Open letter to President Widodo on the situation in the Papua region

Open Letter

H. E. Joko Widodo
President of the Republic of Indonesia
Istana Merdeka
Jakarta Pusat 10110

18 September 2019

Re: Condemn acts of racism against Papuans, order investigation into disproportionate use of force by police

Dear President Widodo,

We are writing to you to express our deep concern regarding the situation in Papua and West Papua provinces.

We condemn the disproportionate use of force by security forces in their response to recent protests in the Papua region over the last few weeks, most notably: the firing of live rounds by police at protesters on 28 August in Deiyai, Deiyai Regency, which reportedly resulted in multiple civilian causalities; the alleged shooting of three students, including one fatally, by police-backed militia on 1 September in Abepura District, Jayapura; the arrest of dozens of Papuans on spurious charges; and the charges of ‘incitement’ brought against human rights lawyer Veronica Koman on 5 September.

We are disturbed by ongoing acts of persecution by security forces, including racism and discrimination, against Papuans. The latest wave of protests appeared to be triggered by a video that recently circulated, which showed police detaining around 40 Papuan students in Surabaya, East Java, and calling them “monkeys”, after they allegedly failed to raise the Indonesian flag on Independence Day. Police stormed their dorm on 17 August, used teargas on the students and arrested them. Similar racial slurs were used by security forces in Malang, East Java, and Semarang, Central Java. Events such as those depicted in the video are common for indigenous Papuans, who are regularly subjected to racism and discrimination, and treated as second-class citizens.

We are concerned by the government’s decision to deploy an additional 6,000 police and military personnel to Papua, to reinforce the existing police presence in the region. The six-point police order issued on 31 August, which banned demonstrations that could lead to “anarchist acts” and the list of criminal charges that could be brought against violators is a violation of Papuan people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and is inconsistent with the permissible limitations to such rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Indonesia is a state party.

We are also extremely worried about the government’s internet shutdown across Papua and West Papua provinces, as well as the government’s restrictions on foreign journalists from visiting Papua. This is in direct opposition to the promise you made in May 2015 to revoke the restrictions on foreign journalists covering Papua. Since then, several foreigners, including journalists, have been deported from the region. In the latest case, on 2 September, four Australians were deported for allegedly participating in a pro-independence rally in West Papua in August. We fear these measures serve as a means to restrict the flow of information from the region. Such a measure is a violation of the right to information, which is protected under Article 28F of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution.

The situation in West Papua has long been tenuous, with a history of marginalization and discrimination against indigenous Papuans stretching back decades. Despite supporting several recommendations made to Indonesia in relation to impunity and justice during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Indonesia has failed to end impunity for past human rights violations in Papua. In light of these concerns, we respectfully request you to take the following measures:

• Publicly condemn the acts of racism and discrimination that were perpetrated against Papuan students in Surabaya, Semarang, and Malang, in order to send a clear message that such acts are not tolerated.
• Order investigations into all allegations of unnecessary or excessive use of force by security forces against the Papuan students.
• Order investigations into allegations of offenses committed by security forces during the recent demonstrations in the Papua region.
• Order investigations into nationalist and militia groups that may be perpetrating violence against Papuans.
• End the internet blackout across the entire region to restore access to information.
• Allow foreign journalists to return to Papua and West Papua provinces to restore access to information.
• Drop the spurious charges against human rights lawyer Veronica Koman, and any other activists and human rights defenders that may be facing similar charges.
• End the arrest of peaceful protesters and release any still detained.
• Immediately revoke the six-point police order that bans demonstrations that could lead to “anarchist acts” and ensure Papuans are guaranteed their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.
• Address past human rights violations in the Papua region by adequately implementing the recommendations made to Indonesia on impunity for past abuses during the UPR.


Dimitris Christopoulos
President, FIDH

Yati Andriyani
Coordinator, KontraS

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