INTO THE EVENTS OF 9 MAY 1996 IN WESTERN PAPUA,
ENTRUSTED BY THE ICRC TO AN OUTSIDE CONSULTANT
Following the broadcast of Blood on the Cross, by Mark Davis, on Australia's ABC network and the Swiss French-language network TSR, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced publicly that it would appoint an individual outside the organization to draw up a report as to the veracity of the allegations made in the documentary and any responsibility on the part of the delegates involved in its activities in Western Papua. The ICRC appointed Mr Piotr Obuchowicz, who is very familiar with the organization and the way it works.
Mark Davis largely based his documentary on the findings of the report drawn up by Irian Jaya's Institute for Policy and Human Rights Advocacy ("ELSHAM") and published in August 1999. The report asked the ICRC to look into the events that occurred in Western Papua in May 1996.
Mr Obuchowicz began his investigation on 25 October 1999. It required travel to a number of places (including Jakarta and Western Papua itself) and led him to meet directly and on the spot the various individuals concerned and to analyse the allegations made against the ICRC.
Mr Obuchowicz spoke with many people ? including ICRC delegates ? who were present in Indonesia in 1996, former hostages of Kelly Kwalik, armed forces personnel, staff of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesian human rights activists, ELSHAM representatives in Jayapura, representatives of the Papuan Amungme et N'duga tribes, and both British and Netherlands
diplomats. The vast majority of the individuals approached co-operated
with the investigation. However, the Indonesian, British and Netherlands
authorities declined to take an official position on the matter. Nor was
it possible to meet Kelly Kwalik, General Prabowo Subianto, who had been
responsible for security operations in Western Papua at the time, or Mr
Ivor Helberg, the British military attaché who was present in Western
Papua during the hostage crisis.
2. IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THE ALLEGATIONS ?
The investigation made it possible to look into the facts of the case
and to assess the accounts gathered regarding the accusations levelled
in the ELSHAM report and the Davis documentary.
a) Did ICRC delegate Sylviane Bonadei take part in the military operation of 9 May 1996 ?
A detailed investigation into Ms Bonadei's whereabouts on 9 May shows it to be impossible that she could have been in Kenyam when the military operation began. Moreover, the majority of witnesses and others involved in the affair (including the makers of the documentary) who were questioned stated that they had never believed that she had been present during the operation. On the other hand, no one seemed to have difficulty in believing that there had been a ruse, with a European posing as Ms Bonadei, to create the illusion that an ICRC operation was underway.
b) Was the white helicopter the one previously used by the ICRC, or another?
The investigation revealed that when the military operation took place, at least three white helicopters were operational in the region (one with yellow markings, one with green and one with blue). It was not possible to establish whether one of these had been used, especially as it is a simple matter to quickly paint a military helicopter white. What is certain, however, is that a white helicopter was employed for the military operation.
c) Did the helicopter used for the military operation bear the Red Cross emblem?
Accounts differ as to whether the emblem was used. What is certain, however, is that a white helicopter appeared in Ngesselema on the afternoon in question and that it could have been perceived by the local population only as an ICRC helicopter, whether displaying the red cross emblem or not. Deceiving the local population in this manner could have had only one effect in military terms: total surprise.
d) Who were the armed Westerners on board the white helicopter?
Only a serious and transparent investigation by the relevant government authorities would enable a reliable reply to be made to this question. There are three possibilities: members of the British special forces (who some accounts indicate were present in the area); mercenaries from Executive Outcomes or Sandline; or Indonesian personnel of European extraction. It is nevertheless certain that Western advisers, including Mr Ivor Helberg, helped the Indonesian armed forces prepare the operation.
e) Why did the ICRC announce that it was terminating its involvement? Was this fact conveyed to the hostage-takers?
The role played by the ICRC during the hostage crisis was in complete accordance with the organization's policy in such situations. There were two major aspects to that role:
1. material and moral support;
2. serving as a neutral intermediary.
The ICRC fulfilled both aspects of its role as long as it could, abandoning
the second on the morning of 9 May, though it indicated that it was prepared
to continue providing material and moral support. Thus, the ICRC never
took the decision to withdraw completely. However, owing to insufficient
communication within the ICRC team, but above all as a result of security
concerns (i.e. the hostage-takers' pronounced aggressiveness towards the
ICRC on the morning of 9 May), it was not possible for the organization
to explain to the hostage-takers in sufficient detail that it was withdrawing
certain services but not others. It should be noted that
the accounts of the hostages themselves and those of the delegates present in Ngesselema on 9 May agree that the hostage-takers were by then expecting imminent action by the Indonesian armed forces.
f) How did the ICRC respond to the allegations and how did it handle public information in their wake?
From the moment the first accusations were voiced following the military intervention, the ICRC kept a low profile and declined to respond to the accusations (issuing neither confirmation nor denial). This was done in order not to jeopardize the organization's other activities in the area..
Apart from a report on the events drawn up by the head of delegation
and received in Geneva two months after they had occurred, no detailed
analysis or thorough investigation was carried out. The approach taken
by the ICRC's Department of Operations is also open to question as it was
limited to asking the head of delegation to make informal inquiries of
the Indonesian authorities as to whether the allegations had any basis
in reality. No reply was received to those inquiries and no additional
steps were considered. Finally, the ICRC failed to defend staff members
who were publicly accused of collusion with the Indonesian armed forces.
Unfortunately, it was only after the publication of the ELSHAM report and the broadcast of Mark Davis's documentary that the ICRC approached the Indonesian authorities formally and in writing. No reply has thus far been received.
a) The information gathered in the course of Mr Obuchowicz's investigation enabled the ICRC to state categorically that Sylviane Bonadei did not take part in the military operation carried out in Ngesselema on 9 May 1996 to liberate the hostages held by the Free Papua Movement. For three years the ICRC failed to unequivocally deny Ms Bonadei's involvement. The organization owes it to her to take a clear position on the matter.
b) The ICRC withdrew from its role as a neutral intermediary in accordance with its established policy in such matters. Although the dangerous circumstances in which it was taken are sufficient to explain this abrupt decision, the head of delegation's handling of the situation failed to ensure adequate internal communication and lacked consistency with regard to its consequences.
c) There can be no doubt that the military forces that took action on
9 May 1996 in Ngesselema made perfidious use of the ICRC's role in the
affair (i.e. the white helicopter). They may also have misused the emblem,
though this has not been definitely proved.
d) The ICRC was tardy in approaching the Indonesian authorities and made no attempt to approach the Papuan representatives with a view to verifying the allegations. Steps must be taken to restore dialogue with the Papuans.
e) The ICRC was not sufficiently assiduous in following up the affair, in dealing with its staff and, in particular, in handling its relationship with the media.