An Open Letter to President Obama from the Asian Human Rights Commission

An Open Letter to President Obama from the Asian Human Rights Commission
Asian Human Rights Commission, 9 November 2010


President Obama,
White House
Washington D.C.
USA

For the attention of President Barack Obama,

INDONESIA: Serious human rights abuses in Papua, Indonesia need your attention

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a human rights non-governmental organisation, calls upon your good offices to raise the issue of torture by the military in West Papua, Indonesia. The AHRC brought to light a video showing members of the military ill-treating and torturing indigenous Papuans. In the video in question, which concerned acts perpetrated in spring 2010, at least two indigenous Papuans were subjected to violent acts including beatings, being threatened with a knife, the burning of genitals and being asphyxiated with a plastic bag.

While the Indonesian authorities have since taken steps, including to confirm that members of the military were allegedly responsible for the acts portrayed in the video, there are serious concerns that the investigation and any subsequent trial by a military tribunal are unlikely to ensure justice or curtail the impunity which usually accompanies such acts. Four alleged perpetrators of the torture case have been prosecuted by a military court with only lenient sentences. In fact the AHRC is concerned that the actions by the Indonesian government and military have only been taken to show that they are doing something, in the prelude to your visit to the country, but that once this visit is over, very little will progress. In light of this, the AHRC urges you to raise the issue with the Indonesian leadership during your visit, in order to ensure that a fair and transparent investigation and trial are guaranteed, and that any persons found responsible be punished in accordance with international standards relating to torture.

The AHRC recalls that the military are placed beyond the reach of civilian courts, by virtue of Indonesia’s military law. Furthermore, torture has not been criminalized in Indonesia, despite the country having ratified the UN Convention Against Torture. Furthermore, the country's President has been quoted as calling for the trial of several low-ranking military personnel to exonerate the State by proving that there is no systematic pattern of abuse. All of these factors point to an investigation and trial that will likely result in at best the sentencing of several military men as scape-goats, but may perhaps not even achieve this dissatisfactory result. Your intervention in order to urge much-needed reforms to the military law and penal code, in order to dismantle impunity and prevent further torture, could be key at this juncture. Discussions on legislation to enable soldiers that commit crimes against civilians to be brought before civilian courts have reportedly bee n halted without result and are no longer listed for discussion by the country's parliament.

The AHRC has documented numerous cases of such human rights violations that point to a pattern of endemic and possibly systematic arbitrary arrest and torture as part of military operations against the Papua Freedom Organisation (OPM). While denouncing any acts of violence by non-State actors, and acknowledging the right of the State to defend against such acts, the State must guarantee the human rights of all civilians at all times. Due to operations by the military as well as the police, many innocent members of the indigenous community are being deprived of their rights and freedoms as Indonesian citizens. The AHRC has received credible reports about violations of rights allegedly committed by the military during "sweeping" operations by the military in the West Papuan highlands, which include the burning of houses, killing of livestock, arrests and other forms of violence. Since Indonesia is not allowing foreign journalists or human rights groups into the area, little is known about the extent of the problem, although reports are increasingly making their way out of the region.

Mr. President, the AHRC urges you to raise these issues during your brief but important visit to Indonesia, as intervention at this point could have a significant impact on the improvements of the enjoyment of rights, while the failure to highlight these issues will contribute further to the entrenchment of impunity.

Yours sincerely,

Wong Kai Shing
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong