From my place of exile

25 Jan 2013
Dominikus Surabut
Dominikus Surabut, translated by TAPOL

Acceptance Speech for the Hellman/Hammett Appreciation Award 2011

Waa, waa, waa, waa (Papuan greeting of respect)

From my place of exile, I give my respect for this honourable place and opportunity to:

  • Manager, Hellman/Hammett Human Rights Watch selection process
  • Human Rights Watch Asia
  • Human Rights Watch Indonesia
  • Non-governmental organisations and human rights activists
  • The Papuan people whom I love

Thanks be to you, God

By realising that this adult life is full of selfishness, competition and abrasive human values, the heart shrinks when humankind questions itself as human. Am I valued as a human? The answer unfolds in human life through working to foster a sense of justice and solidarity. As an individual and as a group we must defend life by working to build a culture of peace together with the oppressed. This can be a long and difficult task, living through bitter times in an era full of political uncertainty. This suffering and difficulty has been experienced by Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, as well as many others on this Earth who have experienced suffering inflicted by the authorities and those who deliberately inflict violent human rights abuses.

Brothers and sisters, I’m sure you already know that the same thing is being experienced by the Papuan people of the Melanesian race, who are South Pacific negro people. But, Papuans have already paid much too high a price in search of a free and dignified life. For 51 years, the nation of Papua has over and over again fallen victim to the conspiracy of global political interests. We have frequently been arbitrarily sentenced to become victims of state crime and crimes against humanity.

We should remind ourselves that even if today we may speak of a bitter past, it is not because we want to mourn the fallen ruins or lament the sufferings of the past, then sink helplessly. On the contrary, with today’s Hellman/Hammett award, we Papuans announce to the whole world that while we are only small in facing our creator, we are equal to and have the same dignity as all other nations on the face of this earth; we have the right to freedom, the right to enjoy a dignified life within a democratic, peaceful and orderly society.

Indonesia’s grip is getting stronger, and Papuan people everywhere experience great fear. Culture can start to shackle hundreds of thousands of Papuan children. We don’t have the power of freedom or justice; it has disappeared beneath the gun barrel and jackboots of the TNI and police forces. The impact is that the Papuan nation is experiencing an identity crisis, a loss of identity. Running and running until we are totally exhausted and fall sprawled on the ground, without understanding why this catastrophe has suddenly happened.

Brothers and sisters,

Even though our hopes have been stifled, our lives destroyed, tortured and isolated, and drops of blood splatter the ground and the people of Papua, God takes pleasure in giving us insights. I have been strengthened by all kinds of pressure to record the process and document the violence. To reinforce the indigenous Papuan community as the victims of military violence, as something sure and certain, through the determination and spirit I take from my country. With the awareness that truth is always to be found in humble places, I learned this while experiencing some extraordinary threats. Those of you who are present at this most noble event surely know more than a little about the violent situation in Papua, which is escalating differently than in other areas of Indonesia.

I am personally blessed, for this situation has matured, toughened and strengthened me. The truth that we are struggling for is a peace that is equal, democratic, and holds humanitarian values in the highest regard. However, these values are continually reduced by the Indonesian government and obliterated in the name of three big interests:

1. Exploitation of natural resources;

2. Impoverishment of the indigenous Papuan population;

3. Crimes against humanity and Human Rights violations.

These three interests lead to the distortion of history of the past era, namely the annexation of the independent sovereignty of the Papuan nation by the government of the Republic of Indonesia via UNTEA (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority), and was followed by the Indonesian military invasion from 1962 until today.  

We are again and again struggling to end multiple violent conflicts in Papua, but we are endlessly enslaved beneath the power of the gun barrel. Trauma and feelings of hatred are born of the attitude and behavior of the Indonesian government towards us, via its military forces. However, with a sense of full responsibility, this very violence revives our will to resist even more strongly. 

I myself have experienced this, since I became a volunteer for the healing of the people and land of Papua. Even more terrible was when I took part in the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress in October 2011 in Jayapura, as a democracy festival for the Papuan people to heal our Country and the Papuan nation peacefully. The government once again silenced the freedom for democracy for me and my friends. Two hours after the Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress the Indonesian military brutally dispersed us by raining down gunshots, sweepings, arrests and torture. Three people were shot dead, over 300 people were arrested and from all these we five people were treated as suspects, as having violated the law by peacefully participating in democracy. Later we were sentenced to three years in jail and until now we are cooped up in exile in the Class IIA prison in Abepura. The same violence is also currently being experienced by the Papuan people in Puncak Jaya, Nabire, Serui, Biak, Manokwari, Timika, Merauke, Jayapura and Wamena, perpetrated by the Indonesian military.

Brothers and sisters,

Violence in Papua will not be ended by sending in more troops or by military operations; on the contrary, there is a tendency that the human rights situation in Papua will just get worst. Resolving the violence in Papua is not possible through a violent or repressive military approach, but rather can be achieved in a dignified, courteous, polite and ethical manner by sitting together as equals and conducting a peaceful dialogue between Papuan leaders and the Indonesian government. Indonesia calls itself a lawful country which embraces democratic principles. In reality, Indonesia unilaterally reduces the values of law and the principle of democracy in order to kill people.

Since the year 2000, the Papuan people have voiced their request for a peaceful dialogue with the government of Indonesia, but the government of Indonesia always silences us by responding with violence upon violence and the seizure of Papuan natural resources. As a result of this, at this noble event, I request the support of you all in working together to press for the resolution of violent conflict in Papua via peaceful dialogue. 

The occasion of the 2012 Hellman/Hammett appreciation award, conferred on me by Human Rights Watch, is one form of support, as well as recognition by the international community of the struggle of myself and the Papuan people. For me, this appreciation is a victory for the Papuan people and that is why we consistently work to build our non-violent, peaceful struggle. With our humanitarian work we will continue to struggle together all over the world until we reach the recognition of a dignified universal standard of living.

Even though the land and people of Papua are in jail, our voice and our weeping have already been heard, little by little, and this begins to heal us from the violence of human rights violations in the land of Papua, towards a peaceful land. This award is therefore a symbol of resistance and the greater responsibility for me and for the Papuan people to uphold the truth of the history of our nation. We gather truth and little by little we will climb the mountain. At the top of the mountain we stand and breathe in the fresh air of freedom.

Finally, I hope these words meet with your approval, even though you cannot hear my voice or see me physically from behind these iron bars. With the unwavering spirit of freedom, I would like to say thank you to the Manager of Hellman/Hammett, the selection team at Human Rights Watch, our activist and human rights worker friends, and particularly to my family, the Papuan people who are currently jailed, and everybody who has helped me with this annual event. I think the blessing of God will always be with us in our work to serve humanity, both now and in the future.

Thank you


Waa waa waa waa


From exile in Abepura Class IIA prison


09 January 2013




Dominikus Sorabut