion which CEO Jim Bob described as a “religion”. However, there seemed to be little charity or love lost on Freeport’s part; it was the traditional owners who were forced to surrender their meagre material possessions and suffered under the Freeport zealots backed by a military invasion.
Freeport has made some concessions to the traditional owners. The company made specific efforts to bring about positive social and cultural impacts to benefit the traditional owners – providing roads, towns, schools, medical clinics, jobs for some, new agricultural techniques – though it has mostly been a case of too little too late, with assistance and “reparations” reflecting western paternalistic values. There is little indication that the company and its advisers have been sufficiently open minded or made the necessary efforts to understand and assimilate the world view and insights of the traditional owners.
Indigenous people can’t avoid Western civilisation’s inexorable expansion and influence where it pushes in on them. At some point the interaction with outside communities seems inevitable. Whether now or in the future, outsiders will encroach on traditional communities and attempt to change their way of life. Let’s hope those at the frontier, carrying the banner for the developed world’s values, will remember what these are, their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and needs of traditional communities.
A US congressman said in a speech to the House on West Papua, quoting Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:
‘‘The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.’’
Freeport has been on a steep learning curve, taking on roles traditionally the preserve of government. Some of these roles it has evidently mastered – those pertaining to the establishment of military backed security and international diplomacy; but responsible custodian of the local environment and community development have been other matters altogether as West Papuan society over the decades has remained on low simmer, and hoping to avoid the next outbreak of violent social upheaval.
Freeport security: underwritten by US ambassadors, spies and military
The Indonesian military and police, in part funded by Freeport in West Papua, seem to operate with impunity in the province, their activities largely hidden from world view.
Extensive military and intelligence agency abuses have occurred in West Papua. Indeed, the Freeport project is associated with a long history of violence. These abuses have been well documented intermittently and include arbitrary detention, torture, rape and extra-judicial killings.
About 30,000 Indonesian troops are stationed in West Papua and the region is designated Indonesia’s only ‘zone of military operations’. Confrontations and military conflict have flared repeatedly since the Dutch departed, with peaks occurring in 1977, 1980 and 1996. There have been multiple instances of military deployment of modern warfare techniques against local indigenous cultures that likely constitute war crimes.
Unlike PNG, the large military presence in West Papua leaves little opportunity for indigenous protest and disgruntlement to manifest as a serious threat to the Grasberg mine. Under Suharto, Freeport and its mining interests in West Papua were recognised as national assets, and emblematic of the notion of militarised mining, the area around the mine became the most heavily militarised region in Indonesia. The military was everywhere and permeated all facets of society including the bureaucracy, media and judiciary in West Papua, as with Indonesia more broadly.
The human rights abuses committed against the indigenous people of West Papua are extensive and include the detention of political prisoners; transmigration – an Indonesian government policy whereby large numbers of people from other parts of Indonesia are relocated to West Papua on a scale that makes the original Melanesian inhabitants minorities in the province, and where the new arrivals historically have received benefits and opportunities not available to the indigenous people; and military and security agency atrocities.
The impact of the Indonesian military presence is felt throughout West Papuan society:
“The province’s civil service almost entirely consists of racially distinct Indonesians from other parts of the country, and most of Irian’s vast mineral wealth has flowed to Jakarta. The military dominates Papua’s local politics and also has vast business interests in timber and forest industries.”
Security has been and remains a key issue for Freeport operations at Grasberg. The company’s filings with the SEC indicate expenditures in 2011 on internal civilian security by PT Freeport Indonesia of US$37 million dollars and an additional US14 million dollars for government-provided security – a total of US$51 million dollars – in 2011 alone.
Freeport’s recruitment has reached into the heart of US justice and intelligence agencies, including recruitment of former CIA and FBI agents, and US military attaches to Jakarta. Former company board members include Henry Kissinger (currently a Director Emeritus) – a former US Secretary of State and also a long term advisor to Freeport; and former US ambassadors to Indonesia, including Stapleton Roy. James Woolsey, a former director of the CIA represented Freeport during arbitration with OPIC in 1995 and 1996 which saw the terminated policy briefly reinstated.
These are just some of the visible aspects of Freeport’s political and security measures. The overall state of security for the mine was put into context by Freeport Chairman and CEO Jim Bob Moffett who, in a widely reported remark, referred to the political interest in, and militarisation of the project, as the “new Cold War”.
Part 5: 1994 Christmas Day Massacre Triggers Global Opprobrium
1994: Freeport’s land holding surges to nearly the size of Switzerland
With the discovery of Grasberg in 1988 and subsequent commencement of operations there in 1990, a new COW was signed in 1991 expanding Freeport’s concession to 6.5 million acres (~26,300 square kilometres). This was further expanded to over 9 million acres (~36,500 square kilometres) in 1994 – an area larger than the landmass of Holland, and nearly the size of Switzerland. This compared with the original 24,700 acres (~100 square kilometres) in the original Ertsberg concession granted in 1967. Freeport’s massive land holding was granted without requirement to compensate the traditional owners, forced relocations undertaken by the military reportedly with Freeport’s material assistance, and without stringent environmental controls.
The traditional owners had no right to compensation from Freeport and many had lived through a recent history of forced removal and military attacks in the process of being removed from their ancestral homeland to make way for the mine and its expansive infrastructure.
The granting of the massive concession to Freeport in 1994 was a predictable catalyst for a new wave of uprisings and conflict as local opposition to the company increased. Not surprisingly, the indigenous people protested the loss of their lands and conflict escalated in the area in and around the concession.
Between 1994 and 1996 a period of provoked and elevated tensions followed. Hundreds of innocent people were reported murdered in and around the Freeport concession, many more were forcibly removed, some tortured. The military crackdown was brutal. Sourced from a Catholic Church report on human rights abuses in the area, academic and author Denise Leith described it this way:
“It is now well documented that in response the Indonesian military sealed off the Freeport concession and its surrounds from mid-1994 until mid-1995, set up new security posts, and systematically terrorized the local population with summary executions, murder, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, intimidating surveillance, destruction of property, and unexplained disappearances. Many of its victims were innocent men, women, and children.”
If clashing worldviews were not enough of a negotiating barrier, the traditional landowners felt they had been lied to and betrayed by Freeport with the company not living up to the promise of jobs and wealth sharing. According to Denise Leith, of the 3,500 people employed by the company at the mine in 1990, only 20 were local West Papuans and there were no royalty payments going to the traditional owners; nor was there indigenous share ownership and associated dividends in the project.
As the result of Freeport’s expansion, an eerie silence fell over West Papua.
1994 to 1996: Christmas Day massacre and military crackdown
Once again, the brutality of the military seemed to be spiralling out of control with seven indigenous protestors shot and killed in a short period around Christmas Day 1994 and others reported killed, tortured and detained.
I first heard of the killings on ABC radio a few days after Christmas while driving in the Australian outback. I was home on holidays with Susan that year visiting family for Christmas, after which we took a week off to camp out and drive along the Strzelecki Track to Cooper Creek and Broken Hill. We had been driving for endless hours through the heat on a nearly deserted road and it felt like we were a million miles from anywhere. The announcement blasted in over the radio and reverberated through the car like a bombshell going off. The news of the massacre around the Freeport mine had reached even out here, the middle of nowhere, and sent a slight shiver down my spine. It was an unexpected shock: a deplorable situation involving a company I covered, people I knew, senior management I had met and regularly spoken with.
News reports indicated some of the protestors were killed at point blank range inside steel shipping containers on Freeport property. Eyewitnesses reported Freeport security personnel and Indonesian military were directly involved in the killings (though claims of Freeport’s security personnel involvement were never substantiated in court).
In an instant I went from carefree insouciant in the desert summer heat in the middle of nowhere with my girlfriend, and suddenly found my thoughts back in a claustrophobic neon tube lit enclave at work in NY. I had no idea at that time how far reaching the effects of this news would be for West Papua, for Freeport and Susan and my lives.
This is how ABC Radio National journalist Kirsten Garrett subsequently reported events of the massacre :
Kirsten Garrett: This man, recorded by documentary maker Mark Worth, did not want to be named.
1st voice: Physical torture consisted of kicking in the belly, chest and head with army boots, beating with fists, rattan, sticks, rifle butts and stones, denial of food, kneeling with an iron bar in the knee hollows, standing for hours with a heavy weight on the head, shoulders, or cradled in the arms, stepping and stamping on hands, tying and shackling of thumbs, wrists and legs, sleeping on bare floors, stabbing, taping eyes shut and forced labour in a weakened condition. The torture caused the bleeding head wounds, swollen faces and hands, bruises, loss of consciousness and death because of a broken neck. The torture was conducted in Freeport containers, the Army commander’s mess, the police station and the Freeport security post.
Kirsten Garrett: The Bishop of Jayapura, Herman Munninghoff, spoke on ABC Radio on The World Today….
Herman Munninghoff: Many times they were interrogated, perhaps about one month and they have to stay in a container there for Freeport, there are several places but they have steel containers and the containers there often used as prison.
Interviewer: Are these people also beaten though?
Herman Munninghoff: On several occasions they were beaten, yes.
Interviewer: How reliable are the people that you’ve got your information from?
Herman Munninghoff: I myself spoke with all the people. I went there, I spoke with them and it was my stark opinion that they spoke the truth.
Interviewer: So you had no doubt that these incidents actually happened.
Herman Munninghoff: Oh no, no, no.
Kirsten Garrett: The fight is over land, and the fabulous treasure of copper and gold – huge deposits that lie in the spine of awesome mountains that rise like a dinosaur’s back right through the island of New Guinea. Metals that will become telephone wires and jewellery and plumbing pipes and dental work. For the Amungme people these things don’t yet have much meaning. They’re subsistence farmers and rainforest
people. Their meaning lies in land and most of their forests are now open for logging, and the Freeport mine has rights over 2-and-a-half-million hectares. Thousands of Amungme have been relocated.
The distant radio waves were not the only source of news to fill the car that morning. Susan, presumably sensing involvement of the FBI as perpetrator or crime scene investigator in the Freeport atrocities chose the occasion to make further disclosures to me about her undercover work with the FBI.
Human Rights reports of the Christmas period 1994:
Reports from mid 1994 to 1996 indicate the military undertook a brutal and relentless campaign of systematic terror against the traditional owners that involved murder, rape, torture and arbitrary detention.
Aside from the US State Department investigation into the alleged role of Freeport in the 1994 Christmas Day massacre and other killings, the report of which was not released to the public, other groups were also investigating the killings marked by a period that began around the 1994 Christmas massacre and extended into 1997.
The two highest profile, independent human rights reports made public were prepared by the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) – an NGO umbrella group that monitors Australian foreign policy; and a report by the Catholic Church of Jayapura, led by the bishop of Jayapura Monsignor H.F.M. Munninghoff, both published in 1995. These reports found their way out of West Papua with the result that international scrutiny of Freeport increased substantially.
Several months after the Christmas Day 1994 killings, in April 1995, the ACFOA report was released that documented eye witness accounts of the horrors inflicted against indigenous people on the Freeport concession during the Christmas period 1994. The report, Trouble at Freeport, was smuggled out of the country and received wide international media attention.
It cites eye witness testimony that pointed to the involvement of the Indonesian military and Freeport security in the abuses that included multiple killings. The report captures the scope of the human tragedy, the devastation of indigenous leaders in response to the killings, and poignantly portrays the personal context of the conflict.
A summary in the report of the abuses included the following:
“ABRI [Indonesian military] and Freeport security engaged in acts of intimidation, extracted forced confessions, shot 3 civilians, disappeared 5 Dani villagers, and arrested and tortured 13 people after an OPM flag raising in Tembagapura on 25 December last. In summary, the uprising in Tsinga and Christmas Day demonstration in Tembagapura resulted in, at least, 37 people killed and/or disappeared of whom 22 were civilians and 15 were rebels.”
Of particular consternation in the US, the ACFOA report accused Freeport security of direct involvement in specific atrocities, based on eye witness testimony. Subsequent investigations either avoided consideration of Freeport’s role in these or were hampered in ways that made it difficult to verify the earlier reports, such as intimidation of witnesses by the military, or inability to locate them.
Excerpts below from the ACFOA report: Trouble at Freeport are below:
Information from eyewitnesses said that the uprising in Tsinga from June to December 1994 and demonstration in Tembagapura on 25 December resulted in 37 people killed and/or disappeared of whom 22 were civilians and 15 were rebels. The sources stated, however, that since the ABRI troops [Indonesian military] are still searching in many places until today and detain indigenous people who are suspects, the figures of those killed or disappeared must be more than that.
The Tembagapura Incident
On 24 December 1994, many Freeport employees in Tembagapura moved down to Timika. There was no one in the barracks. It was very different to years before when many Freeport employees, except for those who have vacations, used to spend their Christmas time in Tempagapura. According to some Freeport employees, they had heard some information that the rebels from the forest wanted to demonstrate in Tembagapura.
As usual the sky on the early morning of 25 December in Tembagapura town was fairly bright. It was about 5.30 am and some local people of Tembagapura, Waa, Banti, and Arwanop were on the move to Kalvari Kingmi Church in Mile 68 for Christmas morning service. But they were very surprised to see a crowd of people gathering somewhere in between two ABRI posts in Mile 68 and Mile 67 in Tembagapura. They were singing traditional songs, marching and sometimes crying out yel yel. Most of them were wearing penis gourds, their bodies painted with rich colours and decorated with traditional accessories such as boar’s tusks, sea shells and feathers on their head covers. They had armed themselves with arrows and bows, spears and long blades, and very few guns. (Original reads ‘very few machinary guns’. Ed). There were about 300 people, singing and marching around a pole on top of which waved the OPM flag.
Not long after, ABRI and Freeport security suddenly spread around to cover the crowd. Without warning the people, they raised their weapons directly to the crowd and started shooting. The rebels cried out to the ABRI and Freeport security to stop shooting, saying that they had not come for a bloody war and that they just wanted to speak to Freeport officials and ABRI about their rights. However, those shooting did not care and kept shooting at the crowd from all directions.
(An extended excerpt from the ACFOA report is available in the appendix).
Bishop Munninghoff’s report in August 1995, reviewed eyewitness accounts from the April 1995 ACFOA report, however, significantly, it did not investigate reported eyewitness allegations of Freeport personnel implicated in the killings. Nonetheless, the report confirmed the brutal killings of 25 December 1994 of the Dani tribesmen that had travelled on the Freeport bus:
– Of the 15 Dani who went on the Freeport bus to Timika, 4 were killed and the others were detained, tortured and then released.
An excerpt from Bishop Munninghoff’s report below provides an eyewitness account of the arbitrary detention, torture and killing that is reported to have occurred in a steel shipping container in the Freeport workshop:
…They didn’t explain why we were detained. So we tried to explain why we were traveling and showed them the permit. But they didn’t want to know. Our permit was torn to pieces and thrown away. They even accused us of trying to deceive them, that we were GPKs [independence fighters], hitting us with their rifle butts and kicking us with their boots. At 08.00 we were beaten and escorted to the KOMOP office in Tembagapura where we were detained in Freeport containers. In a container about 3 x 6 metres the fifteen of us were beaten with sticks (about 5 x 5 cm), and rifle butts and were kicked with boots by the troops. They took turns beating and kicking us from 08.00 till 12.00 at noon. They stripped us stark naked, and took our belongings such as beads and money. A soldier to Rp. 260,000 from Biru Kogoya and then shared it with his friends. I could only look on, afraid and powerless.
[The Dani men were transferred to the Freeport workshop in Koperakopa]. Seriously wounded, blood running from all of my body, by face swollen, afraid, hungry and very weak, particularly because they did not want to hear our explanation, I only could hope to meet with Captain Yulius because I knew him. When at last we met him he asked why we were detained. I explained to him that we, particularly the 10 from Timika, went to Waa for Christmas celebrations. But when we went back to Timika we were arrested and tortured by the soldiers because they suspected we had taken part in the demonstration in Tembagapura. I also told that Wendi Tabuni was stabbed and shot by the soldiers at Mile 66. When he heard that Captain Yulius ordered the soldiers to separate us from the 5 Dani from Waa. When we were detained there three Dani from Waa were tortured by being beaten with sticks on the neck from behind, left, right and from the front, till their necks were broken and they died. I witnessed this torture together with my friends. They (the three Dani from Waa) were beaten and tortured with their eyes still taped shut. This happened on 25 December in the night…
An extended excerpt from the Catholic Bishop’s report of events is contained in the appendix, along with eyewitness testimony of the killing on a Freeport bus.
What does it feel like to be constrained and beaten in detention? Attacked while held down – people describe the feeling of absolute powerlessness, terror, fear and physical illness. Humiliated. Some describe it as one of the scariest moments of their life while being kicked, hit and taunted; they describe feeling panicked, dizzy and vomiting, disorientated, bleeding, bruised, swollen, limbs broken. There is uncertainty around what is happening, how long they would be held and whether they were about to be killed; the dry mouth, the dizziness again, dehydration, falling unconscious. People screamed and heard the screams of others, unable to do anything to help them. They lay on the ground, rolled up foetal like, writhing, arms clasped behind their head in an attempt to protect their heads from blows. Eyes taped shut, completely dark. Cuts into their bodies felt like they were burning. Some wished they were dead.
These were the lucky ones. They got to go home, eventually, back to their children and families who didn’t know where they were or what was happening to them. Their families spared the grief and mental anguish of living through a loved one’s death or disappearance.
In addition to detailing the human rights abuses, the report’s author outlines the indigenous people’s grievances as explained by Kelly Kwalik, the leader of the West Papua independence movement and emphasised the loss of the peoples’ spiritual connection to the land:
“…[the indigenous people] absolutely do not agree with Freeport that has taken over their lands and exploits the mineral resources within their sacred sites. They feel that since Freeport started in 1967 the lives of the indigenous peoples have grown worse, they themselves have been deprived of their lands and many of them killed every time they protest.
Mr Kwalik is very much concerned about the impact of Freeport’s Contract of Work (CoW) II on Bloc B covering 2.6 million ha of the Central Ranges (that stretches along the Weyland mountains in the west to Star mountains in the east on the border of Indonesia (Irian Jaya (West Papua)) and Papua New Guinea), that will affect thousands of indigenous people inhabiting the area. He said that with this new contract their lives will be more devastated, the environment and culture degraded and many people will be displaced. Finally there will be no future for them as indigenous people. This Amungme chief further pointed to the problems that today are faced by the Amungme and Kamoro people who since the Freeport mine began in 1967 have lost 10,000 ha or more of their customary lands without any compensation, mineral resources within their sacred sites are extracted without consent and the environment is destroyed. Today they have become victims in the hands of this gigantic American mining company. He declared that they will keep fighting for their rights with arrows and bows, spears and blades. He said that in this way they would appeal to the deepest heart of the international community to open their ears, their eyes and their minds to the slaughter, plight and streams of blood of Jo-Mun Nerek’s children (the indigenous people) that pour in this land.
Jo-Mun Nerek is the Amungme tribe’s ancestors’ spirit. This spirit lives in the mountains and it is there to care for and look after the Amungme people. They believe that when the Amungmes die their spirits go to the mountains. This is why the mountains are sacred to this people.”
The ACFOA report goes on to describe a meeting between chief of the Amungme, Narkime Tuwarek, Freeport officials and Indonesian military on 29 December 1994, several days after the Christmas massacre. It reveals some of the intriguing cultural elements at work in the negotiations between the indigenous people and Freeport. It shows Freeport attempts to placate the indigenous people with biblical references and the influence of missionaries who had been in the area for many decades:
“….Lexy Linturan of Freeport [Freeport’s head of security] gave his comments saying: ‘Mr Nakime, I have also had a missionary education when I was in Post VII Sentani in Jayapura. I learned much about Christian religion, about the life of Jesus Christ. We are aware that the Bible tells how Jesus had to go through much suffering, He was tortured and finally crucified. But He was never angry at anybody. Instead He loved and forgave those who hurt Him. Therefore I believe that God cares and has heard… So for those 13 people who are now under arrest and tortured God must be there to hear their slaughter and cries. So Mr Narkime you don’t have to be angry’.”
Under pressure: fallout for Freeport
The human rights reports that reached the international media, starting in April 1995, put the spotlight on Freeport’s hitherto overlooked activities and also had adverse political ramifications for the company, both at home and in Indonesia. Attempting to publicly distance itself from the company, in October 1995 the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), a U.S. government agency, cancelled its US$100 million dollar political risk insurance policy for Freeport citing environmental factors and also “other factors”. These “other factors” were widely understood to be human rights related, as revealed in the human rights reports above.
Indeed, an FBI source told me that the unprecedented cancellation of OPIC political risk insurance was intended as a slap on the wrist to Freeport for human rights breaches. Freeport was reeling under pressure from every direction.
Freeport responded to the negative global publicity surrounding the Christmas Day massacre in 1994, the subsequent human rights reports and the cancellation of its OPIC political risk insurance with the hiring of James Woolsey, a former director of the US CIA to represent it in legal proceedings against OPIC .
The company also launched a massive advertising and PR campaign and launched reprisals against its critics.
Freeport, among other things, paid for a full page ads in the New York Times defending its environmental and human rights record, made an infomercial, threatened to sue journalists and academics covering the matter, and withdrew financial support to Loyola University in New Orleans where it had faced student criticism. The company is also reported to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars running ads in mainstream magazines like Newsweek and US News & World Report and buying scores of full page adds in local newspapers in New Orleans and also in Austin where Jim Bob was well known through his alma mater the University of Texas.
Freeport was facing other headwinds too – not just the fallout from the atrocities of 1994 to 1996. A massive US$6 billion lawsuit against the company was brewing, filed April 1996 by Amungme leader Tom Beanal (discussed further on). It was partially modelled on the successful lawsuit against BHP, a major international mining company, who operated the OK Tedi mine nearby in neighbouring PNG. BHP settled the case in June 1996 after a long running dispute with traditional owners in relation to its practice of riverine tailings disposal, that is the dumping of mine tailings directly into the local river system, something Freeport was also doing in West Papua.
In early 1996 the public backlash against Freeport from the US government and activists worldwide seemed to be snowballing out of control, and all the while further unrest was building in West Papua around the company’s Grasberg mine.
The resentment of traditional owners to the massive expansion of Freeport’s concession in mid 1994 continued to mount through 1995. To address the rising social tensions, the Indonesian military increased the number of personnel in the area and by early 1996 the military presence had increased to at least 1,850 soldiers.
March 1996: riots and Grasberg shutdown
In March 1996, riots and protests around Grasberg resulted in the mine shutting and the further killing of 3 indigenous people. The riots lasted 3 days, closing the mine for the duration. In response, by April the military had expanded its operation around the mine adding 3,000 to 4,000 additional troops and positioned a warship off the coast at the port of Amamapere. The closure of the mine and further killings of indigenous people were reported in the mainstream media around the world drawing publicity critical of Freeport and Indonesia. The riots, mine closure and military response also featured in a short Wall Street Journal article:
The army said it restored order in Timika, a remote Indonesian town were rioting on Mar 10 and Mar 12, 1996 between Irian Jaya tribesmen and non-Irianese shop owners forced the closing of a giant US copper mine. At least three people were killed and dozens injured. The huge mine is 82%-owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc of New Orleans, which shut the mine as a precautionary measure.
On the international level, President Suharto was feeling the backlash at personally as pressure from the international community intensified. The Indonesian military atrocities around the Freeport mine were hurting his reputation, and he in turn put pressure on Freeport to improve the situation. After decades of operating in West Papua free from scrutiny, dubious practices implemented by those with hitherto unchallenged power were beginning to attract unwelcome attention.
In response to evidence of mounting human rights abuses around the Grasberg mine and growing angst from Suharto, Freeport’s CEO Jim Bob Moffett swiftly flew to Indonesia to attend a three way meeting convened with the military and indigenous representatives.
Amidst this turmoil, my brief analyst report that touched on the conflict and was critical of the company’s handling of the situation was published 12 March 1996, which resulted in my blacklisting by the FBI. It was the day before Jim Bob’s hastily prepared, emergency trip saw him landing in West Papua.
Jim Bob in the eye of the storm
In the eye of the maelstrom, Jim Bob’s plane carried him to West Papua where he safely touched down in Timika 13 March 1996. There, the Wall Street Journal reported, he found the small airport locked down by military forces after it was nearly stormed by protestors who had heard he was coming.
Among the dozens of buildings attacked Tuesday by rioters was the Freeport-built airport. The Associated Press quoted Col. Sutan Iskandar, an armed-forces spokesman, as saying that about 3,000 rioters “practically took over the airport and they damaged some facilities.” Aviation officials said the airport will remain closed to commercial traffic until tomorrow.
Jim Bob’s agenda on arrival was clear, his intentions unequivocal: He aimed to secure the future of his mine any way he could. To do so he needed to find a way to silence the traditional owners anyway he could, through appeasement or force; and to do so he had arrived with a two pronged strategy.
Firstly, he had come prepared with a peace offer for the traditional owners – a package of financial and social assistance to the affected indigenous communities. Secondly, however, if the traditional owners didn’t like his offer, and there was little indication they would given how far off the mark it was in form and magnitude, he had a backup plan. This was the military option, which called for a marked increase in funding and support from Freeport to the Indonesian military in the area.
From the outset, the negotiation outcome was skewed by this power imbalance and duplicitous secrecy. At the time he was meeting with indigenous leaders and the military in an ostensibly open three way conversation to negotiate a peace offering, he was also negotiating separately in secret with the head of Indonesia’s Special Forces, General Subianto, to agree an enhanced funding package that he knew would underwrite an oppressive bloody crackdown on the locals.
It appears there was never any question that Freeport might willingly relinquish control of the mine. As such, there could never be any question that a dialogue with the traditional owners would be completely open, treated as a genuine dialogue between equals, one that posed the potential risk of an unexpected outcome for Freeport. Firm control of the mine by the company appeared to be the only acceptable outcome, and as such, one would be naive to think that Jim Bob’s “option 1” was offered with any sense of inspiring a genuine dialogue to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict. This is not to say the company would not have preferred a peaceful resolution, but it was never going to be on terms management considered unacceptable.
Jim Bob’s first option: appease the traditional owners
The peace offering, a conciliatory approach, involved Freeport offering a package of concessions to the traditional owners intended to quell their dissatisfaction with the way they had been treated. At the heart of Freeport’s offer was a 1% revenue royalty for ten years to contribute 1% of the annual gross revenues from Grasberg to support local community development in remote locations around the mine and to assist the tribes that had been forcibly displaced. (The company subsequently established the Integrated Timika Development Plan – the “1% Fund”). Other initiatives included increased recruitment and training of local West Papuans.
However, the traditional owners rejected Freeport’s offer as it did not address the heart of their grievance. The next day, the Amungme Tribal Council, LEMASA, unequivocally denounced the offer stating:
“It fails to answer the roots of the problem between Freeport and the Amungme,” the council said. The plan does not provide a way for the Amungme to sustain their livelihood; nor does it offer “compensation for the damage inflicted on their environment, for their resources, and for the human-rights abuses to which they have been subjected.”
Having seen their land expropriated, their environment devastated, their brothers and sisters subjected to repression and abuse, the people of Irian Jaya want more than a trickle of the wealth that Freeport has extracted from their land. Like victims of corporate offences elsewhere, they seek some measure of justice and retribution as well. In a statement that echoes from Jakarta to Washington, from Irian Jaya to New Orleans, they’ve made it clear to the company that they will no longer pay for its profits with their lives.”
The Freeport incentives to better the life of the locals through the 1% Fund appeared to many commentators as a low ball, take it or leave it package of initiatives that fell far short of expectations. It seemed inflexible, unnegotiable, and disingenuous. In partial defence of Freeport, it was subject to limits imposed by Jakarta that placed a cap on what could be offered, concerned Freeport not to set a high benchmark that would raise the expectations for other resource projects elsewhere in Indonesia. And without genuine dialogue, Jim Bob’s “Option 1” of appeasement never had any real chance of instilling confidence in the traditional owners. As such, there was no real likelihood of peace. There was only so much Freeport and the Indonesian government were prepared to surrender for peace before reverting to “Option 2”.
The stakes were high and the traditional owners faced bleak choices. In rejecting Freeport’s offer, the traditional owners assert the land is rightfully theirs, a claim likely supported by international law. The land tenure regime in place prior to Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua is unaffected by a change in sovereign status. Academic Abigail Abrash says it is “completely conceivable” that in removing the people from their ancestral lands their “traditional land rights have been infringed upon by both the Indonesian government and Freeport, the underlying legal regime has not been extinguished and can serve as a legitimate basis for action by the indigenous peoples” .
Freeport states it was constrained in doing more by Indonesian law, but informally it recognises land rights of the traditional owners:
“Yes, we have done that [recognised land rights] through the voluntary recognisi. We have done it through a series of land usage releases with the various tribes. Do we have one encompassing agreement with all parties involved to use the land? No we don’t because it is just impossible to get. And from a Western perspective have they been compensated in the way you would expect a Western person to be compensated for land use? The answer is no, not yet. We are trying to get there but we cannot change the laws of Indonesia overnight.”
