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  • Writer's pictureMerdeka Secretariat

Tears from Nduga Reveal the Tragedy of Rape in Papua

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

Reza Gunadha | Erick Tanjung

Tuesday, 05 November 2019 | 07:15 Western Indonesian Time

This article was originally published in It is re-published and translated to English with permission.

[ Rohimah]

Residents demand that the security forces be withdrawn from Nduga because they are frightened by the presence of a large number of armed forces. – The prolonged armed conflict in Papua, especially in Nduga, has left humanity on dangerous grounds. Tens of thousands of residents fled to the forest, and not a few met their end there. Then there is also the story of rape.

A DAY IN MAPENDUMA felt like decades for Veronica, a volunteer teacher at an elementary school in Nduga. Because she cannot move as freely like in the other districts.

Many prohibitions were laid down by Rumianus, or Pace Rumi as he was usually called, a leader of the Free Papua Organization (OPM).

Marta, a volunteer junior high school teacher who lives in the same house as Veronica, can still occasionally go out of the lodging towards the airport, where many of the residents gather.

Veronica had often reminded Marta not to leave whenever she pleases, as Pace Rumi had ordered. However, this time, he made an exception.

Marta has returned with news of interest to Veronica: the armed wing of the OPM was strategizing an attack against the Indonesian police and army.

Guerillas of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) from various districts have arrived in Mapenduma. Every time a guerrilla group comes, yells resembling the sound of a bird could be heard.

"That's the sign of the war code," Marta whispered to Veronica.

The distance between the housing where Veronica and Marta resided and the airfield used by TPNPB-OPM to gather and conduct exercises was not too far away.

The house where Veronica, Marta, and another woman named Hanna lived cannot be called decent as it was very easy for people to break in.

The padlock and latch were broken. The wall on the left side of the house was also torn with only a sheet of plywood covering it.

Every night, the principal of the school where Veronica and the others taught would sit around near the housing to ensure that nothing bad happens to his staff.

The principal actually lives somewhat far from the housing, on a hillside which is quite high.

Late at night, when it is certain that there is nothing [unusual happening] around the housing area, the principal would return up the hill to go home and rest.

The principal cannot stay around the housing area as the teachers are mostly women. In a tradition upheld by the Central Mountain tribes, men may not enter women's homes.

Our Enemy is Not a Teacher

VERONICA STILL REMEMBERS her first day meeting the students. The principal gathered all of the students in the field.

Unlike her experience teaching in the Mugi District, Veronica was really shocked in Nduga when only under 50 students showed up on the first day out of the 100 students in grades 1-6.

The principal had asked the students who came to tell their friends to go to school the next day, because the teacher was already there.

The number of teachers in the school is far from enough, so the volunteers split the teaching assignments. The principal teaches grade 1 and grade 2. Veronica teaches grade 3 and grade 4. While Hanna teaches grade 5 and grade 6.

"Invite your friends to attend class tomorrow..." Veronica instructed the children.

The children just raised their eyebrows, a sign of agreement. The next day, from 7 students who came on the first day, it has increased to 15 students. Not bad.

Nduga refugees who have been displaced in the mountains and forests for 9 months without government assistance. [from documentation]

Veronica and the other volunteers were again moved with what they encountered during their first Sunday in Mapenduma on 7th October 2018.

They came to worship at the church in the morning because Pace Rumi would introduce them to the congregation.

In Pace Rumi’s message, he expressed that Veronica and the others could win the hearts of the people of Nduga and become brothers if they came together in church.

"Teachers don’t need to be afraid. We will not harm the teachers. We need teachers to educate the younger generation of Papuans. Our opponents are not the teachers, but the state authorities," said Pace Rumi in the middle congregation while introducing Veronica.

The OPM restricts the movement of teacher volunteers, that is, they can only go to school and back home. They also can't hold cellphones nor take photos.

Still, the OPM treats volunteer teachers well.

"[You] go first, teacher..." said Egianus Kogoya, one of the respected leaders in the TPNPB-OPM while passing the residence of Veronica and her two colleagues.

"Alright," answered Hanna who had taught Egianus Kogoya in Mugi District Elementary School a few years ago.

Nduga refugees who have been displaced in the mountains and forests for 9 months without government assistance. [from documentation]

Pace Rumi had also passed their house. The man has a calm personality, which gave a sense of comfort to the teachers.

"You don't need to be afraid. The statement in front of the church yesterday is a guarantee of security from me," he said.

A Night of Agony

THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL left the housing area where Veronica and her friends lived and returned home earlier than usual on a Thursday night, 11th of October 2018.

He bid them goodbye. The school principal admitted that he has been tense for a week and needed some rest.

"I also want to go to sleep," Veronica told Marta and Hannah to enter the lodging.

The room had two beds, one for Veronica and the other for Marta. Hanna stayed in another room with her two children.

While everyone was asleep, there was a shout from outside accompanied by a banging on the door.

"Teacher, teacher, open the door..."

Marta was the first to wake up, so she woke up Veronica. The person outside did not stop shouting.

"Open the door, hurry... it's about to be morning..."

Veronica, Marta, Hanna and her two children gathered in one room, planning their strategy. They come to an agreement and Marta went out quietly through a side door to seek help.

They took a peek from behind the door and saw that the house was surrounded. Some of the people outside carried weapons. The skies in Nduga was dark and the rain was falling so the women’s vision were obscured.

After Marta had left, the plywood covering the torn wall was broken down. Hanna, while carrying one of her children, was still able to talk to the besiegers.

"Do you want some coffee? If you want, make it yourself, "said Hanna, but the intruders only laughed. Soon, the generator that was the source of the house's lighting went out.

