I. Summary 

The performance of security forces in the Central Highlands region of Indonesia’s Papua province2 is an important barometer of the success of security sector reform efforts in the country more generally. Outside scrutiny is minimal and the security challenges are pronounced—pro-independence guerrillas have long been based in the region and public resentment of Indonesian authorities and institutions continues to simmer. The Central Highlands show how security forces act when hidden from public view.  

For this report, Human Rights Watch investigated 14 cases of alleged human rights violations in the region, interviewing more than 50 victims, witnesses, and family members of victims. Government limits on access and the rugged terrain of the region posed unique obstacles to research and follow-up as needed what we found gives serious cause for concern. 

Among our key findings are that while civilian complaints of brutal treatment by soldiers continue to emerge, police officers rather than soldiers are responsible for most serious rights violations in the region today. We found that both army troops and police units, particularly mobile paramilitary police units (Brigade Mobil or Brimob), continue to engage in largely indiscriminate village “sweeping” operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal, and at times lethal force against civilians. Another finding is that even in routine policing, officers sometimes use excessive force. 

Underlying these mostly violent abuses is a culture of impunity. Members of the security forces continue to act as if they are above the law because, in fact, they rarely are prosecuted even when they commit the most serious of crimes.

In the 14 incidents documented in this report—which include eight alleged killings, two rapes, and many cases of ill treatment and torture—at writing, only one member of the security forces had faced prosecution, and that was before a military court; a low ranking officer was sentenced to eight months in prison for killing a 16-year-old Papuan high school student. To our knowledge, no Brimob or regular police officers have been investigated or prosecuted for their role in the remaining seven killings. No officers have been charged in either of the two rape cases in which police were implicated. No officers have been charged in connection with the cases of alleged police ill-treatment we documented. This report thus documents what appears to be the near total absence of accountability for members of the security forces who commit abuses in the Central Highlands. 

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The Central Highlands region for years has been the site of tense confrontations between Indonesian police and military units and small cells of Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM, known in English as the Free Papua Movement) guerrillas. The pro-independence guerrillas have conducted repeated low-level armed attacks against Indonesian security forces, while Indonesian security forces, fearful of a repeat of the successful movement for independence in East Timor, have conducted regular sweeping operations to search for OPM guerillas or their supporters. These operations have typically involved looting, destruction of property, and in some cases harm to civilians and displacement. Public support for the guerrillas is perhaps stronger in the Central Highlands than anywhere else in Papua.

Some proponents of Papuan independence have alleged that Indonesia is carrying out genocide in the Central Highlands, while others claim that serious human rights violations are a thing of the past. The reality is that surprisingly little is known about what is happening in many parts of the region. One reason is that this region is a large, mountainous, inaccessible, and sparsely populated area with little modern infrastructure. News can take days to reach towns if it reaches them at all.

A more important reason is that journalists, human rights workers, and even diplomats are barred from entry to the area without permits, which are hard, at times impossible, to obtain. Outsiders who do visit are able to do so only very irregularly and under tight surveillance by authorities. This means that little solid information comes out, creating fertile ground for rumors and unfounded speculation. The lack of reliable factual accounts means that unfounded rumors circulate with much the same potency as accurate accounts. The prominence of misinformation has served only to magnify the Central Highlands’ reputation as a hotbed of dissent and abuse.

While Indonesian security forces have improved their practices in some important respects in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, the situation remains of serious concern, particularly in the highlands. Security forces often presume civilians to be linked to, or vicariously responsible for, acts by the OPM.

During the course of this research Human Rights Watch documented eight confirmed and five other possible extrajudicial killings since 2005, all involving members of the police, and one for which members of the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), the Indonesian military, appear to be primarily responsible. We documented two rapes, one by a TNI soldier of a child, and another by Brimob officers.

In 10 of the 14 cases documented in this report, members of the police force were the perpetrators. Several victims told Human Rights Watch about their forced displacement due to sweeping operations by Brimob and army units, and were eyewitnesses to the deaths of nine civilians (two children and seven adults), most likely caused by exposure to diseases such as malaria and lack of access to medical treatment during displacement.  

As noted above, many of the most serious violations we documented occurred as the police conducted sweeping raids through the communities believed to have hosted OPM leaders, or in areas where the OPM had allegedly led attacks upon security forces. In 2005 the operations caused the dislocation of thousands of villagers fleeing in fear to the mountains. This displacement restricted peoples’ access to food, medical treatment, and other basic services such as education and access to livelihoods.

Extrajudicial killings and ill-treatment also occurred when regular police and Brimob units used disproportionate or excessive force to break up or control gatherings of people. In one of the cases, victims were individuals trying to fly the “Morning Star,” the Papuan independence flag. The Indonesian government remains highly intolerant of even peacefully expressed pro-independence sentiment. Those involved in Morning Star flag-raisings or other peaceful expressions of aspirations for independence are dealt with harshly. 

Police officers appear to regularly commit abuses while carrying out ordinary police tasks, including arrest and detention of suspects for non-political crimes. This kind of daily abuse appears to be a reflection of the heavy security presence, the lack of meaningful consequences for offenders, and the general state of lawlessness in the area.  Many of these violations took place when officers were not on official duty but in pursuit of private business or other ventures. 

Human Rights Watch found that rape and other sexual violence against women and girls by security forces is a continuing problem. Such attacks, as well as the broader fear such attacks generate, shape the daily lives of women and girls in the Central Highlands region. 

Many of the ordinary yet disturbing abuses we have documented arise primarily due to the impunity extended by the state to human rights violations by security forces in Papua and Indonesia more generally. Confidence of impunity is enjoyed by members of the security forces when they can abuse basic rights knowing that the risk of being held to account is negligible.

The vast majority of suspected perpetrators identified in this report are police officers (the majority are non-Papuan). This is a perceptible change from previous eras when members of the military committed the vast majority of serious human rights violations in Papua.

It appears that police and military members commonly abuse their power because they can do so, confident that no sanction or penalty will follow. They are, for all intents and purposes, above the law. When agents of the state, responsible for human rights protection, become its violators, there is a serious breach of public trust. Failure to rein-in abusive police and soldiers undermines the rule of law and the legitimacy of the state itself––in this case a state that still has much work to do to persuade Papuans of the benefits of citizenship. Much more attention needs to be paid to ensure that police re-direct their resources and energies to effective community protection and service. 


Conducting research for this report posed unique challenges. Researchers endured difficult conditions and visited many communities accessible only by foot and via rugged terrain. In all, we were able to conduct in-depth interviews with 56 eyewitnesses, victims, and family members of victims, focusing on cases from 2005 and 2006. We also met with many other villagers, local community officials, and civil society leaders. 

In our research, we prioritized allegations of particularly serious violations such as killings of unarmed people, rapes, and violent beatings. We examined a number of original documents relating to legal proceedings and autopsy reports where available. We also used secondary sources such as newspaper articles, reports by human rights and advocacy organizations, and other human rights archival sources to corroborate information provided through primary sources. 

We found that witnesses were generally eager to tell their stories. However, as all of the alleged perpetrators are serving members of the police or military, witnesses remain understandably fearful of reprisal for participating in the research. Due to the high risk of reprisal we have omitted the names of sources, as well as the specific dates and locations of the interviews. 

In advance of and during the course of the research, Human Rights Watch made several written and verbal requests to Indonesian authorities for formal access to the province. A request from Human Rights Watch was made in person to President Yudhoyono in September 2005 for official access. A letter was sent to President Yudhoyono in February 2006 raising concern at the lack of access to the province for the media and international human rights organizations. In March 2006 Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling for access to the province to investigate rising tensions in the area. In January 2007 Human Rights Watch wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs requesting access to Papua. Human Rights Watch has also requested permission for access to Papua during several meetings held with Indonesian government officials over the course of 2006 and 2007 in Jakarta, Washington D.C., and London. At this writing, such permission had not been granted despite official indications that it would be forthcoming.

Because our queries and requests for official access were denied, we have not been able to include here the perspectives of local police, military, and government officials. In May 2007 Human Rights Watch wrote to both the police and TNI commanders in Papua asking for clarification and responses to specific cases raised in this report. To date we have received no reply

Such denial of access is shortsighted. We believe that the production of factually based and balanced reporting on the human rights situation will only improve governance in Papua and West Papua. It would also contribute to strengthening both the will and capacity of the Indonesian government to properly hold its security forces accountable where allegations are substantiated.

2 The Indonesian territory of Papua occupies the western half of the island of New Guinea. Originally one province in the republic, in 2003 it was controversially divided into two new provinces. The new province of West Irian Jaya now occupies the western part of the region with a new provincial capital of Manokwari. The new province in the eastern half is still called Papua, with Jayapura still serving as the provincial capital. Plans for a proposed third province named Central Irian Jaya, have been postponed. On April 18, 2007, the name West Irian Jaya was changed to West Papua. As used here, Central Highlands refers to the districts along the mountainous “spine” of the eastern province of Papua: the districts of Jayawijaya, Puncak Jaya, Mimika, Tolikara, Yahukimo, Pegunungan Bintang, and Paniai.