Full text of a speech presented by Papuan human rights activist John Rumbiak at Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Human Rights on October 23, 2003.
October 28, 2003 – Elsham News Service
25th Anniversary Conference, “Reconceiving Rights for the Twenty First Century: A Dialogue between Scholars and Practitioners”
Remarks by John Rumbiak, Supervisor Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy (ELSHAM), Papua, Indonesia
As an activist from the Global South, I have witnessed, in excruciating detail, the devastating impacts of multinational corporations on the natural environment, on the basic human rights of people – primarily indigenous communities – and also on the democratic governance of entire countries.
Indonesia – the political entity that has official sovereignty over my home, the western half of the island of New Guinea – is rated as one of the most corrupt governments on the planet by Transparency International and others.
Indeed, the World Bank, in a report released this week, states that corruption is pervasive in nearly every aspect of Indonesian society and that this corruption poses “a significant threat” to Indonesia’s efforts to solidify its transition to democracy and to economic prosperity. Recognizing its own complicity, the Bank notes in its report that this pervasive corruption is a legacy of the 32-year rule of former Army General and President Suharto, a regime that the Bank once touted as a poster child for economic development. The Bank, along with the U.S. and other governments, literally allowed the Suharto regime to get away with murder and to skim vast sums of money from international loans and aid funds. It is ironic, perhaps, that Suharto was forced to resign from office in 1998 by a massive, peaceful student-led popular movement representing the ordinary Indonesian citizens who will be paying for the regime’s financial crimes for decades.
It is important to understand the role that multinational corporations have played in enabling and fomenting this situation of extreme corruption and bad governance. In their blind and greedy rush to exploit Indonesia’s vast natural resources and cheap labor, mining, oil & gas, timber, pulp & paper, and manufacturing corporations from the United States and elsewhere descended upon the country in the years following the establishment of the Suharto regime. Indeed, the United States government supported Suharto in taking power through a campaign of massive violence in which an estimated 500,000 Indonesians were killed. Why? In the Cold War era, the U.S. government and multinationals were keen to solidify their access to Indonesian natural resources, and Suharto promised a more pliable partner than Sukarno, whom Suharto overthrew. With the path cleared by Suharto’s New Order regime, these corporations wrote Indonesia’s new investment and industry laws and authored their own contracts, creating the most favorable climate possible for their investment – and more importantly, for their extraction of billions of dollars in profits.
Providing a select few Indonesians such as Suharto, his family and cronies with revenue from these corporate operations, multinationals could keep Indonesian power-holders happy and keep government regulators at a safe distance. At the same time, corporations financed Indonesia’s military, which is the vehicle through which these corporations protect their operations. Sometimes payments to the military are direct, other times, multinationals go to bat at home with their own legislatures to lobby for financing and political impunity for the military. All the while, Indonesia’s court system, lacking in independence from the regime, proved powerless to serve justice to those wronged. Welcome to neo-colonialism.
Chief amongst these neo-colonial multinationals is the U.S.-based mining company Freeport, which operates one of the world’s largest gold & copper mines in Papua, where I am from. In its 1967 contract of work, the first foreign investor to enter into such an agreement with Suharto’s New Order regime, the company gave itself broad powers to resettle local indigenous populations whose traditional lands the company seized free of charge for its operations. It also gave itself, in writing its own contract of work with the Indonesian government, the power to take, free of charge, whatever natural resources it required for its operations.
In the three decades that Freeport has operated in Papua, the company has single-handedly succeeded in establishing its own fiefdom. With the assistance of the Indonesian armed forces, paid by Freeport to safeguard its operations, the company decides who can enter the area surrounding its mine and who cannot. Although there are commercial flights in and out of Timika, the main town near the mine, visitors have been deported and blacklisted for attempting to be in the area without Freeport’s permission. These include, in recent years, an American lawyer representing local landowners in two U.S.-based lawsuits against Freeport as well as American and Australian human rights observers. Indeed, Freeport fired its vice president for communications when she proved unable to prevent a New York Times journalist from visiting Timika.
Local indigenous Papuans and some of Freeport’s U.S.-based institutional investors have criticized such actions and called for an end to the company’s support of the Indonesian military, citing the connection between Freeport’s financial and logistical assistance and human rights violations. For example, based on my fact-finding work with local community members, the Catholic Church of Jayapura reported that some acts of torture experienced by local indigenous Papuans during the 1994-95 period took place on a Freeport-operated bus and “in Freeport [shipping] containers, the Army Commander’s Mess, the police station and the Freeport security post.” The Catholic Church report, based on eyewitness testimony, provides a highly detailed and disturbing account of the human rights abuses experienced by local indigenous people:
“Physical torture consisted of kicking in the belly, chest and head with army boots; beating with fists, rattan sticks, rifle butts and stones; denial of food; kneeling with an iron bar in the knee hollows; standing for hours with a heavy weight on the head, shoulders, or cradled in the arms; stepping and stamping on hands; tying and shackling of thumbs, wrists and legs; sleeping on bare floors; stabbing, taping eyes shut; and forced labor in a weakened condition. The torture caused bleeding head wounds, swollen faces and hands, bruises, loss of consciousness and death because of a broken neck.”
