TEMPO/Subekti

Peace cannot be achieved in Papua if human rights are not respected

The Indonesian government must address past human rights violations and ensure that they are not repeated if they want to achieve peace in Papua and West Papua, Amnesty International Indonesia and Amnesty International Australia said today.

“The ongoing conflict in Papua and West Papua has claimed many lives, most recently that of a nurse in Kiwirok. Thousands of Papuans have also been forced to flee their homes,” Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said. “This once again demonstrates the flaws of the security approach that the Indonesian government has taken in the region.”

The state’s security approach against pro-independence armed groups, coupled with negative perceptions among security forces that label Papuans who express their political views or human rights concerns as separatists, have resulted in human rights violations and done little to end the pervasive culture of impunity in the region.

Between February 2018 and August 2021, Amnesty International has recorded at least 56 cases of suspected unlawful killings with 93 victims. These alleged incidents have typically taken place as result of unnecessary or excessive use of force during security operations. According to Amnesty International’s monitoring, military and police personnel often justify the killing of Papuan residents by claiming that they were members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) or ‘armed criminal groups’ without any clear evidence – claims that are often denied by local residents and church leaders.   Most perpetrators have not been held to account for the killings and members of security forces suspected of committing the crimes have never been brought before an independent civilian court.

“Without addressing these violations and bringing the perpetrators to justice,there cannot be a meaningful and lasting peace in the region, as the last six decades have shown,” Usman said. 

One of the most highlighted cases was the killing of Rev. Yeremia Zanambani, a  68-year-old senior pastor in Intan Jaya, Papua, who was allegedly shot and stabbed by an Indonesian soldier on 19 September 2020. Prior to his death, there was a shootout between pro-independence armed groups and the military, resulting in a soldier’s death. Yeremia’s killing reportedly happened amid the military’s attempt to hunt down members of the pro-independence group. The National Commission of Human Rights’ (Komnas HAM) investigation concluded the military members’ involvement in the killing. Authorities have conducted an autopsy on his body, but not yet announced the result. Yeremia’s family demands the case to be brought to the human rights court, however, criminal investigation into the killing has been stalled for nearly a year.

Amnesty International Indonesia has also recorded that, from January to June 2021, at least 6,152 people had been forced to leave their homes as they feared for their lives amid ongoing conflicts between the security forces and pro-independence armed groups in the region. This has resulted in people living in unacceptable conditions without access to basic facilities and health services.

“It is clear that the Indonesian government’s current policies are not working and it must change course to avoid further human rights violations and suffering,” Amnesty International Australia National Director Sam Klintworth said. “The Australian government must also reconsider its participation in police and military training exercises with Indonesian security forces, until it can be guaranteed that such training is not used to prolong the suffering of the Papuan people.”

Papuans have also suffered from numerous violations of their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. From January to August 2021, for instance, Amnesty International recorded at least 11 cases of violations of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, in which 188 Papuan university students were arrested or subjected to violence for staging peaceful protests in several cities across Indonesia.

Victor Yeimo, for example, was arrested without a warrant on 9 May 2021 for his alleged involvement in the 2019 peaceful anti-racism protest. Victor, the spokesperson of the West Papua National Committee, was charged with treason for a statement he made calling for a referendum on independence during the protest. He is currently being treated at the Jayapura public hospital after his health deteriorated in detention while awaiting trial.

As of July 2021, there are still at least 13 Papuan prisoners of conscience behind bars solely for peacefully exercising their right to express political views.

“Criminalizing people for simply peacefully expressing their political opinions will only breed further resentment and distrust. The Indonesian government must fulfill its human rights obligations, which are enshrined in both international human rights laws and the Indonesian constitution, and protect the rights of Papuans to freedom of speech and assembly,” Klintworth said.

Amnesty International does not take on any position regarding political status within Indonesia, including calls for independence. However, the organization upholds the right to  freedom of expression, including the right to voice political opinions, that should be exercised by all people without distinction of any kind and as long as they do not contain hatred, discrimination or violence.