Proposal to boost Indonesian military’s powers ‘dangerous for democracy’

Arie Firdaus 2023.05.31 Jakarta

A proposal to establish a regional command for the army in each of Indonesia’s 38 provinces has sparked an outcry from human rights and security experts, who fear it could herald the return of the military’s dominance over civilian affairs that ended with the fall of autocratic President Suharto in 1998.

The plan comes amid efforts by the military to revise a 2004 law that regulates its role and function, seeking to expand its involvement in government agencies and other non-military domains.

Indonesian Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dudung Abdurachman said in May the military wanted to establish 23 new regional commands, known as Kodam, to improve the army’s readiness and responsiveness in case of emergencies or threats. The plan has the backing of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Armed Forces Chief Adm. Yudo Margono, he said.

But the twin proposals have come under fire by human rights groups, who are wary of the military’s history of violent suppression across the archipelago. 

The Setara Institute, a human rights watchdog, said the plan would blur the line between military and civilian roles and reverse progress made by the reform movement that ousted Suharto.

During Suharto’s 32-year rule, the military had a prominent role in politics and society, with officers appointed to civilian posts at various levels of government, enabling the “New Order” regime to take an iron-firsted approach against dissent.

“The idea of adding regional commands and revising the TNI law reeks of expanding the military’s role in the civilian sphere,” said Ikhsan Yosarie, a researcher at Setara, referring to the Indonesian National Armed Forces by their acronym.

“Reform should push the TNI to focus on defense capabilities, not regress to the New Order era.”

The initiative to revise Law No. 34 of 2004 was intended to accommodate a larger role for the military in state affairs and enhance its professionalism, Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Hamim Tohari said.

The proposal seeks to amend 15 articles in the law, including allowing active-duty officers to hold more civilian posts, diluting the authority of the president over the armed forces and increasing the types of missions the military can carry out. 

If passed, the law would expand military operations beyond defensive roles to supporting local governments, helping the police maintain security and public order, and assisting with disaster management, counterterrorism, border control and maritime security.

“Threats and challenges are becoming more complex. The army must adapt to these dynamics,” Tohari told BenarNews.

But Al Araf, a security expert and director of think tank the Centra Initiative, said these changes were unnecessary and dangerous for democracy. He argued that using soldiers as a security tool like police officers was wrong because they were trained for war.

“Putting military functions as a state security tool is wrong and dangerous for democracy because the military can be used to deal with people if they are considered state security threats,” he said.

An illiberal turn?

Some analysts have said that President Joko Widodo, who is popularly known as Jokowi, has overseen a period of democratic regression and increasing illiberalism since he took office in 2014. 

One sign is the influence of former military officers from Suharto’s era in his administration, they said.

Natalie Sambhi, an expert on Indonesian security affairs at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., wrote in a 2021 report that Jokowi has appointed several retired generals to key positions in his cabinet, relied on the army’s territorial system for development projects and allowed former officers to shape public discourse and policy.

“While the military’s influence is not new, Jokowi’s lack of familiarity not just with security affairs but his lack of background from the political and military elite has necessitated the active courting of relationships with power brokers in the armed forces,” she wrote.

Jokowi’s lack of ideological commitment to democracy or liberalism has made him comfortable with delegating security matters to trusted military figures who have shown little respect for human rights and civil liberties, she added.

The report said that Jokowi’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic had intensified “the military’s de facto ‘dual function’” of playing both security and political roles.

Suharto used his control over the military to suppress dissent and secure his re-election every five years. Though governments afterwards have reduced the military’s role in politics and society, it still wields considerable influence and prestige.

The plan to create new garrisons follows the establishment of four new provinces in the restive Papua region last year.

The government said the move would boost development and public services in the region, which has long lagged behind other parts of Indonesia.

But some Papuans and human rights activists have expressed concerns that the new provinces would dilute the political representation and cultural identity of indigenous Papuans. 

They also fear that the increased military presence would lead to more violence and human rights violations in a region that has witnessed decades of conflict between separatist rebels and security forces.

Tubagus Hasanuddin, a member of the House of Representatives’ defense commission, said there was no need to add new regional commands or expand their tasks.

Hasanuddin, who is from Jokowi’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), said that using threats as a pretext for such moves was “illogical.”

“It has no urgency,” he said. “What is needed is improving and modernizing weaponry.”

The plan has also been criticized by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who chairs the PDIP.

West Papua, Southwest Papua acting governors send off Hajj pilgrims  

Manokwari (ANTARA) – West Papua Acting Governor Paulus Waterpauw and Southwest Papua Acting Governor Muhammad Musa’ad sent off 723 Hajj pilgrims of the two provinces departing from Makassar for Saudi Arabia, Monday.

The Hajj pilgrims are scheduled to depart for the Holy Land from the Hajj Embarkation Point of Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Monday. The West Papuan Hajj pilgrims belong to flight groups 19 and 20 in this year’s Hajj season.

