Indonesia's crackdown on the Papuan independence movement is diminishing prospects for peace, Human Rights Watch said in a new report issued today.
A broad civilian independence movement has emerged alongside a decades-old armed insurgency in Indonesia's easternmost province, and Indonesian security forces increasingly have responded with force, imprisoning civilian leaders and terrorizing villagers. The result, Human Rights Watch said, is more violence.
"In the last six months, we've seen arbitrary arrests and torture in Papua that should have ended with Soeharto's ouster," said Joe Saunders, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. "What we haven't seen is the political will to address any of the underlying causes of the conflict. The political infighting in Jakarta may be partly to blame. But those political battles are no excuse for failing to heed what's happening in the outlying provinces."
The crackdown has also elicited an increasingly violent response from armed Papuan groups, which have stepped up attacks on security posts. In early June 2001, rebels kidnapped two Belgian filmmakers in an apparent bid to attract international attention.
The Indonesian attorney general is due to decide by mid-July whether to make one of the most serious cases of police brutality in Papua the first case to be brought before Indonesia's new human rights courts.
Jakarta failed to deliver on promises of meaningful autonomy for Papua, Human Rights Watch said. Instead, since June 2000, authorities have sent thousands of new troops to the province. They have banned peaceful expression of support for Papuan independence and have moved aggressively against independence demonstrators, in many cases killing or seriously injuring them. Key Papuan leaders have been arrested, and prominent civil society groups, including human rights organizations, have been subjected to increased surveillance and harassment.
In the 27-page report, "Violence and Political Impasse in Papua," Human Rights Watch details the emergence of the civilian movement and the government's response, and describes key cases. These include not only cases of Indonesian security force abuses, but several incidents in which Papuan militants attacked non-Papuan migrants from other parts of Indonesia. The report calls on Papuan political and community leaders to join religious leaders in condemning such violence and to take steps to stop it.
The report looks in greatest detail at the so-called Abepura case, in which police killed three students and beat up and tortured dozens of others following a December 2000 rebel attack on a police post in Abepura, near the provincial capital Jayapura. Human rights groups that reported on the incident were summoned by police for questioning and continue to be threatened with police action.
Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Abepura case be heard by Indonesia's new human rights courts. The courts, called for by legislation passed in 2000, are only now being established, and as yet no judges have been appointed.
"More than two years after Soeharto resigned, the police and military still enjoy near total impunity," Saunders said. "With the Abepura case, Attorney General Baharuddin Lopa and President Wahid have a chance to signal that the Indonesian government is finally committed to prosecuting serious human rights violations. But they must get the new court in place first."
Other steps Indonesia should take, according to Human Rights Watch, include the removal of arbitrary restrictions on access to all regions of Papua by journalists and humanitarian workers; the ending of all forms of racial and ethnic discrimination against Papuans; and prosecution of those responsible for anti-migrant violence.
"We urge other governments to press Jakarta to invite the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Papua," said Saunders. "And we hope those attending the ASEAN post ministerial conference in Hanoi in late July will express concern about ongoing abuses in Papua when they meet with senior Indonesian officials."
Human Rights Watch's new report on Papua will be followed in mid-July by a report updating the situation in Aceh, where popular support for independence has been fueled by failure of the government to prosecute human rights abuses.
Note on terminology: Indonesia's easternmost province is still formally known as Irian Jaya, but is now widely called Papua, following the lead of Indonesia's President Abdurrahman Wahid and in deference to the wishes of the province's indigenous inhabitants. West Papua is the name preferred by leaders of the independence movement.