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Call on NZ to respond to violence in West Papua

Indonesia Human Rights Committee,
Box 68-419,
Auckland, 1125

Media Release: 20 October, 2011

Call on NZ Government to respond to escalating security force violence in West Papua

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee urges the Government to take action to protect people at grave risk from ongoing security force violence in West Papua.
In a letter to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance we have urged action on the issue of military violence and live fire used against delegates to the Third Congress of the Papuan people in Jayapura, as well as against the intimidating presence and the violent actions of the military and police around the Freeport McMoran mine.

We are urging that there be an urgent impartial inquiry into the deaths of two miners who were participating in legal strike action at the Freeport McMoran mine, near Timika. Both these deaths are reported to be at the hands of Indonesian security forces. Those responsible must be held to account. Security forces have been present in large numbers over the past month while the workers have been pursuing legal strike action to try to bring their wages in conditions into parity with those of Freeport workers elsewhere in the world.

We also believe that the time is now long overdue for the NZ Super Fund and other New Zealand Crown Financial Institutes to divest from all holdings in the Freeport McMoran mine. Over the decades this mine has been directly or indirectly responsible for a litany of human rights abuses and great suffering to the indigenous people of the area. The mine is also responsible for environmental destruction on a massive scale as has been recognised by Norway, whose Government Pension Fund divested from all its large holdings in the Freeport Mine some years ago.

Letter follows.
Hon Murray McCully,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Parliament Buildings,

Mr Bill English,
Minister of Finance,
Parliament Buildings,

19 October, 2011

Dear Mr McCully,

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee is very concerned about the escalating tension and conflict in the area of the Freeport McMoran mine in West Papua.

We also draw to your attention the shocking accounts from Jayapura in the last 24 hours which describe how security forces opened fire on West Papuan people as they prepared to disperse following the third Papuan People’s Congress, attended by several thousand people. Despite the fact that the gathering was peaceful and orderly the security forces chose to attack the attendees. It is not known at the time of writing if casualties resulted from the shooting.

On October 10th, mine worker Petrus Ayemiseba died after being shot in the buttocks by security forces. Subsequently another worker, Leo Wandagau, who was injured at the same time, has died. Three contract workers have also lost their lives, and there have also been many injuries, including injuries suffered by journalists attempting to cover the unfolding story.

Reports state that over 8,000 workers, a large majority of the Freeport workforce, are on strike and are seeking rises in their pay and conditions commensurate with the rates of pay enjoyed by mine workers employed by the same company in other parts of the world. Pay rates are as low as US$1-50 for some of the workers. We understand that the workers are open to negotiation around their pay demands, but that it has been difficult for constructive negotiation to take place under the prevailing conditions, including the intimidating presence of large numbers of Indonesian security forces.

As Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi said in a statement, the killing of Petrus ‘shows that Indonesian police have not learned how to deal with protesters without resorting to excessive, and even lethal, force,’

The Freeport McMoran company maintains a close relationship with military and police personnel who have over the years been suspected of being involved in a number of murders, and episodes of torture and disappearances.

Despite the fact that an Indonesian ministerial decree in 2007 stipulated that the security of ‘vital national objects’ - including Freeport - be handed over to the police within six months, this has not been fully implemented. According to documentation obtained by world news service AFP, Freeport disclosed to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, that it had made additional direct payments of ‘less than’ $1.6m in 2008 to 1,850 soldiers’. These payments include ‘monthly allowances’ to police and soldiers at and around the Grasberg mine.

The shooting on 10th October, and the subsequent tragic deaths and serious injuries amount to only the tip of the iceberg of grave and ongoing human rights and environmental concerns in the Timika area.

We have many times made representations to Government and to the Board and management of the New Zealand Superfund and other Crown Financial Institutes that New Zealand should divest from Freeport McMoran Ltd. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund lists an investment of $1,813,120 in its equity holdings at 30 June, 2011.

We believe that the four decade operation of the Freeport McMoran open pit copper and gold mine in Indonesian controlled West Papua has caused untold suffering to the local people and devastated a vast area of once pristine rainforest, alpine valleys and a mangrove estuary.

Freeport has already poured over a billion tons of tailings sludge directly into the local rivers and created a massive deposition area or dead zone in places up to 15 metres deep. Waste rock or overburden piles up in the alpine valleys and the result is Acid Rock Drainage.

The giant Norway Pension Fund divested from Freeport McMoran in 2006 and in 2008 announced its decision to divest from Freeport’s joint venture partner Rio Tinto Incorporated. The Ethics Council of the Norway Fund concluded that the mine was responsible for severe and irreversible environmental damage and also that dialogue with company representatives had been ineffective.

We urge that the New Zealand Government call on Indonesia to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the recent deaths and injuries of striking mine workers, resulting from the violent actions of Indonesian security forces. The Government should condemn the unwarranted violence used against attendees at a peaceful and orderly gathering in Jayapura this week.

We also urge that the New Zealand Government instruct the Boards of the Superfund and all other Crown Financial Institutions to divest all holdings in the Freeport McMoran Company and its joint venture partner, Rio Tinto Incorporated.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater
(for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee)

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