Swedish pension fund invests in Wabu Block, West Papua

Protest against the plans for a gold mine, Jakarta 9 February 2022. Photo: Alfian Winanto / Suara


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Swedish pension fund invests in Wabu Block, West Papua

Swedish pension savers hold shares in a mining company on the verge of clinching a controversial and financially lucrative mining project in West Papua, reveals Tidningen Global.

The Indonesian state-controlled mining company Antam is in the midst of laying the groundwork for a large-scale gold mining project at Wabu Block in the central highlands of West Papua – an area already marked by armed conflict, landgrabbing and expulsion of civilians. “This is new information”, Första AP-fonden (AP1), one of five AP-funds that “ensures stability in the Swedish national income pension system”, responds to the information provided to them by Tidningen Global.

“We assume that the companies we invest in follow current laws and regulations”, says Sara Christensen, head of communication at AP1.

By Klas Lundström

WEST PAPUA | Swedish pension fund Första AP-fonden, AP1, has a shareholding in the Indonesian mining company Aneka Tambang Tbk (Antam). The total value is 797,000 SEK (equivalent of $85,000)

“The company is included in an index with one of our external trustees”, Sara Christensen, head of communication at AP1, tells Tidningen Global.

Antam was founded in 1968 as part of the then-Indonesian dictator Suharto’s full-scale launch of a roster of state-owned and controlled mining companies. Antam’s main business has been rooted in gold and nickel production and is since 2017 part of a larger state-controlled holding company called Inalum.

“The next Freeport”

Since 2020 is Antam one of the driving investors and lobbyists for the long-awaited launch of a large-scale mining operation in the West Papuan central highlands, at Wabu Block. West Papua has ever since the 1960s been occupied by Indonesia as a result of a criticized UN-led referendum called the “Act of Free Choice”, and the vast Wabu Block gold deposit is situated where indigenous peoples have resided for many generations.

Further south is Freeport Mine, one of the planet’s most lucrative and largest mining projects, established in the 1970s thanks to large-scale and politically executed landgrabbing and the expulsion of natives who lost access to their land and livelihood.

Freeport Mine is one of Indonesia’s most important sources of tax income and jointly owned by the Indonesian state and American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (in which another Swedish pension fund, Sjunde AP-fonden, AP7, is shareholder).

Freeport Mine is also surrounded by a heavily militarized, gated community that is regularly subjected to attacks by the armed wing of the West Papuan independence movement. But also, a region where civilian Papuans frequently are harassed by security companies and Indonesian army personnel.

“A pathway for human rights violations”

Human rights activists in West Papua now fear a similar outcome of the ongoing preparation process of Wabu Block, which already shows signs of landgrabbing and systematic harassments of civilians.

“Wabu Block and Freeport both serve as pathways for human rights violations”, Theo Hasegem, a prominent human rights activist who documents abuses in the central highlands, tells Tidningen Global.

On social media various testimonies are spread by residents in connection with Wabu Block. Tidningen Global has also obtained a number of local testimonies regarding newly-implemented restrictions of movement and claims that Indonesian army personnel has confiscated Papuans’ cell phones.

“Antam has established itself by deceiving the public and has also done so completely without the knowledge or permission from local communities”, says Theo Hasegem.

A dangerous context

In its report “Gold Rush” Amnesty International emphasizes that although Antam can’t be attributed to any documented abuses, the organisation “is concerned about the potential human rights impacts of mining in Wabu Block in the existing context”. A context where no gold mine would be possible without a forceful expulsion of the local population, whose stand on the mining project are utterly ignored by the Indonesian state.

“A number of Indigenous Papuans told Amnesty International that they oppose the proposed mining plans due to their potential to harm both the environment and local communities. They described using the proposed mining area for cultivating crops, hunting animals, and collecting timber. They said they feared environmental pollution, the loss of customary land, and damage to their livelihoods”, Amnesty International concludes.

In recent weeks, a wave of protests has swept across West Papua, including towns near Wabu Block mining site. In all, thousands of Papuans have protested against Indonesia’s plans to subdivide West Papua into a further number of provinces, hence further undermining the local residents’ ability to organize their claim and quest for independence.

Furthermore, Papuans have opposed any form of extension of the vastly criticized autonomy law introduced in the wake of Suharto’s resignation in the late 1990s – and the majority of West Papua’s population still demand a referendum similar to the one that granted Timor-Leste its independence in 1999 (after 25 years of Indonesian occupation).

22,000 soldiers deployed since December 2018

Indonesia, on the other hand, shows no signs of meeting any form of demands that comes near self-determination. On the contrary, the central government in Jakarta has cemented its military strategy to eliminate the independence movement, both armed and civilian, by deploying a total of 22,000 Indonesian soldiers to West Papua since December 2018.

On a broader scale is Wabu Block merely the latest in a series of historical examples of Indonesia’s view of West Papua, and its rule over hundreds of indigenous Melanesian peoples. A policy which Survival International has dubbed as a “silent genocide”, fully visible to the global community.

Views and interests of local residents come nowhere close to counter or challenge Indonesia’s profit-based expansion policy that during the past 50 years has driven the country’s extraction of natural resources such as gold, copper, forests, fishing waters and palm oil plantations.

“Sweden should be peace seeker, not investor”

Sweden, as an ever-more important and expanding economic trading partner to Indonesia, should cease to contribute to the continuation of human abuses in West Papua via its citizens’ pension fund portfolios, says Theo Hasegem.

“I hope that Sweden instead encourages to dialogue between West Papua and Indonesia by facilitating talks as a neutral third party instead of investing in Wabu Block”, the human rights activist tells Tidningen Global.

In the case of pension fund Första AP-fonden, AP1, however, it remains unclear whether its investments in Antam will be retained in the light of ongoing human rights violations in connection with Wabu Block. The mining project is expected to be a multi-billion-dollar business, and profitable to Indonesian mining companies and international shareholders alike.

“We have no comments other than that what you write is correct. I will take the information further”, Sara Christensen, head of communication at AP1, tells Tidningen Global.

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