The Fires and Other Problems in Indonesia

Every year about 110,000 people die and others suffer from acute respiratory illnesses because of the fires started by the palm oil and timber corporations in Indonesia. In addition, much of its wildlife is affected and CO2 levels increase drastically. Contributing to the problem is the traditional slash/burn cultivation of Indonesian peasant farmers which is supposed to be illegal under Indonesian law..

Not all the victims are Indonesians because some people in neighbouring countries also suffer health effects from the fires

Since 2008, palm oil companies such as Wilmar International, a multimillion dollar agribusiness based in Singapore which owns the largest oil palm refinery operating in Indonesia, have been pressuring villagers to sell off their land. As a result, many villages – especially the indigenous people in Kalimantan (Borneo) and West Papua who have been self-sufficient until now because of their reliance on the forest are under threat. For centuries, these people have used the rain forests to collect food, medicine, rattan for weaving and other forest products.

The situation is made worse in West Papua because of the behaviour of the Indonesian military (TNI) which has brutally occupied this Melanesian nation since 1962.

Senior officers in the TNI along with the extremely wealthy civilians make fortunes out of this annual environmental catastrophe. The senior elite of the Indonesian military are not only mass murderers, but they are extremely corrupt as well. If Indonesia is a democracy as many in the pro Indonesian lobby tell us, why is this still continuing to happen?

The Guardian on 31.10.2015, carried an article by George Monbiot with the heading, Indonesia is burning, so why is the world looking away?

The think the answer to this question is not difficult to answer. The world has been looking away from many tragic events that have been occurring in the region which involve Indonesia for many decades .

The current situation in Indonesia is largely the creation of the US Military Industrial Complex (MIC) as it has many corporations operating there and in the Indonesian occupied nation of West Papua. In 1965, the CIA assisted the Indonesian Military (TNI) to oust the democratically elected government of President Suharto and install the mass-murdering dictator, Mahomed Suharto. His reign of terror continued for 33 years until 1998 because of the Asian economic crisis of that year. This period of brutality did not only affect Indonesians. The TNI also committed genocide and gross human rights violations in West Papua, Acheh, East Timor as well as many other parts of Indonesia besides Java, Sumatera and Bali which were mostly affected by the mass slaughter following the CIA/TNI coup.

Earlier in the 1960s, John Kennedy intervened in the decolonisation process being conducted by Holland in West Papua to give independence to its former colony. He wanted to curry favour with Indonesia whose military occupied West Papua in 1962. In addition, US geologists had discovered vast amounts of copper and gold there and the US MIC wanted these resources. As a result of the US intervention, West Papua was handed over to Indonesia. The fate of the West Papuans was sealed by the so called Act of Free Choice in 1969. The Suharto dictatorship carried out a very undemocratic independence vote to determine whether the West Papuans wanted to remain with Indonesia. This process was supposedly monitored by the UN, but, despite the fact that the TNI used a great deal of brutality and a large number of West Papuans were killed, threatened or disappeared, the UN monitoring team accepted the result.

The US mining giant Kennecott – McRohRan still makes huge profits out of West Papuan copper and gold.

Monbiot claims that in the year following the CIA/TNI coup that about a million people were slaughtered. I have met a number of politically progressive Indonesians who tell me that the number of victims was nearer 3 million. This was a crime every serious as those committed by the Nazis, but it occurred with the sanction of the US and its allies who frequently and hypocritically lecture other nations about democracy.

The TNI is still a very powerful influence in Indonesian politics today and this is the reason why Joko Widodo, elected as president in 2014, is having huge problems trying to make the republic democratic and to reduce pollution from the fires, corruption and human rights abuses. Before the election, he made promises to work to stop the brutality occurring against the West Papuans and to give them more autonomy. Earlier this year following a number of TNI killings of West Papuan civilians, Benny Wenda, the founder of the Free West Papua Campaign and a senior member of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, in an interview with the BBC said that he did not trust Joko Widodo and did not believe that he he will bring any positive change for his people.