“We would like to ask you, while performing the fifth pillar of Islam in the Holy Land, to pray for the people and the governments of West Papua and Southwest Papua,” Governor Waterpauw stated when contacted in Manokwari.

He also highlighted the theme of this year’s Hajj — “Elderly-friendly Hajj” — while urging the Religious Affairs Ministry and the teams it formed to make all-out efforts to accompany the elderly pilgrims and comply with all the applicable rules during the holy journey.

“Hopefully, all Hajj pilgrims will always be blessed with health and strength to properly perform the Hajj pilgrimage. I would also like to extend gratitude to the Religious Affairs Office of West Papua Province and all related parties that have supported the implementation of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage,” he added.

The governor also drew attention to the presence of heads of local governments of the two provinces during the ceremony, saying that their presence serves as proof of the governments’ care for the people.

“I would also like to remind you all that the world is currently being hit by extremely hot weather, so it is essential to prepare all the required equipment to support your pilgrimage activities,” Waterpauw noted.

Earlier, the flight group 19 arrived at the Makassar Embarkation Point on June 3, while the group 20 arrived a day later. 

West Papuan ‘provisional’ government backs full membership of MSG 

By APR editor –  June 6, 2023

Asia Pacific Report

The self-styled provisional government of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua
“with the people” of the Melanesian region have declared political support for full West Papuan membership of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

In a statement issued in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila after a meeting of thew ULMWP executive in Jayapura last Sunday, West Papua Council chair Buchtar Tabuni said full membership of the MSG would be a “sign of victory” for the Papuan nation seeking to become independent from Indonesia.

“[West Papua] membership in the MSG is our safety [net]. The MSG is one of the UN [recognised] agencies in the Melanesian sub-region, as well as the PIF [Pacific Islands Forum] and others,” he said.

“For this reason, West Papua’s full membership in the MSG will later be a sign of
safety for the Papuan people to become independent”.

The declaration of support was attended by executive, legislative and judiciary leaders who expressed their backing for full MSG membership status for the ULMWP in the MSG by signing the text.

Representing the executive, Reverend Edison K. Waromi declared in a speech: “Our agenda today [is] how to consolidate totality for full membership [ULMWP at MSG].

“Let’s work hand in hand to follow up on President Benny Wenda’s instructions to focus on lobbying and consolidating totality towards full membership of the MSG.”

‘Bargaining position’
This was how he ULMWP could “raise our bargaining political position” through sub-regional, regional and international diplomacy to gain self-determination.

Judicial chair Diaz Gwijangge said that many struggle leaders had died on this land and wherever they were.

“Today the struggle is not sporadic . . .  the struggle is now being led by educated people who are supported by the people of West Papua, and now it is already at a high level, where we also have relations with other officially independent countries and can sit with them,” he said.

“This is extraordinary progress. As Melanesians, the owners of this country, who know our Papuan customs and culture that when we want to go to war, we have to go to the wim haus [war house].

“Today, Mr Benny Wenda, together with other diplomats, have entered the Melanesian and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, and more states [are] running.”

Gwijangge added that now “we don’t just scream in the forest, shout only outside, or only on social media”.

“Today we are able to sit down and meet with the presidents of independent countries . . .”

Legal basis for support
The events of today’s declaration were the legal basis for political support from the leadership of the provisional government of the ULMWP, he said.

“For this reason, to all the people of West Papua in the mountains, coasts and islands that we carry out prayers, all peaceful action in the context of the success of full membership in the MSG.

“As chairman of the judicial council, I enthusiastically support this activity.”

In February, Barak Sope, a former prime minister of Vanuatu, called for Indonesia’s removal from the MSG.

Despite being an associate member, Indonesia should not be a part of the Melanesian organisation, Sope said.

His statement came in response to the MSG’s revent decision to hire Indonesian consultants.

Sope first brought West Papuan refugees to Vanuatu in 1980.

The same month, new Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka declared support for full West Papuan membership of the MSG.

Churches call for halt to appeal in Viktor Yeimo’s case

News Desk – Viktor Yeimo’s Treason Trial

Moderator of the Papua Council of Churches, Rev. Benny Giay (right) hands over a letter from the Papua Council of Churches to the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office, on Tuesday (16/5/2023). Through the letter, the Council of Churches asked the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office to stop appealing the verdict of the Jayapura District Court that declared the International Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee, Viktor Yeimo, not guilty of treason. – Doc. Papua Council of Churches

 23 May 2023

Jayapura, Jubi – Rev. Benny Giay, the Moderator of the Papua Council of Churches, paid a visit to the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office in Jayapura City on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. His purpose was to request that the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office refrain from appealing the verdict of the Jayapura District Court in the treason case against Viktor Yeimo.

