Human Rights in Papua 2011/2012

3 Nov 2011
Franciscans International, Faith-based Network on West Papua, Asian Human Rights Commission

2010 and 2011 have been particularly singular for the indigenous Papuans who live in the Western half of the Island of New Guinea. In 2010 episodes of torture perpetrated against Indigenous Papuans were displayed worldwide. Through shocking and horrific video images, the entire world has discovered how the Indonesian Army deliberately commits torture against Indigenous Papuans.

The Indonesian government’s policy of isolating Papua from the rest of the world – not allowing access to foreign journalists, international human rights workers, researchers and diplomats – has not been able to cover up the brutalities committed by members of the Army against the Papuans. However, the 2010 torture episode has not been the first case of torture committed by the Indonesian security forces against Papuans, and it will not likely be the last one either.

In fact, Papuans have suffered for a long time because of the human rights abuses committed by Indonesian authorities. Since Indonesia took over the territory of Papua in 1963, the Indonesian Army has conducted at least ten massive military operations against indigenous Papuans. Papuans living in places where military operations have been conducted have horrific stories to tell about the abuses they have suffered. They describe, for example, how they have watched their houses burning down, their gardens and source of livelihoods being destroyed. They give accounts of how they watched their friends, acquaintances and family members being intimidated, tortured, and killed during military operations.

The government’s promise of justice is nothing more than empty words for the simple fact that very few military personnel have been held accountable for human rights abuses committed against Papuans. Moreover, perpetrators of abuse have been, at times, even recognized as national heroes by the government. Papuans have never heard any stories about the government’s success in imprisoning human rights abusers.

Even if the perpetrators are identified and punished, torture and other human rights violations will likely continue in the future. The reason is that three new battalions have been established in Papua, and several new military district commands have been expanded. Thousands of troops have also been deployed along the border with the independent state of Papua New Guinea.
More human rights abuses are also expected to occur because, not only do the security forces not consider Papuans as Indonesian citizens, they do not even consider them as human beings. Each indigenous Papuan is suspected of being a separatist or a supporter of the separatist movement that supposedly poses a threat to Indonesia’s territorial integrity. As a consequence, Indonesian troops deployed among Papuans consider themselves to be among enemies of the Indonesian state. They are instructed that their main duty is to maintain the territorial integrity of Indonesian state, and therefore eradicate separatism in Papua.

As a result of this, thousands of Papuans are believed to have been victims of military operations conducted to eradicate separatism. Many Papuans suffered from maltreatment and various other forms of abuse committed by security forces. Past experience demonstrate that any Papuan can easily be killed by the military or police anytime and anywhere in Papua, based on the suspicion of being a separatist.

The central government should put in place policies to prevent its troops from committing further human rights violations against civilians in Papua. Documenting past cases of human rights abuse is also a necessary step so that the same violations are not repeated in future.

Many parties in Indonesia have realized that more human rights violations are likely to occur in Papua unless the root causes of Papuan separatism are resolved. The government and the indigenous people of Papua should thus engage in a constructive dialogue to identify these root causes and settle them without unnecessary bloodshed. The government should take the initiative by showing the international community its willingness and commitment to settle the Papuan separatism issue through dialogue with Papuans.

To read the report in full, please download the PDF file.