Irrespective of LEMASA’s rejection of the offer, Freeport proceeded with the 1% Fund. However, further vexing the traditional owners, local leaders indicated they were not initially consulted on how development funds were spent. Projects frequently did not reflect indigenous values and consequently resulted in an escalation of local tensions.
The 1% Fund was initially managed by a government official in Timika. While notionally intended for building schools and medical clinics and initiatives to support economic development there was little accountability or transparency in the way the funds were used. Furthermore, the development priorities were determined in a paternalistic fashion in line with western ideas and did not necessarily reflect the values and needs of the communities the projects were meant to serve in a way that was consistent with “the right of men to live in terms of their own traditions” .
Revenue to royalties: Freeport’s “Option 1” – a low ball offer
A quick review of international standards of royalty levels paid by mining companies to land holders, traditional or otherwise, reveals the level of compensation land holders expect to receive in order to win their support and assuage their opposition. What was offered in West Papua by Freeport fell far short of this benchmark. And the company knew it at the time it was negotiating.
Freeport had offered a 1% royalty for a duration of 10 years to the traditional owners – the 1% Fund, in a low ball offer and what was perceived as a financial boondoggle for Freeport shareholders. Even though the company had never made a royalty payment to the indigenous people before, and by law did not have to, given what was at stake the new deal was a bargain. It got the scrutiny of the world media off Freeport’s back, and off Suharto’s, which from Freeport’s point of view was arguably more important.
However, a mining royalty of 1% generally pales by international standards in comparison to royalties paid to individual landholders on private land in other parts of the world, including in the US, where landholders own the mineral rights. Landowner royalties in the US can range up to 25% of revenue, and are frequently 2% to 5%. As another benchmark for comparing Freeport’s offer to the traditional owners, in the Brazilian Amazon, garimpeiros – that is artisanal gold miners in the informal gold mining sector, pay 10% of the gold they recover to the landowner, or leaseholder if on state land. This is equivalent to a 10% revenue royalty, ten times the rate offered by Freeport to the West Papuan landowners.
A gross revenue royalty of 1% translates to US$10 million for every one billion dollars of revenue. In 1994 and 1995 the company’s revenues were around US$1.2 billion and US$1.8 billion respectively. A revenue royalty of 1% translates to US$12 million and US$18 million respectively to be paid into the fund making it one of the largest socioeconomic development initiatives in Indonesia, and the largest development program in West Papua, larger than anything the government in Jakarta was providing. Nonetheless, these large sums paled in comparison to the level at which other land owners were being compensated in other parts of the world, and to the remuneration Freeport was paying its senior management.
Jim Bob’s salary, bonus and stock options for 1995 amounted to over US$42 million , a sum that the board and major shareholders no doubt defended in recognition of his pivotal role in advancing US and Freeport shareholder interests in this “new Cold War”. The gobsmacking amount was several times more than the proposed annual royalty payment anticipated and offered by the company to the entire indigenous community of West Papua affected by the mine.
Compared to international norms, the value and scale of the project, and the remuneration of Freeport executives, it was low ball offer with little chance of acceptance, and which if refused by the locals would be certain to result in widespread bloodshed.
A decade later, in the mid 2000s prior to the GFC were peak years for Grasberg revenues which reached around US$5 billion per annum. This translates to around US$50 million per year for a 1% royalty payment. Given the immense annual profit, the high operating margin at times around 97%, the high value and longevity of the Grasberg district, the project could no doubt support a considerably higher financial commitment to the traditional owners, one in line with international and developed world standards. Royalties are often structured in accordance with project economic potential, as in the US where landholder royalties span a wide range, e.g., 1% to 25%, negotiated between company and landholder in a free market, free of military threat, on a sliding scale dependant on project viability, the higher royalties borne by the better projects.
Freeport has plenty of financial negotiating freeboard for additional compensation to the locals if needed to put it on par with global peer payments to landholders. If the royalty rate offered to the traditional owners had been increased from 1% to say 3%, or even 5%, more in line with what US landowners frequently receive, the equivalent royalty payment based on Grasberg revenues of around US$5 billion dollars per year, would have increased to US$150 million to US$250 million per year. With project gross profits reaching US$2.9 billion per year, the increased royalty payments represent only around 5% percent of gross profits.
Such massive cash inflows to local communities could potentially be very positive – though this is not guaranteed, as many indigenous communities around the world can attest to. Money cannot compensate for a traditional way of life lost and the social pressures that result from personal and community upheaval and loss of identity.
Jim Bob’s military “Option 2”: A secret meeting; precursor to a large death toll
Jim Bob organised a secret meeting with the commander of Indonesia’s special forces. At the time Jim Bob was involved in a three way discussion with the traditional owners and military offering the locals a package of initiatives under “Option 1” he was also, according the New York Times, simultaneously taking part in a secret two way conversation with senior members of the Indonesian military that included Prabowo Subianto, son-in-law of President Suharto, commander of the Indonesian Special Forces. The talks were ostensibly in preparation for a vast military assault – the fallback “Option 2” – though in reality the most anticipated and likely outcome of Freeport’s “negotiation” – and triggered by the traditional owners formal rejection of “Option 1”.
The New York Times reported that Jim Bob implored General Subianto, in a sign of desperation: “Just tell me what I need to do”.
Within months of that meeting the fallout for the indigenous people from the military onslaught was clear. What ensued was shocking in its breadth and toll to life and property. “Option 2” was a brutal, bloody assault by a US backed and armed military under the command of General Subianto against the traditional owners, evidently in an attempt to reduce opposition and have the survivors of the onslaught see “sense”. The consequences were tragic.
The NYT reported the role of Freeport in financing and support the military through this period:
“In short order, Freeport-McMoRan spent $35 million on military infrastructure: barracks, headquarters, mess halls and roads. It also gave the commanders 70 Land Rovers and Land Cruisers, which were replaced every few years. Everybody got something, even the navy and air force.
Freeport-McMoRan set up a special department, the Emergency Planning Operation, to handle the new relationship with the Indonesian military. It began making direct monthly payments to Indonesian military commanders, while a Security Risk Management Office handled the payments to the police, according to company documents and current and former employees.
Freeport-McMoRan gave the military and the police in Papua at least $20 million from 1998 to May 2004, according to company documents. In interviews, current and former employees said that at least an additional $10 million was also paid during those years.”
The marked increase in military activity precipitated a new wave of abuses and it wasn’t long before new human rights reports documented a spate of military attacks and a new toll of dead. Nine months after Jim Bob’s open cheque book offer to General Subianto, as reported in the NYT, the consequences were evident: there was a horrendous force of devastation inflicted on the indigenous people around the mine.
The toll to life and property was documented by the local churches – the Churches’ Report – a report of the military’s human rights abuses that covered the period December 1996 to October 1997. The Churches’ Report revealed the sickening human toll that ensued from “Option 2”, describing a wave of oppressive violence unleashed in a military crackdown against the traditional owners by a cashed up and well supported military under General Subianto.
The report documented the death of at least 137 people caused by the military and described the significant elevation in the level of military violence against the indigenous people during this period contrary to what the government had promised. Academic Denise Leith summarises the toll of military destruction this way:
“…the military’s terrorizing of groups of villagers, the extrajudicial killing or disappearance of some thirteen people, the subsequent deaths on many others from disease and malnutrition caused by their fleeing into the jungle to escape persecution, and the destruction of whole villages, churches, homes, livestock, and gardens.”
What is clear is that the special forces and officers commanded by Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto were part funded by Freeport and operationally well supported by the company.
Other human rights reports
In addition to the ACFOA report, Bishop Munnighoff’s report, and the Churches’ Report, there have been multiple other investigations into human rights abuses committed in and around Freeport’s Grasberg mine.
By the end of 1998, there had been at least seven investigations into human rights abuses that occurred between 1994 and 1997, in and around Freeport’s Grasberg mine. In addition to the three reports mentioned above, there was one by the International Red Cross, and another by Komnas HAM – the Indonesian National Commission for Human Rights. There were also reviews undertaken by the Australian and US embassies. Not one of these investigations and reports absolved the company of involvement in human rights abuses, though none of them proved it either, with one of the investigations (Komnas HAM) specifically excluding, within its terms of reference, investigation of Freeport involvement in the abuses.
The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights published a human rights report on the company in July 2002. However, the report authored by academic Abigail Abrash notes the team’s work was severely impeded by the Indonesian Government who, she said, according to reliable sources was acting at the behest of Freeport, and denied most of its investigators entry into West Papua. The two who were given access were subsequently detained and deported by the government.
Research by Dr Hernawan, who spent over a decade with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in West Papua, published a report in 2010 found most West Papuan torture victims were innocent civilians, mostly farmers and students, targeted under an Indonesian “policy of terror”.
It speaks volumes that even the US State Department felt pressure to do something, and make public statements to that effect. For a sensitive topic, the 1994 Christmas Day massacre received unusually wide publicity and the US State Department had taken the unusual step of launching a formal investigation into the killings and Freeport’s role – presumably thinking its credibility was at stake in not doing so. A preliminary investigation was completed by March 1996 in which the Department indicated further investigations were ongoing. However, the findings of the investigation were never made public, despite multiple requests under FOIA for all records from myself and others, including Friends of the Earth.
I never heard any news of the findings of the follow on investigation of Freeport by the State Department. It seems to have fallen into a black hole.
In 2013 I filed an FOIA request with the US State Department for a copy of their interim and final reports of their investigation into allegations of Freeport’s human rights abuses in West Papua. The State Department did not release them to me nor even acknowledge their existence. I appealed their decision, and waited over three years for a deliberation of the “panel”. When a decision was received, there was no acknowledgement or denial of the existence of the investigation or any subsequent reports. It was merely the so called Glomar response – the standard refusal to confirm or deny.
In consultation with my attorney, I sent the a follow up email below (on 19 December 2016) reiterating the evidence of the existence of the investigation and reports. But I received no reports or further details. Suppression remains alive and well.
“Despite the WEP 0002A summary letter from the State Department saying no records were located relating to an investigation of Freeport for human rights abuses in West Papua, I recall reading about the investigation in 1996 in an early edition of the NYT when I lived in NY and worked as a securities analyst. The article mentioned that a US mining company operating a large mine in Indonesian West Papua was being investigated by the US State Department. It stated an interim report had been completed and investigations by the State Department were ongoing. I also asked Jim Bob Moffett, Freeport’s Chairman at the time, a question about the State Department investigation at an analyst briefing in New Orleans shortly after in May 1996. He confirmed the State Department’s investigation of the company was continuing and Freeport was assisting in that effort.
Furthermore, at the time [in 1996], a well placed confidential source indicated the cancellation of OPIC’s political risk insurance to Freeport was intended as a slap on the wrist to the company by the US federal government, for human rights abuses.
There seems no doubt there was a formal investigation of sorts into reported human rights abuses by Freeport in West Papua by the State Department around 1996. You indicate no records of this were found in your system. So what am I to conclude?”
An email reply from the State Department 21 December 2016
It will take me a little time to answer your questions about the appeal. The letter, WEP-0002A, states no other records in our electronic data base. There may be more records in the retired paper files, or at Post (Jakarta), which were not searched, but should have been. [The State Department’s underlines.]
I have not found a final report yet, and wonder if the report everyone is referring to is the yearly human rights report put out by the Department, which should be on our website. You may want to look at what is there. A broader search (all records on Freeport Mine for the years 2009 – ??) would certainly cover more material, but again the same problem, they did not search the retired paper files. That is what I have started to do, but was moved to another office. But I hope to continue looking for additional material.
What had been clear for years and now seemed the unavoidable conclusion – were getting the run around. There were a few more follow up email exchanges with the State Department and later that day our liaison case officer there, Lori, sent further clarification to my attorney and myself of the search process completed under my FOIA to date – now a period of several years:
Normally, I would send it back to the office that did the initial search for further processing. But since I feel they didn’t do an adequate search originally, I may do the search myself. Of course, if you want everything on Freeport you could file a new request, and/or through litigation you can challenge the original search.
It was frustrating. Backsliding, equivocal answers, apparently lacking in confidence and clarity which left open the possibility the key information may yet be found by State but for poor process or human error. This was their proffered alternative to the more believable reality of deliberate deception, dishonesty and conspiracy on their part. After several years we had not made any progress it seemed. It felt like the run around I had received all those years ago when I had been in Jakarta seeking a permit to enter West Papua to go hiking – no official denial or block, just an endless run around till, we wearied, went away. Options to take the matter to court were impeded, advised against by my attorney, and efforts to find another attorney to pursue the matter on my behalf met with a similar odd lack of interest and support that smacked of avoidance, or worse, complicity.
My attorney put me in touch with an FOIA legal academic and practicing attorney at Georgetown University in Washington DC. In a telephone conversation with him around 2016 he tells me the obvious, in his opinion there will be no resolution to Kissinger’s alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, or any other crime, no resolutions for the families of his victims, no confession, no state disclosure of his involvement in such matters till he is beyond reach – after he is dead. The academic asserts forcefully, if ruefully, that despite the passing of statutory time frames for the public release of documents from US archives relating to these events there will be no access under Freedom of Information (FOI) to the records till after those responsible can no longer be held to account. The US will not countenance precedents that would deter and impinge the future actions of its officials.
Eye witness reports of Freeport’s human rights abuses
Under Indonesian law, Freeport was able to call on the military to resettle the Traditional Owners, which the company did, and also gave material support to the military in removing the indigenous people from their ancestral homes. Freeport, by its own account, has co-operated with, financed and supported the Indonesian military in West Papua.
However, there have also been multiple eye witness reports alleging Freeport security went beyond this, and took direct part in human rights abuses in West Papua. Multiple sources have commented on different incidences, in different places at different times. Freeport, for its part, denies that the company, or any of its employees, have ever taken part in any human rights abuses.
Denise Leith in her book The Politics of Power notes multiple first person accounts of allegations of Freeport abuse, by its internal security forces, including witnesses to killings. She laments, however, there are many difficulties and challenges in proving allegations of Freeport employee’s direct involvement in human rights abuses, including, she indicates, the understandable reluctance of eyewitnesses to publicly testify.