Giay was received by a prosecutor and they engaged in a discussion regarding the court decision concerning Viktor Yeimo, the International Spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB)

According to Giay, the meeting lasted approximately 90 minutes. He mentioned that he handed over a letter from the Papuan Council of Churches to the head of the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office during the meeting. Giay emphasized that the Jayapura District Court had acquitted Viktor Yeimo of treason charges, and he appealed to the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office not to challenge the verdict.

“When we met at the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday, the meeting went smoothly. We have submitted a letter requesting the cessation of appeal actions by the High Prosecutor’s Office,” Giay stated in an interview with Jubi.

Viktor Yeimo’s case pertained to his alleged involvement in the Papuan anti-racism protest, which aimed to denounce the racial insults directed at Papuan students in Surabaya on August 16, 2019. The case was reviewed by a panel of judges led by chief judge Mathius and accompanied by member judges Andi Asmuruf and Linn Carol Hamadi.

On February 21, 2021, the Public Prosecutor charged Viktor Yeimo with treason for playing a leading role in the demonstrations that occurred in Jayapura City on August 19 and 29, 2019. In the initial indictment, Yeimo faced charges of conspiracy, incitement, and active participation in treason, as specified under Article 106 in conjunction with Article 55 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code.

In the second indictment, Yeimo faced charges of conspiring to commit treason, as outlined in Article 110 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code. The third indictment accuses Yeimo of encouraging, commanding, or participating in acts that provide opportunities for treason, as stated in Article 110, paragraph (2). Lastly, in the fourth indictment, Yeimo is charged with incitement, either verbally or in writing, to commit criminal acts, engage in violence against public authorities, or disregard legal provisions or official orders, as specified in Article 160 of the Criminal Code in conjunction with Article 55 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code.

On April 27, 2023, Viktor Yeimo was convicted of treason under the first count of Article 106 by the public prosecutor. The prosecutor recommended a 3-year prison sentence for Viktor Yeimo.

However, in the verdict announced on May 5, 2023, the Panel of Judges concluded that the four charges brought by the public prosecutor against Viktor Yeimo were not substantiated.

Instead, the Panel of Judges found Yeimo guilty of violating Article 155 paragraph (1) of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to eight months of imprisonment.

However, the verdict against Viktor Yeimo was based on an article that had been invalidated by the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court Decision No. 6/PUU-V/2007, announced on July 17, 2007, declared Articles 154 and 155 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional, rendering them legally void.

Recently on May 12, the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal against the decision made by the Jayapura District Court. The appeal was submitted by public prosecutor Yanuar Fihawiano.

The Papua Council of Churches perceives the appeal as an indication of the state’s attempt to perpetuate racism against the indigenous Papuans. “There is an intention by the state to perpetuate racism against indigenous Papuans,” Giay said.

He demanded the Papua High Prosecutor’s Office to respect the rights of Papuans, including Viktor Yeimo, to express their opposition to racial discrimination against Papuans.

“Viktor Yeimo is a victim of a system that neglects the human rights of Papuans,” said Giay. (*)

Wenda calls on Papuan rebels to free NZ pilot ‘unconditionally’ 

By APR editor –  June 4, 2023

Asia Pacific Report

The president of a West Papuan advocacy group has appealed to the militants holding New Zealand pilot Philip Mehrtens hostage to free him unconditionally and unharmed, describing him as an “innocent pawn”.

United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) president Benny Wenda said he held  “deepest concern” for the life of Mehrtens, captured on February 7 by guerillas fighting for the independence of Papua.

Fighters of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), armed wing of the rebel West Papua Organisation (OPM), have demanded third party negotiations for independence and have recently called for Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape as a “mediator”.

“Currently, the priority of all parties involved in this tragic ordeal is to help and assist the pilot to return home safely and rejoin his family and friends,” said Wenda in a statement.

He condemned the impact of the “brutal martial law” imposed by Indonesian security forces in the West Papua region.

“Philip Mehrtens’ condition is being made significantly more precarious by the Indonesian government’s refusal of outside aid and determination to use military means,” he said.

Jakarta’s aggressive stance went hand-in-hand with its increased militarisation of the region.

Mehrtens ‘innocent human being’
“Mehrtens is an innocent human being who has been unwittingly made into a pawn in a decades-old conflict between the colonial power of Indonesia and the indigenous resistance of West Papua.

“Therefore, securing Mehrtens’ safe return must be the top priority for all parties involved, as his life has been thrown into chaos through no fault of his own.”

Wenda said he was aware of a threat made by the TPNPB last week to shoot the pilot.

“It is indeed tragic that the life of the pilot is at risk, and I understand where the Liberation Army is coming from; however, I cannot comprehend why the blood of an innocent family man should be shed on our ancestral land.

“For more than 60 years, the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocent Papuans has been shed on this sacred land as a result of Indonesian military operations.

“We do not need to shed the blood of another innocent.

“As Papuans, we do not take innocent lives; nor do we have a tradition of genocide, killings, massacres, or land theft.

