IV. Restrictions on Access to Papua

Severe restrictions on access to Papua for human rights monitors mean that reliable information on conditions is hard to come by. Word of mouth is the most common means of transmitting news of alleged human rights abuses, and independent corroboration can be difficult. National human rights monitors are frequently harassed or intimidated.57 Human rights workers from Elsham, Legal Aid, Kontras, the Catholic Office for Justice and Peace, and other NGOs work under an atmosphere of intimidation.58 Members of international monitoring groups such as Human Rights Watch are routinely denied visas to conduct visits.59

While tourists can freely visit Papua and are not restricted to the capital, visitors with other purposes must apply and provide detailed itineraries and plans to the police for permission. Those granted permission to travel to Papua are likely to be subject to surveillance to ensure their true purpose is not political or related to human rights. In June 2006 two Americans working for an indigenous land rights group traveling on visas which permitted tourism, cultural, business, or government activities, were deported from Indonesia after attending a meeting of the Dewan Adat (Papuan Customary Council) a body committed to peaceful advocacy for independence.60

While Indonesian journalists can somewhat openly report on developments in Papua, authorities have largely denied international journalists access to the region since 2003, although some exceptions have been made for known Jakarta-based international journalists working on themes deemed non-political. However, even those granted permission assert that Papuan police continually harass them and interfere with their work.61 In February 2006 Indonesia’s Defense Minister, Juwono Sudarsono, defended restrictions on foreign media access to West Papua. He was quoted as saying “Indonesian unity and cohesion would be threatened by foreign “intrusion and concern,” and that reporters could be “used as a platform” by Papuans to publicize the alleged abuses.62 

Academic freedom also has its limits. In 2006 Australian National University’s Chris Ballard, an anthropologist whose main focus is Papua, said he had been unable to visit the province since 2001.63 May of 2006 the Indonesian government boycotted cooperation with two Australian universities (RMIT and Deakin Universities in Victoria) on the basis that they employ academic staffs who have been critical of the Indonesian government’s policies in Papua.64  

The work of international organizations, including the UN, is hampered by restricted access. In May 2006, UNHCR Regional Representative Neil Wright expressed concern that the organization had been denied access to Papua despite repeated requests to the Indonesian government.65 In his 2005 report to the Commission on Human Rights, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak expressed his “regret” that the longstanding request of his office to visit Indonesia, initially made in 1993, was still being ignored.66 In response Indonesia finally extended him an invitation and at this writing he was due to visit Indonesia at the end of 2007, though it was unclear whether he would visit Papua.  In January 2006, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on the prevention of genocide, Juan Mendez, expressed concern at the government’s prevention of human rights monitors from observing the situation in Papua.67

57 Most recently, Paula Makabory, a staff member from ELSHAM Institute for the Study and Advocacy for Human Rights in West Papua, has been accused by BIN (National Intelligence Agency) of involvement in organizing the flight of a group of 43 Papuans who were granted temporary asylum in Australia in March 2006. 1000 PeaceWomen Update, October 20, 2000,

58 Aloysius Renawin from Elsham, October 20, 2006; 1000 PeaceWomen Update, October 20, 2000,

59 As detailed in the ‘Methodology’ section above, Human Rights Watch has made several written and verbal requests to the Indonesian government for official access to Papua. These requests have, to date, not been answered. See also TAPOL Briefing on the Current Situation in West Papua, March 14, 2005, p.1.

 60 “Two U.S citizens questioned over visa violations in Papua,” Associated Press, June 27, 2006; “Indonesian Government to deport 2 U.S citizens for Papua action,” Associated Press, June 28, 2006.

61 “Journalists Face Difficulties in Papua, Even with Work Permits,” The World Today, September 26, 2006, (accessed June 25, 2006).

62 “Foreign media ban in Papua to be maintained: Juwono,” Agence France Presse, February 6, 2006. 

63 “Papua Travel Ban Halts Abuse Scrutiny: Envoy,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 1, 2006.

64 “Indonesian Government Attempts to Silence Foreign Critics of its Policies in West Papua,” The Age, May 22, 2006.

65 Transcript of Inquiry into the provisions of the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, May 26, 2006, UNHCR Regional Representative, p. 7; Neil Wright, “I can confirm that, despite repeated requests, UNHCR has not been given permission by the government in Jakarta to have access to West Papua. So we do not have direct information from there. We do of course have information coming from those that cross into Papua New Guinea and are interviewed by us.”

66 Manfred Nowak, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture, UN Commission on Human Rights, sixty-second session, E/CN.4/2006/6, December 23, 2005,

67 ‘UN Expert Says Action Needed to Prevent Genocide in Several African Countries’ Voice of America, January 27, 2006.