(New York) – The Indonesian government should allow foreign media and civil society groups access to Papua to report on violence and rights violations since May that have left at least 14 dead.
Human Rights Watch urged Indonesia to accept calls made at the United Nations Human Rights Council to permit access to the province and to issue standing invitations to UN human rights experts.
“By keeping Papua behind a curtain, the Indonesian government is fostering impunity among military forces and resentment among Papuans,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It needs to let the media and civil society shine a light on conditions in the province.”
Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian government has failed to hold to account those responsible for recent violence in Papua. On June 6, 2012, a crowd stabbed one Indonesian soldier to death and seriously injured another after their motorcycle struck a Papuan child in Honai Lama District in Wamena, a city in Papua’s Central Highlands.
In retaliation, hundreds of soldiers from the 756th battalion swept through Honai Lama and elsewhere in Wamena, beating and stabbing residents and burning homes. A Papuan civil servant, Elianus Yoman, reportedly died from bayonet wounds. Seven other Papuans were injured and hospitalized. The soldiers set numerous buildings and motor vehicles on fire, causing many villagers to flee into surrounding forest.
An Indonesian military spokesman in Jayapura, Papua’s capital, initially denied that soldiers had injured any Papuans. But Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, later conceded that the Indonesian security forces overreacted in their response.
There have been a number of other violent incidents reported recently in Papua’s capital. Since May 23, unknown gunmen shot dead several non-Papuan migrants. A German tourist was shot on May 29 and was sent for treatment to a hospital in Singapore. The police forcibly broke up a protest on June 4 by the National Committee for West Papua (Komite Nasional Papua Barat or KNPB), a militant Papuan independence group, reportedly killing three student members. A KNPB member was also reported shot to death earlier on May 1.
The response of the national government to the growing violence in Papua has been inadequate, Human Rights Watch said. Yudhoyono told reporters on June 12, “The action [attacks in Papua] can be said to have happened on a small scale with limited victims.… The figure is far [lower] than the violence in the Middle East, [where] we can witnesses, every day, attacks and violence with huge numbers of deaths.”
“President Yudhoyono should stop making excuses for his government’s failure to investigate the violence,” said Pearson. “Allowing full access to the province for UN rights experts, the press, and other monitors could curtail the rumors and misinformation that often fuel abuses.”
The Indonesia government sharply restricts access to its easternmost provinces, Papua and West Papua. Military forces have been deployed there since 1963 to counter a long-simmering independence movement. Foreigners are required to obtain a special permit to visit the areas. Such permits are routinely denied or the processing delayed, hampering efforts by journalists and civil society groups to report on breaking events.
During the Universal Periodic Review of Indonesia at the UN Human Rights Council on May 23, France called on Indonesia to ensure free access for civil society and journalists to Papua and West Papua. The United Kingdom noted the “increase in violence” in Papua and “encouraged Indonesia to tackle violence against minority faiths and accept visit requests by Special Rapporteurs.” Austria, Chile, the Maldives, and South Korea called on Indonesia to accept standing invitations to the UN rights experts and groups known as special procedures. Mexico specifically asked the Indonesian government to invite the special rapporteurs to Papua.
The previous UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, made a request to visit Indonesia in 2004 and again in 2008, to which he never received a response.
“Several states registered concerns at the UN Human Rights Council about Indonesia’s failure to invite UN experts to the country,” said Pearson. “If Indonesia wants to be taken seriously in Geneva, it shouldn’t continue to ignore this request.”