In detail, Leith describes allegations in eight eyewitness accounts of abuses by Freeport security summarised below:
i) The ACFOA report contains eyewitness accounts of Freeport security involvement in the shooting of villagers.
ii) Survival International circulated an Amungme video of Jacobus Niwilingame testifying to detention and abuse at the hands of Freeport security.
iii) LEMASA documented in 1997 specific cases of ‘assaults, disappearances and rapes’ it attributed to Freeport security.
iv) Masmus Tipagau, a Freeport employee, reported to a journalist he had witnessed Freeport security beating a man for playing cards.
v) An unnamed source from the Freeport concession claims Freeport security involvement in the death of Amungme villager Naranebalan Anggaibak who was tied and dragged behind a car on 24 December 1994.
vi) An article in The Nation said a Western traveller claimed he had been detained by Freeport security (and TNI – Indonesian armed forces) for several hours.
vii) In the documentary Blood on the Cross, Yudas Kogoya states a Freeport employee piloted the Freeport helicopter ‘in which the military travelled to Geselama, where it massacred innocent villagers on 9 May 1996’.
Well regarded Australian scientist and Australian of the Year in 2007, Professor Tim Flannery who undertook work in the Freeport concession came to the conclusion that “…the company had little control over its security forces, which, he believed, received their orders from TNI.”
Flannery also reported an eye witness account alleging abuse by Freeport security:
viii) In his book Throwim Way Leg Tim Flannery describes a young Papuan boy Arianus Maripu who died after a severe beating, and who had told Flannery before he died that he had been beaten by Freeport security .
Irrespective of the fact that court cases brought against Freeport in the US have been dismissed and failed to implicate the company in any of the human rights abuses inflicted against indigenous people in West Papua, many people hold the view that Freeport is nevertheless implicated in the killings and other abuses. This is because it directly finances the Indonesian military in West Papua, has allowed the military to use Freeport property, as well as providing it with other material support such as transportation and accommodation. Such activities on Freeport’s part potentially render it susceptible to allegations of war crimes once levelled at mining major Rio Tinto for the same reason in regard to practices at its Bougainville mine in PNG. Freeport’s shaky position is summed up below:
“While Freeport cannot be blamed directly for the human rights abuses the military commits, neither is it completely free of culpability. Despite what Freeport says, there is an undeniable connection. The military was charged with protecting the company; the company accepted, and indeed required this. The military culture is violent and lacking in accountability, and the company has always known this….and its continuing relationship with the Indonesian military leave the company vulnerable to accusations of human rights violations in the past, and the future.”
A speech to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 directly informed the Congress of concerns about alleged Freeport human rights abuse:
‘‘Specific allegations have been made to Freeport’s direct association with human rights abuses undertaken by the Indonesian government on Freeport land. Freeport facilities are policed both by Freeport security and the Indonesian military; Freeport feeds, houses, and provides transportation for the Indonesian military; and after any incidence of indigenous resistance against Freeport, the military responds while Freeport looks on.
In 1977, when West Papuans attacked Freeport facilities, the Indonesian military bombed the natives using U.S.-made Broncos and a Freeport employee sent an anonymous letter to Tapol on August 6, 1977, writing ‘any native who is seen is shot dead on the spot.’ …. Although Freeport likes to shift blame onto the Indonesian government, Press reports that ‘One recent Western traveler was told by a Freeport security employee that he and his coworkers amuse themselves by shooting randomly at passing tribesmen and watching them scurry in terror into the woods and Amnesty International reported that the military used steel containers from Freeport to incarcerate indigenous people.’
Mr. Speaker, ultimately I believe in the goodness of people and in the goodness of the Members of this body. I believe that, as we are made aware of human suffering and gross injustice, we will rise to say enough is enough.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has done little to address the injustices faced by the people of West Papua, and that longed for day when it says “enough is enough” indeed seems a long way off.
Part 6: Hedge funds, environment, court and revolution
Hedge funds and pension funds blacklist Freeport
Large global pension funds have been slow to mobilise their power and take up the cause, nonetheless, in recent years there has been some significant movement.
In June 2006, the Government Pension Fund of Norway, a sovereign wealth fund, announced it had dumped and blacklisted the Freeport’s shares in a widely reported statement due to concerns over Grasberg’s environmental track record. Freeport’s shares were dumped on ethical concerns that investment in the company posed an unacceptable risk of complicity in severe environmental damages. Specifically, the fund cited the devastating impact from the company’s riverine tailings disposal – the discharge of tailings into the local river system at Grasberg. In blacklisting Freeport McMoran’s shares the government fund said that it “believes that Freeport through this conduct is taking advantage of the low environmental standards and the lenient law enforcement in the country where it operates.” The Grasberg mine has always used this means of tailing disposal and benefited from its very low cost.
The Fund’s investment committee detailed assessment of the risks concluded:
“Freeport’s mining activities involve an unacceptable risk of complicity in severe and irreversible damage to the natural environment. In the Council’s view, the company’s practice of riverine disposal is in breach of international standards, and one may also question whether the company violates national environmental regulations. The company’s assertions that its operations do not cause long-term irreversible environmental damage are hardly considered credible by the Council. The lack of openness and transparency in the company’s environmental reporting reinforces this impression.”
The fund is one of the largest pension funds in the world with US$240 billion dollar under management at the time, and its detailed decision to blacklist the company remains a major public relations blow for Freeport. The fund has a very high profile internationally and its investment findings are both credible and influential. In releasing publically its reasons for blacklisting Freeport in a detailed and damning 30 page report, Freeport joined the dubious rarefied ranks of other companies blacklisted by the fund for reasons that included: production of cluster munitions, production of nuclear arms, sale of weapons and military material to Burma, production of tobacco, serious or systematic human rights violations, severe environmental damages, and serious violations of the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict. In 2008, the fund went on to likewise blacklisted Rio Tinto on account of its joint venture interest with Freeport in Grasberg.
Freeport denied any wrong doing in its response to the fund and said it felt misunderstood. However, it appears to many that Freeport places little weight on the damage its project may cause to the environment and the health and safety of the indigenous communities around Grasberg in West Papua:
“The [Norwegian Government Pension Fund] is of the opinion that Freeport knew riverine disposal could cause severe damage to the natural environment, but that the company and the Government attached little importance to environmental concerns.”
In October 2013, Swedish pension fund authorities announced the blacklisting of Freeport, also on account of the environmental damage it reported was caused by riverine tailings disposal at the Grasberg mine which has had “serious adverse environmental impacts that contravene the UN Convention on Biological Diversity”.
Furthermore, and arguably most damning, New Zealand’s Superannuation Fund in September 2012 also blacklisted Freeport McMoran from its investment funds on human rights grounds. It was the first major fund to blacklist Freeport on grounds that specifically include human rights breaches in West Papua, saying:
“Freeport McMoRan has been excluded [from the fund] based on breaches of human rights standards by security forces around the Grasberg mine, and concerns over requirements for direct payments to government security forces by the company in at least two countries in which it operates,”
Freeport’s Grasberg mine has been reported as one of “the biggest polluters worldwide by volume of waste and by area of land contaminated.” The extent of environmental degradation is immediately apparent to anyone who has been to site and flown into Timika adjacent to the large tailings deposition area in the lowlands. The footprint of the mine and tailings can be seen on Google Maps, with the equatorial glaciers at Puncak Jaya visible near the Grasberg pit .
When Freeport commenced operations in West Papua under President Suharto, it is reported to have done so free of Indonesian environmental regulation and essentially operated free of environmental constraints imposed by Jakarta. Regulation, when it eventually came, was not accompanied by effective enforcement and Freeport was for many years, in essence, self policing.
The Fund’s report explained in detail the extent of environmental degradation that has been caused by the deposition of mill tailings directly into the local river system at Grasberg – a practice which most destructively leads to very high levels of sedimentation. The rivers carry the tailings down into the wetlands near the coast where most of the sediment is deposited and a smaller, residual portion of it flows into the Arafura Sea. The quantities of sediment involved greatly exceed Indonesian standards as well as the river system’s normal carrying capacity. The report states this has resulted in extensive killing of aquatic life in the 130km of river system involved, reduced biodiversity, affected the drinking water, and resulted in extensive siltation of rivers, forests, estuary and delta. In 2004, the dead vegetation zone in the sedimentation deposition area amounted to 230 sq km with depositions up to 10m high. A further 220 sq km is expected to be affected over time. In addition, the coastal environment in the Arafura Sea has been impacted. That portion of sediment that enters the Arafura Sea is subject to ocean currents that carry it up and down the coastline.
Scoffing at the claims of any adverse environmental damage caused by dumping tailings from the mine into the river system, Freeport’s CEO Jim Bob Moffett once said the practice was not destructive and “the equivalent of me pissing in the Arafura Sea.”
A New York Times article in 2005 described details of a damning report not previously made public by Parametrix, an environmental consulting firm, that had been paid for by Freeport. Hitherto suppressed, and reportedly leaked by the Ministry, it revealed that the volume of tailings disposed into the river system, (up to 230,000 tons per day), resulted in sediment levels in the river exceeding Indonesian water quality standards by nearly a factor of 100. The report explained:
“Too many suspended solids in water can smother aquatic life. Indonesian law says they should not exceed 400 milligrams per liter.
Freeport’s waste contained 37,500 milligrams as the river entered the lowlands, according to an environment ministry’s field report in 2004, and 7,500 milligrams as the river entered the Arafura Sea.”
Hazardous substances, particularly acid mine drainage from overburden dumped in highland valleys has caused other concerns with reports of seepage into the groundwater and into springs of the adjacent Lorentz National Park World Heritage Site. Furthermore, the tailings discharge also contains heavy metals such as copper, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, as well as processing chemicals.
Of particular concern are discharges of copper into the river system, which is highly toxic to aquatic organisms, especially at high concentrations reported in the tailings. A study by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) reported copper discharge in the tailings of about 0.15% (1,500mg/l) which they concluded would most probably lead to irreversible damage. Freeport denies the copper content of the tailings poses environmental or health risks, though its claims remain unsubstantiated.
Freeport insists its environmental record is good. However, few people agree.
“…[there has been a] litany of signposts indicating that multinational and Indonesian involvement in West Papua was not meeting various standards, laws, and norms: Institutions such as the World Bank, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the International Finance Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Commission, the United Nations Committee against Torture, the US State Department, and the Indonesian Environment Ministry, as well as many US and European politicians, independent environmental assessments, international media, Papuan leaders, civil society groups, and shareholders had brought the problems to Rio Tinto’s [and Freeport’s] attention.”
OPIC, a US government agency that supports US investment offshore, in 1995 cancelled its US$100 million political risk insurance to Freeport citing the harmful effects of environmental degradation caused by the large Grasberg mine. It was the first time OPIC had ever revoked a policy to a US company for environmental concerns. However, some people, including an FBI source, interpreted the OPIC decision as a soft, public rebuke of Freeport, intended as punishment for the more egregious human rights abuses which had been alleged, and which the US government was reluctant to admit to or hold the company accountable for publically.
In a letter from OPIC to Freeport dated 10 October 1995, OPIC declared the termination of the company’s insurance policy on account material breaches in their duties in relation to the environment causing serious environmental, health or safety issues to the ecosystem and local communities:
“…OPIC has determined through its monitoring activities that Freeport’s implementation of the Project, and especially its tailings management and disposal practices, have severely degraded the rain forests surrounding the Ajkwa and Minajeri Rivers.”
“…the Project has created and continues to pose unreasonable or major environmental, health or safety hazards with respect to the rivers that are being impacted by the tailings, the surrounding terrestrial ecosystem, and the local inhabitants.”
Freeport chose to cancel a second insurance policy covering $50 million in political risk which was viewed by some as an attempt to avoid further scrutiny of its operations. The policy had been held with Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), part of the World Bank.
In 1998, coinciding with the demise of the Suharto regime, the Indonesian ministry for the environment became more assertive and demanding of Freeport, if only for a short while. In 2000, the new minister for the environment, Mr. Sonny Keraf recommended that the company cease disposing its mill tailings into the river system and that it pay compensation for the environmental damage it had caused to the rivers, forest and wetlands. The New York Times published details of a leaked internal Indonesian Environment Ministry memorandum from 2000 that said “the mine waste had killed all life in the rivers, and said that this violated the criminal section of the 1997 environmental law.” However, Keraf’s principled tenure as minister for the environment was short lived and he was replaced a short time after his appointment in 2001.
Nonetheless, since the departure of Suharto, the Indonesian Environment Ministry has repeatedly recommended that the company cease its riverine disposal of tailings and advised Freeport that it was operating outside the law as “the necessary discharge permit has not been issued” – though to no effect. Post Suharto Indonesia remains dominated by powerful elites with links to a military history whose interests continue to prevail.
The practice is also inconsistent with internationally accepted standards reflecting the fact that the World Bank will not fund mining projects that use riverine tailings deposition. Furthermore, BHP was prosecuted for riverine tailings deposition at its nearby Ok Tedi mine in PNG where extensive environmental damage has been assessed and found detrimental to the health and livelihoods of the indigenous people. This impact from environmental abuses on the lives of the local indigenous people has been thus linked to violations of human rights.
What is clear, Freeport is not operating in West Papua in accordance with its home country environmental standards of the USA. Mining companies operating in the US are not allowed to release tailings directly into river systems. Multiple layers of government with overlapping interests prohibit this – US projects are subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations that prohibit such activities; they strictly govern release of contaminants and disposal or discharge of toxic materials into the air, water and onto land.
Environmental consultants Dames and Moore were subsequently engaged by Freeport to conduct a high profile assessment of Grasberg’s environmental impact based in the context of Indonesian environmental laws. While Freeport touted the report as vindication of its operations the Indonesian Centre for Environmental Law found that the report failed to “fully analyze Freeport’s compliance with existing environmental legislation” and that the “report’s recommendations suggest possible severe breaches of that law.” Furthermore, despite the low standard set by the benchmark of Indonesian environmental laws, critics charged that the report was not independent as it was paid for by Freeport, and furthermore, potentially more prejudicial, was that the consultants did not collect their own environmental measurements or samples but relied on Freeport’s data, which itself was not released to the public.
The Seattle Mennonite Church, an activist shareholder in Freeport, undertook a comprehensive review of the various environmental reports, including the Dames and Moore report and the most recent, an environmental report by Montgomery Watson. The church sent its findings to Freeport, noting 150 points of concern in the various reports including that some findings were factually incorrect, contradictory or vague. It also arrived at the disparaging conclusion that the Montgomery Watson report resembled a promotional brochure, a criticism directed also to the Dames and Moore report. Many did not accept Freeport’s environmental audits as a “truly independent and comprehensive audit of the company’s operations.”
Salient comparisons: PNG mines – Bougainville and Ok Tedi
Mining projects in New Guinea have had appalling social and environmental records, noted for their lack of accountability and essentially self regulating approvals process. By the standards of global “best practice” environmental and social standards in West Papua and PNG historically have been weak and totally inadequate.
