Which product is mainly exported to Indonesia

A small trade balance

Swiss weapons for mass murderers as well as tons of gold from an area in which war is being waged against indigenous peoples - and where the palm oil conglomerates are opening a new front in the rainforest: A look at the trade statistics on the occasion of the referendum on the free trade agreement with Indonesia.

By Dinu GautierMail to AutorInTwitter Profile of the author

West Papua in the very east of Indonesia could be paradise on earth: around the Raja Ampat archipelago, gigantic manta rays glide effortlessly in strong currents over the most diverse coral reefs in the world; the amount of fish dwarfs anything that can be found elsewhere these days. The highlands in the center of West Papua would have deserved the name Eldorado, the gold and copper deposits in the area are so large.

And then there is the still almost intact jungle, part of the third largest contiguous rainforest in the world: It is the livelihood of the majority of the more than 300 indigenous tribes of West Papua, but also of several hundred bizarre bird species that only exist here and those in the face of the ruling one In abundance, a seemingly absurd amount of evolutionary energy invested in their extravagant appearance and in their mating rituals.

And yet West Papua is anything but a paradise: The gold in the highlands has attracted foreign investors as well as the Indonesian army and police, who are perceived locally as an occupying power and can act as brutally as they want. And now the rainforest is getting up to the collar: because the land reserves on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan are almost exhausted, the agribusiness conglomerates in West Papua have opened a new front.

Before the Swiss voters vote on a free trade agreement with Indonesia on March 7, the question of who is actually benefiting from trade between the two countries today is of interest: Let's go on a short foray through the trade balance sheets that repeatedly point to the conflict zone of West Papua.


War material statistics of Switzerland, 2020: In the first three quarters of the year, war material to the value of 111 million francs was exported to Indonesia. The island nation has suddenly become Switzerland's second largest customer worldwide.

According to blog posts on the websites of the Indonesian Army (TNI), the delivery involves air defense units from the manufacturer Rheinmetall Air Defense AG (formerly Oerlikon Contraves) in Zurich. Skyshield is the name of the mobile high-tech system with which not only planes, but also drones and projectiles can be captured and intercepted, which is why it is particularly suitable for “asymmetrical conflicts”. The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) confirms on request: The exports in 2020 are “anti-aircraft systems” and “small-caliber ammunition”. Indonesia's Ministry of Defense is responsible for the deal with Rheinmetall Air Defense. It is run by the notorious ex-general Prabowo Subianto.

In order to understand who we are dealing with, one has to go back a bit: in 1965, parts of the Indonesian army exploited rumors of an alleged communist coup attempt. In the following months, the army, militias and ordinary citizens murdered between 500,000 and 3 million communists and alleged communists. The mastermind behind the maneuver was a man who would emerge from the bloodbath as the military dictator of the huge country and would remain in power until 1998: General Mohamed Suharto. Suharto clawed what is now West Papua through diplomatic channels, annexed East Timor, which is now an independent state, in violation of international law, and waged a war in the very west of Indonesia, in Aceh. The current Minister of Defense, Prabowo, was Suharto's rough-and-tumble husband and married his youngest daughter. Prabowo headed the Kopassus special unit, which was considered particularly brutal and was responsible for mass murders of civilians, torture and rape in East Timor and elsewhere.

An example of his style: In 1996, independence fighters kidnapped participants in a WWF expedition in West Papua. The release of the abductees was negotiated with the mediation of the ICRC - the independence fighters were assured of safe conduct by General Prabowo. Prabowo sabotaged the agreement at the last minute, and the independence fighters' negotiator fled. The general then - so the later testimony of ICRC delegates - let a helicopter of the type normally used by the Red Cross circle over indigenous villages and open fire there on the unsuspecting residents.

In 1998, as Suharto's regime began to falter in the context of the Asian financial crisis, Prabowo incited pogroms against Indonesians of Chinese descent, who killed over a thousand people across the country. Prabowo's troops are also blamed for kidnapping several opposition activists in Jakarta at the time, who never reappeared. For the first time, his actions were not without consequences: he was dishonorably discharged from the army; the USA, which had previously trained Prabowo militarily, imposed an entry ban and suspended all cooperation with Kopassus. None of this prevented the ex-general from continuing his career as an entrepreneur and starting one as a politician. In 2014 and 2019 he lost to Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, who is considered more moderate in the presidential elections. But Jokowi also knows a powerful former senior member of Kopassus behind him: Luhut Pandjaitan, today Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investments.

Prabowo's younger brother Hashim Djojohadikusumo is ranked 40th on the list of the richest Indonesians by the US business magazine “Forbes”. He boasts of having land the size of Belgium, from Aceh to Papua, and is active in the oil, cement, minerals, coal and palm oil business, and controls banks and various companies at home and abroad. After the fall of the dictatorship, he spent a few years in exile at the commodities trading center in Geneva, where he had several companies entered in the commercial register and organized a charity event in a luxury hotel in 2005 under the patronage of the then Holcim President Thomas Schmidheiny, such as the daily newspaper “Le Temps” »Reported.

Kopassus now has the SG 550 and SG 552 assault rifles from the Swiss manufacturer SIG Sauer in Neuhausen am Rheinfall. The SG 552 is used by the Kopassus unit 81, as an entry on a TNI Facebook page shows. Unit 81 is an elite unit within the elite unit and was - coincidentally - founded by Prabowo together with Jokowi-Intimus Pandjaitan. It operates in secret and is euphemistically referred to as the "anti-terrorist unit".


"Indonesia's army and its current and former generals are far above the law in Indonesia," says Heinzpeter Znoj, probably the most profound Swiss expert on Indonesia. The professor for social anthropology at the University of Bern has been researching on and in the island state since 1987. In the past, the army was also a corporation with its own foundations and companies. Today, the business activity runs more through former members of the military, who are always also businessmen - as well as through their clans. In order to get high offices in the military at all, one has to pay: "Anyone who becomes a general is already a successful businessman - and whoever becomes a general will want to amortize his high investments." Znoj, who describes corruption in Indonesia as “systemic”, speaks of widespread blackmail by the military, of the appropriation of land by force, but also of the participation of high-ranking military personnel in companies and corporations, which would in fact be placed above the law.

While the fight against corruption under President Jokowi in the civil sector and especially among lower ranks has had successes in recent years, the military is excluded from it. In the arms procurement area in particular, there were repeated scandals that were never dealt with. And the military continues to refuse to let the civil authorities look into the bookkeeping. In an expert report, Professor Znoj examined the question of the risks involved in doing business with the Indonesian Ministry of Defense. His conclusion: there is a high probability that one is "knowingly or unknowingly involved in corrupt practices".


Switzerland's foreign trade statistics: Gold to the value of 190 million francs was imported from Indonesia in 2019. This value increased more than tenfold in 2020 to over two billion francs.

In the mountains of West Papua, at almost 4,000 meters above sea level, the largest gold mine and one of the largest copper mines in the world eat into the rocks. The US-Indonesian company Freeport is Indonesia's largest taxpayer. For decades, its Grasberg mine has been the focus of armed conflicts, is the cause of serious environmental damage and the backdrop to the worst human rights violations, which have recently increased again.

When Indonesia won its fight for independence against the Netherlands in the late 1940s, West Papua was not part of the new island state. There were diplomatic reasons why West Papua did not gain independence as planned: Dictator Suharto managed to win the US on his side on this issue. And two years before the official takeover of power by Indonesia, the US company Freeport received the concession from Suharto in 1967 to mine mineral resources in the highlands. The indigenous population - at that time around a million people in an area ten times the size of Switzerland - was not asked. Instead, in 1969, under pressure from the UN, Indonesia staged a vote among a good thousand chiefs who, under great pressure, had to agree to the annexation. Since then, the Indonesian army and police have controlled the vast area at will. Tens of thousands of indigenous Papuans have fallen victim to them since the sixties.

The Melanesian Papuans are easily recognizable as such from the outside - their skin is somewhat darker than that of the dominant ethnic groups further west. They face gross racism across the country. In 2019, an incident at a university in Surabaya caused horror. The rumor spread via social media that a Papuan student threw an Indonesian flag into a sewer, causing a nationalist and Islamist mob to form anti-Papuan slogans in front of a student dormitory. The police did not arrest those involved in the mob, but stormed the dormitory the next day, fogged it with tear gas and arrested 43 Papuans.

This resulted in mass protests in West Papua, demonstrators hoisted the Morning Star - the forbidden flag of the independence movement - and set dozens of government buildings on fire. As usual, the army and police replied imprecisely: at least thirty people were killed in the protests. At the same time, a military retaliation campaign continued in the Nduga district, east of the Grasberg mine. In December 2018, independence fighters killed nineteen people there who were involved in the construction of a road. According to reports from human rights organizations, the offensive by the security forces cost 189 people their lives - including "many women and at least 41 children". Tens of thousands of indigenous Papuans have fled and are hiding in forests outside the district.

The whole arsenal was also used for propaganda purposes: foreign journalists no longer had access to the area, internet access was cut off so that no images would shake the world public. And the big TV stations from Jakarta broadcast and broadcast - instead of reporting critically about the events - the same clip over and over again in which beaming Papuan children play and rejoice over a united Indonesia in the sunset.

But back to the Grasberg mine: Freeport pays military and police commanders to protect the huge mine area - and has already used them to crack down on strikes. The “New York Times” documented payments totaling thirty million US dollars between 1998 and 2004 - a “pact with the devil”, as the newspaper quoted a former Freeport employee. Papuans displaced from their land by the mine were never compensated. The same applies to tribes downstream, whose livelihoods in the forest and in fishing are severely impaired by the toxic mine chemicals.

Indonesia recently became the majority shareholder in PT Freeport - how the deal went exactly remains in the dark.


It also remains in the dark whether it is gold from the Grasberg mine that was imported into Switzerland last year. That seems quite likely, however, since it was over 37 tons, a quantity that can hardly be completely supplied by smaller companies. Four companies in Switzerland are possible buyers, they all belong to the seven largest gold processors in the world: Metalor writes on request that it does not import gold from Indonesia, Argor-Heraeus does not want to answer the question, Valcambi and PAMP did not respond at all.

In any case, transparency is not the industry's strength: Christoph Wiedmer from the Society for Threatened Peoples has been waiting for three years to see customs statistics that contain the exact origin of the gold imports. Although the Federal Public Information Commissioner recommended clearance, the four companies have taken the case to the Federal Administrative Court. A decision by the court is still pending. "The lack of transparency in the Swiss gold trade has a long tradition - even in the days of apartheid it was necessary to conceal the fact that imports from South Africa broke the international boycott," says Wiedmer. Even today, given the lack of transparency in the supply chains, there is a risk that dirty money will be laundered through Switzerland. "Once the Swiss coin is on the gold bar, nobody cares anymore about the circumstances under which the product was created," says Wiedmer.

By the way, gold is not part of the free trade agreement with Indonesia. There is one simple reason for this: it is already duty-free, so free trade has long been implemented.


Switzerland's import statistics: Between 2012 and 2019, an average of 811 tonnes of palm oil were imported from Indonesia each year.

Until a few years ago, large parts of West Papua were not accessible by road, which also made it impossible to exploit resources in many places - and ensured that even today there are parts of tribes that have never had contact with the outside world.

