by REBECCA PAVELEY
24 FEBRUARY 2023
TORTURE, extra judicial killings, and abductions are being carried out with impunity in the provinces of West Papua, human-rights activists have reported, as conflict continues between those fighting for independence and the Indonesian security forces.
The 2022 Human Rights Monitor report said that amendments by Jakarta to the Papuan special autonomy law without consultation, and plans to create new provinces, added to a history of political disappointments and human-rights violations for residents of West Papua. Protesters staged demonstrations to protest at the arbitrary changes, but the report said that violations of human rights recorded increased as a result of the protest.
Researchers identified hundreds of violations. On 1 December, which many Papuans consider their independence day, there were more than 100 arbitrary arrests, the report said.
The conflict reached “a new level of escalation throughout 2022”, the report said. “More and more, the people in West Papua feel powerless to exercise their right to determine their future.”
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua held a series of meetings with the West Papuan Council of Churches to seek a way forward. Although a ceasefire was agreed, it has not been implemented. Conflict has now spread to new areas, and more civilians have been attacked. The TPNPB has urged non-Papuans to leave conflict areas, as their cannot be guaranteed.
A New Zealand pilot, Philip Mehrtens, taken hostage last week, has appeared in video footage sent to the BBC by TPNPB fighters. He appeared in the video with armed fighters to read out a prepared statement, repeating the rebels’ demands for independence. The group said that Mr Mehrtens was being held because New Zealand co-operated militarily with Indonesia.
About 60,000 people — many of whom are not receiving any government support — are now living in shelters as a result of the conflict. Others are living in remote areas of forest without access to food or health care. Church workers told researchers that the number of people displaced from the Maybrat Regency area, where there have been recent clashes, is nearly 2000, and that those living in shelters were not safe, as snipers were constantly firing around them.
Human Rights Monitor is an EU-based international group that seeks to promote human rights through documentation and advocacy. The group works in collaboration with the World Council of Churches (WCC) on situations of conflict and human-rights violations in West Papua.
The WCC said that it was concerned for the indigenous West Papuan population, owing to the “persistent and quite serious human-rights and humanitarian situation in the region, which the Indonesian government has, frankly, failed to address and correct”.
The WCC’s director of international affairs, Peter Prove, said that there was a lack of trust in Indonesian rule, which dated back to the disputed Act of Free Choice, when West Papua was integrated into Indonesia in 1969.
He said: “What we have seen over decades is a very high level of human-rights violations,” which had increased during Covid.