Monday, June 18, 2018

1) How the black indigenes of West Papua are still fighting for independence since 1969

2) In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials

Face2Face Africa

1) How the black indigenes of West Papua are still fighting for independence since 1969
BY NDUTA WAWERU, at 06:39 am, June 18, 2018, HISTORY

                                                              Photo: Office of Benny Wenda

For over 50 years, the black indigenous community occupying the West Papua province of Indonesia have been fighting for their independence.
The region was annexed by Indonesia in 1969 as provided by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2504 (XXIV). The annexation was considered controversial as the Dutch, who had colonised the region considered West Papua geographically, ethnically and culturally  different from Indonesia. It, therefore, prepared the region for its own independence throughout the 1950s.  But this was not meant to be as Indonesia took over in 1962.

Presently, the people of West Papua are suffering at the hands of the Indonesian authorities, who have waged a war against them.
They consider themselves Melanesian, a group of people with dark skin, living in the highland western half of the island of New Guinea.
West Papua is home to at least 250 diverse tribes, each with its unique language and culture. Most of them still live traditional subsistence lifestyles.
According to human rights reports, over 500,000 people have been killed in the fight for independence. Thousands more have been tortured, raped, imprisoned and even made to disappear after detainment.
Aside from this, the people of West Papua do not have basic freedoms such as freedom of speech and they are living in constant state of fear and intimidation. Foreign media and human rights activists are restricted from the region, making it quite difficult to document the situation.
The resistance started way back but one of the most vital is in 1970 when an armed guerrilla movement called OPM (the Free Papua Movement) was formed. The OPM, armed mostly with bows and arrows, carried out a number of guerrilla attacks on the Indonesian military as well as multi-international establishments in the area.
A reprieve came in 1998 when the Indonesian dictator General H. Muhammad  Suharto died.  For the first time, the flag of West Papua was flown and a public congress was held in 2000. The congress reaffirmed the independence of West Papua and the Papuan Presidium Council (PDP) was established.

However, this reprieve was short-lived. The Indonesian military moved in and shot thousands of people, killing the president of the PDP Theys Eluay in 2001.

The fight of the West Papua people is still ongoing and it is being noticed by the international community.
In 2017, exiled West Papuan independence campaigner Benny Wenda presented a petition to the United Nations’ decolonisation committee, seeking the independence of the region.
The petition bore  1.8 million signatures of West Papuans, who put their lives in danger for signing it. The document was banned by the Indonesian government but found its way to Wenda who then presented it, saying:
The people have risked their lives, some have been beaten up, some are in prison. In 50 years, we have never done this before, and we had to organise this in secret. People were willing to carry it between villages, to smuggle it from one end of Papua to the other, because this petition is very significant for us in our struggle for freedom.
At the moment, the struggle continues.

2) In a land hit by the resource curse, a new gold mine spooks officials

by  on 17 June 2018

  • A company in Indonesia plans to start mining gold in a district in the country’s West Papua province that forms part of the ecologically important Cendrawasih Bay National Park — an ostensibly protected area.
  • The company is currently applying for an environmental impact assessment that would allow it to obtain a mining permit, but local officials involved in the process say they see little benefit to the proposed mine. They say they prefer a development model built on tourism based on the region’s rich biodiversity.
  • The district chief, who has the final say in issuing the permit, has signaled he approves of the project — flip-flopping on a pledge he made at the end of last year to prioritize an environment-focused development framework.
JAKARTA — Environmental officials have warned of the potentially catastrophic impact of a planned gold mine in a conservation zone in eastern Indonesia, amid mixed signals from the district chief responsible for approving the project.
The proposed mine would cover 233 square kilometers (90 square miles), an area four times the size of Manhattan, in Wondama Bay district in West Papua province. Eighty five percent of the district, though, sits within Cenderawasih Bay National Park, while parts of it also overlap onto or border the Wondiwoi Mountains Nature Reserve — both protected areas. The planned site also straddles the ancestral lands of three indigenous groups: the Kuri Wamesa, the Rasiei and the Naikere
The company applying for the mining permit, PT Abisha Bumi Persada (ABP), is based some 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) west, in the city of Bandung on the island of Java. It reportedly plans to operate for 15 years, and expects to mine 800,000 tons of ore per year, yielding 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of gold annually.

A company in Indonesia plans to mine for gold in Wondama Bay district in West Papua province, with the 
proposed site marked by the red pin. Much of the district falls within Cenderawasih Bay National Park, 
a protected area. Image by Google Maps.