Then came the so-called Trans-Papua Highway: Over 4,000 kilometers of roads were to be cut through the forest, connecting Merauke with Jayapura and Sorong and opening up the highlands around Wamena. The aforementioned attack on construction crews in the Nduga district was also in this context. Most of the road connections have now been implemented and the pressure on the forest is increasing rapidly.

A hotspot of land grabbing is currently the south, the whole area around Merauke. The huge project of the Indonesian government is called “Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate” and - according to the original promise - should mainly serve the cultivation of food for the domestic market, because Indonesia is heavily dependent on food imports. Then suddenly there was more and more talk of other products, of sugar cane, wood and palm oil, and also of palm oil for agrofuel production. It is about a forest area of ​​a good million hectares. For comparison: the canton of Graubünden is around 700,000 hectares in size. The Indonesian government is putting a lot of energy into the project: numerous contradictions with the prevailing legislation must be resolved or circumvented, logistical problems must be resolved, international investors must be attracted and local resistance must be broken with a mixture of promises, threats and repression.

The indigenous Papuans in the plains practice subsistence farming in the jungle. They grow sago palms there or go hunting, for example they shoot the marsupial couscous with a bow and arrow; everything they need to live can be found in the forest. They have done this for thousands of years, nobody needs to tell them anything about sustainability. The Marind, who live in the greater Merauke area and are particularly affected by the “Food Estate”, maintain close family relationships with plants. So they are threatening more than «just» losing their livelihood.

Until recently, jungle stands or stood on 95 percent of the area of ​​the “Food Estate”. If the indigenous peoples are lucky, they will receive modest compensation and may find poorly paid jobs on the plantations, where they are exposed to the highly toxic pesticide paraquat from the Sino-Swiss chemical company Syngenta, which is used in monocultures in large quantities. The project is expected to generate over six million jobs in the long term. In 2017, however, only a good 220,000 people lived in the Merauke district, which is larger than Switzerland.Strong internal migration from other parts of Indonesia is also to be expected, which is already considerable in West Papua and is leading to massive conflicts. And according to the Indonesian NGO Pusaka, there is already talk of expanding the “Food Estate” to an area as large as Switzerland.

A few years after the deforestation, the new plantations can then be certified as “sustainable”, and Nestlé can also include the palm oil produced in this way in its supply chains without blushing. The free trade agreement with Indonesia - if it is accepted at the ballot box - then also grants tariff reductions of up to forty percent. Incidentally, Nestlé already lists two palm oil mills in West Papua in its supply chain lists - one in the northwest of the island and one near Jayapura. At most, a very small amount of palm oil from West Papua is likely to enter the Swiss market - at least today. Switzerland currently sources most of its palm oil from Malaysia.


The issue of sustainability certifications is a complicated matter, and WOZ will come back to this in the near future, also because the issue of certification has become the subject of domestic political debates. It is also related to the fact that parts of the SP around National Councilor Fabian Molina are campaigning for the free trade agreement.

For now just this much: Syahrul Fitra, an expert on forest law at Greenpeace Indonesia, emphasizes: “Only a few smallholders in Indonesia can find palm oil that is really sustainable, who can manage small plantations without land conflicts and not at the expense of forests or to operate peat fields. " Otherwise there are many promises on paper; what actually happens then is a completely different matter. In particular, it is a problem that it is often not known to whom the plantations really belong - because straw men are interposed. Nonetheless, it is known that “active or former politicians, police and military personnel often use their power to obtain permits and land titles”. On the free trade agreement with Switzerland, Syahrul Fitra expresses himself diplomatically: Greenpeace Indonesia already has certain concerns about the agreement. "But it is not up to us to say how the Swiss population should decide."

Rosalina, on the other hand, a member of the Marind tribe in the Merauke district, described a recurring nightmare to the anthropologist Sophie Chao: “And then I saw that the oil palms that surrounded us weren't oil palms at all, but soldiers. You see, the palm trees are like the military: black and green spots. You kill people. (...) They are eating us. "

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