Jan 20, 2019 Last Updated 10:44 PM, Dec 17, 2018

Mama Yosefa wins a Goldman

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Agung Rulianto

Yosefa Alomang has received the world's top environmental prize, but her struggle is far from over. An indigenous Amungme, from Timika, Irian Jaya, Yosefa has spent almost half her life fighting for the rights of the Amungme people against mining giant PT Freeport Indonesia. On 23 April 2001 in San Francisco, she was awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which brings with it US$ 125,000 in cash.

First awarded 12 years ago, this year eight activists were selected by an international board of judges to receive the Goldman Prize. 'Their struggles have shed light on how the environment is affected by wars, international businesses, economic policies and the tendency to replace long-term solutions with short-term interests,' said Richard N Goldman, the founder of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Goldman's late wife Rhoda H Goldman was a descendant of Levi Strauss, of the world-renowned clothing company.

'She has managed to become a leader in a male-dominated society,' said Emmy Hafild, executive director of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi). Two years ago the 54-ear old 'Mama' Yosefa received the Yap Thiam Hien Award in recognition of her achievement in defending human rights, but she refused to go to Jakarta to receive the award. 'I've been fighting for the sake of the Irianese. It is only proper that I receive the award here so that the people of Irian Jaya will be aware of its significance,' said Yosefa, who has only attended school until the fourth grade.

She began her fight when PT Freeport Indonesia appropriated the local people's land in the 1970s. Ten years ago, Freeport dismissed the right of the Amungme people to supply fruit and vegetables to the company and decided to import them from Australia and Java. The company then forcefully appropriated an 850-hectare vegetable plantation around the airport and in its place built a hangar, a Sheraton Hotel and some office buildings. To voice their disappointment the Amungme people cut up vegetables and spread them on the landing strip of Timika airport, and made a large bonfire in the middle of the strip. This not only prevented vegetable-carrying aircraft from landing but also aborted all other flights. Yosefa was thought to have masterminded the action.

One night seven years ago armed soldiers dragged her and her husband from their bed. 'We were tortured like animals, beaten up and degraded with vile language,' she was quoted as saying in a report on human rights violations in Timika drawn up by Jayapura bishop Mgr Herman Munninghoff OFM. For two weeks Yosefa and her husband Markus Kwalik were detained in a room full of human faeces.

Last year Yosefa set up the human rights organisation (Hamak). It also works to protect the environment and traditional cultures.

Agung Rulianto /LH, Tempo Magazine May 1 - 7, 2001

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