In West Papua, Freeport’s Grasberg mine in effect was given a blank cheque by Suharto, keen to court the support of the US government in order to secure West Papua and to help the still young country achieve international legitimacy. As a result, the project was developed and operated under the Indonesian dictator with heavy reliance on the military to maintain control of the company’s operations deploying practices that would never be tolerated in a US domiciled mining project.
Many countries hold their mining companies accountable for at least some of the damage they do. Like Grasberg, Bougainville and Ok Tedi are large, high profile mining projects at one time operated by major global mining companies. Accountability for these projects has resulted in not only economic penalties but also reputational impact to the Anglo and Australian owners at both Bougainville (Rio Tinto/CRA, the Panguna copper mine shut in 1989) and Ok Tedi (BHP, which was divested in 2002). The independent Melanesian state of PNG held Ok Tedi (as well as other mining companies) accountable for environmental damages, and the US held the massive resources company BP accountable for environmental damage at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the US to the tune of $20.8 billion dollars. These projects share environmental and social concerns not dissimilar to Grasberg’s in West Papua in important respects, outlined briefly below and serve as a meaningful indicator of what risks and future fate could await Freeport shareholders under different, more democratic political and security circumstances.
Briefly, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army successfully used military action to shutdown Bougainville Copper Ltd’s Panguna copper mine (owned by CRA, now part of Rio Tinto) in 1989 at considerable economic cost to PNG’s national economy. The local people were aggrieved at the little economic benefit they received from the mine (0.5 to 1.25% of profit) especially given the extent to which their communities were adversely impacted by devastating environmental degradation of the Jaba River which they depended upon for their livelihood. A ten year civil war ensued in which over 10% of the population died – 20,000 people out of a population of 175,000. Rio is accused of helping the government forces during the war by lending the military trucks, accommodation, secretarial services, communications equipment and other material support, and was named in a US class action law suit for complicity in atrocities and war crimes. The allegations were denied by Rio and the court action ultimately failed with lack of jurisdiction. The mine has not reopened since then, and a study by Rio in 2008 indicated capital required to re-open the project at between US$2 billion and US$4 billion dollars.
At the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine, environmental reports indicated toxic chemicals associated with the tailings poisoned the river system killing fish and entered the food chain with negative consequences for the indigenous communities that depended on the river for their livelihood. Flooding caused by the deposition of tailings in the river destroyed their agricultural plots of saro, bananas and sago palm which were a key food source for their communities.
Ok Tedi received international infamy after the traditional communities were successful in prosecuting the company for environmental damage in relation to the discharge of tailings into the local river systems – the Ok Tedi and Fly Rivers – which affected 50,000 people. In 1996, BHP lost its well funded court battle after a tenacious legal fight and was required to pay US$150 million compensation and spend another US$350 million to US$450 million on remediation of the Fly River. The settlement also indemnified the company from further damages.
In 2013, however, PNG reneged on BHP’s previous immunity for environmental damage at Ok Tedi, which opened up the prospect of renewed prosecution. In doing so Prime Minister O’Neill referenced the British firm BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the US’s Gulf of Mexico saying, “BP accepted [full] responsibility for [that] disaster…Why not BHP?”
Europe’s new standards to stamp out conflict minerals
Where U.S. law does not extend, or lacks enforcement, and fails to constrain egregious corporate environmental, social or human rights abuses, there is hope new regulation in Europe might exert market influence to force corporate accountability and supply chain transparency. The European Commission in May 2017 passed legislation to break the link between natural resources and conflict by requiring European companies to undertake supply chain due diligence to ensure they do not purchase materials or goods that contain material sourced from conflict projects/regions – including where the project provides “off-budget funding to State security forces” – exactly the sort of thing the NYT reports that Freeport has done and likely is still doing.
The European legislation is global in scope and applicable to all natural resources, including minerals and metals. It states that the intent of the law is: “…to enable trade to continue, but not at the cost of gross human rights abuses.” It continues:
“Revenues from the trade in natural resources can give abusive armed groups the means to operate and can provide off-budget funding to State security forces and corrupt officials….
These materials enter global supply chains from where they are traded, processed and manufactured into a wide variety of consumer and industrial products. While some companies argue that there may be costs associated with cleaning up supply chains, the alternative – whereby European companies source natural resources and raw materials in a way that exposes local populations in foreign countries to the worst forms of human rights abuse [and environmental degradation] – is morally indefensible.
The European Commission website describes the new regulations to stem the trade in conflict minerals:
In politically unstable areas, armed groups often use forced labour to mine minerals. They then sell those minerals to fund their activities, for example to buy weapons. These so-called ‘conflict minerals’, such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, can find their way into our mobile phones, cars and jewellery.
So the EU passed a new regulation in May 2017 to stop:
– conflict minerals and metals from being exported to the EU
– global and EU smelters and refiners from using conflict minerals
– mine workers from being abused
The law also supports the development of local communities.
It requires EU companies to ensure they import these minerals and metals from responsible sources only.
It will start on 1 January 2021 so companies have time to adapt to it.
The European regulation is more expansive and ambitious than their U.S. counterpart’s (Dodd Frank Act, 2010) which limits scrutiny and compliance to only a small hand full of isolated countries, viz., the Democratic Republic of Congo and nearby African countries but does not apply to most of the global conflict areas, West Papua included, and do not apply to Freeport’s operations at Grasberg.
Part 7: Concerns of Corruption
US government sees no breaches
Widespread allegations of Freeport corruption relate to possible breaches of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In 2003 Freeport acknowledged it directly paid Indonesian military and police units and officials for protection. In 2005 and 2006, the New York Times disclosed in a series of articles that Freeport had paid US$20 million dollars between 1998 and 2004 for these services including paying one individual US$150,000 dollars, as well as payments using disguised accounting entries to a host of other commanders:
“The records received by The Times listed payments to individual military officers under headings such as “food cost,” “administrative services” and “monthly supplement.”
Current and former employees said that the accounting categories did not reflect what the money was actually used for and that it was likely that much of the money went into the officers’ pockets. The commanders who received the money did not have to sign receipts, said current and former employees.
The records list the commander of the troops in the Freeport-McMoRan area, Lieutenant Colonel Togap Gultom, as being the largest recipient of funds. He declined to be interviewed.
During six months in 2001, the records list him as being given just under $100,000 for “food costs,” and more than $150,000 the next year.
The records also list payments to at least 10 other commanders of a total of more than $350,000 for “food costs” in 2002.
By 2003, following the Enron scandal and passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the United States, which imposed more rigid accounting practices on companies, Freeport-McMoRan began making payments to military and police units instead of individual officers, according to records and current and former employees.” ,
There seems little doubt such payments would be considered illegal in Indonesia according to a former Indonesian attorney general Marsillam Simanjuntak, who said payments directly to individual military or police officials would be illegal under Indonesian law.
Such payments look like bribes paid directly to foreign officials, and would seem to be problematic for Freeport under U.S. law also. Behaving like a quasi state entity, Freeport has revealed itself as complicit in, and enabling of, a brutal and unholy alliance, which for an “ordinary” corporation would seem to qualify as an egregious breach of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But Freeport not only survives, it continues to thrive in this environment and has never been charged with possible violations of the Act, despite a number of high profile complaints. Indeed, its adroit maneuvering through this precarious terrain is a testimony to its management skills and political connections. The company says the payments are within the law.
In 2005, the New York City comptroller who looks after the city’s five pension funds alleged Freeport McMoRan had made “false or misleading” statements about payments to the Indonesian military and requested the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate the company. U.S. Senator Joseph Biden Jr., the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee also called for an investigation into the company’s payments. He said, “Large payments by Freeport officials directly to individual Indonesian Army officers are highly irregular. It is time for the Justice Department and the Congress thoroughly to investigate Freeport’s business practices in Indonesia.”
Previously, Freeport told the SEC that payments to the Indonesian government were reimbursement for security services provided. However, the comptroller said “the statements amount to a knowingly misleading representation by Freeport,” as there was reportedly no mention of the large payments that Freeport made directly into the bank accounts of multiple Indonesian officials.
The New York City pension funds also raised the issue of direct payments to Indonesian military officials with Freeport since at least 2002 when they requested the company disclose full details of all its payments to the military and police. The requests were rebuffed by Freeport.
Further, in 2011 the United Steelworkers (USW) sent a letter to the DOJ requesting that the department launch an investigation into the company following new disclosures by the Indonesian police that officials had received direct payments from Freeport:
The Indonesian police have recently been quoted in the Indonesian media admitting that they accepted millions of dollars from PT Freeport Indonesia to provide security for the miner’s operations in Papua, Indonesia, and the National Police Chief Gen. Timur Pradopo referred to the payments as “lunch money” paid in addition to state allocated security funding, stating “It was operational funding given directly to the police personnel to help them make ends meet.”
It has also recently been reported in the Australian media that Indonesian human rights group Kontras obtained and released a letter from Papua police saying Freeport paid 1,250,000 rupiah a month [approximately $130] for about 635 police and military personnel, and that the payment would raise the salaries of the security forces by between a quarter and a half.
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bans companies from paying foreign officials to do or omit to do an act in violation of his or her lawful duty. We believe that it is reasonable to construe direct payments by PT Freeport Indonesia to police and military personnel providing security for its operations, amounting to a significant fraction of the personnel’s salaries, as a bribe intended to persuade the personnel to act in defense of Freeport-McMoRan’s interests even when those interests conflict with the police and military personnel’s lawful duty to protect Indonesian people, thereby violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
I emailed the USW to ask if they had received a response to their letter from the DOJ. The USW replied to me:
“We received an initial response from the DOJ on April 27, 2012 saying that they reviewed the allegations, but “cannot comment publicly on whether we are pursuing a particular matter.” The letters [from the DOJ] also encouraged us to bring the events of October 10, 2011 [disclosure of the Freeport payments], to the attention of appropriate authorities in Indonesia. That was the last we heard.”
Based on my experience with the DOJ that is the last anyone will hear on the matter. The DOJ will hide behind the Glomar response indefinitely – neither offering confirmation nor denial – then they will bury it. Unfortunately, there have been no official responses from the DOJ or others concerning any of the above complaints, and no prosecutions.
Disturbingly, I heard a Harvard educated lawyer based in Washington DC speak at a mining conference in Cape Town in February 2013 speak to a small group of people in a side room on the topic of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A central aspect of his talk described how the DOJ aggressively investigates and prosecutes both domestic and foreign companies for breach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He said the DOJ will aggressively establish U.S. jurisdiction even where companies have no U.S. presence or personnel – and he gave the example of a Swiss company that had transacted in U.S. dollars. The company had no U.S. presence and no U.S. personnel but transacting in U.S. dollars was deemed as sufficient grounds for the DOJ to claim U.S. jurisdiction of the matter.
If U.S. jurisdiction is as readily established as this highly placed and well qualified lawyer described, wouldn’t the wilful killing and torture of indigenous people by the Indonesian military and police, where the responsible government officials are directly funded by Freeport, pose a serious problem for Freeport under US law? When I asked the lawyer about Freeport at the end of his presentation he fell quiet and like a guilty schoolboy, gave only a cryptic, wry smile. Subsequently, he never responded to any of my follow up emails on the question. It is clear that the U.S. government turns a blind eye to breaches deemed to its advantage – an attitude of “exceptionalism” applied to what seems to be irrefutably corrupt circumstances – a moral lassitude that contributes to its eroding credibility and influence around the world.
Freeport defends the payments saying:
“There is no alternative to our reliance on the Indonesian military and police in this regard. The need for this security, the support provided for such security, and the procedures governing such support, as well as decisions regarding our relationships with the Indonesian government and its security institutions, are ordinary business activities.”
Octo Mote, an indigenous leader from West Papuan and a visiting scholar in the genocide studies program at Yale University says this in response:
“All West Papuans want accountability from Freeport about these payments [to the military]. … We don’t want Freeport to give money to our enemy so they can kill our leaders. That’s why we are so concerned about these relationships.”
Court orders: efforts to sue Freeport
The violence surrounding access to Grasberg’s wealth has been extraordinary. How many West Papuans have died as a result of the military backed Indonesian administration of West Papua from 1963 and its subsequent annexation in 1969? UN reports indicate around 100,000 indigenous lives lost, though experts agree the precise number is difficult to estimate. Estimates by church groups and NGO’s claim more than a hundred thousand indigenous lives lost – a cumulative toll from direct military kills and deaths from displacement and deprivation.
Indonesia today is a multiparty democracy but it is still has considerable work to do to strengthen its democratic institutions after decades of totalitarian military dictatorship. According to the US State Department’s human rights report on Indonesia for 2012 the judiciary remains far from independent:
“The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary remained susceptible to influence from outside parties, including business interests, politicians, and the security forces. Low salaries and poor oversight continued to encourage acceptance of bribes, and judges were subject to pressure from government authorities and other groups, which appeared to influence the outcome of cases.”
Aside from the decades long Indonesian ban on foreign journalists in West Papua, and even tourists are not generally permitted entry to the province , there have been efforts to block the traditional owners’ access to legal representation and prevent travel to appear at international human rights forums. The highest profile interference involved US human rights attorney Martin J. Regan:
“In September 1996, Indonesian police in Papua deported and blacklisted US-based attorney Martin J. Regan, prohibiting him from meeting in Timika with his clients, Amungme community leaders Tom Beanal and Yosepha Alomang. In addition, according to an August 1996 report from LEMASA, the Indonesian Armed Forces “forcefully took away the claim forms (against Freeport) signed by the indigenous people of Timika for their attorney, Martin Regan, in New Orleans.”
In another incident, in May 1998, Indonesian security forces barred Ms. Alomang from traveling to London, where she was scheduled to speak about human rights abuses and other problems at Freeport to Rio Tinto shareholders and management at the company’s Annual General Meeting.”
It seems partly as a result of this extreme intervention, court cases in Indonesia and the U.S. have achieved little for the indigenous people of West Papua. Furthermore, it would seem by these extreme actions to curtail witness statements that the powers that be have a great deal to hide and fear. At times, under international pressure, low level perpetrators of the Indonesian military abuses have been put on trial. Several low level soldiers were put on trial following the atrocities of 1994-95, four of whom were found guilty, not of murder, but of violating military procedures, and were given relatively light jail terms. Amnesty condemned that trial as a sham and the local tribes’ people said the real eyewitnesses to the atrocities had not been called to testify, but rather, had been excluded by the military from attending the trial.
