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Genocide in West Papua, collective responsibility and the role of Ernst & Young

Categories: Accountability, Asia-Pacific, Corporate profit, Corporate responsibility, Corruption, Discrimination/Racism, Ernst & Young, Genocide, Globalisation, Human Rights, Indonesia, International Law, Justice, Law, Mining, Political theory, Rule of Law, Shared humanity, West Papua

by: Bakchos
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The TNI under Suharto was seen as different from other armies because:

Indonesian army sees itself as quite different from other armies in the world, because it was never created as an instrument of the state, but was itself involved in the creation of the state. Thus the military considers itself the embodiment of Indonesian nationalism. In theory, it remains above the state, and technically does not consider itself answerable to the government of the day, although in theory, the president is supreme commander of the armed forces. TNI’s decisive role in the defence of the Republic during the 1945-9 period, when it was under Dutch attack, provided the military with the basic justification for wielding political power.

The Power of Politics Freeport in Suharto’s Indonesia – Denise Leith p 220

After the transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the Javanese in December 1949, the Javanese dominated military turned its attention to putting down interactions in the Moluccas, West Java and Sulawesi in order to hold the Javanese empire, now known as the Indonesian state, together. In recognition of the importance of the military within the Indonesian state, it was officially given a role in government in 1958. The military’s role in government and society was expanded with the adoption of the policy of ‘civic mission’, whereby the military undertook civic construction projects in rural areas such as road building and well digging. The military’s civic construction projects were ‘hearts and minds’ projects aimed at undermining the influence of the Indonesian Communist Party (“PKI”). With the destruction of the PKI in 1965, these ‘hearts and minds’ projects were downgraded at the same time as the military’s political role was expanded.

In the process of eliminating the PKI the Indonesian Military learned the fundamentals of realpolitik, that of cultivating influential friends. In 1966 Suharto, in conformity with his own views on realpolitik, moved to ensure that the Javanese Military’s power was comprehensive and uncontested, the cement of terror and repression that held the Javanese Empire together. This was achieved by incorporating the civilian police force within the armed forces. The effect of this granting of unprecedented powers to the military under a politico-military dwifungsi role by Suharto was to effectively make martial law the law of the land. This remained the status quo for more than thirty years allowing TNI to penetrate all levels of Indonesian life, from a presence in parliament, the bureaucracy, the judiciary and business, down to the territorial divisions that had political representation in each and every village. Under this politico-military structure the Indonesian military was divided into two groups: the territorial group (Korem) which essentially have a political role in society, and the combat troops of the army’s Strategic Reserve (Kostrad), the Special Forces Command (Kopassus) and the paramilitary Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob).

Free from the confines of any checks and balances, the military acquired an unassailable position within Indonesian society. From its unassailable position the Javanese Military was charged with defending the Javanese Empire also known as the constructed state of Indonesia from both internal and external threats. With the only conceived threat to the constructed nation coming from those groups whose presence within the state was cemented in place through terror and repression, in order to fulfil the terms of its mission statement the military’s territorial and combat troop divisions have, in their internal security role, always been turned upon those they have been charged with protecting – the Indonesian people. As Denise Leith has argued “in Suharto’s Indonesia the state did not reside as a representation of the people and for the people, but rather as a construct above the people, and within which the people must conform.”

In 1998 the long suppressed desires of the Indonesian people for genuine and inclusive reform rose to the surface and manifested in the overthrew of Suharto and as a challenge to the centralised nature of the constructed nation of Indonesia. Unsurprisingly, these forces turned against the institution that enforced martial law as the natural state of being and attempted to force the military to redefine its role in society. Suharto’s instrument of terror is however, determined to maintain its privileged political and economic position within the constructed state of Indonesia. While Suharto’s instrument of terror and repression is itself divided between pro and anti-reformers, it as an institution remains committed to maintaining the territorial integrity of the Javanese Empire of the constructed state of Indonesia.

One of the principle problems confronting the so called Indonesian citizens of West Papuan origin and location is that Suharto’s instrument of terror and repression is determined to keep them within the Javanese Empire for political, economic and strategic purposes. The economic imperative is being driven by foreign mining companies, principally Freeport McMoRan, who in search of profits ripped from the earth over the corpses of at least 100,000 dead West Papuan’s is prepared to deal with the devil himself.

The travesty that is the Freeport McMoRan operations in West Papua is highlighted by the fact that the indigenous workers (such as they are) at the Grasberg gold and copper mine are Freeport’s lowest-paid workers in the world, receiving just $1.50 per hour! These economically exploited workers were on strike between September and December 2011, demanding reasonable pay increases. They recently rejected Freeport’s offer of a 35% pay hike and called for $4 an hour, to be increased to $7.50 the following year. On 14 December 2011, under intense pressure from the Javanese military, the miners agreed to a 37% pay rise, 24% effective from 1 January 2012 with the remainder to be paid from 2013. Imagine the outcry if it were revealed that a mine worker in say, The United States or Australia was being paid a paltry $1.50 per hour instead of the $150,000+ per year they receive, as a minimum!

For decades, indigenous Papua’s have rejected their special autonomy status within the constructed state of Indonesia, demanding a referendum on self-determination for its 3.6 million people. Is it any wonder that the indigenous people of West Papua are up in arms over Javanese colonial rule when they are forced to work for $1.50 an hour to fuel the profits of foreign multi-nationals such as Phoenix-based Freeport McMoRan, who in turn have subsidised Suharto’s instrument of terror for years thus ensuring Freeport’s continued access to the stolen resources of the West Papuan people, who in exchange suffer genocide and economic exploitation?

