2 Aug 2013

Jakarta says security forces not entirely to blame for Papua violence

6:19 pm on 2 August 2013

Indonesia's government says ongoing violence in Papua region, or West Papua, cannot be solely pinned on the country's security forces.

The UN Human Rights Committee recently highlighted the violence there and deplored the excessive use of force by security forces amid signs of discontent with Indonesian rule by indigenous people.

Referring to a high number of extrajudicial killings in the past two years, the Committee says violations are likely to continue with no effective mechanism available to hold the military accountable.

Johnny Blades reports:

Indonesian officials deny recent reports from Papua province that about 40 West Papuans were executed by the military in Puncak Jaya region. Rights groups and journalists find it difficult to access the remote region, which is controlled by the military, in order to verify the reports. But the Deputy for Political Affairs to Indonesia's Vice President, Dewi Fortuna Anwar, says there are many different perpetrators of violence in Papua.

"DEWI FORTUNA ANWAR: A lot of the victims are in fact not the result of state oppressions against Papuans. A lot of the conflicts in the past years have taken place due to local conflicts related to local elections for example."

However, the head of the Papua Peace Network, Neles Tebay, says West Papuans live in a persistent climate of fear because of the heavy military presence.

NELES TEBAY: The presence of Indonesian troops indicates that the battle or conflict remains unsettled so therefore as long as political conflict of Papua is not resolved yet the military has justification to assign more troops in West Papua.

Neles Tebay says civil society groups throughout Indonesia recognise that militarisation is not a solution to the Papua conflict, and that dialogue is needed between Jakarta and the West Papuans.

NELES TEBAY: In order to jointly identify problems and the root causes of the problems but also to discuss together the solutions to their problems.

However, the nature of the conflict is such that dialogue has itself become a victim. Responding to the UN committee's concern over the lack of freedom of expression in Papua, Jakarta has insisted that freedom is not absolute. This is reflected in its new Law on Mass Organisations, imposing firm limitations on freedom of expression and association, and broad prohibitions on NGO activities. Human Rights Watch's Phil Robertson fears the law will expose civil society to even more problems in West Papua.

PHIL ROBERTSON: The Indonesian government has gotten credit where credit was perhaps not due as being such a broad, reformist government, it still contains very conservative, army, civil servant groups, and also of course corrupt self-interested politicians. And these groups don't like having NGOs snooping around, they don't like having them going in and working with villages or other persons who are being displaced from land or having their rights violated.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar says the government is concerned about undemocratic behaviour by the military. But she admits Indonesia is still developing its democratic institutions and mechanisms such as those which could hold the military to account in Papua.