Early this month, there was a news headline in the Jakarta Globe titled “Indonesian Court Indicts Papuan Five Activists for Treason”. The indictment of the five activists was solely for the raising of an outlawed Papuan flag and declaring its independence.
In recent times, violence has increased exponentially in Indonesia. Last year, local Papuans working at Freeport McMoran‘s Grasberg mine in West Papua, one of the world’s biggest copper and gold mines, went on a month long strike over a pay dispute.
Local workers demanded the company increase their salary and bring it in line with what the company pays its workers in other countries. As a consequence three people were killed, more than 90 were injured and around 300 participants were arrested by the Indonesian security forces. In the same year, there were several unrelated attacks and killings carried out by the security forces against civilians.
Such harsh responses from the Indonesian security forces have been prevalent ever since the annexation of the province in 1963 and punitive tactics have intensified since the break away of East Timor from Indonesia in 1999 through the United Nations supervised referendum.
East Timor’s secession from Indonesia has been an embarrassment for Jakarta. In consequence the policy of maintaining the unitary state of Indonesia is sine qua non. Jakarta does not want to see West Papua follow the same path as East Timor.
Human Rights Watch Report 2012stated that even though over the past 13 years Indonesia has made great strides in becoming a stable and democratic country, human rights concerns remain. The report further claimed that despite senior officials publicly asserting that the state has done all it can to protect human rights, in practice they seem unwilling to take the steps necessary to punish those responsible for abuses.
The report subsequently noted, for example, in January last year, despite video evidence of six soldiers involved in brutally torturing two Papuans, the tribunal tried only three of the six soldiers from Battalion 753, on lesser military discipline charges.
Since joining Indonesia, many Papuans have been subjected to various forms of human rights abuses. Mass atrocities have been widely documented. Writing for LowensteinInternational Human Rights Clinic Yale Law School, Brundidge, et al (2004) argued that since the annexation of West Papua by Indonesia, Papuans have been faced with numerous human rights violations at the hands of Indonesian security forces.
The author further argued that the Indonesian military and police have constantly carried out arbitrary and mass detentions, rape, sexual harassment, intimidation, torture, and other cruel and inhuman treatment ranging from electric shocks, beatings, pistol whippings, water torture, and cigarette burns, to confinement in steel containers.
Other systematic programs include resource exploitation, destruction of Papuan resources and crops, compulsory and often uncompensated labor, transmigration, and forced relocation. These have caused pervasive environmental harm to the West Papuan region.
Such claims have been widely verified by numerous human right reports documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, local and international government organizations and others. Despite public condemnation from rights groups, those claims seem to be unheeded by the Indonesian government.
At present, it is estimated that around 400.000 Papuanshave lost their lives as a result of protracted conflict in West Papua. Though the human rights abuses are widespread, the response from the international community has been muted. The ability of the Indonesian government to offer western companies an advantageous trading environment has, in turn, silenced western governments like the USA, United Kingdom, Australia and others, when it comes to human rights issues.