In September 1995, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) concluded that clear and identifiable human rights violations had occurred in and around Freeport’s project area, including indiscriminate killings, torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment, unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention, disappearance, excessive surveillance, and destruction of property. The commission noted that these violations “are directly connected to [the Indonesian army] acting as protection for the mining business of PT Freeport Indonesia.” In response, company officials have claimed that Freeport’s Contract of Work with the national government requires the provision of logistical support to the Indonesian military and police. However, as noted by my colleague Abigail Abrash in “Development Aggression,” her report for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Freeport’s contracts make no explicit mention of any such stipulation. Therefore, she argues, the company’s financial and logistical support for Indonesian security forces appears to have no legal basis. Yet Freeport recently signed a voluntary set of principles regarding security and human rights that presents as legitimate its continuing corporate financial support to the Indonesian military and police.
Unfortunately for all of us, the story of Freeport in Papua is not an isolated case. Indeed, throughout the Global South in countries with resources favored by the extraction industries, there exist strong linkages between militaries and corporations. As I have described, in Papua – and Indonesia as a whole – we have seen countless examples of the military committing widespread human rights violations in the name of safeguarding some economic interest – whether its own or that of a multinational corporation such as Freeport, ExxonMobil or Rio Tinto. One could also think of the Nigerian military’s abuses and execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other nonviolent Ogoni activists who opposed the social and environmental harms caused by Royal Dutch Shell Oil. Or perhaps the killings, forced labor and other crimes of the Burmese military in support of Unocal’s pipeline.
To put an end to these dynamics of destruction and violence, the international community – particularly international investors – must, first and foremost, recognize indigenous communities’ basic rights to chart their own development paths, to manage their own resources, to pursue their traditional livelihoods and cultures, and to say NO to multinational operations on their lands. The failure to respect communities’ basic right to “just say no” exists at the heart of the nexus of human rights violations, environmental degradation and conflict.
In addition to this one fundamental necessity, there are other steps that can be taken to ensure that the operations of multinationals do not harm people and the natural environment. For example:
All corporations, as compelled by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should seek to uphold the full range of internationally recognized human rights protections in all of their operations and policies. All corporations should allow and cooperate with independent monitoring of their operation areas and support government efforts to investigate human rights violations and prosecute offenders.
Corporations must be ready to acknowledge human rights violations that have occurred in their operations areas and seek new forms of mediation with the local communities to address their concerns and complaints.
Corporations should end their financial support for military and police personnel stationed in their operations areas. These security forces are under the command of governments for the national defense and should only be paid and directed by democratically elected representatives. All companies should develop clear rules governing the use of and/or engagement with state security forces that include an effective prohibition against hiring security personnel who have been responsible for human rights violations.
Corporations should ensure that all company security arrangements are designed and implemented to protect human rights and to be consistent with international standards for law enforcement. Any security personnel employed or under contract should receive adequate training, including training in international human rights and law enforcement standards. There should also be a clearly established procedure to ensure that all complaints about security procedures or personnel are promptly and independently investigated. Corporate policies must include strict monitoring of the use of all company equipment to ensure that the equipment is not used to commit human rights violations.
All corporate contracts of work with governments should include provisions committing the corporation and the government to fully respect international human rights laws. In particular, no contract of work should allow a company to resettle local populations and every contract should commit the company’s operations to full oversight and regulation by the Ministry of Environment and other appropriate and responsible institutions.
Corporations must limit their operations in ways that would effectively protect the human rights of local communities and the cultural and environmental surroundings of the area. Company decision-making should be bound by a transparent and honest assessment of the impact of operations. These assessments should always involve the participation of local community representatives, appropriate NGOs, and academic experts, and should adhere to “best practice” processes outlined in international human rights instruments.
Decisions about operations should respect the results of genuine consultation processes with the local communities. Such consultation should follow a process satisfactory to and designed in cooperation with recognized and legitimate representatives of affected local communities. All companies should demonstrate a genuine “political will” to improve their consultation processes with local communities by hiring well-qualified and trained staff in their community affairs departments and giving that department a real say in overall company operations.
All corporations must (1) protect employees and non-employees who report human rights violations; (2) establish internal reporting procedures that will ensure this protection; and (3) inform all employees about these procedures fully and on a regular basis. Companies should also report credible accusations of human rights violations to the appropriate government authorities as well as to local and international human rights organizations.
All corporate human rights protection policies should also include a plan for evaluation, including assessments by independent groups, and improvement of implementation. Companies’ performance records in this regard should be available to shareholders, members of the local affected communities, government agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
Lastly, and of great importance:
Governments should adopt and ratify the primary international human rights conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Governments should also ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and implement “best practices,” as set forth in that instrument and the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in its economic development policies. Government programs and policies should be focused on sustainable development and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples who are or could be affected by corporate activities. Respected local community leaders-including women, farmers, fisher folk, students and other key sectors of society-should play a central role in dialogue about appropriate programs and policies.
Envisioning these changes, we can begin to imagine a world in which the forces of neo-colonialism – or neo-liberalism, as it is now called – are disrupted, thereby ensuring that naked profit does not triumph over human rights, the environment and good governance.