Two civil lawsuits filed against Freeport in the US covered human rights abuses, personal injury, cultural genocide and environmental degradation. One, a $6 billion dollar law suit launched in federal court in New Orleans in April 1996 by Amungme leader Tom Beanal with over 1,700 plaintiffs with many signed personal testimonies claimed Freeport committed “ecoterrorism” in West Papua and “cultural genocide” among other claims represented by attorney Martin J. Regan. After Beanal discovered he did not have a confidential secure line of communication with his lawyers in the US the case was briefly pulled, before being reinstated.
Beanal’s claims were well articulated and widely publicized. They added to the public relations nightmare that has characterised Freeport’s operations in West Papua since eyewitness allegations surfaced of the company’s involvement in the massacre on Christmas Day in 1994:
Mr Beanal claimed, “[Freeport] maintained a military presence within its mining operation wherein troops of the Republic of Indonesia are fed, transported, paid and provided equipment from the defendants in order to assist its operations … The Indonesian Government is a major shareholder of the PT Freeport Indonesia, an affiliate of the defendants, Freeport, and the defendants’ principle source of corporate income … Defendants’ security guards in conjunction with third parties acting by and through the corporate policy of the defendants have engaged in summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, disappearances, surveillance and the destruction of property. Said violations have occurred on Freeport buses, within Freeport workshops, at Freeport security command centres, Freeport security stations, Freeport private roadways and containers owned by said corporate defendants”.
The action, however was not successful, on the grounds that the alleged abuses at the Grasberg mine were not violations of the “law of nations”. The decision was appealed and lost in 1999.
The other case, filed in Louisiana where the company was headquartered at the time, by another indigenous leader, Yosefa Alomang, was dismissed in 2000 with the judge ruling the court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the matter (lack of subject matter jurisdiction).
As such, on account of legal technicalities, neither of these cases succeeded to be heard on the merits of its central claims of environmental damage, human rights abuses and genocide.
In 1999, as a sign of how Freeport felt about the gravity of mounting legal threats, and in the context in which mining major, and Grasberg JV partner Rio Tinto, was forced to defend itself against similar allegations of war crimes at nearby Bougainville, Freeport appointed high profile Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald to the Board of Directors and as special counsel on human rights. McDonald was a former judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, the United Nations law court that dealt with war crimes committed in the Balkans in the 1990s. Reflecting the urgency with which Freeport viewed her appointment, she reported directly to the company chairman Jim Bob Moffett and received high financial incentives for her role, reportedly cashing in on company shares worth US$6.3 million in 2005 alone.
Human rights activists have expressed disappointment with McDonald for joining Freeport, her presence seemingly legitimising the company’s activities. One prominent human rights activist lamented, however, that McDonald’s attitude seems to be that “[if] Freeport weren’t operating in West Papua some other company would be and the situation would be even worse than it is today” Nonetheless, human rights advocates feel this does not justify her attitude that she might as well be the one to take their money and use her influence and experience to loyally shield the Freeport management and board.
Freeport made other efforts in 1999 to present a good face on its human rights record West Papua when it instigated a human rights program based on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It appointed Dr Daniel Ajamiseba, a Papuan national, to monitor human rights abuses but his small staff was purportedly unable to manage the large volume of violations reported and referrals to the Indonesian Minister responsible for human rights went unanswered.
Notwithstanding the above, the door appears to remain open for foreign plaintiffs to litigate against U.S. corporations in the U.S. accused of human rights and environmental abuses in foreign countries in violation of international law. However, legal opinion is not by any means unanimous in this view, and any attempt to prosecute the company will always need to contend with powerful U.S. political interests. Irrespective, there are alternative jurisdictions for potentially bringing U.S. corporations to trial, including under state law in federal or state courts, for example, or foreign courts.
The reach of US laws
How far afield do US laws reach? The answer is “it depends”. It depends on who, whether they are political allies, and whether US economic and political interests are served. The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as the Harvard educated, Washington based lawyer who spoke at Indaba explained, the US has prosecuted companies with no evident link to the US other than it transacted in U.S. dollars, which the DOJ claimed gave it jurisdiction – a very tenuous link and for many people a seemingly contrived claim. On the other hand, well documented claims against Freeport have not been pursued by the DOJ, apparently because Freeport serves U.S. economic and political goals and is therefore not able to be prosecuted by the DOJ. Indeed, prosecution of Freeport would require clearance from the State Department to proceed. As barrister Peter Little explains of US courts before proceeding with a case are required to seek state department permission:
the courts obtain opinions from the US Department of State as to the effect a case may have on the United States’ foreign relations and/or policy.
The legal minefield US companies face under these laws thus seem to vanish like a mirage under State Department directives.
The reach and interpretation of one of the highest profile U.S. laws, the Alien Tort Claim Act (ATCA), remains uncertain and its jurisdiction outside the U.S. appears restricted. Nonetheless, ACTA became a perceived threat to US corporations after 1995 when corporations started to be identified as defendants en masse. Under ATCA, foreigners such as indigenous people in Indonesia, were deemed able to sue U.S. corporations for breach of duty in U.S. courts for damages committed outside the U.S.
For example, the intently watched U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that went against the Ogoni people of Nigeria in their lawsuit against Shell on allegations of corporate liability for human rights violations was a disappointment to many people who hoped for greater corporate accountability in the US. However, a Professor of International Law at Yale said after the ruling that all was not necessarily lost. He cited cases like “that filed against U.S. corporation Exxon Mobile by fifteen Indonesian villagers that alleged the company colluded in brutal oppression in violation of the law of nations arguably survive this decision entirely intact” .
However, according to Professor Peter Little, mining companies would be smart to abide by ACTA. He deems any company potentially vulnerable to an ATCA claim if they can answer yes to any one of these three questions:
“1. Do you have any operations in Third World states, whose governments could act in a brutal manner towards its citizens, and if so, are you legally connected with that state?
2. Has the government of a Third World state, where you have a mining or drilling operation, conducted any activities in connection with or in proximity to or in relation to your operation, which would breach international human rights law?
3. Has there been, or likely to be, egregious environmental damage at the mining…site or directly as a result of your mining…operations in a Third World state?”
The vulnerability of U.S. corporations remains in word, if not at present in action, subject to the changing winds of time.
Kissinger hovering in the shadows
Freeport is as much the creation of the US political establishment as Grasberg is of geology and location.
Reflecting the tremendous value of Freeport’s mining interests in West Papua, strong relationships were key to dealing with the corrupt Suharto regime, and the company lined its board and advisory team with US political heavyweights with connections to the highest levels of both the US government in Washington DC and the Indonesian government in Jakarta.
To understand Freeport, it is instructive to look at the high profile people brought in over the years to help it: Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the former judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague – served Freeport as special counsel on human rights to the Board of Directors; James Woolsey, former director of the CIA – appointed as special advisor; Stapleton Roy – one of several former US ambassadors to Indonesia – appointed to the Freeport board of directors – at one time or another. Multiple former CIA and FBI agents recruited into the company, and US military attaches to Jakarta.
Of all the high ranking U.S. luminaries associated with Freeport over the years, including political, diplomatic, security and military officials, its association with Dr Henry Kissinger, the infamous former US Secretary of State and Nixon confidante, known for his enduring high level connections inside the State Department, the CIA and links to Indonesia stands out. He has had a very long, close association with Freeport, retained as an advisor for decades and director on the company’s board for over ten years.
Kissinger was a key advisor to disgraced former US President Richard Nixon, whose administration presided over an era of American history associated with the use of dark arts at home and abroad, covert American forces active in many corners of the world from Cambodia to Chile; key architect of US foreign policy, a military frequently deployed in secret, dirty wars, and its activities just as frequently misrepresented to the public. It was an administration staffed by a handful of officials of dubious integrity, a cadre of which Kissinger was one of the highest profile, a group with a reputation for surrendering the exercise of responsibility, truthfulness and sound moral judgement to political expediency and personal advantage. In short, Kissinger has presided over tremendous violence during his many years acting in various official capacities for the U.S. government that saw, all too often, gross injustices committed in the name of American foreign policy.
Kissinger’s name crops up in numerous places the US government didn’t want to be seen, typically in the context of atrocities associated with US covert action – the Nixon-Kissinger “shock treatment”: Cambodia and Vietnam; assassination of Allende in Chile, Cyprus, Bangladesh, and East Timor. Now Kissinger’s name is inextricably associated with Freeport in West Papua, a mine in a province repeatedly associated with a heavy cloak of secret state atrocities directed against traditional owners, often attributed to the Indonesian military, with Freeport funding and a spattering of eye witness reports that implicate Freeport directly. He has the unique distinction of being both a Nobel Peace Prize holder and being a wanted war criminal in multiple countries. He is intelligent, an arch manipulator, and by many accounts very good at using these qualities to ruthlessly promote his ego-driven self interest and career.
A Kissinger specialty, it seems, given the unusual prevalence with which his name crops up in matters where US clandestine violence is involved and consistent with his distinguished reputation inside certain preeminent Washington circles as self interested to the point of destruction, motivated by misbegotten vain ambition. Renowned as a brilliant policy architect, and as Secretary of State with control of the CIA, a ruthless policy mastermind of secret killings and wars, passive in the acceptance of destruction and suffering he has inflicted on many innocent lives.
Kissinger was a Director on Freeport McMoran’s board till 12 March 2001 when the company, in an apparent belated attempt to distance itself from him, announced his retirement. His resignation reportedly came 2 days after it became widely known that influential journalist and author Christopher Hitchens was about to publish a book called “The Trial of Henry Kissinger” which documented in remarkable detail the evidence of Kissinger’s extensive malfeasance and called for him to be tried “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”
It is not sufficient for our intelligence agencies to tell us by way of justification, that one of its operatives, or department heads, or Secretaries, has made a choice, an immoral choice, in the name of the country, that they will personally carry the moral burden of their choices so we as governed individuals do not have to. They speak to us in pseudo religious terms, not unlike the way Freeport addresses the indigenous people of West Papua opposed to their mine, and quoting from the bible. The agencies tell us that they have sacrificed for us, made deep personal sacrifices as individuals, knowingly and deliberately, pre-emptively and in secrecy, inflicting unspeakable crimes against others in our name. They act in perverted, self deified delusion, claiming it as a gift to humanity, and the burden of their sins they carry for us, and in return they claim they deserve our gratitude. But all their actions are hidden behind claims of state secrecy, they will not tell us who they have killed or maimed and tortured, or the reasons for doing so, but instead tell us we will be forgiven for our sins of naivete, for presuming they are not to be trusted.
They tell us that we could never understand, that we could never know the extent of their love us, the purity of their motivation to save us from suffering. However, they will only operate in this way only if we permit them privacy to operate in the darkness of night, never explaining themselves or the benefits they bring – only providing proclamations that every good thing we have is because of them. It is only because we are so burdened by our human weaknesses that we cannot see how their crimes serve us! But let the sins they have saved us from and committed in our name, in the pre-text of national interest have its judgement day now, on earth, with each of us able to bear witness, to convey our personal moral duty – through the public courts, in a free media and open civil society gatherings. How their rhetoric has taken on the tone of a medieval church: trust only in us, and we will see to it you are saved, and in return all we want is your obedience and eternal gratitude.
Has Kissinger and America led us to some utopian ideal in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guatemala, El Salvador, East Timor and West Papua? We, for the most part, hanker for status and recognition, fame and wealth. Leaders vie for status, among peers and the electorate, a downward spiral pursuing ever more hard headed force and violence, each generation in waiting, keen in endeavour to incrementally notch up the next atrocity to prove their intellectual and moral mettle, that they can overcome any moral objection to their actions with a persuasive, if ultimately hollow use of reason: reason justified brutality. In their heads reason and brutality become synonymous. Each entity now bestowing upon the other awards and acknowledgements – including war criminal to war criminal. A Nobel peace price to an alleged war criminal, a member of the victorious team, he has his personal qualities, as he likes to think of them, recognised and amplified by the image makers. Like former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin winning fixed swimming races against his lieutenants, our leaders, bask in their own constructed images. It is human nature and it feeds on lack of scrutiny, and on peer and public adulation.
As Hitchens argued, if the same principles established during the Nuremberg trials where Nazi war criminals were prosecuted after WWII were applied to American leaders of recent times, many would likely find themselves indicted.
Indeed, in 2011, a leading member of the largest party in the Swiss parliament, Dominique Baettig requested the Justice Minister Barbara Janom-Steiner arrest for war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Henry Kissinger (and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney) if they visited Switzerland for the annual Bilderberg conference in St. Moritz, which they were scheduled to do.
In 2003, in a NYC dinner conversation with Susan, performing her undisclosed role as an undercover FBI agent, she asked me about Henry Kissinger: what I knew of him; what I thought of him; was I aware he was on Freeport’s board. No I didn’t particularly like him, and yes I knew he was on the board.
“Do you think he knows who you are?” she asked.
“No. Why would he know who I was?” I offered marvelling at her question. “I suppose it is possible he may have seen my analyst work on Freeport, along with other analysts reports on the company which may have been distributed to the various directors.”
She asked me whether I had heard about the allegations Kissinger had provided the Soviets with the US negotiating position on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT II) disarmament talks after President Ford lost office, ending Kissinger’s term as Secretary of State – a position he held from 1973 to 1977 – as a means to disadvantage his replacement, Cyrus Vance. The diplomatic cables that would provide proof of his betrayal had mysteriously disappeared, so his betrayal has not been proven to date Susan proclaimed. Susan mentioned that most people in the “agency” believed Kissinger had done it, betrayed the US SALT negotiating position and one of his lackey’s stolen the relevant diplomatic cables that would prove it.
One can’t help wonder if his all too evident lack of empathy and care is a sociopathic personality disorder associated with extreme trauma of childhood, a witness to the worst horrors of WWII in Nazi Germany where his family lived and from which he fled, an acute subconscious reaction against an extreme trauma for which the world has paid a second price.
As a Jewish adolescent in Nazi Germany, he fled to the US with his family in 1938 when he was 15. From there he lived through the horrors of the holocaust, his maternal grandparents were killed by the Nazi’s as were other members of his extended family. No one should ever have to experience that, let alone children. And those who did, who lived to witness it up close as Kissinger did, carry the memories and scars for the rest of their lives, the evil and mistrust of human nature cut deep into their psyche. They become prisoners to their thoughts and memories, something they never ever want to relive, or have others re-live. Some who live with personal life tragedies manage to convert their demons to angels and in doing so are redeemed and transformed into truly remarkable people. But for the others, the memory of violence haunts them, and the perpetrators projected into the context of other wars, other situations – no force too great to root them out, no justification to avoid collateral damage of anything that stands in the way. The messianic urge to save humanity from evil is projected onto multiple situations and societies around the world, each confrontation bombarded with violence. Unfortunately, it is here that Kissinger seems at large to unleash his personal battle.
