Referendum demand grows as govt’s Papua resolve wanes

Referendum demand grows as govt’s Papua resolve wanes

  • Margareth S. AritonangThe Jakarta Post


While government teams are working to identify fatal incidents that have led to human rights abuses in Papua to gain the trust of its people, former political prisoner Filep Karma said on Tuesday that a referendum should take place to determine the future of the restive region.

Filep, who was released after being granted clemency by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo last year, said the process would reveal the aspirations of Papuans.

“Let us see whether the majority of Papuans want to stay with Indonesia or leave,” he said during an event held by Setara Institute.

Filep had spent 11 years behind bars for raising the Morning Star Flag, a West Papua independence symbol.

As part of Jokowi’s commitment to improve welfare for Papuans, 70 percent of whom voted for him during the 2014 election, the President has prioritized the region in development programs as well as taken bold moves to mend ties with Papuans, who have been victims of discrimination and violent incidents with security officers.

After releasing five political prisoners, including Filep, last year, Jokowi has been more aggressive in his efforts to accelerate development in the region.

In his last visit to Papua last week, he announced a “one fuel, one price” policy for the region, ordering relevant institutions to ensure a consistent fuel supply, the lack of which has often been a hurdle hindering economic activities.

The government also established a taskforce under the supervision of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ministry that it assigned to identify rights abuses connected to all violent incidents that have occurred in Papua, but questions linger over the fate of the team’s assessment. Following the deadline of its term on Oct. 25, the team has yet to announce its findings.

A copy of the team’s temporary report obtained by The Jakarta Post cites four incidents that involved human rights abuses: the 1996 military operation to rescue 12 foreign and Indonesian scientists abducted by the Free Papua Movement (OPM) in Papua’s hinterland of Mapenduma; the 1998 Bloody Biak, a tragedy that claimed the lives of more than 100 Papuans following a hoisting of the Morning Star Flag, a symbol of resistance, in the coastal town of Biak Numfor; the killings of civilians by military and police personnel in Wasior in 2001; and the 2004 tragedy in Wasior where a joint police and military operation tortured and killed civilians from 25 villages following a break-in at a military arsenal.

The report said that two of the incidents, the 1996 Mapenduma operation and the 1998 Biak tragedy, would require a political decision from the House of Representatives for resolution because they occurred before the implementation of a 2000 law on establishing a human rights tribunal.

The report said that the fate of the 2001 Wasior incident and the 2004 Wamena tragedy should wait for a final conclusion by the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO), which have adopted different stances on the cases.

Komnas HAM has declared the two cases to be gross violations of human rights, while the AGO has demanded more evidence. The AGO’s requirement for evidence has also extended to another five abuses that occurred in other parts of the country that Komnas HAM has already declared to be historic human rights abuse cases. This has delayed settlement of all cases, including the killings in Wasior and Wamena.

Separately, Komnas HAM has conducted independent investigations and identified 14 cases of rights violations. The chairman of Komnas HAM, M. Imdadun Rahmat, included the unresolved shootings of civilians in Paniai on the list of rights abuses that needed immediate resolution, in addition to the Wasior and Wamena incidents.

“We must revise all laws on human rights, including the 1999 law on Komnas HAM, to give the rights body the power to prosecute. Otherwise we will never see any cases solved because of political obstacles,” said Bonar Tigor Naipospos from the human rights watchdog, the Setara Institute. “We are also in dire need of prosecutors with adequate human rights knowledge at the AGO.”

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