(New York) Human Rights Watch today condemned the killings of three unarmed civilians in an attack on their vehicles in Papua, Indonesia this past weekend and called for an independent investigation, with the involvement of international human rights experts. Human Rights Watch warned against any reprisals by Indonesian security forces, noting the concern of local Papuans in the area that they may be targeted.
"In the aftermath of the attacks, Indonesia should fully comply with international human rights standards and not in any way use this terrible incident as a pretext to detain or mistreat innocent Papuans," said Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division.
On Saturday, August 31, 2002, Papua Police Chief Made Mangku Pastika confirmed that one Indonesian and two American schoolteachers had been killed after their vehicles were ambushed by a group of unknown gunmen, near Tembagapura in Indonesia's eastern most province of Papua. All three victims were employed at an international school for the children of employees of the Freeport gold mine in Papua, which is owned by U.S-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc. Ten other individuals from the two-vehicle convoy were injured, some seriously, and were evacuated immediately for medical treatment in Townsville, Australia and Jakarta, Indonesia.
On Sunday morning government forces reported an exchange of fire with an armed group close to the scene of the ambush. The Indonesian military shot dead an unidentified Papuan male, who they suspected of being a member of the armed opposition separatist group OPM (Free Papua Movement). The Indonesian military has already publicly accused the OPM of being responsible for the attack and has launched sweeping operations to track them down. Yet National Police chief Gen. Da'I Bachtiar confirmed on Wednesday that they were as yet unable to conclude whether the perpetrators were members of the OPM.
"There should be an immediate, impartial investigation into the attacks on unarmed civilians," said Jendrzejczyk. "Indonesian security forces must not retaliate against local citizens, as they have done so often in the past. The United States should urge Indonesia to refrain from reprisals."
Because of the repeated failure of Indonesia to impartially investigate such incidents in Papua, Human Rights Watch urged Indonesia to convene a panel of independent experts to investigate the killings, including international specialists, local civilian and religious authorities and known credible human rights experts. Freeport McMoRan should fully cooperate with such an investigation. Only an independent investigation would have credibility both with local citizens and internationally.
Last November, Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay, the chairman of the Papua Presidium Council, was abducted and assassinated. Twelve members of the military's elite Special Forces branch, Kopassus, have since been charged with the killing but have yet to go to trial.
Human Rights Watch has documented serious human rights abuses in Papua, where thousands of civilians have been terrorized and many have been tortured and killed during counterinsurgency campaigns. Reported abuses have included unnecessary and often lethal use of force by Indonesian police and military forces against peaceful pro-independence demonstrators; torture and brutal beatings of detainees; ethnic and racial discrimination by government authorities; intimidation of journalists, human rights activists and others who attempt to expose abuses by the security forces; and arrest and imprisonment of Papuan leaders for nonviolent advocacy of independence.
Armed Papuan opposition groups have also been responsible for serious abuses, including attacks on security posts, with major incidents resulting in casualties in December 2000 (Abepura), February 2001 (Betaf) and June 2001 (Wasior). The OPM has never killed foreign nationals in Papua although they do have a history of kidnapping foreigners to bring attention to their cause.