West Papuan freedom fighters struggle
Defying Indonesia's foreign media ban on West Papua, English filmmaker Dominic Brown risked his life to spend two months undercover with West Papuan rebels and returned with the story the Indonesian government has tried so hard to suppress.
By Sean O'Hare - TT - 11. Nov 2010
Confirming suspicion that the foreign media ban was an attempt to conceal human rights abuses from the world, Brown's footage captures the brutal struggle for freedom being fought by the West Papuans living under Indonesian security force rule.
Coinciding with President Obama's visit to Indonesia, the release of Forgotten Bird of Paradise on a new Best of Raindance Film Festival DVD compounds pressure on the president to re-examine his country's policy of support for the Indonesian security forces.
In his first interview with the British press, Brown, a 29-year-old Londoner, said: "I first visited West Papua in 2002 when I was backpacking after university, at which point I knew nothing about the conflict.
"I spent four weeks there and saw for myself the effects of the unlawful military occupation. People were coming up to me crying, saying 'you have to help us.'
"It was like apartheid. Indonesia's transmigration policy has resulted in thousands of Indonesians being shipped over to West Papua, taking control of the towns and the jobs to the point where the West Papuans have been marginalised to near-extinction. Resistance results in death.
"Amnesty International puts the West Papuan death toll at anything between 100,000 to 400,000 in the last four decades. It's genocide, make no mistake."
Formerly a Dutch colony, West Papua was signed over to Indonesia following a military-supervised vote ironically called The Act of Free Choice in 1969.
The Indonesian government firmly rejected the possibility of a one-person, one-vote plebiscite, insisting instead on a series of local "consultations" with just over 1,000 hand-selected West Papuan "leaders" (out of an estimated population of 800,000), conducted with a presence of between 6,000-10,000 Indonesian troops spread throughout the territory.
The National Security Archive has since revealed declassified memos between the Indonesian and US governments detailing US support for Indonesia's heavy-handed takeover of West Papua despite overwhelming Papuan opposition and UN requirements for genuine self-determination.
As the US Embassy put it in a July 1969 telegram, two years after a 30 year license for Papuan mining rights in 1967 was sold by Indonesia to American company Freeport-McMoRan:
"The Act of Free Choice in West Papua is unfolding like a Greek Tragedy, the conclusion preordained. The main protagonist, the Government of Indonesia, cannot and will not permit any resolution other than the continued inclusion of West Papua in Indonesia. Dissident activity is likely to increase but the Indonesian armed forces wil be able to contain and, if necessary, suppress it."
Returning to London, Brown joined the Free West Papua Campaign and met with Benny Wenda, a former West Papuan clan leader whose family was killed in a Indonesian military bombing raid and who was granted political asylum in London after escaping from custody in West Papua.
Brown said: "I wanted to help bring attention to the situation which had been ignored because of the reporting ban. The only way of doing that was by going back with a video camera and filming undercover."
With the help of his London campaign activists he returned to West Papua under the guise of a tourist and was taken under the wing of local independence activists who escorted him on a two-week journey on foot and by car to the rebel HQ in the highlands of West Papua.
"I was extremely lucky. There were times when I thought I must have God on my side, like when we had to pass through a military checkpoint and I was in the back of a pickup, hiding under tarpaulin with my camera. They wanted to look underneath but it was raining so they just waved us through.
"Despite being protected by the rebels, there would have been no contest if I had been caught. You are talking men with bow and arrows fighting soldiers in helicopter gunships," he said.
The footage, which shows the rebels arriving at the highland camp and the ceremonial raising of the West Papuan Morning Flag, also includes an interview with polictical prisoner Yusak Pakage, who is serving 10 years for treason after being caught raising the flag in 2004. The interview was recorded in secret while activists distracted the guard assigned to the ward where Pakage was being treated for torture injuries.
Ignoring the West Papuan issue in his address to a crowd of about 6,500 at the University of Indonesia on Wednesday, Obama repeatedly sang the praises of Indonesia’s “remarkable” story of democratization, which saw a transition from “the rule of an iron fist to the rule of the people," adding: “In recent years, the world has watched with hope and admiration, as Indonesians embraced the peaceful transfer of power and the direct election of leaders."
Documentary produced by Dancing Turtle Films https://www.dancingturtle.com