The Indonesian government faced more international scrutiny of its activities in Papua as the UN capped a whirlwind of multilateral diplomatic activities, even as violence continued to simmer in the country’s easternmost provinces.
Indonesia regularly receives criticism for its strategy in relation to separatist groups in Papua, a strategy that relies heavily on a security-based approach and which has raised questions about the government’s commitment to human rights.
Most recently, the nation found itself included on a list of 45 countries cited as being culpable of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders seeking to cooperate with the UN, according to an annual report from the UN Secretary General’s Office distributed on September 17.
Between May 2020 and April this year, five individuals seeking to cooperate with UN human rights agencies – Wensislaus Fatubun, Yones Douw, Victor Mambor, Veronica Koman and Victor Yeimo – were “subject to threats, harassment and surveillance by government, non-state and private actors, including business enterprises and local political actors”, the report said.
It included in its appendix an acknowledgement that the government responded in a note sent verbally in connection with the report, affirming Indonesia’s position as of August 12 condemning intimidation and reprisals for cooperating with the UN, including human rights defenders.
However, Jakarta rejected the allegation that Yeimo was arrested for his cooperation with the UN, stating that his case “strictly concerned his alleged involvement in the incitement of mass riots … on August 19, 2019, and his advocacy of separatism and secession”.
The report is currently being discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, with Indonesia preparing a response later this week, according to a spokesman from the foreign ministry.
Yeimo, 39, a spokesman for the West Papua National Committee, a rebel group, was arrested in May on charges of treason and inciting violence.
He has denied the charges, but his trial has gone ahead despite requests from his lawyer for a delay on medical grounds, said Mary Lawlor, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in a statement warning Indonesia last week.
Wenislaus is an adviser for human rights at the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP), while Yones is a member of the indigenous Me tribe, who has been investigating, documenting and advocating against alleged human rights violations in Papua for over a decade. Veronika is a human rights lawyer based in Australia, while Mambor is a Papua-based journalist also documenting the conflict in the region.
The report was not the only scrutiny Indonesia received during the UN’s most important annual events.
Another year and the UN General Assembly saw Indonesia face another barrage of accusations by Vanuatu, whose Prime Minister Bob Loughman Weibur on September 25 urged the international community to address alleged human rights violations in Papua through the appropriate UN-led processes.
Weibur sought to put pressure on the government to allow the UN human rights commissioner to visit Papua and West Papua for an independent assessment of the human rights situation there, But Jakarta rejected his remarks as “false, baseless allegations and a misrepresentation” of the situation in the region.
“Vanuatu deliberately closes its eyes when these armed separatist criminal groups murder nurses, healthcare workers, teachers, construction workers and law enforcement officers,” said Sindy Nur Fitri, a young diplomat at the Indonesian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.
Weibur mentioned West Papua – the preferred name for Papua among separatists – alongside French Polynesia and New Caledonia, as territories still struggling for self-determination. The latter two are French overseas territories listed at the UN as non-self-governing territories.
Unlike the other two, West Papua has never been on the list because its integration with Indonesia was legitimised by the UN, even though pro-independence groups continue to campaign to include it on the list.
For years, Indonesia has swatted away the criticisms of several small Pacific Island countries – all of which share a cultural affinity with Papua’s Melanesian people – as it looks to project a more benevolent image as a neighbour.
However, developments in the restive provinces often run counter to Indonesia’s overseas efforts, as tensions run high between security forces and armed rebels groups.
As Indonesia sent yet another junior diplomat to do its bidding at the UN, the fighting continued in Kiwirok district in Papua’s Pegunungan Bintang regency.
A shootout between security forces and armed rebel groups at Kiwirok Police headquarters early on September 26 left a police officer, identified as Second Agent M Kurniadi Sutio, dead.
The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The clash follows nearly a dozen incidents occurring in Papua and West Papua this year alone, including the tragic death of nurse Gabriella Meilani on September 13 in a rebel attack on public services in Kiwirok. She was reportedly harassed and killed by the rebel forces.
Gabriella was killed after a four-hour gun battle that saw rebels burn down a nearby local community health service, a school and a bank. She was found dead in a ravine that she and nine other health workers fled into as the violence erupted. A soldier was also caught in the line of fire.
The TPNPB went on the offensive as Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel retrieved Gabriella’s body to be sent to Jayapura. A soldier was killed in that attack on September 21.
The group has denied allegations that their members killed or harassed medical workers, and called for an independent investigation involving the UN.
After the incident, Kiwirok was reportedly deserted, with most residents fleeing into the forest or other places to hide, for fear the conflict would reignite.
Another nurse, Gerald Sokoy, was held for 12 days at the OPM headquarters in Ngalum Kupel before he was released to his family on September 25.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK