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U.S. Involvement in the History of West Papua and the Human Rights Situation Today

U.S. Involvement in the History of West Papua and the Human Rights Situation Today

A Colloquium with John Rumbiak, Columbia University Center for Human Rights Study and Patsy Spier, survivor of a 2002 ambush in West Papua

Monday, May 24, 2004
2:30 PM - 4:00 PM
10383 Bunche Hall
UCLA Campus
Los Angeles, CA 90095

 West Papua, the western half of New Guinea, is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse places on the planet. The Indonesian military and government have engaged in widespread human rights violations in the territory since Indonesia took control in the 1960s via a United Nations-supervised process that U.N. officials now recognize as deeply flawed.  Since 1998, following the forced resignation from the Indonesian presidency of Suharto, a former Army general, Papuans have pushed for an end to human rights abuses as well as for a review by the U.N. and the Dutch, Indonesian and U.S. governments of the problematic circumstances that led to their land's incorporation into the Republic of Indonesia. The Dutch government is slated to release its review findings next year.

JOHN RUMBIAK is the leading Papuan human rights defender and an advocate for self-determination for the people of West Papua. Despite repeated death threats and harassment, Rumbiak documented the killing of thirty-seven indigenous Papuans in 1994 near the US-owned Freeport gold mine. Two US teachers were murdered near the Freeport mine in 2002, and Rumbiak's in-depth investigation exposed the involvement of the Indonesian military. His work has revolutionized the discussion about human rights in West Papua, initiating national and international debates. Currently he supervises the internationally respected organization ELSHAM (Institute for Human Rights and Advocacy), which has been instrumental in efforts to establish West Papua as a Zone of Peace. He is also a visiting scholar at Colombia University’s Center for Human Rights Study.

"Forty years ago," says Rumbiak, "Papuans became victims of Cold War politics. In 1962, the U.S. government helped broker the transfer of West Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia. Today Americans are standing up. They are asking their leaders to help bring an end to the violence in West Papua." Recently Mr. Rumbiak visited Ireland where a majority of national parliamentarians have requested that the United Nations conduct a formal review of the 1969 "Act of Free Choice". During this sham referendum 1,022 Papuans were hand-picked by the military to unanimously proclaim their desire to be part of Indonesia. 

PATSY SPIER is one of the eight American, and three Indonesian, survivors of an ambush that took place in West Papua on August 31, 2002. Her husband Rick Spier was killed in the attack along with two other teachers. She says "I knew I had to do something about the evil that happened on that mountain. My role became clear when the Indonesian National Police reported that the Indonesian military (TNI) were apparently behind the ambush, and then the TNI exonerated themselves of any involvement."  Spier has focussed on lobbying the U.S. Congress on this issue. She is very pleased that military aid to Indonesia under the IMET scheme has been blocked until the TNI fully cooperates with a U.S. investigation into the attack that killed her husband.

Parking at UCLA costs $7.

Cost : Free and open to the public.


Sponsor(s): Center for Southeast Asian Studies