Human rights defenders at risk in Papua

30 Nov 2007
Human rights defenders at risk in Papua

In the past few months, there has been a campaign of systematic intimidation of human rights defenders in West Papua. The problem became particularly marked when it was announced that the UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders would visit West Papua. Papuan activists made the most of this opportunity to meet her and inform her of the difficult circumstances under which they function.

In 2006, the United Nations established a Human Rights Council in place of the discredited UN Commission for Human Rights. Indonesia was elected onto the 47-member Council, initially for a one-year period, and in 2007, successfully put itself forward for re-election for a three-year term.

Indonesia used the occasion of its nomination for re-election in April 2007 to make ‘voluntary pledges and commitments’ in which it expressed itself ‘proud of its vibrant and active human rights civil society organisations and its free and dynamic press’ and declared that it ‘attaches the greatest importance to the critical role of the non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations in this endeavour’.

These fine intentions need to be judged against the experiences of human rights activists and defenders particularly in the province of West Papua where the country faces a number of challenges on political, economic and cultural issues because of the widely contested incorporation of West Papua into the Republic of Indonesia by virtue of the fraudulent Act of Free Choice in 1969.

Moreover, in June this year, a senior army officer, Colonel Burhanuddin Siagian, who has been twice indicted for crimes against humanity in East Timor was appointed as the military commander for the district of Jayapura. His appointment led to a protest from a coalition of NGOs who complained that the Indonesian authorities had failed to hand him over to East Timor for trial.

Col Siagian has been quoted as expressing disregard for human rights and saying: ‘If I meet anyone who has enjoyed the facilities that belong to the state but who still betrays the nation, I will honestly destroy him.’

UN experts: not all are welcome
No doubt in order to conform with its obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council, the Indonesian Government agreed to permit several UN special representatives to visit West Papua, although this did not extend to permitting the UN Special Representative for Extra-Judicial Killings to visit Indonesia.

The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, spoke about his ‘frustration over the lack of response from countries he believes need to answer questions about alleged extrajudicial killings, including Indonesia.’
"If a country has problems of extrajudicial executions and doesn't let (me) in, that should be of concern to the General Assembly and Human Rights Council, but none of those countries are ever really challenged for their failure." He said this was especially serious for the Human Rights Council members which have failed to respond to his request "because the council members are supposed to have said, 'We promise to cooperate fully with the council' as part of being elected." [AP 29 October 2007]

Human rights defenders expert critical
In June this year, Ms Hina Jilani, the UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, was permitted to visit West Papua during a visit to Indonesia. In a report which followed her visit, she was quoted as saying that she was ‘deeply concerned by testimonies… indicating the continuing activities of the police, the military and other security and intelligences agencies that are aimed at the harassment and intimidation of defenders or to restrict their access to victims and sites of human rights violations.’ She said that ‘she found this trend more pronounced in the Province of West Papua … where she heard credible reports of incidents that involve arbitrary detention, torture, harassment through surveillance, interference with the freedom of movement and in defenders’ efforts to monitor and investigate human rights violations.’ She also said that ‘when defenders have attempted to register their complaints, this has been denied and the defenders threatened.’

A number of human rights activists were determined to use the opportunity of her visit to convey to her the problems that they face, regardless of the consequences.

Following the Special Representative’s visit to West Papua, the Asian Human Rights Commission issued an Urgent Action in which it drew attention to a series of ‘death threats, intimidation and attacks’ on human rights defenders that occurred after she left, ‘targeting people who met with Ms Hina Jilani… and who informed her about human rights abuses in West Papua’.

Father John Jonga
There have been many reports from West Papua about intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders. One of those who has been repeatedly threatened is a Catholic priest, Pastor John Jonga who has been living in the sub-district of Waris, District of Arso, on the border with PNG, for seven years. The Jakarta daily, Suara Pembaruan, reported on 20 September 2007 that he made a formal complaint to the MRP, the Papuan People’s Assembly, in which he said that he had been subjected to threats and intimidation since August 2006.

‘I described what happened to me and to the people of Waris.’ He said he had sought protection from the local police because of the threats and intimidation he has experienced since August from the military who are stationed in Waris. He said that the threats began ‘when I described the security situation in Waris where there is an army post located in every kampung.’ He had submitted a report (on the situation) to the Indonesian government in 2004 but there was no response.

During the seven years he has been in Waris, he has had many very bad experiences, he said, but following the arrival of Kopassus (the army’s special forces command) the situation got even worse. ‘They frequently ask very intimidating questions such as ‘who is hiding guns?’ or ‘who is a member of the OPM?’ or ‘do you possess a Morning Star flag?’
The chief of police of the district admitted that the number of complaints received by the police had increased following the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur, Hina Jilani. After listening to the complaints, he told Pastor Jonga that there was little that the police could do and advised him to convey his concerns to the military commander of Trikora Command which is responsible for the whole of West Papua.

