Brooklyn, NY (Feb. 4, 2010) – The West Papua Advocacy Team and East Timor and Indonesia Action Network are extremely troubled by the naming of a senior Special Forces (Kopassus) officer as regional commander in West Papua. Kopassus forces have a long and dark history in the region.
The appointment of Major General Hotma Marbun to the Military Command for the Kodam-XVII Cenderawasih region comes as Papuans continue to seek a dialogue with the Jakarta Government and the demilitarization of their homeland. Their appeals have been resisted by a military that persists in describing Papuans seeking their rights as “separatists” and justifies attacks on peaceful demonstrators as necessary to defending Indonesia’s territorial integrity.
The naming of any Kopassus officer in command of the region raises obvious human rights concerns. In addition, Major General Marbun has a personal record that underscores these concerns. As pointed out by the respected UK human rights organization Tapol, Marbun was involved in operations in Indonesia-occupied East Timor in 1983 and 1986, a particularly bloody period during the occupation. He also participated in military operations in West Papua in 1982 and 1994.
General Marbun takes command at a time of growing security force abuse in the region, as recently documented by Human Rights Watch. Indonesian human rights organizations including the Papuan branch of the Indonesian government’s official Human Rights Commission (Komnas Ham) recently voiced public support for the withdrawal of military forces from West Papua to improve prospects for dialogue.
Kopassus actions in West Papua include “sweeping operations” purportedly in pursuit of “separatists” that in fact targeted highland Papuan villagers and the torture/murder of the leading Papuan political figure Theys Eluay. The deeply flawed Indonesian justice system notoriously has chronically failed to hold accountable Kopassus and other Indonesian security forces responsible for criminality and human rights violations.
For decades, the U.S. military provided training and other assistance to Kopassus notwithstanding its widely acknowledged abuses and criminal activity. Despite the demonstrated failure of international assistance to improve its behavior, the Obama administration is reportedly considering resuming such assistance, terminated under Congressional pressure more than a decade ago.
Papuans are increasingly marginalized in their homeland, as tensions grow between Papuans and migrants, and Papuan demands for an internationally mediated dialogue with Jakarta and for the demilitarization of West Papua go unanswered In this context, the appointment of a commander from the Indonesian military’s hard line Kopassus is profoundly disturbing.