Indonesian government and military were accused for many years of gross human rights violations in West Papua (formerly known as West Irian). Accusations ranged from rape, torture, kidnapping, extra judiciary executions, murder, forced conversions to Islam, destruction of entire villages and forced resettlement of entire communities. As was in case of East Timor, majority of Indonesian public remained blissfully ignorant, unaware and uninterested in the issue. Media refused to conduct any in-depth investigation and report on those occurrences.
Interview with Peter M Baki offers important view from the other side – from Papua New Guinea, where pain of the victims from the other side of the border is intensively felt.
Q: Peter M Baki, you often speak about rape, torture and abuse of Papuan children by Indonesian army…
A: Yes, and I am very saddened that I have to speak about it. You know that this is also extremely sensitive issue and I have to be careful when addressing it. Sensitive politically but also because we want to protect the girls; we can’t reveal their identity.
Some girls are quite open about what happened to them. At one point, our inspectors discovered that 5 girls unexpectedly left the school at the border which they were regularly attending. They later returned, all of them pregnant, with marks of violence on their bodies.
Our inspectors who work with the children were repeatedly told this: Indonesian troops come regularly to remote villages. When they see girls they like, they detain them. Families are sent away and girls are held by the soldiers, until they all have forced sex with them. Then the girls are told to remain silent, otherwise the army would destroy the whole village where they come from. That simple: if the girls try to press charges and identify soldiers who raped them, relatives would be killed and entire village could be destroyed.
5 girls I mentioned earlier are all in PNG now and we keep their whereabouts secret, in order not to jeopardize their families.
Q: When you talk about the girls who talk to your inspectors, do you have in mind those who commute to your schools across the border?
A: Exactly. Before, Papuan people were always moving freely between two sides of the border, although lately the movement had been restricted. There is no big road in the border area. Two governments were talking about building roads for ages. But until now, there are mainly just dirt tracks, so people can go back and forth.
There are two refugee camps near the border; one of them is called Awian. There are plenty of children there, who came from the other side. I regularly send officers from the Ministry of Education there; to see what can be done. We are encouraging children to go to attend Monfort School there.
Q: Why do the children come to your side? There are schools in West Papua, aren’t there?
A: They do have schools, of course. But the people want to stay on our side – in PNG. Indonesia made some progress without any doubt. They built a road to Jayapura, they built some schools. It’s not about that; it’s the behavior of the army that is despicable.
Q: How many refugees live there?
A: More than one thousand. But the number fluctuates.
Q: How many people escaped from West Irian to PNG in the last decades?
A: More than 10 thousand. Probably much more; but it’s really hard to tell. People look the same at both sides of the border. Some just come and stay and become indistinguishable from the locals.
Q: You mentioned Indonesian soldiers raping girls and then threatening to destroy the villages if they talk about it or press charges. Has it actually ever happen?
A: Next to the border we know for sure about one village that was entirely destroyed. 20 people were killed and then entire village was destroyed. Children gave horrific testimonies. They had no place to go back to – finally we had to put them to the boarding school in PNG.
Q: How extensive is the problem? How many girls got raped in the border villages by Indonesian soldiers, as far as you are concerned?
A: We have many, many little children who are telling us: “our sister is not coming to school anymore, because the soldiers took her away.” It’s so sad and terrible to hear these words. Often they also take their mothers. Children sometimes come and say: “my mother and sister are not at home, anymore – last night they took both of them away. And our father had been terribly beaten up.” When they are dragging away wives and daughters, men often make desperate attempts to defend them.
One boy told us that his father and brother were killed, because Indonesian soldiers were trying to take away boy’s mother and the girlfriend of his older brother. Both men decided to fight, trying to save their beloved women. Both got killed. We checked the report.
Q: How young are the girls that are being “taken away”?
A: We are investigating mainly cases of primary school children. Victims are mostly between 11 and 15 years of age.
Q: Are girls also being tortured, as it was the case in East Timor?
A: Yes. There are burns, cuts and bruises on their inner-ties, on their breasts, everywhere; better not to say it.
Q: How scared are West Papuan women of Indonesian soldiers?
A: Very, very scared. They are petrified. If the bush or leaf moves, children start to run for their life. Adult women are terrified, too; even men. Children in that area are very tense – they have developed many mental disorders from what they had to witness or what they had gone through. Often they can’t even answer simple questions.