Peaceful resolution
“This is not a teaching handed down from our ancestors. We have dignity and tradition and as our ancestors always taught us, the killing of an innocent person is strictly prohibited.

“We believe in this, and every Papuan knows it.

Wenda said the ULMWP sought a peaceful resolution to “reclaim our stolen sovereignty”.

“This does not imply that we are weak or ineffective, nor does it indicate that the international community has turned a blind eye to the crimes committed by the Indonesian security forces.

“The world is currently watching Indonesia closely due to their inhumane treatment, barbaric behaviours, genocidal policies, ecocide, and acts of terror against our people.

In a message to the TPNPB, he warned the rebels to “reconsider the threat” made against and what the pilot’s death would “mean to his grieving family, as well as to our national liberation cause”.

“All West Papuans know that international law is on our side: Indonesia’s military occupation and initial claim on West Papua being clearly wrong under international law.

“But so too is taking the life of an innocent person who is not involved in the conflict.

Wenda said it should never be forgotten that “truth is on our side and Jakarta knows it”.

“One day we will win. Light will always overcome darkness.”

Mourning for Beanal

Meanwhile, West Papuans have mourned the death of Tom Beanal, a freedom fighter, head of the Papua Presidium Council, and leader of the Amungme Tribal Council.

Wenda said that on behalf of the ULMWP and the West Papuan people, he expressed sympathy and condolences to Beanal’s family, friends, and “everyone he inspired to join the struggle”.

Tom Beanal was a member of the Amungme tribe. Along with the Kamoro people, the Amungme have been the primary victims of the struggle over the Grasberg Mine, the world’s largest gold and second largest copper mine. It is opened and operated by the US mining company Freeport McMoran.

“Amungme and Kamoro people are the indigenous landowners – tribes who have tended and protected their forest for thousands of years. But they have been forced to watch as their lands have been destroyed, physically and spiritually, by an alliance of big corporations and the Indonesian government,” Wenda said.


Compromise worked in Aceh – why not Papua?


Detailed map of Oceania with countries,main cities

By Duncan Graham

 May 30, 2023

There are parallels between Indonesia’s Aceh where an Ozzie surfer faced a flogging, and Papua where a Kiwi pilot is facing death. Both provinces have fought brutal guerrilla wars for independence. One has been settled through foreign peacekeepers. The other still rages as outsiders fear intervention.

There were ten stories in a Google Alert media feed last week for ‘Indonesia-Australia’.

One covered illegal fishing in the Indo-Pacific claiming economic losses of more than US $6 billion a year – important indeed.

Another was an update on the plight of NZ pilot Philip Mehrtens, held hostage since February by the Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat (TPNPB West Papua National Liberation Army).

This is the armed wing of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, (OPM Free Papua Organisation) that’s been pushing its cause since the 1970s.

A major story by any measure. The Indonesian military’s inability to find and safely secure the Kiwi has the potential to cause serious diplomatic rifts and great harm to all parties.

There have been unverified reports of bombs dropped from helicopters on jungle camps where the pilot may have been held with uninvolved civilians.

The other eight stories were about Queenslander Bodhi Mani Risby-Jones who’d been arrested in April for allegedly going on a nude drunken rampage and bashing a local in Indonesian Aceh.

Had the 23-year-old surfer been a fool in his home country the yarn would have been a yawn. Such stupidities are commonplace.

But because he chose to be a slob in the strictly Muslim province of Aceh and is facing up to five years jail plus a public flogging, his plight opened the issue of cultural differences and tourist arrogance. Small news, but legitimate.

He’s now reportedly done a $25,000 deal to buy his way out of charges and pay restitution to his victim. This shows a flexible social and legal system displaying tolerance – which is how Christians are supposed to behave.

All noteworthy, easy to grasp. But more important than the threatened execution of an innocent victim of circumstances caught in a complex dispute that needs detailed explanations to understand?

Mehrtens landed a commercial company’s plane as part of his job flying people and goods into isolated airstrips when he was grabbed by armed men desperate to get Jakarta to pay attention to their grievances.

Ironically, Aceh where Risby-Jones got himself into strife, had also fought for independence and won. Like West Papua, it’s resource-rich so essential for the central government’s economy.

A vicious on-off war between the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, (GAM – Free Aceh Movement) and the Indonesian military started in 1976 and reportedly took up to 30,000 lives across the following three decades.

It only ended when the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami killed 160,000 and former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected president and revived peace talks. Other countries became involved, including the European Union and Finland where the Helsinki Agreement was signed.

Both sides bent. GAM leaders abandoned their demands for independence, settling for ‘self-government’ within the Indonesian state, while soldiers were withdrawn. The bombings have stopped but at the cost of personal freedoms and angering human rights advocates.