Whose responsibility is this travesty? In the collective age in which we now live, it is everyone’s responsibility. Freeport McMoRan through its actions has linked West Papua to the global economy. In so doing it has helped create a situation which has resulted in an ongoing campaign of genocide in West Papua by Suharto’s instrument of terror and repression, to ensure access by foreign multinationals to the resources of the region. The resources of the region are not the property of the constructed state of Indonesia; they have always been and remain the property of the indigenous people of West Papua! The Javanese Military’s ongoing campaign of genocide in West Papua aimed at facilitating theft of the region’s natural resources for the benefit of the global (Western) economy is a shameful act of self-interest.

The beneficiaries of West Papua’s theft inspired genocide are you and I and everybody else who participates in the global economy. We are collectively responsible for every murder, all 100,000 of them that have resulted from the penetration of Freeport McMoRan into the region and the consequent linking of the region, or at least its resources, to the global economy. While I acknowledge that Freeport McMoRan is not the only foreign multinational mining company operating in the region, it was the first and most exploitive and must therefore shoulder a majority of the responsibility for what has followed.

As I have argued before, in this collective age all who benefit from genocide are guilty of the genocide. Benefit can extend to buying products manufactured from stolen resources, to dealing with third party entities that provide services or products to the entities at the coal face of the genocide. In the case of West Papua all those who deal with parties involved in supporting or otherwise assisting Freeport McMoRan’s activities in West Papua are guilty of genocide. This extends to those who provide Freeport McMoRan with accounting services.

Ernst & Young LLP is a public accounting firm retained by Freeport McMoRan as required under United States law. While I accept that recognizing complicity is uncertain terrain holding many difficulties, the concept of collective accountability is nonetheless valid when we look at the extent and impact of globalisation. Individualism, an understanding of the concept of accountability, is deeply rooted in modern consciousness. It owes much, clearly, to Protestant theologies and Kantian moral theories, but it is not the product of a moral theory or doctrinal theology; rather this conception is an expression of the social and economic transformations that have made the conviction, in Emerson’s words, “the imitation is suicide; that [each] must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion”.

In this sense moral accountability must be differentiated from legal accountability. The law excels, if at nothing else, at providing us with quaint nuances that allow those with money, power or preferably both, to escape personal accountability for their actions. Moral responsibility is something different. It’s something that each and every one of understands from the ‘cradle to the grave’ as transcending on a metaphysical level those quaint nuances of ‘the law’ that offer a shield to the morally bereft.

 This concept of accountability is individualistic in three respects: its subject is an individual moral agent; the object of accountability, or the harm or wrong for which the subject is reproached, is ascribable to the subject alone; and the basis of accountability, or the grounds for holding the subject accountable, consists primarily in facts about that subject, such as the subject’s casual contributions or the content of the subject’s intentions.

Christopher Kutz, Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age p. 4

If as fully informed global consumers we are aware of the genocide in West Papua and that corporations such as Freeport McMoRan are benefiting from that genocide by selling the victims assets on the global market, can we as individuals truly claim that we are ignorant of the harm being done to others in order to extract those minerals? If we knowingly purchase or otherwise consume the assets of the victims of the West Papuan genocide can we continue to hide behind the veil of ignorance? If we both know about the genocide in West Papua and knowingly benefit from it, no matter how casually, where do we stand as individual moral agents?

My view is that as individual moral agents, we are morally accountable for any decisions we make, no matter how casually, to consume or otherwise deal with the proceeds of West Papuan genocide or indeed any other genocide or crime against humanity. Just because a gutless and compliant United Nations as ‘guarantor’ of the ‘new world order’ refuses to call it genocide doesn’t mean that it isn’t genocide. Remember the duck test: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Equally if it looks like genocide, acts like genocide and talks like genocide, then it probably is genocide. If we as individual moral agents choose to deal in the proceeds of that genocide, then we as individuals deserve to be reproached for that decision. This rapprochement must be the greater if the individual moral agent making the decision is a corporate entity.

Make no mistake, Ernst & Young LLP is both a corporate entity and an individual moral agent. It presumably has members of its body corporate on the ground with its client in West Papua, and must be equally aware of the circumstances under which its client derives its profits in West Papua. Ernst & Young has clearly made a conscious decision to deal with Freeport McMoRan and in so doing, is helping to facilitate Freeport McMoRan’s continued operations in West Papua. This makes Ernst & Young complicit in the ongoing West Papuan genocide at the hands of Suharto’s instrument of terror and repression. Everyone who subsequently deals with Ernst & Young is likewise complicit in this crime against humanity.

Has the day yet come when we can see beyond our own egoism, beyond our national boundaries and see that we are all brothers and sisters in the wider human family, that when one of our brothers or sisters is murdered in a remote jungle of West Papua, that is a crime against us all and a crime that we must as individual moral agents speak out against?

Will you sign the petition calling for a Royal Commission into the Australian Federal Police?


  1. How about some more posts about the genocide in Australia!

  2. Andy MasonI understand your frustration, but as I have said previously human suffering is everybody’s responsibility. We all need to make a stand and say enough greed, is enough!

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