Many of them went through psychological trauma or outright physical abuse. When my inspectors start asking questions, many children start shaking. Then our teachers and inspectors say: “Don’t worry; we just want to know what happened to you. We want to know what you went through, why you can’t write properly…”
When our teachers ask the child: “What happened to your sister? Why didn’t she come to school?” Children just shiver and often they just cry and cry… They don’t answer; they can’t answer. Answers would too terrible to come from the child’s mouth.
That’s why when we’ll go to the border together; you shouldn’t ask them right away. Talk to them, play with them; make friends with them first. They have to trust you, especially those who were violated. It will take time before they’ll open up, before they’ll tell you their stories, before they will show bruises on their bodies.
Q: You may be one of the most distinguished educators in South Pacific. What comes to your mind – Peter M Baki – when you have to face this reality?
A: I think: I want to prevent it from happening. Sometimes I feel very angry; I want to scream at those Indonesian soldiers who kill and rape children: “if someone would do this to your child in Indonesia, how would you feel?” But then I regain control and say to myself: If they would kill two out of ten children, I still want to help those eight that are alive.
Q: I know that it’s hard to estimate, but to your best judgment, what percentage of the girls in the border area gets raped by Indonesian army?
A: It’s really hard to estimate, but I would say around 10 percent.
Q: In terms of the population, PNG is a small country. Its neighbor – Indonesia – has a long history of violence, military rule and extreme brutality towards its own population and towards those who, if given free choice, would undeniably choose independence. Indonesia has 40 times more people than PNG. Do you see it as a danger? Do you fear it?
A: If I would be instinctive, I would say yes, I fear Indonesia.
But I hope that even Indonesia will realize that it’s a member of the world community; that it’s impossible to live by the power of the gun.
The world is now becoming much more integrated and each country has to become more accountable. But it was not always so: when I really feared Indonesia was in the late 60’s and 1970’s.
Now the only way to solve the problems is to establish positive dialogue. I’m working on it, too; some Indonesians became my good friends.
Q: Is there a racist element in what is happening? It had been reported that Indonesian military doesn’t treat local people in West Papua as equal human beings.
A: Those soldiers who come from Papua itself of course treat their people equally. They are from the same race. But from what we know, people from Java often do act in extremely racist manner – they simply think they are higher race than locals.
Q: What percentage of people from the border region wants independence from Indonesia?
A: Great majority of them. People look at East Timor and they feel there may be some hope. They think there may be a referendum, after all, in West Papua.
I work with several people from West Papua and they all want independence. Almost everyone there is working hard to achieve that goal. Of course I can only speak about those people that I know. I work closely with five West Papuans. All of them want to have their own country. I often tease them: what about joining us – PNG? No way; they want their own state. So I just laugh: “fair enough; why not?”
Q: But Jakarta doesn’t seem to even consider referendum in West Papua. And to work for the independence is terribly risky, isn’t it?
A: It is terribly risky and dangerous to strive for the independence there. Not even to work for it – you have to be very careful whom you talk to. One of my friends who works in Lae town lost his sister – she disappeared; was taken away. My other friend who lives in Madang can’t find his brother and his sister. Maybe they spoke to a wrong person. And there are many, many stories like that.
I was told that Indonesian soldiers once shot 3 people dead just because they felt that they were not listening to them properly. They killed people just to warn others that this is what will happen if the military will not be obeyed.
I heard many terrible stories, and that’s why I decided to get involved – I decided to help children. That was in 1997-98. I wanted to protect lives of the children. Since then I am trying to do what I can.
I will go back, soon. I will go to the border, to the camps. I will talk to the people; I will talk to children. I keep sending my inspectors, I’m getting reports from teachers, but I haven’t been there for a while. It’s time to return and to see the reality with my own eyes, again. And if it all continues, I’ll go to the Ambassador of Indonesia in Port Moresby, who is my good friend, and I’ll express bitterly my feelings!
Q: Peter M Baki, thank you for sharing your thoughts.
A: No, I thank you. Thank you for taking interest in the fate of our children!
Note: Mr. Peter M Baki has been interviewed while attending UNESCO EFA (Education for all) Forum for the Pacific, held in the city of Nadi in Fiji. Interview was conducted on the 21st October 2004.