Something remarkable happened last week in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province.
A military court convicted two soldiers of murder and aggravated assault for their role in the deaths of two civilians on August 28. The court sentenced First Pvt. Makher Rehatta and Chief Pvt. Gregorius R. Geta to prison terms of 12 years and 3 years respectively. Two other soldiers are still on trial for their role in a case in which the four soldiers, who were allegedly drunk, opened fire with assault rifles on a group of Papuans who were holding a local Thanksgiving ceremony in front of a church in Mimika regency.
The case is notable because the perpetrators face punishment. The Indonesian government, which has deployed military forces in Papua since 1963 to counter a long-simmering independence movement, has for decades restricted official access to foreign media, diplomats, and nongovernmental groups in the province, fostering an environment of impunity for military abuses. Those abuses have often gone unpunished due to technical reasons: the 1997 Law on Military Courts allows investigations of military abuses that lack transparency, independence, and impartiality. But Indonesia has also long failed to properly investigate and prosecute alleged serious human rights abuses by members of its military, and in the rare cases where soldiers have been convicted by a military court, the sentences have been extremely lenient.
So last week’s convictions are good news, but at best a start. December 8 marks the one-year anniversary of the killings of five protesters in Papua’s remote town of Enarotali. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that security forces there fatally shot five people during a peaceful protest sparked by the beating of several children by some soldiers the previous evening.
But one year later, those who killed those demonstrators remain at large. That’s despite the fact that there have been three separate official investigations into the shootings: by the police, by the national human rights commission, and by an informal military-and-police effort. The military has not cooperated with the national human rights commission inquiry, and the 1997 law blocks civilian investigators from access to military personnel at the scene of crimes. Not one of those investigations has made public their findings.
That’s not good enough. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo told Papuans three weeks after the killings that he wanted the shooting “solved immediately so it won’t ever happen again in the future … as well as to find the root of the problems.” The failure of Jokowi’s government to keep this promise prompted an unprecedented statement from Papua’s Catholic diocese in July, demanding justice for Enarotali’s victims. Until Jokowi releases the results of those three probes and ensures all those responsible are prosecuted, military injustice in Papua will remain alive and well.