“Bitterness thus created not easily healed.”
That’s the prophetic assessment of a telegram from the US Embassy in Jakarta describing a massacre by Indonesian security forces in Papua in July 1965.
The telegram, dated September 15, 1965, reports that an attack by pro-independence Papuans on Indonesian soldiers prompted a vicious reprisal of indiscriminate killings on civilians in the town of Manokwari. “Indonesian reaction was brutal. Soldiers next day sprayed bullets at any Papuan in sight and many innocent travelers on roads gunned down.”
That document, one of 39 published last week by the US-based public transparency group National Security Archive, provides a chilling insight into the US government’s detailed knowledge of large-scale killings in Indonesia between 1965-1968. Taken together, the materials suggest the US government knew about tens of thousands of killings by the military, paramilitary groups and Muslim militias of suspected members of the Communist Party of Indonesia and ethnic Chinese, as well as trade unionists, teachers, activists, and artists.
The telegram’s reference to the Manokwari brutality, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Papuans, underscores the long history of impunity for human rights abuses by Indonesian security forces in that region. Although the government of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has repeatedly promised a new approach to Papua, home to a low-level insurgency and a peaceful pro-independence movement, the reality has not matched the rhetoric and security forces continue to kill Papuans without any accountability.
In April 2016, the Indonesian government announced it would seek accountability for 11 high-priority human rights cases in Papua from past years. But the government has not provided any details as to when, where, and how the cases would be addressed. Meanwhile, the unlawful killings of Papuans by security forces continue and independent reporting on human rights abuses in Papua – both past and present - is hobbled by authorities continuing to restrict access to the region for foreign journalists and rights monitors.
It is crucial for justice for decades of abuses by Indonesian security forces that the US and Indonesian governments now release all other classified documents on the killings. Until they do so, the bitterness felt by so many Papuans will only deepen.