Recent outbursts of violence underscore dire need for a rights-based approach to conflict resolution in Papua

Press release

Paris-Jakarta-Bangkok 21 September 2011. The recent spike in violent incidents in Papua in July and August underscore the urgent need for Jakarta to re-assess its military approach to solve the situation of unrest in the region and to place the respect for human rights at the heart of conflict resolution policies and practices, said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) today.

Kontras recorded at least ten violent clashes between 5 July to 3 August, 2011 [1], involving members of the state security forces and local armed groups. Civilians were injured and killed in some of these clashes. Thirteen Papuans were arrested by the police on 31 August in Kampung Nafri, Abepura, for allegedly causing unrest during a religious ceremony. There were also allegations that these 13 individuals were involved in a shooting incident on 3 August, in which three civilians and one TNI soldier were killed. However, local rights groups pointed out that the police made the arrests without properly investigating and substantiating these allegations. These detainees were reportedly tortured while in police custody.

“Freedoms of expression, association and assembly are routinely violated in Papua, which seriously fuels tensions. Besides, gross human rights abuses, such as acts of torture, remain unaccounted for.” said Poengky Indarti, Executive Director of Imparsial.

“While the use of violence to achieve political and other goals is unacceptable, the heavy military presence and the military-centered approach by Jakarta to Papua’s demand for autonomy serve to sideline human rights and do not provide a viable and peaceful solution to the conflict,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

Another element of Jakarta’s security-centered approach is the strict restriction to access to Papua. As a result, peaceful activities of civil society groups and human rights actors operating in Papua are known to be under extensive surveillance by the Indonesian military. This form of intimidation goes against the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups or Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and oversteps the lawful limit of intelligence gathering. Internal documents of the Indonesian military recently obtained and publicized by the media revealed both the extent of this kind of surveillance and the military authorities’ mistrust towards peaceful civil society and human rights activities, which they perceive as a threat to national security.

“Monitoring human rights work is seen by the military as threatening to national security and this bodes ill for the safety of human rights defenders and other peaceful activists in Papua, as they could bear the brunt of harassment and physical intimidation by state security forces under the pretext of fighting separatism,” said Yap Swee Seng, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

Some of the activists and individuals named in the leaked military documents have already faced arrest, detention, and intimidation, such as independence activists Filep Karma and Buchtar Tabuni, who were both arrested and convicted for their role in organizing peaceful demonstrations during which the Morning Star flag, a banned symbol, was raised.

A recent report released by Imparsial estimates that there are more than 14,000 military personnel deployed to Papua. The report identifies the key features of such a military-centered approach by the central government, including the continuous military operations in Papua without adequate parliamentary oversight, deployment of a large number of non-organic troops to Papua, and the addition of new territorial command structure in the region.

In sum, accountability for human rights abuses perpetrated by state security forces is still lacking in Papua. In addition, in the few rare cases in which perpetrators were brought to court, they were either acquitted or convicted on lesser charges that do not reflect the gravity of their crimes, such as acts of torture.

The four organizations call on the Indonesian government to:
- Instruct its military to immediately cease all unlawful surveillance activities in Papua and revise its current draft intelligence bill by incorporating recommendations by civil society and bringing it into line with the Indonesian Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code, as well as international human rights law;
- Take steps to reduce the heavy presence of non-organic military personnel and their involvement in civil administration in Papua and seriously implement security sector reform;
- Fully and credibly investigate all past and new allegations of human rights abuses, especially those perpetrated by state security forces, and promptly bring perpetrators to justice;
- Strengthen civilian oversight and rigorous parliamentary scrutiny of military policies, operations and budget; and
- Respect the role of human rights defenders and ensure unfettered access to Papua by civil society groups and actors, including foreign and domestic journalists and independent human rights monitors.

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