Skip to main content

Perpetrators of military violence against civilians in West Papua must be held accountable and institutional racism properly addressed

29 July 2021

TAPOL strongly condemns the conduct of two airforce personnel who severely beat a disabled man, Steven Yadohamang, in Merauke, West Papua province, on 27 July 2021. The incident, which has been widely shared on social media, shows the two personnel beating up a man and crushing his body into the ground and stamping on his head. It is clear from the footage that Yadohamang does not possess the capacity to defend himself against two individuals who appear to be unconcerned with possible consequences. A similar incident in Nabire took place the following day. A West Papuan man Nicolas Mote was suddenly smacked on the head repeatedly during his arrest despite not putting up any kind of resistance.

The incident follows a spate of previous violent incidents committed by the security forces against civilians in West Papua province and is likely to raise further questions about what purpose increasing numbers of military personnel are serving in West Papua. Furthermore, the airforce have apologised but suggested that the two soldiers, Second Sergeant Dimas Harjanto and Second Private Rian Febrianto, alone should bear responsibility for the incident. They, and the Indonesian media, have described the soldiers as “rogues”. This assessment is not consistent with a pattern of violence committed against civilians that has been allowed to go unpunished in recent months and years. Indeed, had there not been such indisputable visual evidence of security force violence, it is entirely possible that the incident would not now be subject to further investigation by the authorities. But despite facing possible punishment, the perpetrators are likely only to receive light sentences because they will be tried in military courts. Following the end of the New Order period, civilian politicians did not push for military personnel to be tried in civilian courts.

Since 2019, there has been a steady build-up of military and police personnel in the two provinces of West Papua. Deployments and security force operations have increased further since April of this year, when the Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security, Mahfud MD, designated the armed resistance movement, TPNPB, as a ‘terrorist’ group. At the time, Mahfud instructed military personnel deployed to West Papua not to “target civilians” during operations. Indeed, West Papuans and Indonesians have raised concerns that the designation would further stigmatise ordinary West Papuans.

Yet, we would also highlight that in West Papua there are significant underlying problems with institutionalised racism by the authorities, including the security forces, and with the criminalisation of West Papuans and Indonesians for expressing the right to peaceful expression and assembly. Merely encouraging military restraint or promising punishment in military courts cannot address these issues.Indeed, on the basis of evidence in the Yadohamang case, West Papuans continue to face violent persecution and dehumanising actions by the security forces and authorities who do not appear to care about the consequences of their actions.  

Therefore, we call on President Joko Widodo and the House of Representatives of Indonesia to finish the post-Suharto agenda of reforming the military. The law on the military already allows soldiers to be tried in civilian courts for committing non-military crimes. However, this progressive provision still cannot be implemented because the law on Military Courts has not been changed. This step is very crucial to combat a culture of impunity because the Indonesian military are one of the main perpetrators of human rights violations in West Papua.