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Jakarta Post

Unlawful killings still reality in Papua

  • Usman Hamid
    Usman Hamid

    Director of Amnesty International Indonesia

Jakarta   /   Mon, July 2, 2018   /   09:23 am
Unlawful killings still reality in Papua Liberated: Ongoing renovation of the West Irian Liberation Monument in Central Jakarta. The monument, located at the center of Lapangan Banteng, will be equipped with panels explaining the process of West Irian liberation from the Dutch before the territory was returned to Indonesia in 1963. (JP/Jerry Adiguna)

The tactics used by the country’s security forces may have changed since the fall of military rule in 1998, but in Papua — Indonesia’s easternmost, restive region — deadly violence from the use of excessive force by police and military personnel remains a constant threat.

A new Amnesty International report released Monday, titled “’Don’t bother, just let him die’: Killing with impunity in Papua”, details how unlawful killings remain high. 

At the same time, we have documented how security forces are applying the same lethal tactics they have used for years against armed groups in non-political contexts, and there has been no accountability for the deaths.

During the Soeharto era, the concept of human rights was virtually unrecognized in Papua. The integration of Papua in 1969 from Dutch rule under United Nations supervision was not accepted by all, and prompted some Papuans to take up arms to demand independence.

The Soeharto government responded brutally by launching a decades-long military campaign to contain the armed pro-independence groups that resulted in an enormous number of deaths, many of them unlawful. Disproportionate attacks on armed groups also claimed the lives of many civilians. However, there was no accountability for the extrajudicial killings. This fallout left the region’s people reluctant to publicly express any desire for independence.

After 32 years in power, the fall of Soeharto in 1998 paved the way for greater respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

While armed groups continue to operate in the region, many Papuans, including church representatives, students and indigenous people, have voiced their political views peacefully to avoid further violence. This has led to the birth of several peaceful political movements in Papua in the years since 1998.

However, despite the increased respect for human rights, post-Soeharto governments have shown an uncompromising stance towards independence movements, even for those in Papua advocating independence through peaceful means.

As part of their commitment to reform, post-Soeharto governments separated the police from the military. Consequently, the police have been tasked with maintaining internal security while the military is to focus solely on defense. However, both security forces are present and active in Papua today.

The killings of armed group members still take place on a relatively small scale in Papua, but in the post-Soeharto era, unlawful killings mainly target peaceful political activists. The authorities say they fear such peaceful activism could lead to greater calls for independence and, eventually, national disintegration.

What is alarming is that police officers and soldiers apply the same ruthless and deadly tactics in Papua that they have used against armed groups for years, but to public events that are unrelated to independence. As a result, members of the public voicing non-political grievances have also become victims of unlawful killings.

Amnesty International’s latest report shows that the majority of victims of unlawful killings in Papua from January 2010 to February 2018 were peaceful protesters in cases unrelated to pro-independence protests. The perpetrators have been both police officers and soldiers, and none of them have been subject to criminal investigation by an independent institution. Ninety-five total deaths have been recorded, or about one person every month since 2010.

Security forces unlawfully killed 95 people, of which 56 were unrelated to independence. This includes incidents in which security forces dealt with peaceful social protests and public disorder, attempts to arrest criminal suspects and sometimes, individual misconduct of security personnel. Meanwhile, 39 have died from the unlawful use of force in cases related to pro-independence issues.

The fact that most victims of these unlawful killings are ethnic Papuans — 85 out of the total 95 — possibly underlines the years-long resentment the local people hold toward security forces for associating any civilian protesters with the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist group and applying repressive — including lethal — measures when dealing with them.

On a visit to Papua in December 2017, a group of local journalists of Papuan ethnicity told Amnesty International that they frequently suffered discriminative and repressive treatment from security forces.

Amnesty International’s report reveals that the police have been behind most of the unlawful killings that took place over the last eight years in Papua. The police have killed a total of 39 people, while soldiers have killed 27. In other incidents, the police and military together killed 28 people. 

This is a serious stain on Indonesia’s human rights record. Now is the time to change course: The unlawful killings in Papua must end, and those responsible for past killings must be held accountable before an independent, civilian court. 

The deadly tactics used by security forces remain unchanged, but the victims of unlawful killings in Papua are increasingly peaceful political activists and non-political protesters. Our report reveals that the use of unnecessary or excessive force, including firearms, in policing non-political public assemblies and public disorder in Papua has resulted in deaths, which has not happened elsewhere in the country. Security forces must review their training, equipment, regulations and tactics in policing public assemblies in Papua.

After the December 2014 shooting by security forces that killed four Papuan students during a peaceful protest in Paniai, newly installed President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo promised to prioritize human rights in the region and to turn Papua into a “land of peace”.

However, three years later, there still has been no justice for the victims and families of the Paniai incident. The investigation into the Paniai shooting remains in legal limbo, like many other human rights cases in the region. 

The report records that unlawful killings in Papua have resulted in a total 39 deaths during the Jokowi administration, a record that does not inspire confidence. All suspected cases of unlawful killings, whether they took place before or after President Jokowi assumed office, must be investigated thoroughly and efficiently by an independent body.

The current administration must not close its eyes to the unlawful killings that are still taking place in Papua, even as the government is stepping up economic development in the region. Sustainable development is welcome, but it is not enough on its own — there must be justice and respect for human rights to heal the pain of the Papuan people. The two should be done hand-in-hand. 

Now is the right time for Jokowi to work toward the resolution of past human rights violations in Papua to put an end to unlawful killings and realize his pledge to turn Papua into a “land of peace”.

The writer is executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.