By Shaun Tandon
WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (AFP) — The United States has called for Indonesia
to move forward on autonomy in its Papua region and insisted it would
not overlook human rights as it seeks broader relations with Jakarta.
Testifying in a first-ever congressional hearing on the long-simmering
conflict, senior US officials pledged to investigate abuse allegations
in Papua but said there was no evidence to back charges of genocide.
Indonesia in 2001 introduced autonomy in Papua — a vast, mineral-rich
province that shares an island with Papua New Guinea — but local
activists say that the law has half-hearted and not improved their
Joseph Yun, the US deputy assistant secretary of state tasked with
Southeast Asia, said that the United States opposed separatism in
Papua province and neighboring West Papua but supported a more
"If the 2001 Special Autonomy Law can be fully implemented, we believe
that a lot of frustration currently felt by Papuans would decrease,"
"While Indonesia’s overall human rights situation has improved along
with the country’s rapid democratic development, we are concerned by
allegations of human rights violations in Papua and continuously
monitor the situation," he said.
President Barack Obama’s administration has identified Indonesia as a
priority, believing its size, democratization and moderate brand of
Islam make it an ideal US partner.
In July, the United States resumed military ties with the elite
military unit Kopassus, which was involved in many of the darker
chapters of Indonesia’s past.
Indonesia took over Papua in 1969 and has faced a low-level
insurgency. Human Rights Watch says that Indonesian forces have
pursued indiscriminate sweeps on villages, sometimes killing
civilians, and imprisoned activists for peaceful expression.
The congressional hearing was called by Eni Faleomavaega, who
represents American Samoa and has long taken an interest in Papua. In
an unusual scene for staid Capitol Hill, the congressman invited
Papuans wearing feathered headgear to perform a traditional dance with
drums at the hearing’s onset.
Faleomavaega said he considered Jakarta to be waging "genocide"
against Papuans, who in contrast to most Indonesians are ethnically
"It is indisputable fact that Indonesia has deliberately and
systematically committed crimes against humanity and has yet to be
held accountable," he said.
Robert Scher, the deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of
South and Southeast Asia, said that the United States takes
allegations of human rights violations in Papua "very seriously."
"However, we have not yet seen any evidence to suggest that the
incidents under discussion are part of a deliberate or systematic
campaign" by Indonesia, Scher said.
Faleomavaega said that he did not blame Indonesian President Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyono over Papua and voiced support for a US relationship
with the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.
"I sincerely believe that President (Yudhoyono) really wants to reach
out and help the people of Papua. I also fully understand that he is
under constraints — a lot of pressure is coming from other sectors of
the Indonesian community," he said.
Appearing before the panel, activist Octovianus Mote, president of the
Papua Resource Center, said that the autonomy package was toothless.
"The botton line issue is that civilian officials have failed to
establish meaningful and authoritative control over the unruly armed
forces, which continue to operate with impunity," he said.