Kissinger may be revered by the American right as a great statesman, but history will not be so forgiving of the military and clandestine campaigns he secretly championed. Kissinger, try as he might, despite his messianic urgings, can never achieve the heights of great social reformers, men of peace like Ghandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King, to America’s detriment. It would have been a better country and a better world if he had been a leader moved by his life history to renounce violence. Somehow, America’s current obsession with realpolitik and playing fast and easy with military led violence seems to be influenced by Kissinger’s legacy in public office and public life – a state craft all but bereft of moral substance, a personal criticism frequently levelled at Kissinger himself.
Part 8: FBI targets Freeport critics
Meeting in Freeport’s boardroom: May 1996
A few months later, during the analyst question time in the company’s boardroom in May 1996, I asked Jim Bob Moffett, Freeport’s Chairman and CEO, a question about the next phase of the US State Department’s investigation into allegations of Freeport’s role in the killings at the Grasberg mine – what were the next steps he expected as per the State Department’s recent announcement that further investigations were underway? The NYT had announced a large US mining company in the US was under investigation for human rights abuses in Indonesia and preliminary report had been completed though not publicly released. Further investigations were underway according to the report. “What can investors expect?” I asked.
Jim Bob paused for a moment, surveyed the room, then commenced a long winded response in a dreary monotone. Looking increasingly annoyed as he went further into the answer he meandered around, aimlessly it seemed, as if he did not know what to say, as though he had not anticipated such a question, nor rehearsed possible answers. He held a steady gaze looking out from his lectern over the boardroom table. He confirmed that the State Department was conducting a human rights investigation of the company and its activities in West Papua and that its investigation was ongoing. Eventually he brought the answer to my question to a close with a terse, strained, and angry “Does anybody else have any questions on this issue?!” as his face twisted to match his emotion.
The 30 or so analysts in the room sat in stunned silence for what seemed like an eternity. We were not used to such awkward, unvarnished and emotional outbursts from a corporate CEO in contrast to the typical congenial, professional exchange with analysts. Eventually, another analyst did put up their hand as if to ask a follow on question and proceeded to ask a question on a completely different topic.
There have been few, albeit high profile outbursts over the years between senior management and analysts from various companies. They are rare, but the most memorable was with Enron after an analyst asked the company why it didn’t publish full financial statements, with the implication the company was trying to hide something. The question prompted a string of expletives, evidently from the CFO, who could be heard in the background to the call cursing the question. The company not long after went into bankruptcy in one of the largest financial fraud cases in US history.
Back in Freeport’s boardroom, Jim Bob continued to preside over the analyst meeting. He was a large, heavy set man, middle aged, with slicked back dark hair and cut an imposing figure as he commanded the meeting as he stood behind his lectern at the head of the table. In his role as chairman he carried an impenetrable confidence, a gravitas born of success, a persona bellied by the sullen responses that seemed to open cracks to reveal a man within compromised and tarnished with shame, bearing the penitence of an unrelenting conscience. His father had been a department store clerk and Jim Bob, university educated as a geologist, was a college football star. Based in New Orleans, Louisiana, he had all the pleasantries and social graces for which southerners are known. He was central to the establishment of Grasberg and analysts on Wall Street attributed his sky high remuneration, in part, to the crucial role he personally played in relations with Indonesia and in maintaining security at the mine. He had learnt Indonesian to facilitate his dealings and standing with the Indonesian elite of the Suharto era dictatorship and now worked with individuals at the highest levels of both Washington and Indonesia.
When the analyst briefing ended, I moved out into the alcove that was attached to the boardroom. It was a light and sun filled area, but a dark shadow was about to fall.
The FBI’s threat came promptly – delivered by their man that had been sitting among the analysts. He came up to me and without disclosing his affiliation to the FBI, threatened me in an icy tone that left no uncertainty as to its ill intent. He was around my age (early 30s) and dressed in a business suit. He blended in with the analyst community perfectly but I did not recall ever having seen him before. He had stood beside me as I spoke briefly with Jim Bob after the meeting exchanging minor comments with the Freeport Chairman and CEO, who seemed shy and demur as we greeted one another in person
As I moved away from Jim Bob, the FBI’s man moved with me. Emerging from my shadow behind me, he stepped squarely into my space and without introducing himself said directly, using my first name, “John, I respect you for asking that question,” referring to my question during the briefing. “But you might wish you hadn’t,” he said poker faced.
Ignoring my own surprise that he knew my name, I replied dryly, “So what, what do I care? What can they do to me?”
His response came forth firmly, though cryptically, “You might not want to find out,” he said. I held his gaze for a moment, searching his face for some sign that might reveal what he meant or that he had something further to add. However, he was inscrutable and remained silent, his tone and look not friendly. It was clear he would add nothing else, and I moved away.
It was a threat in no uncertain terms. More accurately, it was a disclosure. The FBI, the supposed protector of democratic freedoms, law and order, in the US, had just emerged from its hiding place and, like a tarantula moving under the cover of darkness, the FBI was now on the prowl. It was operating undercover and without official declaration. Never conciliatory, and now without compromise or discussion, the FBI was on its front foot, silencing domestic critics in the way only it can, deploying the massive resources and secret reach of the US state.
The report I had written 12 March 1996 and the question to Jim Bob in May that year had been relevant to investors, and could not reasonably be characterised as aggressive. It did raise a sensitive issue, but that is not the same as aggression, and nor was it for the first time, as concerns over Freeport’s activities had, over the years, been published in major world newspapers. Perhaps it was my proximity and access to Freeport’s CEO and investors in the global financial markets via the leverage of Wall Street that gave the authorities the equivalent of anaphylactic shock, a hypersensitive reaction of a susceptible, affected immune system to an otherwise harmless substance.
From here on the FBI would crawl all over me. They had evidently started already, but it seems my question to Jim Bob cemented their resolve, if I am to believe the messenger in Freeport’s alcove. For the first few years the FBI conducted its business targeting me in silence. I was unaware of its activity, unaware of the little tarantula footprints criss-crossing over my face in the dead of night. When I did become aware of it, several years’ later, there seemed nothing I could do to stop it, and their secretive tactics became bolder, more confronting, the attacks more provocative!
It was ironic, that the glowing warmth from the sunshine that streamed through the window in Freeport’s light filled boardroom alcove was so easily pierced by an icy tentacle of tyranny. The boardroom warmth was deceiving, and at least to my mind, it was well acquainted with the cool and dark forces of human nature. It was well associated with the doyen of the right, Henry Kissinger, a key Freeport advisor and board member.
The strange intrusions start
It wasn’t long after receiving the threats in the Freeport boardroom that distinctly odd things started to happen to me, even by New York standards at work and in my personal life.
I had never classified myself as a dissident. An activist on some issues – yes, maybe. A professional – yes. But a dissident? I didn’t even really know what it meant in a US context. Including a volunteer role with the Sierra Club in NYC, signatures on a few petitions and letters to US representatives mostly concerning local and urban environmental matters, my participation in civil society seemed relatively tame.
I grew up in a middle class family and as a young adult I had considered a career in environmental science before deciding to study engineering and later moved into finance. My family background in recent generations has been big business, and before that methodist ministers and farmers, and my distant ancestry dates back to the viking period in Denmark. My grandfather on my father’s side had been knighted for services to Australia, he had been central in building a significant wool services business in Australia, and among other roles was chairman of Tooheys Limited, a major Australian brewery. My father has an MBA from Harvard and ran an industrial company in Australia for many years, and which was an early mover into China in the 1970s. My grandfather on my mother’s side, likewise a Harvard graduate, ran a rocket parts manufacturer in the Midwest of the US.
I had not thought of myself as particularly visible on Wall Street, nor my point of view more generally on various matters holding any great threat to anyone. I was a young analyst, still trying to stake out a position in the industry; not highly visible, not well connected and influential like some of the more experienced analysts on the Street. The lack of a high profile is possibly one of the reasons the FBI chose to target me, as opposed to someone else that might have served their purposes equally well. In their calculus, there was less potential for me to bite back, muster the support of a network; but attacking me still sent a powerful message that intimidated all that were witness to it, including analysts. With every life the FBI targets and ritually deconstructs, it creates a culture subservient to it and in obeisance to the interests of corporate America.
Does it strengthen national security? That would indeed be a dubious assertion on their part but is exactly what they would have you believe. It certainly strengthens the FBI and ASIO’s power, improves Freeport’s short term economic outlook, but what does that do for democracy? Weakens it and undermines the separation of powers it depends on. The market system and capitalism is sufficient reward and punishment for incentivizing desired economic behaviour, and criminal behaviour, like for everyone else, should be left for the legal system to reckon with. One country, one system. This secret, third mechanism of the intelligence agencies, is totalitarian in nature, and corrupting of justice and democracy. It creates a new avenue for getting ahead, for side stepping the system, even rewards criminal conduct in cases. It builds the power base of those trusted with the awesome power of the agencies; but it undermines faith in the power of democratic institutions to be the meaningful bottom line on justice, to separate right from wrong. It corrupts the media, makes a mockery of disclosure, of conflict of interest, tarnishes the courts and justice system, marginalises the politicians and legislature, destroys the boundaries in the separation of powers. The moneyed and connected can appeal to the FBI, and other intelligence agencies for sanctuary, even for assistance in their crimes. This is the point in democracy where liberty departs and fascism takes root.
Multiple critics of Freeport systematically targeted
I am not the only one targeted for speaking out about Freeport. I don’t regret having asked questions about the company’s activities and State Department investigation. But I do lament the aggression and violence of the FBI’s response. What is little known is the role the FBI played during these years to help lower the profile of Freeport’s controversial Grasberg operation and silence discussion in the US, targeting journalists and academics, but also Wall Street analysts and potentially others who spoke out on the matter.
The use of FBI power in this way is all the more disturbing given the agency’s dual role in helping to identify and interview eyewitnesses to the alleged Freeport human rights abuses on location in West Papua supposedly to lay the ground work to assist in potential future prosecutions, but in the context of their efforts to protect Freeport, potentially to quash damaging evidence.
According to a report in the Austin Chronicle by journalist Andrew Duff, seven people, whom he named, had been targeted by Freeport. These people, he said, were issued with letters threatening legal action unless they desisted from making “false and damaging accusations”. Duff’s list comprised journalists Robert Bryce and Daryle Slusher; university professors Steven Feld – a music ethnologist who had spent much time studying the people and tribes of West Papua, Alan Cline, and Robert Boyer; and environmentalists Lori Udall and Bill Bunch.
Journalist Robert Bryce himself, in an article for Mother Jones in 1996, mentioned an additional person threatened by Freeport: Bill Elder, a news anchorman with New Orleans based WWL-TV. Bryce reported that Freeport officials had visited WWL and made veiled threats to sue the station Elder worked for. Elder had earlier accused Freeport CEO Jim Bob Moffett of lying to him on air during an interview about OPIC, and also subsequently accused Freeport of blocking his travel to West Papua by not approving the Indonesian consulate’s request for him to enter – a veto power of right to access West Papua apparently possessed by Freeport.
Freeport’s threats, however, reportedly were not limited only to legal matters. The company also demanded the return of funding, after a series of student protests, from Loyola University in New Orleans where it had funded a chair in environmental communication.
As for myself, I had been struck off the analyst invitation list after my 12 March 1996 report on the company. I had been targeted by Freeport, not with legal action, but with an initial attempt to exclude me as a Wall Street mining analyst from their annual analyst conference which was standard for all mining analysts from mainstream banks to be invited to, and as I had been in the past. Only with persistent requests to their investor relations person was I added back to the list and invited to New Orleans to participate in their annual Wall Street analyst briefing that May. It was there that I was subsequently threatened by the FBI’s man in the alcove to Freeport’s boardroom after my question to the CEO.
What was not known previously was the role the FBI played in protecting Freeport from scrutiny, as a US federal government agency, part of the Department of Justice. Unlike OPIC – the US federal government agency that provides political risk insurance for US corporations – whose activities are in the public domain, the FBI works without disclosure and is protected from public visibility. The FBI was secretly out batting for Freeport, and mustered its awesome resources and vast reach to defend the company. It was a betrayal of public trust, a steely cold betrayal of justice and community values – a betrayal of trust that makes it harder for civil society to hold the company to account. The FBI has threatened and attacked me from every angle since then: social, family, work, privacy, electronic, tracking and recruitment of friends and gross interference in all my social and professional networks – as described elsewhere in this book. Its impact goes beyond my own personal circumstances to chill a wider professional commentary and civil society.
The US intelligence agencies seem to have led reprisals against other Freeport critics in the West; one being professor and author Tim Flannery whom I met after his talk on climate change at the Australian Museum in 2016. As a zoologist, he has spent a lot of time with the indigenous people in West Papua and has many friends there, which he engagingly and fondly recounted in his book Thorwim Way Leg. After the lecture I asked him about the role and impact of Freeport in West Papua, and he ruefully responded that “a lot of dark things are happening up there in West Papua.” He looked pensive, and a tinge of fear crossed his face as he examined me more closely. It was the way I imagine I sometimes react when asked a sharp, incisive personal question from someone who has given me pause to think they are with one of the intelligence agencies. He swallowed awkwardly, paused, anxious and fearful, his eyes suddenly glistened under a veneer of moisture as his brow furrowed and he repeated quietly, solemnly, almost to himself, “it is very dark”. He was humble, and clearly had deep empathy, sincerely affected and opposed to what was happening on a human rights front to the people of West Papua, and to his friends there specifically.
I wondered to what extent Flannery had experienced undisclosed incursions into his life from the agencies – he certainly didn’t seem to be someone playing their game. I endeavoured to share with him my support for his obvious heartfelt empathy with the people of West Papua, and briefly explained my background as a mining analyst and problems I was having with the FBI and ASIO on account of Freeport and West Papua. His heartfelt response to my question stands in stark contrast to the many FBI and ASIO agents I have met who attempt to cover up the abuses there, using tactics I have described elsewhere. They are the mercenaries, the paid hunters who have entered into an unholy bargain with the US government, apologists for Freeport and US policy. He was impressive and he certainly has my support for the work he does, including in West Papua and climate change.
More broadly, critics outside the homeland were targeted too. Obviously indigenous leadership and their communities bore the brunt of the onslaught. They were targeted not only by the company PR machine but also by the military. Whereas Tom Beanal was recruited by the company and appointed as a special advisor, those leaders that remained elusive or defiant received a different treatment. In 2001, Theys Eluay, a prominent advocate of West Papuan independence, was assassinated. Senior Indonesian military officials were implicated in the killing, though only low level soldiers were prosecuted and given light sentences. Indigenous leaders opposed to Indonesian rule frequently meet a violent end at the hands of the Indonesian military and Kopassus – special forces, trained by Western advisers including from the US and Australia – which included throwing them out of helicopters as recounted earlier.