Freed from Jakarta’s control, the province passed strict Shariah laws. These include public floggings for homosexual acts, drinking booze and being close to an opposite sex person who’s not a relative. Morality Police patrols prowl shady spots, alert to any signs of affection.

Australian academic and former journalist Damien Kingsbury was also instrumental in getting GAM and Jakarta to talk. He was involved with the Papua standoff earlier this year but NZ is now using its own to negotiate.

Kingsbury told the ABC the situation in Papua is at a stalemate with neither Wellington nor Jakarta willing to make concessions. The Indonesian electorate has no truck for separatists so wants a bang-bang fix. NZ urges a softly-slowly approach.

A TPNPB spokesperson told the BBC: ‘The Indonesian government has to be bold and sit with us at a negotiation table and not [deploy] military and police to search for the pilot.’

The 2005 Aceh resolution means the Papua fighters have a strong model of what’s possible when other countries intervene. So far it seems none have dared, fearing the wrath of nationalists who believe Western states, and particularly Australia, are trying to ‘Balkanise’ the ‘unitary state’ and plunder its riches.

This theory was given energy when Australia supported the 1999 East Timor referendum which led to the province splitting from Indonesia and becoming a separate nation.

Should Australia try to act as a go-between in the Papua conflict, we’d be dragged into the upcoming Presidential election campaign with outraged candidates thumping lecterns claiming outside interference. That’s something no one wants but sitting on hands won’t help Mehrtens.

In the meantime, Risby-Jones, whose boorish behaviour has confirmed Indonesian prejudices about Oz oafs, is expected to be deported.

Mehrtens will only get to tell his tale if the Indonesian government shows the forbearance displayed by the family of Edi Ron. The Aceh fisherman needed 50 stitches and copped broken bones and an infected foot from his Aussie encounter, but still shook hands.

After weeks in a cell the surfer has shown contrition and apologised. Australian ‘proceedings of crime’ lawsshould prevent him earning from his ordeal.

If the Kiwi pilot does get out alive, he deserves the media attention lavished on the Australian. This might shift international interest from a zonked twit to the issue of Papua’s independence and remind diplomats that if Jakarta could bend in the far west of the archipelago, why not in the far east?

Lest Indonesians forget: Around 100,000 revolutionaries died during the four-year war against the returning colonial Dutch after Soekarno proclaimed independence in 1945. The Hollanders only retreated after external pressure from the US and Australia.

Duncan Graham 

 Duncan Graham has been a journalist for more than 40 years in print, radio and TV. He is the author of People Next Door (UWA Press) and winner of the Walkley Award and Human Rights awards. He is now writing for the English language media in Indonesia from within Indonesia.

Indonesia Refuses International Aid to Free New Zealand Pilot

Translator Dewi Elvia Muthiariny Editor Mahinda Arkyasa 29 May 2023 23:36 WIB TEMPO.COJakarta – Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud Md explained the reason why the government refused international assistance to release New Zealand pilot Captain Philips Max Mehrtens who is being held hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army-Free Papua Organization (TPNPB-OPM). The involvement of international institutions, he argued, will only make the case worse. “We will handle it internally. Our policy is not to involve other countries and this is internal issues. And we can do it whatever the stakes are. International communities are not allowed to join the case,” Mahfud said when met in South Jakarta on Monday, May 29, 2023.If the government receives assistance from international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), then other international institutions will intervene in the case, including even the United Nations (UN).“So, we reject any attempts of international interference offered by NGOs, by international NGOs,” Mahfud underlined.OPM threatens to shoot Susi Air Pilot in two monthsOn Friday, May 27, TPNPB-OPM spokesperson Sebby Sambom sent a video showing a “visibly emaciated” Mehrtens surrounded by Egianus Kogoya and his fighters. Mehrtens said the rebel group will shoot him if other countries did not urge Indonesia to recognize Papua’s independence.In the same video, Kogoya threatens to shoot the New Zealander if Indonesia does not recognize Papua’s independence within two months.The Papuan separatist group has been holding Mehrtens hostage since February 7, 2023, right after the latter landed the Susi Air aircraft with flight number SI 9368 at Paro Airport, Nduga Regency, Pegunungan Papua Province. They ambushed the plane and set it on fire. After releasing the passengers, they took Mehrtens hostage.The government dispatched the Damai Cartenz Task Force to carry out an operation to rescue the Susi Air pilot. However, the effort came to no avail to date. In April, Mahfud stated that the rescue operation was hampered because the TPNPB-OPM made Philips Max Mehrtens, women, and children as human shields.M JULNIS FIRMANSYAH | EKA YUDHA SAPUTRA

Green” finance bankrolls forest destruction in Indonesia

Published on 01/06/2023, 2:00am

Green funds have been spent cutting down trees for biomass to make electricity, decimating the traditional food sources of indigenous people

By The Gecko Project

Millions of dollars in green financing intended to help Indonesia reduce its carbon emissions have been invested in a project that is destroying rainforest in Papua.

The money has been used to help an Indonesian conglomerate, Medco Group construct a biomass power plant that makes electricity from burning wood.

Medco has already cleared large tracts of rainforest, establishing timber plantations in its place.

As a result of the financing, it plans to expand its plantations by at least 2,500 hectares – seven times the size of New York’s Central Park – and cut down more rainforest.

The project has made it harder for Marind people, hunter-gatherers indigenous to the lowlands of Papua, to find food to eat.

With food in the shops expensive, many families are going hungry, eating meals consisting solely of rice. Children have died of malnutrition.

Rainforest to wood chips

Medco’s project started in the late 2000s, as part of Indonesia’s push to convert southern Papua into a source of food and energy.

The company’s initial plan was to plant a vast timber plantation that would produce wood chips for export.

Medco obtained a licence for some 170,000 hectares of land, overlapping substantially with the ancestral territory of Marind people living in Zanegi village.

FSC’s rehab scheme for forest destroyers under fire after fresh allegations

Before the deforestation began, villagers said, they could find food a few steps from their homes.

It was common to see cassowaries – a flightless bird similar to a turkey – in their backyards.

Boar and kangaroos roamed around the village, and the swamps were full of fish.

Early promises

Still, some villagers welcomed the arrival of Medco. The company assuaged concerns by handing out cash and promising jobs, support for children’s education and a new school, church and health facilities.

The company signed a written agreement in 2009 committing it to protect sacred places, areas of cultural importance, hunting grounds, and what Medco described as “other places considered important to the community.”

“At the beginning, it was good, because the people got jobs,” said Amandus Gebze, a Marind father of nine. “Everyone was involved in the work, there were no exceptions.”

But within a few years, the villagers were fired. The regular income Medco had provided dried up, replaced mostly with irregular work picking up small pieces of wood for $5 a cubic metre.

Asked why the employees had lost their jobs, Medco said that it stopped clearing the forest in 2014 because it was losing money. But it added that it had switched from employing staff directly, to working 

through “contractors or third parties.”

The company then suggested the villagers had lost their jobs because they were unable to “comply with company regulations” and were “often absent,” and were therefore considered to have resigned.

Food sources wrecked

Some villagers returned to hunting to provide food for their families. But Medco had replaced a ten kilometre wide stretch of natural forest with a man-made plantation of identical trees.

In interviews, nine villagers said it had become significantly harder to source their traditional foods.

They now had to roam up to 15 kilometres away to hunt cassowaries or deer and often returned empty-handed several days in a row.

The groves of sago, which produce a starchy staple food like tapioca, had been spared from clearing. But the denuded landscape meant they’d been ruined by mud and chemicals.

With free local food sources drying up, the villagers are forced to buy food that comes in by pick-up track and often costs more than it would in a high-end supermarket in Indonesia’s big cities.

Empty rice

Without a secure income and their traditional food sources declining, some villagers told us it has become common for them to eat only rice, a meal they refer to as nasi kosong or “empty rice.”

The Gecko Project observed Amandus Gebze’s family prepare a breakfast of rice with two packets of noodles, split between the parents and six siblings.

Some families will sprinkle pepper on the rice to make it edible. Others will pour salt water on it or just drink large quantities of water to help them swallow it.

In April 2022, health workers stationed in the village told the Gecko Project that four children were stunted and eight pregnant women were suffering from chronic energy deficiency, a health risk to them and their babies.

Health records obtained during an investigation by the Indonesian newspaper Kompas in August last year showed that around a third of young children measured were stunted.

Since 2012, there have been reports of a total of nine malnourished children from Zanegi dying. Indonesian newspaper Kompas found that between 2019 and 2021, one family alone lost three children.

Not our fault

Medco rejected the suggestion that this could be linked to its project. “Medco Papua’s operations do not cause malnutrition,” it wrote. “No community food sources were disturbed.”

However, it also said that the “allegations presented by The Gecko Project regarding malnutrition incidents require further in-depth investigation”.

Medco denied making promises to the community, beyond the written agreement to protect their food sources and other key areas.

It insisted that it had made efforts to help improve the plight of the community, despite its project losing money.

Green funding boost

Medco claimed that its project’s progress was limited to 3,000 hectares of land because it was not financially viable.

This is supported by satellite imagery, which shows the forests around Zanegi being cleared rapidly after 2010, then largely stopping in 2014.

But in 2017, the Indonesian government gave Medco’s failing project a new lease of life.

It provided financing to help Medco construct a new biomass power plant 20 kilometres away from Zanegi while the state-owned electricity company committed to buying the energy it would generate.

Satellite imagery shows the new power plant emerging, 20 kilometres south-east of Zanegi, in late 2018. In 2021, it also shows deforestation resuming, north of Zanegi.

The backers – SMI

The first tranche of government funding came from PT Sarana Multi Infrastruktur (SMI), a state-owned company under the control of the Ministry of Finance.

In 2017, it provided 60 billion rupiah ($4.5 million) in “project financing” for the power plant.

SMI was established in 2009 to provide infrastructure financing, but has been increasingly focused on helping Indonesia meet its climate change commitments.

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Its 2017 sustainability report suggested that Medco’s power plant could help Indonesia deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In a 2020 presentation, an SMI director presented the plant as an example of “financing to contribute towards climate change mitigation”.

This was despite nonprofits saying publicly, including to the UN, that the Medco project was making the Marind go hungry.

SMI declined to comment.

The backers – IEF

In 2021, the energy ministry and Medco said that another government fund, the Indonesian Environment Fund (IEF), had also provided “funding support” for the biomass power plant.

Budi Basuki, a senior Medco executive, said that the total funding had reached 140 billion rupiah, more than $9 million.

The IEF was established in 2019 as a body that could be used to channel investments to protect the environment.

When it received IEF’s support, Medco had already cleared an estimated 3,000 hectares of forest.

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The company said it needs to almost double the size of its plantation to meet the demands of the power plant, and that it would continue to use wood harvested from the forest as it is cleared.

It also hopes to triple the capacity of the plant, creating demand for more land and wood.

Government maps show that as of 2012, large areas of its concession were intact, or “primary”, rainforest and swamp forests.

Analysis of satellite imagery by The Gecko Project indicates that the area remains largely undisturbed. These landscapes hold large amounts of carbon that are released if they are cleared.

Endah Tri Kurniawaty, of the IEF, said that the area had been designated a “production forest” and said that it was therefore legitimate for Medco to cut the forest and replace it with a plantation. “According to the existing

 laws and regulations, they may do that,” she said.

Co-firing to net zero

The Indonesian government’s support for biomass in Papua is not an aberration.

Rather than shutting down its coal-fired power plants, it plans to keep the furnaces burning but phase out a portion of the fossil fuels by “co-firing” with biomass.

Last June, the energy minister Arifin Tasrif, identified this kind of “co-firing” as central to its strategy for reducing emissions from coal.

While the Merauke operation is small compared to the network of vast power plants spread across Indonesia, dozens of them are also burning biomass.

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The state energy company, PLN, announced in 2022 that it planned to increase its use of biomass five-fold over the next year, and had set a target of burning 10.2 million tonnes across more than 50 power plants by 2025.

According to PLN, by 2022 the majority of its biomass came from waste, like sawdust, rice or palm oil husks. But to meet the massively growing demand it needs timber plantations.

The environment ministry has rallied behind the policy.

At the UN climate conference in Egypt last November, Agus Justianto, the director general of sustainable forest management, said that it would “promote plantation forests for energy development” and that more than a million 

hectares of “production forest” could be used.

Trend Asia, a nonprofit organisation that has been monitoring the policy, calculated that meeting this demand would require at least 2.3 million hectares of land to be converted to plantations – an area half the size of Denmark.

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Timber plantations can be established on “degraded” lands, as the government has suggested could happen now. But as with Medco’s project, they have often been planted in place of rainforests, which has the advantage for

 investors of generating a steady-stream of timber before the plantations reach maturity.

“The use of biomass is renewable in theory, but in practice it is not,” said Yuyun Indradi of Trend Asia. “Timber plantations have been a major driver of deforestation. So our concern is that it’s very likely this will trigger deforestation.”

“There’s no hope”

In Zanegi, the Marind have now spent more than a decade observing how policies decided thousands of miles away – and the whims of a corporation – can influence their lives.

Natalia Mahuze, wife of Amandus Gebze, stood barefoot with her three-year old son Efrem under the shade of a tree outside the Zanegi village health centre in April 2022.

The midwife emerged with a digital body-weight scale. She called Efrem’s name and his mother guided him into the scale: 10.7 kilograms – underweight for his age.

The midwife handed Efrem a pack of biscuits to supplement his diet, and took a photo of him holding the packet with her mobile phone. She gave another to his mother.

“Please don’t share these with his siblings,” the midwife told Natalia. “They’re only for him.”

Efrem was born around the time Medco completed construction of its power plant in Merauke.

“It used to be good,” Natalia said. “It’s really hard now.”

Her husband Amandus, once optimistic about Medco’s project, questioned whether it would ever deliver for his family.

“If they want to develop the community, they’ll need more of our territory,” he said. “If we have to give them more land, is there any chance they’ll show more concern for us? There’s no hope.”

This story was published in collaboration with Gecko Project, Project Multatuli, Mongabay and Climate Home News. —————————————-

Discrimination against victims’ families revealed in Mimika murrder trial: Komnas HAM

Police inspect relatives of the Mimika murder and mutilation victims who were about to attend the trial of the case at the Timika City District Court, Tuesday (2/5/2023). – Jubi/Rabin Yarangga

News Desk – Mimika Murder And Mutilation Trial 

2 June 2023

Jayapura, Jubi – Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) Atnike Nova Sigiro reports that the Timika District Court’s trial has shown discrimination against the families of the victims in the Mimika murder and mutilation case.

