2010-2019 - Recent Developments
Indonesian security services have launched an operation targeting separatists in the province of Papua after 31 construction workers were shot dead, authorities said on 04 December 2018. "This is the worst attack launched by the armed criminal group recently amid intensified development by the government," Papua police spokesman Suryadi Diaz told The Associated Press. Police are trying to recover the bodies, but Diaz said the separatists had scattered them throughout the district, which is known as a rebel stronghold. The workers were employed by the state-owned construction company Istaka Karya as part of a government-sponsored infrastructure project aimed at fostering economic development in the region. Indonesian Public Workers Minister Basuki Hadimuljono said work stemming from the infrastructure project would be "suspended given this incident."
President Widodo's move in 2015 to lift restrictions on foreign media access in Papua was widely welcomed internationally, but Tantowi Yahya, a well known TV presenter and country singer, pushed for the decision to be reviewed. Tantowi was named by Indonesia's government in late 2016 as its new ambassador to New Zealand.
By 2011 there were more than 30,000 national police and military stationed in Papua, and are seen by many as an occupying force.
By 2010 the Special Autonomy Law of 2001 had not been fully implemented in Papua. Implementation was delayed due to lack of implementing regulations. In addition, the provincial governments lacked the capacity to take on certain key responsibilities and some central government ministries had yet to cede their authorities. Although full implementation of Special Autonomy had not yet been realized, Indonesian government officials pointed to increased funding to Papua, which had totaled Rp 27 trillion or approximately US$3 billion in the nine years since 2001, higher per capita than any other area in Indonesia. The Special Autonomy Law created the Papuan People’s Council (MRP) to protect Papuan culture. The MRP rejected Special Autonomy, symbolically handing Special Autonomy back to Indonesian authorities. This action had no practical legal effect, but it did highlight the need for increased dialogue between Papua and Jakarta to resolve the region’s outstanding differences.
By 2011 US support for Indonesia's strong stand against Papuan separatists put added pressure on the independence movement to seek a negotiated settlement. But there were concerns that the U.S. is not putting equal pressure on the Indonesian side to peacefully resolve the conflict. While visiting Indonesia, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated the U.S. commitment to closer ties with Indonesia and voiced support for Indonesia's strong stance against a separatist movement in the eastern province of Papua. But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the warming relationship had not stopped the U.S. from speaking out against possible human rights abuses by the military in Papua.
In October 2011 police and military units violently dispersed participants in the Third Papua People’s Congress, a gathering held in Jayapura October 16-19. Activists displayed banned separatist symbols and read out a declaration of independence for the “Republic of West Papua” on the final day of the gathering. Police fired into the air and detained hundreds of persons, all but six of whom were released the following day. Three persons were found shot and killed in the area. Police spokesmen claimed that the police were equipped only with rubber bullets and other non-lethal ammunition. Police beat many of those detained, and dozens were injured. Six of the leaders of the Third Papua People’s Congress were convicted on charges of treason and weapons possession and were serving jail terms of approximately three years.
Credible international NGOs estimated that there were more than 80 political prisoners at the end of the year 2012. Most were prosecuted under treason and conspiracy statutes for actions related to the display of banned separatist symbols, and many were serving lengthy sentences. Government officials affirmed publicly that they would not tolerate the display of separatist symbols. A number of Papuan independence activists were in detention or prison for raising a banned separatist flag. Local human rights observers noted that enforcement of flag-raising laws was not always consistent but was widespread across Papua and West Papua provinces. These observers asserted that persons arrested for political offenses often faced harsh treatment, including withholding of necessary medical care.
On 16 March 2012, Jayapura District Court convicted five Papuan independence activists, including Forkorus Yaboisembut and Edison Waromi, and sentenced them to three years in prison for their statements declaring the independence of the “Republic of West Papua,” display of banned separatist symbols, and leadership roles at the October 2011 Third Papuan People’s Congress. Defense attorneys alleged during the trial that police interrogated the accused without advice of counsel and beat those held while in pretrial detention.
In 2012 separatist guerillas in Papua killed members of the security forces in several attacks and injured others. Suspected Papuan separatists also killed a number of non-Papuan Indonesian migrants in Papua throughout 2012. On 14 June 2012, unidentified members of the security forces in Jayapura, Papua shot and killed Mako Tabuni, a leader of the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), which campaigns for self-determination for the provinces of Papua and West Papua. The circumstances surrounding Tabuni’s death remained unclear, with Indonesian National Police (INP) personnel asserting that Tabuni was shot while resisting arrest and human rights advocates stating that he was shot in the back while attempting to run away. Tabuni believed that he was the target of a government assassination attempt that claimed the life of student activist Tejoli Weya on 01 May 2012. Unknown actors shot Weya during a demonstration commemorating the 1963 transfer of Papua and West Papua from the Netherlands to Indonesia.
The remoteness of the area made it difficult to confirm reports of burned villages and civilian deaths. On June 6, following an incident in Wamena in which a child was injured in a traffic accident involving two 756 Infantry Battalion soldiers on a motorcycle, local residents beat the two soldiers, killing First Private Ahmad Sahlan and severely injuring Sergeant Parloi Pardede. Subsequently, 50-100 members of the battalion descended on that neighborhood of Wamena, killing Elinus Yoman, injuring a number of residents, and reportedly burning 87 houses. At year’s end authorities had not arrested or disciplined any members of the 756 Infantry Battalion for their roles in the incident. The Indonesian Army claimed their soldiers had to defend themselves while attempting to retrieve Sahlan’s body. A few days following the event, a special reconciliation ceremony occurred that included local villagers, civilian officials, and security forces.
Much of the violence in Papua and West Papua had a link to the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and security force operations against OPM. For example, on 23 August 2012, police arrested four persons who they alleged were OPM members as suspects in the August 21 killing of police officer Yohan Kasimatau at Enarotali Airport in Paniai. In addition to killings by security forces and OPM, there were a number of violent incidents, including some killings by unknown parties in Papua and West Papua. Unknown attackers, whom government officials and human rights contacts suspected to be Papuan separatists, killed a small number of non-Papuan migrants.
In February 2013 gunmen in Indonesia's Papua province killed eight soldiers during two separate attacks in the region. In the first incident, Army officials say attackers stormed an army post in Puncak Jaya district, shooting two soldiers and leaving one dead. Hours later, officials say the same gunmen attacked a group of soldiers walking near the Ilaga airport, killing seven. Two civilians were shot when soldiers returned fire.
Over 500 people were arrested in West Papua on 19 December 2016 during self-determination protests on the 55th anniversary of Indonesia's military takeover of the region. Thousands marched across the region to support West Papuan freedom and to condemn decades of brutal treatment of Indigenous Melanesians by Indonesia.
In total, 528 people, including several children were arrested in the peaceful rallies across Indonesia’s most eastern province. A number had already been detained the night before the planned protests and activists reported that a number of people were beaten and badly injured before being arrested.
Activists also said that several who were detained were interrogated without a lawyer and at least one protester was tortured by Indonesian police. Journalists were banned from several areas and the headquarters of the West Papua National Committee in Jayapura was vandalized.
Demonstrations took place in at least 15 locations and several people were arrested after applying for demonstration permits with authorities. “This year alone over 4,800 people have been unlawfully arrested and many others killed and tortured by the Indonesian military and police,” said exiled West Papua independence leader Benny Wenda in a statement.
The protests coincided with the anniversary of “Operation TRIKORA,” which was carried out when the Indonesian government invaded West Papua on Dec. 19, 1961 after Melanesian West Papuans first raised their Morning Star Flag on Dec.1. The region was then annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a controversial referendum after winning independence from Dutch colonialism in 1963. Independence supporters say that the 1969 annexation is illegal and that Indonesian control has amounted to genocide.
Protesters were throwing their support behind the full membership of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, ULMWP, to the Melanesian Spearhead Group, MSG. The group includes other Melanesian nations, Vanuatu, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Police in Papua routinely refused to issue receipts of notification to would-be demonstrators on the grounds that the demonstrations would likely involve calls for independence, an act that is prohibited under the same law. Papua provincial police issued a decree in July 2016 prohibiting rallies by seven organizations labeled as proindependence groups, including the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, and the Free Papua Movement. There were fewer large-scale Papua-related demonstrations during the year 2017 than in 2016. On May 1, police dispersed a KNPB rally in Sentani, Papua, commemorating Papua Annexation Day, and reportedly detained 200 people, the majority of whom were released the following day. Local media reported the detention of 77 people in Merauke on May 31 after police disrupted a meeting of KNPB’s Merauke branch.
Occasional violence continued in 2017 to affect the provinces of Papua and West Papua, which experienced communal conflict as well as clashes involving police, the military, and community members. Overall, civil society observers reported fewer human rights abuses in Papua and West Papua during the year. Localized violence between supporters of rival candidates related to regional executive elections took place, with reports of deaths and injuries in several locations, notably the highland district of Puncak Jaya. A series of shootings occurred from September to December in the remote highland district of Mimika, located near the operations of the mining company Freeport McMoRan, Inc., resulting in the deaths of at least two police Mobile Brigade officers. Individuals associated with the Free Papua Movement, which has engaged in a low-level armed separatist insurgency for decades, claimed responsibility for the violence, prompting an increase in joint police and military patrols in the area and a temporary evacuation of civilians. On August 1, police Mobile Brigade officials attempted to disband a protest in Deiyai Regency. A violent skirmish between police and protesters ensued, resulting in the fatal shooting by police of Marius Pigai, as well as property damage and minor injuries to a number of police and protesters. Police disciplined two officers following an internal investigation.
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