On September 24, Amnesty International expressed fears for Father Jonga’s safety, and said that ‘he had been advised not to return to Waris for the time being’. The Kopassus commander had allegedly threatened to kill the priest and bury him in a 700-metre deep gorge. They accused him of spreading false allegations about conditions in Waris to local and international NGOs and of being a provocateur and betraying the Indonesian state.

Albert Rumbekwan
Albert Rumbekwan, the chairperson of Komnas HAM-Papua, (National Human Rights Commission), has reported receiving threats to his life via sms messages. On 23 September, just after midnight, unidentified persons broke into his house. He was unable to see them because of a power failure but a neighbour succeeded in sending them away. Another neighbour testified to seeing people prowling around Rumbekwan’s house.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, these acts of intimidation have persisted since his meeting with Hina Jilani on June 10.

The Catholic Peace and Justice Commission in Jayapura has also been informed of the threats being made to Albert Rumbekwan. The threats are mostly conveyed through sms messages while his home and family in Dok V, Jayapura are being spied on.

The pressure became so intense that he decided to abandon for the time being his work as the chairperson of the Papuan branch of Komnas HAM. This was partly because the situation was also affecting the circumstances of his wife who felt the need to be escorted when she left home to go to her office.

Iwanggin Sabar Olif
Iwanggin Sabar Olif is a volunteer lawyer who is working for the Papuan human rights organization ELSHAM. He was arrested on 18 October by the anti-terrorist police unit, Detachment 88 (Densus 88) and within a day of his arrest, he was flown to Jakarta which is where cases of alleged terrorism are handled.

His arrest followed a report that he used his mobile phone to forward an sms message that he had received from a friend to five colleagues and to his brother. The forwarded message contained the words: ‘The latest news from WASPADA is that SBY has issued an instruction to annihilate the Papuan people and to take control of their natural resources.’ (Waspada may be a reference to an Indonesian daily of that name while SBY are the initials by which the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is popularly known.) It is understood that he will face charges under Article 134 of the Indonesian Criminal Code for circulating a message insulting the country’s president. This is despite a ruling last December by the Constitutional Court revoking the crime of insulting the head of state.

Friends point out that he had done nothing more than forwarding a message of which he was not the author. They also say that the circulation of similar sms messages has been rife in Papua for many months.

According to the Australia-based Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights, the police are using the trivial involvement of Iwanggin in the insulting sms issue as a way to disrupt the legitimate work of human rights organisations.

Two Catholic activists
Frederika Korain and the priest Perinus Koyoga work for the Peace and Justice Commission of the Jayapura Diocese. After attending a public meeting with Hina Jilani on 7 June, they returned to Sentani Airport. While driving home to Jayapura, their vehicle was rammed by a blue Kijang bearing a police number-plate. While the two passengers were still in shock, the driver of the car got out to challenge the driver of the other car along with a passenger who told him in threatening voices that they were intelligence officers of the Jayapura military command.

Yan Christian Warinussy
Yan Christian Warinussy is the Executive Director of LP3BH, the Institute of Research, Analysis and Development for Legal Aid, based in Manokwari. This legal aid organization frequently acts for local activists involved in land disputes with foreign companies in the area, including BP.

On his way home on 9 June, following a meeting the previous day with Hina Jilani, he noticed a black Kijang Innova vehicle with tinted windows parked for 20 minutes outside his house. The vehicle returned later that night. On 11 June in the evening, two Kijang vehicles were parked outside the office of the LP3BH for half an hour. Fearing for his safety, he sought protection from Peace Brigades International. The vehicle in question is owned by a Manokwari telephone company but is apparently often borrowed by a person understood to be working for the intelligence agency, BAIS (now known as BIN).

These incidents point to a systematic campaign of intimidation and terror aimed at well-known and respected human rights defenders in Papua who had met with the UN Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders during her visit to Papua. These men and women are all involved in legitimate, peaceful activities while the campaign against them is a grave threat to the work of human rights defenders in West Papua.

While the Indonesian government frequently stresses that it has ratified a number of international conventions on political, civil and human rights and is now a member of the UN Human Rights Council, it has failed to come to the defence of these victims. Nor has it initiated any inquiries into reports of intimidation and terror being perpetrated in West Papua with a view to initiating proceedings against those responsible for these abuses.
It is evident that while the government acknowledges the need to conform with international requirements in its much enhanced position as a member of the Human Rights Council, there is little improvement on the ground for human rights activists.