The term ‘third world countries’ was coined during Cold War to describe any countries that non-aligned with either NATO or Communist Bloc. Following the fall of Soviet Union, the use of this term tends to be associated to country’s economic, political, and welfare status, giving some least developed countries called as ‘third world’ which include India, Philippines, and Indonesia. Recently, local mass media publicly announced that Indonesia is no longer considered as one of the third world countries. The statement was supported by the fact that Indonesia has become the third-largest democracy in the world as the consequence of the fall of New Order regime and democratic governmental system which rules the country since then.

We may be proud of the status-changing phenomena, while ironically we also have similar term as “third world countries” to label certain regions of Indonesia. We know the term “orang-orang timur” to label Indonesian inhabitants who live in some provinces including Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara and Maluku Islands. Historically, those areas were included in State of East Indonesia, a post-World War II federal state formed by the Netherland in 1948. The state was dismissed in 1951, and consequently become the area of Republic of Indonesia[1]. However, following the dismissal, Javanese tends to degrade the inhabitants of ‘the east’ based on the similar reasons including economic, political, and welfare status. We can compare the development of Jakarta in the last 10 years with Timika in the last 20 years, and it is clear that Papua has not become a priority for central government.

Since Sukarno sat on the presidential throne, it is a public knowledge that Java has always been ‘well-treated’, consequently making such an imbalance development between the two regions of west and east parts of Indonesia, and also sharpening the ethnocentric belief. On the other hand, mass media have been encouraging people to attack each other by highlighting the life of orang-orang timur, in which some of them are still living in indigenous lifestyle and isolated from modern world. In fact, the current condition is the continuation of civil-war propaganda promoted by Suharto, the second president of Indonesia who reigned the people for three centuries ruthlessly.

Papua has changed name for several times since the early history, colonial era, and modern era. During the colonial era the region was known as part of “Dutch New Guinea”. Following its annexation in 1969, it changed into “West Irian” or “Irian Barat” until 1973. Thereafter renamed to “Irian Jaya” by the Suharto administration. The name “Papua” was adopted in 2002, following the fall of New Order regime[2]. During the presidential period of Suharto, the terms “West Papua”, “Papuan”, and “Melanesian” which gives distinction between ethnic groups that made up the state of Indonesia were illegal. It was based on the reason that the terms were associated with the separatist movement or what the government referred as to “trouble maker”. Finally, during the New Order regime, it mentioned as “Irianese” to label the inhabitants of the province.

It is not an uncommon perception that Papuanese are trouble makers because we are more often to receive any exposure which introducing them as scapegoat for the chaos happened in the region. However, the publication of the chaos is unfairly biased, it is not balanced with the explanation of underlying motives of the turmoil. My analysis considering this phenomenon highlights the actions taken by Papuanese are actually the form of ‘self-defense’. Self-defense is a countermeasure that involves defending the health and well-being of oneself, or of another, from harm. Papuanese are attacked and harmed, and they need to defense themselves, that’s what people not commonly understand, causing negative judgement and labelling.

Amungme, one of the traditional tribes in Papua has been attacked for more than forty years by the existence of PT. Freeport Indonesia. They are evicted from their own land and moved into a resident called as Kwamki Lama. It built up by the company and the government to house Papuans who had already moved from their traditional lands into the concession. The condition is contrasted with the elegance of the company’s Sheraton Hotel and the Western style town of Kuala Kencana. It is also featured with gym, air-conditioned shopping center, swimming pool, schools, office blocks, and park lands. Amungme are powerlessly giving up their own lands for the sake of government’s ambition to pursue international attention.

Some historical explanation regarding the operations of PT. Freeport Indonesia and how it results into several cases of human rights violation will be presented in this writing in order to confirm the statement that the Freeport-related turmoil occurs in the region of Papua province are self-defense, not merely violent act conducted by primitive society.

The history of PT Freeport Indonesia can be traced back to two decades before the country achieved the independency. In 1939, a copper mountain in the highland of Mimika was first discovered by Jean Jacques Dozy, a Dutch geologist working for Shell. The name Erstberg was given by Dozy and his discovery was publicly reported. It was Freeport Sulphur, the predecessor of Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold of the United States which first became interested in Erstberg in 1959. The company was actually preparing some plans to make the government which at the time ruled by Sukarno to sign a deal for the Erstberg project. However pro-Communist government under Sukarno made the investment unattractive and consequently, the company should have a step back.

Sukarno was toppled in 1966 following the Jakarta coup, and it became an opportunity for the company to officially open negotiations with the Indonesian general. The presidential authority was then handled by Suharto, with one of the main priorities of New Order regime was to gain international recognition and political support. The three-decade-regime promoted a decidedly pro-West, pro-foreign investment alignment. Finally, in 1967, Freeport became the first foreign company to sign a contract with the new regime.

