Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Australian’s shooting lost in a Papuan puzzle

Spare a thought for the family of Melbourne man Drew Grant, shot dead early on the morning of July 11 in a curious incident near the Freeport mine in Indonesian Papua. Aged just 29, with a young family back in Australia, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was hit by sniper fire while seated in the back of a company car, coming down from the mine on his way back home for a break. So unusual is death by sniper fire, even in the context of a violence- prone province such as Papua, that there was initially some suggestion that Grant was targeted. But that now appears highly unlikely. Shortly after this shooting event, there were further incidents involving shots fired by an unknown assailant or assailants at passing vehicles on the same road.

With some fanfare on July 20, the local police announced the arrest of a group of 10 suspects, all of them members of the Amungme tribe that traditionally owns the land around the Freeport mine and the mining township of Tembagapura. Among the 10 were Viktor Beanal, a highly respected Amungme elder, and Simon Beanal, described by his kin and close associates as mentally disabled. However, the killings resumed almost immediately, with a further shooting the day after the arrests, and 12 more incidents since July 11.

The Freeport Mine is no stranger to violence. In 1996 when a group of European scientists were taken hostage by the the Free Papua Movement (OPM), the Indonesian Government deployed a massive military operation to release the hostages, resulting in killings of innocent civilians who lived around the hostage hot spot. In 2002 when an Indonesian and two American teachers were shot dead in the Freeport mine site, a joint police operation between the Indonesian police and FBI resulted in seven Papuans being jailed four years after the incident. However, this cooperation did not uncover the mastermind of the attack.

If we look back to the history of Australia-Indonesia relations, on November 13, 2006, the two neighouring countries signed a bilateral security agreement called the Lombok Treaty. This unique legal framework is designed to provide a framework for cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on traditional and non-traditional threats in 10 key areas, including defence, law enforcement, counterterrorism, intelligence, maritime security, aviation safety and security, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, emergency cooperation, cooperation in international organisations on security-related issues and community understanding and people-to-people cooperation. This cooperation is based on six key principles, including equality, mutual benefit and recognition of enduring interests each party has in the stability, security and prosperity of the other Article 2(1). It is very clear that the framework is intended to promote stability, security and prosperity.

How does the treaty work in the case of Drew Grant?

Shortly after his killing, the Indonesian Minister of Defence, Juwono Sudarsono, claimed that a ''rogue element'' in the military might have been involved in the shooting. This unusual statement might explain why the joint investigation between the police and military involved about 1000 personnel, including the anti-terror unit, Densus 88. About a month later, despite the strong denial from the army regional commander, the national police bluntly announced that the unknown gunmen fired bullets produced by the Army-run arms producer PT Pindad in Bandung.

This finding might confirm Sudarsono's claim. It has been about three months since Grant's death, and the unknown gunmen are free while seven Amungme men have been held in police custody and charged with murder. They are being denied access to their families and medical treatment, and there are allegations some of them have been tortured. It is obvious that despite the massive deployment of personnel, the joint forces have failed to stop the ongoing violence, leaving the local community to live in terror. In Australia, the issue has dropped out off the public's radar. Doubtless, both the Australian and Indonesian governments are dealing with the issue behind closed doors. However, one of the key questions is whether the two governments should provide the public with adequate information on the ways they address the issue under the Lombok treaty.

Given the way Papuans have been ignored or treated as scapegoats by the Indonesian Government, I believe we need transparency from both governments regarding the way this matter is being dealt with. To justify the existing security cooperation, the public in both countries need to be informed of progress in the Grant case. The Australian Government in particular has to explain why it has increased travel warnings following the incident. Such transparency would allow the public to measure to what extent the cooperation in law enforcement has been done under the rule of law. Moreover, the rule of law would help develop an accountability mechanism that would prevent such an incident to happen again.

By Budi Hernawan former director of the Office for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Jayapura, West Papua, is a Franciscan friar and a PhD scholar at Regulatory Institutions Network, the Australian National University.

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