Friday, December 12, 2014

West Papua Remains a Killing Field Even Under New Indonesian President

The death of five high school students in skirmishes with Indonesian soldiers demonstrate the huge task ahead for Jokowi

The vivid images that emerged from Indonesia’s Papua province this week are pretty gruesome: teenage boys in school uniforms lie in a pool of blood, surrounded by shell-shocked residents. They are a grim reminder of the ongoing human-rights abuses in the country’s easternmost corner, wracked by a low-level armed separatist movement and heavy-handed military crackdown for about half-century.

On Monday, five high school students, aged 17 to 18, died in the town of Enarotali after security forces allegedly shot at a crowd of about 800 Papuans — many of whom were pupils — protesting on a soccer field, not far from the military and police offices. At least 17 civilians were wounded, including women
and children. A sixth victim died on Tuesday, Papuan media reported.

The ill-fated protest was sparked by a brawl between troops and local residents, including children setting up Christmas decorations, shortly after midnight — it ended with a 12-year-old boy being beaten by rifle butts and stones thrown at the military personnel. The U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have since called for an independent investigation into the deadly shooting.

The killings raise doubt on the commitment of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, whose election victory has buoyed hopes that the world’s largest Muslim majority nation may finally address rights abuses, self-determination grievances and economic inequality — issues that have long plagued the resource-rich provinces of Papua and West Papua.

However, the most recent shooting is “one of hundreds” of rights-abuse cases documented by HRW over the past 15 years in the Papua region, says Andreas Harsono, the group’s Indonesia researcher. “None of these have been resolved. If anyone is ever put on trial, he would be sent to jail for a few months, but no military men nor policemen have ever been fired because of human-rights violations in Papua.” Indonesian police and military have denied involvement in the Monday shooting — the army chief of staff even suggested the Papuan rebels were behind the incident.

Jokowi, who traveled to Papua and West Papua during parliamentary and presidential campaign seasons, has shown plenty of goodwill gestures to the troubled region. In a June visit, the then presidential candidate told an adoring crowd of his family’s close affinity to the Papuans’ homeland. “My wife was named Iriana because her grandfather was a teacher who was deployed to the then named Irian Jaya for quite some time,” he said, referring to the old provincial name of Papua.

Just weeks after his election victory, Jokowi met with Papuan politicians and leaders and promised to boost dialogue between Jakarta and the two provinces. In October, the President made Yohana Yembise his Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, the first Papuan woman appointed to the Cabinet.

The Papua region, which has some of the world’s largest copper and gold mines, is the only remaining area plagued by armed separatist conflicts in Indonesia. (East Timor voted for independence in 1999 and Aceh rebels reached a peace deal with Jakarta in 2005.) While the two Papuan provinces are currently a virtually no-go zone for foreign reporters — two French journalists making a documentary on Papua’s insurgency were arrested last August, jailed for more than two months and later deported — Jokowi has spoken about lifting media restrictions.

Conversely, though, Jokowi has been heavily criticized not only for naming a hard-line retired general, Ryamizard Ryacudu, as Defense Minister, but also for supporting an increased military presence in the region, including a plan to establish a new military command. Indonesian rights activists say the higher number of security forces could trigger even more violence in Papua.

And like the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians in China’s periphery regions, Papuans are also worried of the influx of new migrants into their homeland — a number that is likely to increase if the new Transmigration Minister could push a migration program to Papua from other islands, especially the densely populated Java. “It is seen as an attempt to Indonesianize Papua,” Harsono tells TIME.

One day after the shooting, in an International Human Rights Day event in the southern Javanese city of Yogyakarta, Jokowi reiterated his human-rights commitment. “The government is paying attention and committed not only to resolve past human-rights abuses but also to prevent rights violations from being repeated in the future,” he said

That may be reassuring to some, but Papuans and human-rights activists are demanding more concrete actions, not just promises, from their new leader. “After nearly two months in power, nothing has been realized yet,” Harsono says about Jokowi. “There have been no significant changes.” Time Magazine



  1. In New York, Papua I can’t breathe
    Eric Garner was an African -American man, unarmed and not dangerous, selling cigarettes on the sidewalk in Staten Island, New York. A brush with the police quickly escalated into a life and death situation. Caught on camera saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times, as a police officer secured him in a chokehold, Garner lost his life.

