Unless the role and power of security forces is limited in Indonesia’s troubled Papua region, more young locals will end up dead and cases like the Paniai killings will remain unsolved
On 8 December 2014, five local teenagers were gunned down in Enarotali, a town in the Paniai regency of Indonesia Papua. The young men were killed by shots that allegedly came from Indonesian security forces after police and military personnel fired on some 800 protesters. A further 12 people, including school children, were injured from the bullets.
The crowd had gathered to protest the beating of a 12-year-old Papuan boy by Indonesian security forces the day before. To further complicate the matter, Indonesian government officials offered conflicting reports of the violence, with some claiming that security personnel warned the crowd to disperse and fired because they had come under attack (as noted by Human Rights Watch).
From the results of a pre-investigation by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), According security forces had used live ammunition and firearms to break up the crowd, but there was no evidence that
the crowd presented any threat to security personnel. In late December 2014, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to solve the killing.
“I want this case to be solved immediately so it won’t ever happen again in the future,” the president said. “By forming a fact-finding team, we hope to obtain valid information, as well as find the root of the problems.”
But the investigation into the case has since been delayed.
At least eight government institutions have sent their respective fact-finding teams to look in to the case. This includes, the Army, the Air Force, the National Police, the Papua Police, the Papua Legislative Council, the Office of Coordinating Minister for Security, Political and Legal Affairs, the Witness and Victims’ Protection Agency (LPSK), as well as Komnas HAM.
But none of these institutions have published a public report of their findings. So, after more than two years, and a President’s pledge, those who seek answers and justice have only been given broken promises, and no significant progress.
Perhaps most disappointing is the failure of Komnas HAM to deliver any real insights into what happened on that fateful day. Expected to be the leading institution in solving the Paniai killings, the human rights commission has spectacularly failed. In March 2015, it formed an ad hoc team to conduct its investigation, but it was not officially inaugurated until October 2016. Nothing has happened since then, and two investigation team members have already resigned.
According to Natalius Pigai, Komnas HAM commissioner, the main obstacles to solving the case are the police and military – with both institutions accused of being involved in several rights abuse cases across Papua. Such allegations, understandably, directly undermine the trust for authorities among the victims’ families. Rejecting an autopsy request on the victims’ bodies from Paniai has only increased the uncertainty that the case will ever be solved. Another complication is that investigators are unable to interview soldiers who were at the scene of the shooting.
However, delaying the investigation into the Paniai killings is not surprising at all. There are many cases of human rights violations in Papua that have yet to be solved. The list includes the Biak Massacre of July 1998, Wasior in June 2001, and Wamena in April 2003, when hundreds of Papuan were killed.
At the same time, the President’s determination to solve the case and make the perpetrators accountable under law would seem to have waned as well. In late 2016 Jokowi appointed Wiranto, a former general indicted for human rights violations in Timor Leste, as the country’s top security minister.
Jokowi’s decision to appoint Wiranto to such a contentious post has made the situation worse. Wiranto has openly said that he aims to solve all of these cases through non-judicial processes, which could mean impunity for any perpetrators.
Sadly Paniai isn’t even the latest case of violence. Papua Itu Kita have reported that 18 Papuan teenagers aged between 14 and 19 years have been shot by police and the military since October 2016. Eight of them were killed. Of these cases, only three were prosecuted by the institution to which the culprits belonged.
The cases include the Koperapoka shooting in Timika by members of the military that killed four Papuans, the Gorong-Gorong shooting against Fernando Saborefek (18) in Biak by the police force, and Sugapa of Intan Jaya where members of the Papua Police Mobile Brigade were involved with the shooting of Otinius Sondegau (15).
The trend of teen killings in Papua cannot be separated from pro-violence approaches by the Indonesia military and police to dealing with the complicated issue of Papua’s place in Indonesia. The excessive use of force continues because Jokowi has failed from the beginning of his presidency to limit the role and power of security forces in Papua.
Added to this volatile mix is ongoing discrimination towards Papuan youth. Young Papuans are racially targeted and labeled as troublemakers, primitive and potential future members of separatist movements. It would seem that being a young Papuan with dark skin and curly hair is more than enough to make you a target of violence.
Meanwhile, Komnas HAM have vowed to step up their investigation into the Paniai killings, claiming they will send out a team to interview “locals, victims, Papuan public figures and security officers from February 18 to 20.”
Only time will tell if it will achieve anything. It’s telling that it has already taken this much time.
Andre Barahamin is researcher of PUSAKA Foundation, and member of Papua Itu Kita (Jakarta-based solidarity campaign for Papua).