Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – A human rights defender in Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua has called for greater protection for civilians, especially children, in conflict zones,
The call came in an open letter to President Joko Widodo issued by Theo Hasegem, executive director of the Papua Justice and Human Integrity Foundation, on Nov. 3.
It follows the death of a two-year-old boy and the wounding of a six-year-old child in a clash between suspected separatist rebels and soldiers late last month in the province's Intan Jaya district.
Mr. President, I feel very sad to see children, who do not know anything about the political situation with regard to the independence movement in Papua, fall victim to such violence," Hasegem wrote.
He said the president had a moral duty to protect all civilians in such conditions.
Despite Widodo having visited the region several times and talked about bringing peace to Papua, violence was showing no signs of abating, he added.
"All civilians in the Papua region are Indonesian citizens, so are entitled to protection"
Widodo's last visit to Papua and West Papua provinces was in early October to kick off a national sporting event and launch several infrastructure projects.
"As a human rights defender, I am very concerned about the slow pace in dealing with armed conflict in the Papua region which has seen civilians, who do not have weapons, increasingly become victims," he said.
He pointed to thousands of civilians fleeing their homes as a result of the clash that killed the two-year-old boy
Nearly 6,000 people have reportedly sought shelter at local churches in Intan Jaya district following the clash.
According to the police, at least 18 civilians and police officers have been killed in clashes this year.
"All civilians in the Papua region are Indonesian citizens, so are entitled to protection," Hasegem told UCA News as he urged Widodo to form an independent team to help all those who have been displaced by the violence.
Emanuel Gobay, director of the Legal Aid Foundation in Papua, earlier called on the National Commission on Human Rights to immediately conduct an investigation into the incident involving the young boys.