The four defendants accused of murder and mutilation are Roy Marten Howay, Andre Pudjianto Lee, Dul Umam, and Rafles Lakasa. The incident took place in Settlement Unit 1, Mimika Baru District, Mimika Regency on August 22, 2022. The victims were four Nduga residents named Arnold Lokbere, Irian Nirigi, Lemaniel Nirigi, and Atis Tini.

During the trial proceedings, Sigiro said on May 31, the victims’ families faced different treatment. One aspect of this mistreatment was the rigorous inspection of their belongings, which occurred twice: when entering the Court building and when entering the courtroom.

The security forces in Timika conducted these inspections. Additionally, Komnas HAM noted that the number of family members allowed to attend the trial was restricted to a maximum of 20 individuals, despite the courtroom appearing spacious enough to accommodate more people.

“Another notable observation was the presence of heavily armed security personnel throughout the trial process. The security was provided by members of the Mimika Police, Babinsa, and Brimob,” Sigiro added.

Sigiro said Komnas HAM had requested the Timika District Court to establish clear and legally binding regulations regarding access to trials. These regulations should ensure equal opportunities for everyone and guarantee that there are no restrictions imposed on the families of victims when entering the courtroom.

Furthermore, Komnas HAM urged the Mimika Police chief to maintain adequate security during the trial in a proportionate manner that does not instill fear or apprehension among trial attendees.

Komnas HAM has also requested the Timika District Attorney to conduct a thorough evaluation of the coordination mechanism in the murder and mutilation case. This evaluation is necessary due to multiple postponements of the trial process, which were attributed to the prosecutor’s negligence. The judges have reportedly rescheduled the trial for this case eight times.

In a separate statement, Helmi, a member of the Papua Coalition of Law Enforcement and Human Rights acting as the legal representative of the victim’s family, emphasized that the inspection experienced by the family of victims should strictly adhere to the regulations outlined in the trial rules.

Helmi emphasized that, as per the regulations, only court security officers are granted the authority to carry out luggage searches during court proceedings.

“Any individuals other than Court Security Officers are prohibited from conducting luggage checks on court visitors,” Helmi told Jubi on Thursday, June 1, 2023.

Final stage of trial

The trial proceedings for the Mimika murder and mutilation case have reached their final stage. On May 8, 2023, the public prosecutor presented the charges, asserting that Andre Pudjianto Lee, Dul Umam, and Rafles Lakasa had been proven to have committed premeditated murder together. According to the prosecutor, their actions of premeditated murder disrupted the stability and security of Timika City.

The prosecutor further stated that the murder, accompanied by mutilation, was driven by negative sentiments and discriminatory treatment based on identity, ethnicity, or certain groups.

In addition to seeking a life imprisonment sentence for the three defendants, the prosecutor requested that Andre Pudjianto Lee and his accomplices remain in detention and be ordered to pay court costs.

Previously on May 4, 2023, the prosecutor also presented the charges against Roy Marten Howay. Roy Marten Howay was found guilty of joint premeditated murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Military court verdict

The murder and mutilation case involved six soldiers from the Raider 20/Ima Jaya Keramo Infantry Brigade. The soldiers were separately prosecuted in the Surabaya High Military Court III and Jayapura Military Court III-19.

Maj. Inf Helmanto Fransiskus Dakhi stood trial at the Surabaya High Military Court III. On January 24, 2023, the panel of judges led by chief judge Col. Chk Sultan, along with member judges Col. Chk Agus Husin and Col. Chk Prastiti Siswayani, found Dakhi guilty of premeditated murder. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment and discharged from the Army.

The other five soldiers were Capt. Inf Dominggus Kainama (who passed away on December 24, 2022, due to heart disease), First Pvt. Rahmat Amin Sese, First Pvt. Rizky Oktaf Muliawan, First Pvt. Robertus Putra Clinsman, and Chief Pvt. Pargo Rumbouw.

On February 16, 2023, the Military Court III-19 Jayapura found the four defendants guilty of premeditated murder. The Court sentenced Sese and Muliawan to life imprisonment, while Clinsman received a 20-year imprisonment and Rumbouw 15 years. All were dismissed from the Army.

Maj. Inf Helmanto Fransiskus Dakhi lodged an appeal against the verdict. On April 12, 2023, the Appellate Panel of Judges at the Surabaya High Military Court III overturned the decision of the previous panel.

The Appellate Panel of Judges concluded that Dakhiwas only guilty of being an accomplice to murder, committed in association with other criminal acts with the intention of facilitating the unlawful acquisition of goods. As a result, his sentence was reduced to 15 years of imprisonment. (*)