Ryan Dagur, Jakarta – The security situation cited by police to justify violent action in Papua is little more than a guise, rights activists warned this week, after calling on Indonesia's government to rethink its policy.
"Their freedom to express political aspirations is tackled by officers who a priori believe that Papuans are separatists, so there's no freedom for them," said Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Jakarta-based watchdog Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (Imparsial).
Speaking at a workshop held in Jakarta on Wednesday, Indarti and other rights monitors highlighted a troubling attitude among officials. "There is a kind of tendency where murder or violence against Papuans is [seen as] something banal," she said.
Among the recent cases highlighted was last week's arrest of 264 Papuans who attempted to hold a rally marking the integration of West Papua with Indonesia. In December, police opened fire on protesters after clashes broke out, killing at least four teenagers.
"Things like this don't happen in any other area in Indonesia, just in Papua," noted Indarti.
West Papua was integrated with Indonesia in 1969, and remains under heavy police and military occupation. Over the past half-century, an estimated 500,000 Papuans have been killed in what the government claims is an attempt to stamp out separatism. Foreign and local media access is heavily restricted, as are rights groups attempting to monitor the situation.
Nur Kholis, who heads the National Commission on Human Rights, said police have failed to respect or integrate the local culture. "The government approach used so far can't accommodate the interest of Papuans any longer," he said.
Responding to the activists' criticisms, Insp-Gen Tito Karnavian, a former Papua police chief, acknowledged that human rights violations happening in the region sometimes involved the police. But he insisted such violations were punished, and claimed that "principally, [we] treat [people] equally before the law".
Much of the problems, he argued, stemmed from economic disparity. Improving social services, he said, would likely lead to "the disappearance of separatism".
But for Papuans, decades of gross human rights violations cannot be easily undone.
Ones Sahuniap, secretary-general of the National Committee for West Papua, said that he sees Indonesia as colonial occupiers. "Not to mention how the police and military personnel treat us. We could be arrested only for shouting in the streets," he told ucanews.com.
Marthen Goo, a Papuan activist, stressed that Papuans were only fighting the government's many injustices. "Inhumane acts, showed by the state and its security personnel like the police, are shameful," he told ucanews.com.
"There is no right to life, democracy and law enforcement for Papuans. Papuans' right to life is on the edge of [the police and military personnel's] weapons," he said.