Short after the contract signing, the conflict between the corporation and indigenous Papuans has started to ignite. Amungme, Kamoro, Moni, and Nduga are the indigenous Papuan groups who have been suffered from the ‘modern colonization’ by the company. Their lands are now comprised Freeport’s mining and infrastructure, and the concession area. The mining operation of Freeport to Papua has caused a massive, permanent, and escalating disruption to the lives of the indigenous people[3]. By then, Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM) was established in 1965 in the West Papua territory and agitating for independence for the provinces. The central government banned their operations and label the members of the organization as traitors.

Regarding the formation of OPM, I assume that the organization is the effort West Papuan can do just to simply make another side of the country know their existence and suffering, as part of Indonesia. Their actions are also their form of speech to represent their suppressed condition both by the company and central government with its helper, Indonesian National Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI). It is so ironic that the government, especially New Order regime, chose to increase the welfare of the company instead of the Papuanese. Since the mining operation started, there have been several cases of human rights violation which is suspected to be the strategy by Suharto to accelerate the business run by PT Freeport Indonesia.

The first documented Indonesian military killings of indigenous people in the Freeport area occurred in 1972. Researchers have recorded more than 150 cases of individual killings of Amungme and other indigenous people in and around the mine since the 1970s[4]. On the other hand, the war among tribes and killing among the indigenous people are the results of behavior of the authority and company, the fractures within the community, and continuing years of antagonism between local people versus the foreigners. In 1977, Amungme and six other tribes bombed the pipelines. Military handled the situation by arresting the indigenous people, destroy their houses and even some of them were killed. Authority mentioned 900 people died during the attack, but the local witness assumed the number of victim was twofold higher. Military Operation Area (Daerah Operasi Militer, DOM) was taken as a solution by New Order regime to solve the chaotic condition in Papua during 1978-1998.

The implementation of DOM was proven to be nothing more than emblazing war between Papuan indigenous people versus PT Freeport Indonesia which is fully strengthen by the government. In 1995, Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) issued the very first report regarding Freeport-related human right violation cases in Papua. It is entitled Trouble at Freeport: Eyewitness Accounts June 1994-February 1995 in which it also contains the accusation for Freeport’s security forces of being involved in the killing of the indigenous people in the concession. The report highlighted the failure of Suharto government to protect its most disadvantaged, isolated, and depoliticized citizens. Fortunately, the report publication has becoming such a door for international leaks of information. Freeport was known to be in the ignoble position of relying on the military to protect its operation, which prove the government’s support to the human rights violation.

Even following the fall of Suharto in 1998, the human right violation actions have not ceased. Some people who are considered as public figure among the indigenous people, whether they are members of OPM or not, still being threatened. For instance, Theys Hiyo Eluay, the Chairman of the Papua Presidium Council of West Papua was killed in 2001 by the members of military forces. Ironically, no one related to the murder case was taken into custody because the government considered them as ‘heroes’ for Indonesia. Up to this day, some figures of Western Papua have been making some efforts to fight for their right as landowners, or simply as human. One of the examples is the legal action taken by Tom Beanal, the leader of Amungme Tribal Council of Lembaga Suku Amungme to allege Freeport MacMoRan Inc. committed environmental damage, human right abuses, and cultural genocide. The effort was the first legal action ever taken by any indigenous people or individual in Indonesia. Besides, some other actions including demonstration or discussion with the representatives of the company have been done by Papuans.

While in fact, up to this day, regardless the democratic system that the central government has been applying for almost two decades, Papuan people still living in the same quite condition as they had during New Regime era. PT Freeport still being the largest copper and gold mining company in the world, while Papua still become the forgotten part of this nation. Let me relate this to the case of lands and buildings eviction in Jakarta. The condition is relatively the same, how several communities of people in specific areas have no choice but leaving their belongings behind. We may consider their effort to defend their lands as heroic, but why we label Papuan who actually do the similar things as rebel? In this case, we should be wiser in choosing any terms to identify specific community of people. If we are still unable to give direct help and aid for Papuans in relation to their problems with PT Freeport Indonesia, at least we need to stop giving negative judgment to them, realizing that they have been doing what they can do as the form of self-defense. We cannot blame them for the things they can do to survive among the colonization by their own country.

[1] Ide Anak Agung Gede Agung. Dari Negara Indonesia Timur ke Republik Indonesia Serikat. Gadjah Mada University Pres.

[2] Simpson, Brad. Indonesia’s 1969 Takeover of West Papua Not by “Free Choice”

[3] Abrash, Abigail. Human Rights Abuses by Freeport in Indonesia

[4] The Amungme, Kamoro & Freeport: How Indigenous Papuans Have Resisted the World’s Largest Gold and Copper Mine, retrieved from


*tulisan ini dapat dibaca di Majalah Bhinneka edisi November 2016 dalam bahasa Indonesia dengan judul ‘Berdagang Emas dengan Nyawa’ yang bisa diakses dan diunduh gratis di: