Ignoring crimes will entrench Papuan opposition

Ignoring crimes will entrench Papuan opposition

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 October 2010

By: C. Chaplin and Carole Reckinger


A video, showing two Papuan men from Puncak Jaya subjected to torture by members of the Indonesian security forces, has made headlines all over the world.

It is not the first video of this kind to appear, but outrage from civil society and the international human rights community generally does not tend to provoke a reaction from the Indonesian government and security forces.

What is different this time, is that the global attention has come just weeks before US President Barack Obama is set to visit Indonesia. Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto told reporters: ''It has attracted public and world attention. We'll settle it properly.''

Advertisement: Story continues below Regardless of whether the government is able and or willing to settle this, it remains one example of the ease in which soldiers operating in remote areas hidden from public scrutiny can use coercive force on a local population without concern for consequences. Any lasting solution needs to employ a more structural approach, concentrating not only on charging the perpetrators and scrutinising the paradigm under which security operations take place, but also needs to address Jakarta-Papua relations.

One of the most entrenched and enduring problems of the emerging democracy of Indonesia is impunity. Although the Indonesian government ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1998, acts of torture by the security forces continue to go unpunished. Severe human rights abuses committed by the security forces in the post-Suharto era in East Timor, Aceh and Papua, but also during the protests in the capital Jakarta, have gone unpunished.

In the case of Papua, it is only the Abepura case of 2000, when Indonesian police were accused of shooting and torturing Papuan students after a raid on a police station, which has been brought to the Permanent Human Rights Court in Makassar. According to the National Commission of Human Rights, the investigations were hampered by a lack of police co-operation and intimidation of witnesses. Two senior police officers were charged with crimes against humanity, but acquitted shortly afterwards.

Mistrust against Indonesian rule in Papua is high, and recently the speaker of the Papua Customary Council (DAP) Forkorus Yoboisembut declared that ''the state has failed to guarantee the Papuans' rights to live'', mentioning the deaths of Papuan figures such as the chairman of the Papua Council Presidium Theys Hiyo Eluay in November 2001, Kelly Kwalik, and more recently Ismail Lokobal, killed in early October by the police following a dispute at Wamena airport.

In Jakarta, suspicion of ''separatism'' is still high and the stigma of separatism is regularly imposed on individuals or institutions considered to be ''suspicious''. It has also proven to be a convenient tool to outlaw any group that is a thorn in the eyes of certain interests, including human rights organisations, journalists, or even international aid organisations. The dominant ''anti-separatist'' security perspective among security officials both in Jakarta and Papua will make similar acts likely in the future. Furthermore, the recent move of the Obama administration to lift a 10-year ban on military assistance to the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus, is by many regarded as a tacit approval of the current climate of impunity.

While it is doubtful that the soldiers involved acted on orders given from above, arguments that the soldiers, while acting despicably, were operating in a separatist area need to be scrutinised. The soldiers, chasing a small, splintered separatist group largely operating with bow and arrows and the occasional rifle, were acting within their own country against their own citizens.

This raises serious questions concerning the emphasis the security forces put on protecting the integrity of the state rather than their own populace. Such scrutiny is even more important in a country such as Indonesia where the military, through a territorial system, is located throughout the archipelago down to the village level and views itself as a people's army. Greater emphasis on human security and accountability to ''the people'' are in great need, not only in Papua but throughout the archipelago.

Few in Papua believe that the soldiers will receive any disciplinary measure that fits the crime, nor that any independent and public investigation into such abuses will ever occur. Furthermore, recent demands for the Special Autonomy law to be handed back to the central government and calls for a referendum expressed by the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua — Papuan People's Council) show that dissatisfaction with the government has now reached a peak. Despite almost 10 years of special autonomy, large financial handouts from Jakarta and its vast mineral and timber wealth, Papua remains the most poverty stricken region in Indonesia. Corruption is widespread – also among Papuan politicians — while military and police brutality has antagonised large parts of the indigenous population, Puncak Jaya being a prime example.

It is actions like these that undermine current attempts by The Indonesian Institute for Sciences (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, LIPI) and Papuan priest and academic Neles Tebay to create a new dialogue between Papua and Jakarta, while simultaneously highlighting how such an initiative is desperately needed. Yet, without any serious and public investigation into these crimes and other historical grievances, support for dialogue may lose out to more radical groups within Papua and Jakarta.

Jakarta needs to take the Papua issue more seriously and move away from a narrow-minded separatist mind-frame. While President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has guaranteed a review of Papuan Special Autonomy at the end of the year, immediate dialogue with representatives of Papuan political and social institutions would go a long way to enabling Jakarta to understand the local situation outside of an economic or security model.

C. Chaplin and Carole Reckinger are freelance analysts and researchers who have spent the past two years living and working in Papua provinces.