Nduga refugees who have been displaced in the mountains and forests for 9 months without government assistance. [from documentation]

Hanna's second child cried as she ran to her mother. In the increasingly dense lighting, Hanna saw at least seven people enter their house.

Hanna could only then close her eyes, hug her two children, and cry out, "Lord Jesus, save us ... Lord Jesus, give us strength..."

The intruders apparently barged in Veronica's room. In it, Veronica was holding her door tight, but finally could not.

The dark night was getting thicker, the rain that had fallen since the afternoon never stopped.

"I was raped," Veronica said softly to Hanna, after the men left.

Veronica and Hanna cried as they hugged. Hannah's two children hugged them, and joined in their hysterical cries.

Their cries were lost in the sound of rain hitting the tin roof of the house.


IT TURNED OUT MARTA COULD NOT MOVE, knowing at least 20 people were surrounding the house. She chose to hide behind a board when she was tasked by Veronica and Hanna to seek help.

It was only long after the men left that Marta dared to go back home to find Veronica and Hanna crying while hugging.

Marta then finally looks for help. She went to the principal's house on the hill. She then reported the events that had befallen them in the housing.

Unexpectedly, the principal who was a big man, cried, shouted, cursed out his aggravations.

Meanwhile Marta continued to encourage the principal for them to go together to see Veronica and Hanna's condition.

"Evacuate us. We no longer want us to stay here," Veronica said while crying to the school principal.

"It's still dark. I do not want to let you to stay here, later there won’t be anyone else left [here]. But wait until the sky is clear," he answered.

The principal went straight to the house of the head of the puskesmas (community health center) who was originally from Mapenduma. After hearing about the incident, the head of the puskesmas was both angry and sad.

The two then met with a number of church leaders, and agreed on having all the teachers evacuated to the house of the head of the puskesmas.

By late afternoon, two OPM leaders, Rumianus Wandikbo and Oskar Wandikbo, arrived at the principal's house.

They apologized for not being able to maintain the safety of the volunteers and declared that they are determined to find the perpetrators of the immoral act.

"How could we want independence, or want to care for our nation if we couldn’t care for the women," said Pace Rumianus regretfully.

Rumianus Wandikbo is an educated person. He attended college in Biak and had the concept of the struggle for independence.

"Hide anywhere, we will find [the perpetrators]! Our struggle has been tainted by their demeanor," he vowed.

Grief of Nduga

THE WOMAN IN BLACK was busy greeting her guests in a room on the third floor of the Indonesian Church Association building in Central Jakarta last week.

The woman’s name is Kristin Samah. She did not get tired from giving off smiles to dozens of people who came in the room to reflect.

Not a few people came to ask for selfies. Others asked for autographs on their books.

Kristin is the author of the book "Grief of Nduga", a novel based on various humanitarian tragedies that have occurred in Papua.

However, the woman's smile disappeared when she got on the stage. The tone of her voice trembled as she narrated the stories and experiences of civilians in Nduga, Papua, especially of the women.

Kristin also cried as she recounted the story of a female volunteer elementary school teacher who was raped by seven people in the dark night of Nduga late last year.

She had never planned on writing stories about the land of Nduga. It all started with her friend's offer to write a book on the story of a task force team from the National Police who was on duty in Papua.

Kristin was interested and left for Papua. However, to her surprise, she got a lot of heartbreaking stories of civilians in Nduga.

Therefore, she wrote these stories even though they had nothing to do with the police, the institution that facilitated [her] in Papua.

"I am interested in asking for a fact-based story about the rape of women in Nduga," I told Kristin before the discussion.

"Alright, I might not be talk about that during the event. We will talk afterwards, "Kristin answered.

After the event, Kristin fulfilled her promise. She told the story of the rape of women in Nduga, which until now remains in a gray area, away from the eyes of the law.

"I tried very hard to be able to meet with the victims. Finally she was found. I offered her help with trauma recovery in Jakarta," Kristin told me.

She said, coincidentally, Veronica’s child, who was studying in Jakarta, could persuade the woman to participate in a recovery programme in the Indonesian capital.

"I met all the teachers who were victims of the Mapenduma incident, I spoke to them. From them, I made this book," Kristin said.

Aside from the rape case, Kristin said there was also a murder of a family in Kenyam, Nduga.

However, she acknowledged that book is incomplete as she has not been able to meet the refugees of Nduga after the armed encounter between the TNI / Polri and TPNPB on the Trans-Papua route at the end of 2018.

According to her, the incidents that occurred in Papua were humanitarian issues. She deliberately did not want to include a very strong political element in the incident.

Holding the Government to Account

Amnesty International Indonesia's Executive Director, Usman Hamid, questioned why the humanitarian tragedy in Nduga did not receive much attention from the government.

Not only the incidents of the rape of teachers in Mapenduma and other murder cases, such as the killings in Kali Yigi and Kali Aurak on December 2018.

"Activists and I have demanded that state authorities find the perpetrators. Because the state is responsible for enforcing the law in a just manner. Yet until now it is still a mystery," said Usman Hamid.

The problem of thousands of Nduga refugees, who are mostly in the mountainous regions, also seem to be ignored by the government.

In fact, based on investigative reports from human rights networks in Papua, at least 182 refugees have died due to various diseases. Many of the Nduga refugees are women, children, and babies.

As many as 45,000 Nduga residents fled from their hometowns fearing the impacts of Indonesia’s security operations.

"The central government and especially the security forces must listen to the aspirations of the local community regarding this humanitarian crisis," said Usman Hamid.

Residents demand that the security forces be withdrawn from Nduga because they are frightened by the presence of a large number of armed forces.

"If [the security forces are not withdrawn], they are worried that more refugees will die because the living conditions are very inadequate, especially for those who have fled to the forest."



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