Ben Saroy, head of the agency that manages Cenderawasih Bay National Park, warned that establishing a large-scale gold mine like ABP has proposed could damage the wider conservation area. Among his top concerns, he said, was the waste from the mining operations, such as mercury, that could pollute the environment and wind up in the food chain.
Mercury is often used to bind gold from ore, and is typically burned off and discarded afterward, eventually ending up in rivers. In 2017, the Indonesian government ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, committing to phase out the use of the heavy metal in small-scale gold mining by 2020.
“The impacts from any mercury contamination will be only apparent in 10 to 20 years, as babies are born blind, permanently disabled, and with other diseases,” Saroy told local media. “The waste must not be dumped into the sea.”
He also warned that tourist arrivals to the national park could go down “if they know that the area has been contaminated with mercury.”

ABP is reportedly in the process of obtaining an environmental impact assessment, known locally as an AMDAL, as a prerequisite for getting a mining permit.
Rudolf Rumbino, the head of the West Papua government’s environmental agency, said his office would not issue an AMDAL without assurances from environmental NGOs and the provincial government’s research and development agency that the benefits of the mine would outweigh any disruption to the environment.
“Although some of the local communities have given their support, we will rely on the advice of NGOs and the R&D agency because they know better about the positive and negative impacts from this mining,” he told local media.
Charlie Heatubun, who heads the R&D agency, was also skeptical about allowing gold mining in the district, saying it would create a lot of risks, including the further impoverishment of the local people.
“Gold mining promises quick profits for the area, but that profit may not be worth the negative impacts,” he told local media.
He said tourism remained the best option for the long-term development of Wondama Bay district. “If we develop tourism, we can ensure that the environment won’t be damaged,” he said. “The people can profit from the tourist visits and from related tourism businesses.”

A swath of rainforest in Indonesia that was destroyed for gold-mining operations. 
Image by Boyhaqie/Mongabay-Indonesia.

Prioritizing ecofriendly tourism over resource exploitation was the same argument used earlier by the Wondama Bay district chief, Bernadus Imburi, who has the final say on whether the mining permit is issued.
“We don’t have forests or gold that can be exploited to help [develop the economy] in this area,” Imburi said last December at the signing of an environment-focused development framework with representatives from WWF-Indonesia and Cenderawasih Bay National Park.
“We are confident that the potential of Cenderawasih Bay National Park and Wondiwoi Mountains National Reserve will serve as valuable capital to increase our regional revenue,” he added.
“The tourism sector is the only top priority for Wondama Bay district in increasing our local revenue.”
By February, however, Imburi appeared to have changed his mind, attending a discussion hosted by ABP with community representatives at which he spoke of a “win-win” situation for all sides.
“I hope [ABP] manages everything by the book so that the company can operate and the local people can also live,” he said as quoted by local media.
The discussion was part of ABP’s AMDAL obligation to allow communities that would be affected by its proposed operations a chance to weigh in. The district chief, though, appeared to discourage any opposition when he told those in attendance that “the local people must not act in such a way that the company can’t proceed.”
In any case, there was little pushback from the community representatives, who said they approved of the proposed mining operation, as long as their rights as indigenous people were upheld and they weren’t “disadvantaged” further down the road. They also called on ABP to prioritize the hiring of workers from local communities over those from outside.

The pristine forests of West Papua are being increasingly targeted for mines and plantations. 
Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.

The Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea, administratively split into the provinces of West Papua and Papua, is all too familiar with the “resource curse.”
For decades, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Freeport McMoRan has run the world’s biggest copper and gold mine, Grasberg, in Papua province. But its operations, wildly profitable for the company and for the central government in Jakarta, have done little for the development of local communities. Papua and West Papua remain the most impoverished provinces in Indonesia, with life expectancies and infant and maternal mortality rates that are among the worst in Asia.
Freeport’s subsidiary has also long been criticized for a litany of environmental offenses, as well as for funding security forces that have been widely accused of rights violations against indigenous Papuans.
In recent years, another resource has threatened to destroy the ancient and pristine rainforests that make the island a biodiversity hotspot like no other: palm oil. Major plantation operators, having largely depleted the forests of Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo, are now increasingly eyeing the vast, untouched wildernesses of Papua and West Papua.
Charlie Heatubun, the West Papua R&D agency head, summed up the quandary of a region awash in natural wealth but falling short of most human development metrics: “Right now, we may be [financially] poor, but we are so rich in natural resources. We could end up being poor in both ways, and that’s a huge problem.”
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