The pro Indonesian lobby tells us that Indonesia is now a democratic nation. It is true that the Indonesian media has more freedom these days, but a true Indonesian democracy is a long way off. In last year’s presidential elections, Joko Widodo stood against two TNI generals – Wiranto and Prabowo Subianto. Both men are accused of human rights abuses – Wiranto in East Timor and Prabowo in East Timor, West Papua and Jakarta in 1998 when he directed Indonesian soldiers to conduct a brutal crackdown on protestors who wanted Suharto to be removed. Prabowo is a particularly odious character who is said to have been the architect of both the 1983 Kraras and the 1991 Santa Cruz Massacres in East Timor.

Joshua Oppenheimer, an American film-maker based in Copenhagen, has produced two documentaries about the mass murders that followed the 1965 coup. They are The Act of Killing, and The Look of Silence. In these documentaries he features older Indonesians who were involved in the 1965 massacres . These very sick and violent people even re-enacted how they brutally murdered their victims. They were obviously proud of their crimes and had no fear that they would face justice.

Since the fall of Suharto, the TNI has been involved in the 2001 poisoning of the West Papuan community leader, Theys Eluay and the 2007 poisoning of the Indonesian human rights activist, Munir Said Thalib.

When criminals who commit crimes like this can roam free at home and abroad, how can anyone claim that Indonesia is a full democracy?

This is all very interesting, you might say, but what does this have to do with the fires in Indonesia? Apart from their brutality, the TNI generals were exceedingly corrupt and have been responsible for Indonesia being one of the most corrupt nations on earth. The members of the Suharto family became multi billionaires out of resources purloined from the Indonesian people.

Generals were involved in many enterprises – regional airlines, mining, agriculture and much industrial and commercial activity.

They have been involved in the palm oil and timber (deforestation?) industries in a big way for a long time and these industries have made a great contribution to the Indonesian fires. After the trees have been uprooted, the land is cleared by mass burning.

It could also be mentioned that the generals were strongly involved in promoting the Green Revolution which promoted the use of new varieties of seeds for food plants that also required vast amounts of pesticides and fertilisers to survive. Poor Indonesian peasant farmers who were unable to afford the new seed varieties and the added costs of fertilisers and pesticides and who continued to use the old varieties were murdered by the military that was profiting from the new agriculture.

George Monbiot believes that people should boycott companies that make huge profits out of Indonesia’s palm oil industry. I agree but I think that we need to go further to stop the ongoing fires occurring in Indonesia. The world needs to deal with the corrupt and brutal military elite in Indonesia as well. Through the UN, member nations should be:

* banning all imports of palm oil and other agricultural products that involve mass burning

* sending an international team to Indonesia and other nations affected by the fires to assess their impact on human health and the environment and to assist the victims to
access compensation from those palm oil and timber corporations (eg Pepsi) that are profiting from the burning

* establishing an international tribunal to try all Indonesian officers responsible for mass corruption, genocide and human rights violations (this was done for Rwanda and the
former Yugoslavia)

* ceasing all forms of military cooperation with the TNI – aid, trade, joint exercises and training

* put bans on Indonesia until it withdraws the TNI from West Papua and pays full compensation to all its victims and those who have had
their houses and their lands confiscated by it

* supporting the UN to conduct an open and honest referendum of West Papuans so that they can determine their own future

The US and its supine allies, like Australia, are in a good position to take the strongest action, but are not inclined to do so. President Barack Obama spent some of his formative years in Indonesia and would know something of its very dark past, but has done nothing to stop US support for the TNI just as he has done nothing about the crimes committed by the Israeli “Defence” Force. Australian leaders just go along with the policies of the US MIC without question and this is the same for so many of the other US allies.

The long suffering peoples of Indonesia, West Papua, East Timor and Acheh are only going to get some justice and the Indonesian fires are not going to be stopped until effective measures are taken to bring the brutal and corrupt generals in the TNI to justice.

The world needs to be taking the above actions to force President Joko Widodo to take effective steps to stop the fires and to tackle those in the TNI who have been involved in the corruption that has led to this situation. He also needs to take action against those officers who have indulged in massive war crimes and human rights violations in the region,

Andrew (Andy) Alcock
Information Officer
Australia East Timor Friendship Association (South Australia) Inc

Australia West Papua Association (South Australia)