The indigenous people of West Papua racially and ethnically differ from the majority of Indonesians. West Papuans are Melanesian and share cultural similarities with Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian areas while most Indonesians are Malay. Subsequently, the Indonesian government has implemented a policy of "transmigration" which translates as colonization and planned re- settlement of Indonesian migrants in West Papua. Other infringements, including a wide array of human rights abuses, have occurred in West Papua since the Indonesian government arrived on the island.
Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, a New Orleans based transnational mining conglomerate, began to play a role in West Papua as one article states, "even before Indonesia gained sovereignty over the territory. Freeport signed a contract (with Indonesia) in 1967 to mine for copper in 10,000 hectares of land belonging to the indigenous Amungme people." Yet, to date Freeport's control has extended over three times as much land, and the company has no policy of commitment or royalty distribution to the local community. Furthermore, the relations have been far from respectable and just between the United States government, its diplomats and the current Indonesian government of President Suharto. (Suharto came to power following a coup attempt and mass killings in 1965). For example, while simultaneously serving as a diplomat and policy maker, Henry Kissenger sat on Freeport's board of directors. More recently, anthropology professor Steven Feld resigned his teaching post at the University of Texas due to the "collaborating in environmental and human rights abuses" between UT and Freeport. As it turns out, the chancellor of the UT system, William Cunningham, is a member of Freeport's board.
In West Papua near the town of Timika, Freeport operates the world's largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine. With the construction of a new city for its employees Freeport will take an additional 25,00 hectares of land from the Amungme. A recent article commented on the construction of this new city. "From the perspective of one Amungme tribesman, Freeport is simply following the standard Third World development model--`developing a glamorous satellite city with complete facilities and a five-star Sheraton Hotel that will only widen the gap between the local people, who have nothing, and the Freeport staff, who have access to resources and facilities.' Only 15 percent of the roughly 14,000 people Freeport employees in the area are locals, and most of them occupy the lowest-level jobs."
Furthermore, Freeport recently opened a new mine at Grasberg just two kilometers from the Timika site. Resting on 2.6 million hectares of land acquired from Indonesia in 1991, "the new mine will increase output to 900 million pounds of copper and 1.1 million ounces of gold, making it the world's single biggest mining operation." In 1977, the Amungme put in a claim for compensation for their lost land which the Indonesian government promptly rejected. A spokesman for the Free Papua Movement (OPM) summarized the situation, "since Freeport signed contracts in 1967, it has regarded this land as not belonging to our people... the Indonesian constitution considers it state land and any complaints made by the Amungme people (are seen by the company) as terrorist action."
The issues here are land, environmental and human rights, the responsibility lies primarily with Indonesia, Freeport, and the United States, and the root cause is production and export of copper and gold. Environmental groups have cited Freeport's mines for "uprooting natives and washing pollutants into rivers." In the United States, "Freeport has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for emitting the largest amount of toxic chemicals of any company." Furthermore, hundreds of people have been extrajudicially executed in West Papua by the Indonesian military over the past 15 years. And even still, this year (1995) incidents of torture and murder occurred on and near Freeport's mines, and involved not only the Indonesian military but also Freeport's own security forces and equipment. Two recent incidents out of the many since December 1994 should be highlighted:
- On May 31, 1995 11 villagers from Hoea near Timika were gunned down by army members assigned to guard the mining, "the victims were kept in containers belonging to the company."- On Christmas day in Timika, at a peaceful prayer gathering of three churches, troops opened fire on villagers killing three and wounding at least 14. Yunas Omabak, an Amungme tribal chief described the day, "(I) was put in a Freeport vehicle and taken to a Freeport `security cell'...they hit me over the head with a big stone till the blood streamed over my body. They put an iron bar in the hollow of my knees and forced me to squat and lean against a chest for hours." A chief of the Amungme people later responded to this tragedy, offering his knife to a representative of Freeport, "Take it and kill me,' the chief told the executive as he held out the weapon, `because I can't stand anymore to see these problems.... Slice the left side of the body and bury each piece from here up to Grasberg the mountain that Freeport mines!.... On your way back round up all the Amungme people, our pigs and every piece we have. And make a huge hole to bury us with all our belongings. You cover that and then do anything you want.'