Part 9: Wall Street and Intelligence Agencies
A toxic culture: foreign financial institutions
Back in New York, while the violence escalated in remote West Papua and quietly at home, concerns about Freeport discussed behind closed doors and in hushed tones on Wall Street centred on the company’s potential social and environmental liabilities. Fears that the company’s past may catch up with it one day saw Freeport shunned as a target in the merger and acquisition wave that swept the world copper sector in the mid 1990s. The perceived risks to another company of acquiring Freeport were too great – in financial terms, it was considered a toxic target with an unsustainable business model and massive potential liabilities. Any acquirer of Freeport risked its reputation being dragged through the mud and potential bankruptcy. There was not a single serious suitor, no public announcements, no due diligence, just a wall of avoidance.
Freeport’s critics rightfully claim that US, UK and other foreign lending agencies, and institutions such as Australian commercial banks Westpac and ANZ which were part of the syndicate of banks that debt financed Freeport’s mining activities in West Papua in the 1990s, should demand environmental and social accountability from their clients and in turn provide accountability and transparency to their own shareholders about the companies they are backing and investing in. Without such demands, these banks and others that lend money to finance Freeport’s Grasberg mine appear to have accepted the corrupt business practices that prevailed under Suharto and subsequent governments. Also, the banks that raised equity for Freeport, representing a wide tranche of New York’s investment banks, and the large funds that hold the shares do likewise.
It has been my experience that certain institutions involved with the financing of Freeport, at least senior people employed by those institutions, viz Westpac and ANZ, and also Warburg for example, in the wake of my new found notoriety as a target of the FBI and ASIO, had aligned in collusion with the intelligence agencies. Exploiting pressure points or devising incentives by which to penetrate financial institutions, indeed any organisation, is an easy ask for the intelligence agencies which have the power to covertly recruit any employee at any level within any organisation without disclosure. Indeed, many professionals eagerly jump at the chance to co-operate with the intelligence agencies, in expectation of personal reward.
My experience with ANZ, Westpac, Warburg, DKB as well as other banks, serves as a reminder, and another example, of the close link between bank employees and intelligence agencies and the manner in which they work collusively with each other. The connection between the finance industry and the security agencies is very close indeed, so close that financiers often present an air of mystery, imbued with the secrets and insights they carry from the agencies communication intercepts and human intelligence collection methods, as they freely exchange information about people and projects with the intelligence agencies in a two way flow.
Years’ later, in late 2006, Freeport’s expansion in West Papua and booming metal prices drove its share price sky high, giving it the financial clout needed to make a large acquisition in its own right. Having been shunned for its perceived huge potential human rights and environmental liabilities in mergers of the previous decade, in early 2007 it closed a friendly takeover of the larger US copper behemoth Phelps Dodge for US$25.9 billion – what Forbes described as the flea swallowing the elephant. On completion of the merger, Freeport moved its head office from New Orleans to Phoenix, where Phelps Dodge had been headquartered.
FBI: Crafting the narrative
The FBI’s and Freeport’s intimidation of outspoken domestic critics of the company’s activities in West Papua is only one front on which the battle to control the narrative was fought. There were other fronts on which this battle was waged as well. One such front, documented by human rights activists and academics is the FBI’s manipulation of its investigative findings following the 2002 slayings of two Americans in West Papua near Grasberg which have been well documented and widely reported. Where the facts didn’t suit their political narrative, clear evidence subsequently surfaced that proved the FBI simply rewrote them – they rewrite history – their official documents frequently all that remains to inform current and future generations. Reports and findings doctored, contrary evidence buried, so as to permit the manipulation of the public in the name of US political objectives – in this case to win congressional support for a “new era” of US military sales and military support to Indonesia.
In August 2002, a convoy was ambushed near Timika, West Papua in a ‘terrorist’ attack wounding 8 American’s and killing three school teachers, two American and one Indonesian, from the Freeport school. Following an extended FBI “investigation”, a native West Papuan freedom fighter, Antonius Wamang was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in November 2006. It later emerged in US intelligence documents obtained from the State Department under FOI (details published July 2008 in a report by academic Eben Kirksey and Andreas Harsono) that the Indonesian military was behind the “terrorist” attack, evidence corroborated in key witness statements previously reported by the New York Times in January 2006.
It is now generally held that the Indonesian military staged the attack in an effort to convince Freeport to pay increased military “allowances” and funding for enhanced security around the Grasberg mine; and that the US government turned a blind eye to the military’s involvement so as not to jeopardise renewed military links to Indonesia. The FBI, concluded a report by academics Kirksey and Harsono, was all too willing to oblige this agenda and complicit in the ruse:
“The seemingly simple narrative about terrorism, which was co-produced by the FBI and Indonesian prosecutors, laid the groundwork for bolstering a new military regime in Indonesia. The trial of Wamang set the stage for new military collaboration between the USA and Indonesia.
The ‘objectivity’ of the FBI investigation was in fact compromised. Questions about Indonesian military involvement in the attack were certainly at odds with high-level Bush Administration priorities. Edmund McWilliams, formerly a political secretary for the US Embassy in Jakarta, told us: ‘The FBI investigation, once it was finally launched, proceeded in the constraining political context of an administration policy which was pressing for rapid expansion of US–Indonesian military ties. I personally observed FBI reluctance to accept or pursue information offered to it that pointed to Indonesian military involvement in the killings.’
[O]ur conclusion is that [the FBI] worked closely with the Indonesian authorities to construct a parsimonious and politically viable narrative that fitted parts of the existing evidence. However, both the FBI and Indonesian military investigators seem to have ignored inconvenient truths.”
The history of extreme human rights abuse of the indigenous people of West Papua shows no sign of abatement, though the ferocity of the attacks seems to flare up periodically and die down again like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide.
Unfortunately, the US and other Western governments over the decades, and centuries, show little indication they have advanced beyond a crude calculus in thinking about the trade off between violence against others and wealth accumulated for itself. It is difficult to see Indonesia easing its grip on West Papua ever, let alone as long as US interests, and Freeport’s huge mine, continue to send so much money to Jakarta and Washington. Most confronting may be what it says about ourselves, the voters, with the tacit acceptance of an ideology that permits the crude calculus behind the mistreatment and killing of indigenous people in remote West Papua, while Western interests and money provides enabling support to, and benefits from, the abuse.
Western intelligence agencies: distorting perceptions about West Papua
In recent years I have occasionally had opportunity to discuss West Papua and Freeport with academics and activists – some of whom were undercover agents. Not surprising these led to new insights, namely I realised there is a pervasive and subtle effort of subterfuge by the agencies to undermine debate and impede the message domestically by misrepresenting facts, withholding key information or feigning ignorance.
The agents I spoke to intentionally and systematically deflected questions or distorted contentious issues of Freeport’s activities in West Papua. It is an orchestrated, cynical endeavour to distract and confuse the public. By muddying the waters to the extent that even basic facts appear contested as enumerated below, the public is disempowered from engaging with the issues and consequently unable to form moral or political opposition.
Instead of public opposition, public discussion and debate, the agencies undisclosed agents lobby politicians, as do interested companies’ paid lobbyists, and the public unwittingly is none the wiser, placing its trust in media reports which for the most part relays what comes from Washington, or in the integrity of regulators and oversight agencies.
These are some of the specific tactics exhibited by US agents I have encountered in personal conversation and through the media. For the most part, it is a successful strategy to focus public attention on anything other than the issues in West Papua, and the alleged Freeport human rights and environmental abuses around the Grasberg mine:
1. Fuzzy geography: In talking about Freeport the agents attempt to obfuscate by deliberately confusing West Papua with PNG. “Oh, do you mean PNG?” they exclaim when asked about West Papua. Invariably they revert to talking about PNG – Papua New Guinea, the next door neighbor country with a vaguely similar sounding name to West Papua. But PNG is an independent country, whereas West Papua is part of Indonesia, and is where Freeport operates the Grasberg mine, and where all the American military activity and assistance has been focused.
2. Agents draw attention only to isolated abuse committed against Freeport employees as sole examples of human rights abuses in West Papua. An isolated incident involving the murder of an American teacher and Freeport employee, for example, is invariably mentioned, not the extensive human rights and military led atrocities directed against traditional owners. In emphasising limited incidents against the company, the agents deflect attention from the brutal, systematised and ongoing mass murder of thousands of Melanesian West Papuans.
3. Blame for conflict in West Papua is directed at a turf war between the Indonesian military and police fighting over internal control of the region. The conflict and brutality is portrayed as an internal affair, a rivalry to secure personal lucrative business contracts by members of the different Indonesian agencies, rather than the military backed sovereign land grab that motivated the annexation of West Papua backed by Washington. The US funding and military support for the Indonesian invasion against the interests of the indigenous traditional owners are overlooked.
4. Well documented allegations of Freeport corruption in West Papua are deflected as the agents turn the discussion to historic corrupt practices of a different precursor company to Freeport in West Papua, viz., Freeport Sulphur in the USA. The agents are surprisingly well versed in the transgressions of Freeport Sulphur which they like to talk about but claim no awareness of concerns about Freeport corruption in West Papua or payments to the Indonesian military.
5. Deny any knowledge of powerful US officials associated with Freeport, including Kissinger’s long term role as a company adviser and previous board position (now an alternate Director). Deny knowledge of involvement of a plethora of former US ambassadors, senior military and intelligence agency officers, including appointments to the company directly from the FBI and CIA – and no less than a former director of the CIA, James Woolsey.
6. Feign no knowledge of blacklisting of Freeport shares by large sovereign wealth funds as part of an activist backlash against the company. They deflect the attention from Freeport’s globally scorned environmental record of dumping huge volumes of mill waste directly into the local river system by changing the conversation to other companies in neighboring PNG that have done the same thing, and for which they demonstrate a high degree of awareness and enthusiasm to discuss.
7. Shift the conversation to focus on capital inflow and a seemingly inevitable shift to modernity: citing large infrastructure spend in West Papua with new projects that have materially benefitted some indigenous West Papuans to deflect attention from the brutal methods and impact of human rights abuses against so many other traditional owners.
8. The communist threat to Indonesia in the 1960s is raised as justification for placing West Papua under Indonesian rule in the 1960s. The agents neglect to mention that Indonesia was then a ruthless military dictatorship. They neglect to mention that the West Papuans had been a loyal ally to the US during WWII and that US support of annexation was a ruthless betrayal of that ally. In an effort to deflect attention from the role of the powerful American foreign policy establishment hawks like Henry Kissinger, who supported and helped implement annexation, and who has close personal involvement with Freeport, they blame a corrupt UN rigged plebiscite under which West Papua was annexed; and they blame the presidency of the liberal icon JFK for negotiating such an abhorrent outcome for the West Papuans, not the establishment intelligence agencies and foreign affairs advisors in the state department.
9. Misrepresent abuse as historic phenomena, not an ongoing problem. Agents may discuss historic books written about West Papua, placing focus on decades old anthropological works; feign no knowledge of current political or social works that provide vivid accounts of the ongoing military and environmental impacts to traditional communities in West Papua.
10. Focus on looking forward to the future as a ploy to avoid accountability by those who committed crimes in the past.
11. Lay sole blame on the Indonesian military for the human rights abuses in West Papua. They point out that a third of parliamentary seats in Indonesia are reserved for military appointments and until this changes nothing will really change. Ignores the role played by financial backing from the US, US geopolitical interests, US military equipment and advisers; as well as funding received from Freeport paid directly to the Indonesian armed forces, police and personnel.
12. Aside from pointing blame solely at the Indonesian military, they point to the Indonesian policy of Transmigrasi – the mass relocation of Indonesians of Asian ethnicity from Java and Sumatra to West Papua. Its impact is to displace and marginalise the traditional Melanesian landholders. Again, this is intended to divert the conversation away from the role Western mineral and political interests have played in the oppression of West Papua’s traditional owners and focus attention on a different injustice.
Part 10: Conclusion
Peace for West Papua?
Whatever the future of West Papua, its native citizens have a right to live lives free of military violence and intimidation; free from the brutal, repressive forces that have prevailed over the people there for the past 50 years.
Even if Freeport is well intentioned, as it claims, the existence of the project is not negotiable. The traditional owners and communities have sought redress for the injustices through protest and riots, court action and democratic institutions, all to no avail: Over the years,
“the Amungme and Kamoro chronicled and communicated their concerns and demands in a variety of formal letters, resolutions, public statements, and media interviews. Over the course of their struggle, local landowners have appealed to the Indonesian government, military and civil society institutions, the UN, US courts and policymakers, and directly to Freeport management and shareholders in an effort to be heard and to have their concerns effectively addressed. The fact that their struggle continues, now in its fourth decade, underscores the urgent need for more successful mechanisms for safeguarding the rights of indigenous communities endangered by large-scale mining operations.”
Can there be peace while there is such injustice?
West Papua Project, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney, political scientist Dr. Jim Elmslie doubts West Papuans will stop aspiring to independence, no matter how low the likelihood of success. Faced with genocide and dispossession, independence seems the only hope for security by many West Papuans, he says.
However, autonomy within Indonesia may be the most the people can hope for. As Dan Murphy writes in the Christian Science Monitor:
“In the end, it’s the military’s business interests, and the financial stakes in Papua, that will ensure it does not follow East Timor [to independence] any time soon, analysts say. While Indonesia could afford to lose an arid province of 700,000 people, the central government is not willing to let one of its major assets go.”
It is time indigenous communities had their rights recognised by the developed world. It is time for a Truth and Reconciliation process for West Papua.
Unfortunately, it seems there is no political will from any powerful country anywhere to intervene on behalf of the people of West Papua. Prime Minister Kalosil of Vanuatu, for example, requested in 2013 during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly that the UN appoint a Special Representative to investigate human rights abuses in West Papua. He stated:
“It is clear from many historical records that the Melanesian people of West Papua were the scapegoat of Cold War politics and were sacrificed to gratify the appetite for the natural resources which this country possess.”
But his request for an investigation has fallen on deaf ears. Even the UN still lacks the political will to intervene to protect the indigenous people of West Papua.
The plight of indigenous people caught in military conflict zones, and specifically those caught up in conflict around modernity’s access to minerals, with domestic and foreign backers funding armed violence to secure resources, deserves much greater public attention: West Papua, Nigeria, DRC and elsewhere.
To date, there has been no real righting of wrongs for the traditional owners of West Papua nor those subjected to FBI abuses to silence word of the atrocities, and justice seems a long way off.