    Last week, a grand jury exonerated the police officer who had held down Garner from criminal liability. The American public reacted swiftly, adopting Garner’s last words — “I can’t breathe” — to describe a growing frustration toward racism and violence against African Americans, especially within the police force.

    As we celebrate our commitment to human rights here in Indonesia, there is news about another massacre in Papua.

    According to a Papuan civil society coalition, military personnel from Battalion 753 opened fire on a crowd of unarmed protestors in Enarotali, Paniai, Papua on Dec. 8, killing four high school students: Alpius Youw, 17; Yulian Yeimo, 17; Simon Degei, 18; and Alpius Gobai, 17; and another man.

    Like Garner (and the Ferguson) case, it started with a small incident that quickly escalated with overtones of racism. Allegedly, some young people gathered at a Christmas nativity scene were drawn into an altercation with members of the military driving by in a vehicle.

  2. The incident led to one of the young boys being beaten. He was brought to a nearby hospital. The next day, angry community members set up a roadblock and when military personnel arrived in the same vehicle thought to be the one used in the incident the night before, the community members wrecked the vehicle.

    According to the press report, the military personnel retaliated by shooting their guns in the air and destroying parts of the crèche. In reaction to the shooting, a crowd began to gather in a field nearby. They began to perform a traditional dance that signified a demand for accountability from the military and police.

    The incident occurred less than 100 days since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s inauguration. During this short time span, he has already made a statement to establish a new military command for Papua, as if adding more soldiers were a solution to the ongoing lack of trust and disappointment felt by many indigenous Papuans.

    Under the 2001 Special Autonomy Law for Papua, the central government acknowledged that it had “yet to fulfill the feeling of justice […] and yet to respect human rights” in Papua. Article 46 of the law, titled “human rights,” states that human rights can be achieved through three mechanisms: a human rights court with jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and genocide, a truth and reconciliation commission to clarify and establish the history of Papua and formulate and determine reconciliation measures, and third, a Papua branch of a national human rights commission.

  3. However, 13 years since special autonomy was granted, only the branch office has been established. Jakarta has steadily reneged on its promises to reconcile a bloody history in Papua and commitment to justice and reconciliation.

    Sadly, since special autonomy was put in place, more outbreaks of killings and other violence have been rampant in Papua. The only case brought to the human rights court in Makassar was the Abepura case of 2000, but this resulted in the acquittal of the two police officers indicted.

    As the news about the killings in Enoratali hit the media, with pictures of the bodies of the high school students quickly going viral on social media, I found it difficult to breathe.

    My father, Soedjatmoko, was a diplomat who argued for international recognition of Papua’s integration into Indonesia in 1969. Were he still alive, I believe he would be distressed to hear about the continuing bloodshed.

    Papua is again in a chokehold of violence, and the rest of the country seems uninterested. We turn a blind eye to our own racial profiling and inability to deliver justice that continues to perpetuate a cycle of hatred and violence in Papua.

  4. In October this year, the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK), a national coalition of human rights organizations, launched a report based on a year-long civil society inquiry into Indonesia’s violent past.

    During a public hearing held as part of the report’s launch in Jakarta, two victims from Papua also testified. One man was a torture survivor who was detained with about 900 others in 1967. He was electrocuted and made to do forced labor gathering stones and building a government radio station.

    He witnessed some 100 detainees being sent to Java, where they were detained together with political prisoners from 1965 for a couple of years. He was freed in 1969, but detained again in the 1980s.

    He also spoke about how people from Jakarta lacked an understanding of the Papuans. Closing his testimony, he said: “I do not feel I need to exact revenge from those who tortured me [...] instead, we must build on the language of love because it can be heard by those who are deaf and seen by those who are blind.”

    Jokowi’s administration must respond to the Enarotali killings with an independent investigation and push for an overhaul of Jakarta’s approach to dealing with the conflict in Papua.


  5. It must be able to provide a listening ear and open a dialogue based on love and hope for peace, not bloodshed. Indonesian social media campaigners should adopt the “I can’t breathe” campaign to highlight the racism against Papuans, which is so prominent in our daily interactions with our Melanesian brothers and sisters.
    The writer is a member of the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK) and director of Asia Justice and Rights.