The Freeport man declined the invitation, perhaps confident that there, as throughout the world, his company could achieve the same result without such personal exertions.
The trade and environment issues in this case are similar to other such cases where a transnational is involved in a developing country. In developing countries, transnationals such as Freeport are not held to the same environmental of human rights standards that apply in their home countries. "Freeport is the picture of modern corporatism, heedless of country or flag, ruthless in pursuit of profit. Across the globe its trail is marked by despoiled lands, poisoned water, ruined lives--its progress assured by a powerful nexus of forces." In this case Freeport is operating in an area that can be considered a `colony' of a developing country. Thus, relationship between Freeport and the Indonesian government is one of mutual gain at the expense of the people and resources of West Papua. For Freeport, the West Papua operations are literally a gold mine, and with the taxes tossed at the elites in Jakarta, no one stands in their way of complete exploitation of the local people and environment; the Indonesian government even offers the services of its military to ensure smooth operation.
The challenge for environmentalist and human rights advocates in a situation such as West Papua, is to find the spaces where transnationals can be held accountable and where regulations can hold. In this light both domestic and multilateral environmental laws must be reconsidered. In the United States, Freeport uses a variety of tactics to maintain its unregulated behavior. As The Nation article explains, "In America, where all the regulations on the books don't threaten its standing as the nation's number-one polluter, it is a clutch of compliant politicians, zealous P.R. agents and hired academics. In Congress, where Freeport joins the assault on the Endangered Species Act and wetlands protections, it is a multipronged lobbying effort and a PAC that in the past decade has disbursed money to three-fourths of the Senate and a quarter of the House."
Since the current U.S. and Indonesian governments are essentially on the payroll of Freeport, and no existing multilateral agreement can curb this transnational's behavior, it is people's movements and NGOs that must fight for environmental regulation as well as economic and social justice. Fortunately, there have been precedents set. For example, in the U.S., grassroots movements in Austin have recently halted Freeport's expansion and continued pollution. In Austin Freeport planned to develop and pollute the land and water surrounding a favorite local swimming lake. "After 580 people spoke out against the deal at a City Council meeting, the "settlement" was voted down. `Freeport has been actively involved in the outright bullying of the people of Austin,' says Brigid Shea, a member of the City Council who learned that the company tried to get Austin's attorney to sign the deal before the Council could vote on it." Since that is the type of deal making that transnationals are inclined to pursue, for now it seems to be left up to social movements and NGOs to confront these corporations.
"Freeport currently dumps 115,000 tons of untreated tailings (refuse from the mining process) straight into the Aghawagon, Otomona and Ajkwa rivers.... A report by the company's own geochemistry consultants states, `Copper highly toxic to many fish and aquatic organisms' does occur throughout the river system at detectable concentrations." Freeport P.R. men claim that the Ajkwa could pass U.S. standards for drinking water, but when one visitor recently asked a Freeport security guard if he drinks from it, the officer laughed: `If you drink that water, you'll die." Freeport says it cannot afford to pay for a process to neutralize the tailings before their disposal. As an alternative Freeport "plans to build levees along the banks of the Ajkwa to `contain' the tailings, a process that will submerge 332,500 acres of rain forest in refuse and do nothing to solve the problem at its source."
Information about the controversy surrounding the naming of the new molecular biology building at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) for Jim Bob Moffett, chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold.
West Papua Information Kit
Freeport Copper and Gold's Web Page-- subpage on information specific to the Irian Jaya Mine
Basic documents reporting human-rights violations and environmental damage at the Freeport mine in Irian Jaya