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Letter to New Zealand foreign affairs minister on escalating conflict in West Papua

West Papua Action Aotearoa - May 10, 2021

10 May 2021

Hon Nanaia Mahuta,
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Parliament Buildings

Tena koe Nanaia Mahuta,

We are deeply concerned about the dangerous escalation of conflict in West Papua. The Indonesian President has now made a public declaration that there will be a no-holds barred crackdown on the armed resistance movement (Free West Papua Movement or TNPB-OPM). This follows the killing the Papuan regional head of BIN, Brig. Gen. Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha, for which the armed movement claimed responsibility, The Indonesian Government has also imposed a terrorist classification on the TNPB-OPM.

We call upon you to raise your voice on behalf of the New Zealand people against the military crackdown and the terrorist designation which threaten the lives and safety of all indigenous West Papuan people. At this critical time, we also call on you to announce a cut-off in New Zealand's defence ties with Indonesia and the export of all military goods, weapons and weapons components to Indonesia. This move is essential to ensure that New Zealand is not complicit in any way in violence in West Papua.

The President' s announcement has been followed by internet disruptions and the deployment of some 400 additional troops to West Papua. According to a Reuters report these soldiers are from the battle-hardened 315/Garuda Battalion, given the name 'Satan troops' for their former role in East Timor. The exact number of troops in West Papua is hard to determine but estimates suggest the numbers may be between 12 and 16 thousand – about twice the per-capita ratio in the rest of Indonesia. In addition the paramilitary police, Detachment 88, has wide powers of arrest which can include arrests on the basis of "spreading propaganda' or 'having connections' to a terrorist organisation.

Just in the last 24 hours we have learnt of the arrest of Victor Yeimo, international spokesperson for the West Papua National Committee or KNPB, an organisation committed to peaceful dissent. Victor's arrest is said to be connected to anti-racism demonstrations in Jayapura in 2019.

The broad definition of terrorism under the counter-terrorism law gives the security forces wide powers to detain suspects without charge and hold them for lengthy periods with no trial. Who will be branded as 'terrorist' in a region where pro-independence sentiment and passive support for the armed resistance runs deep?

It indisputable that this high level of militarisation has not dented resistance to rule from Indonesia and that the victims of violence are predominantly civilian. The escalation of conflict in the highland regions of Nduga, Intan Jaya and Puncak has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians and the deaths of some 400 from disease, health neglect and starvation.

Since the terrorist designation was announced there has been considerable opposition to this plan. In West Papua it has been opposed by the Governor of Papua province Lucas Enembe – who said he feared that indigenous Papuans would face stigma – including those outside their homeland. Church leaders have also been outspoken against the designation. General Gatot Nurmantyo, former commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI), told a TV audience that he did not agree with the terrorist group label. Indonesian human rights NGOs, including the Setara Institute have strongly opposed the move as have the local chapters of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid feared that human rights violations would increase and said that Amnesty's modelling showed that there were conflicting accounts of responsibility for many deaths. Where the military attributed deaths to the actions of the armed resistance, local and church leaders often disagreed. Hamid also pointed out that according to Amnesty's records there were at least 47 case of extrajudicial killings committed by Indonesian security forces between February 2018 and December 2020, as well as five alleged cases of extrajudicial killings by security forces in 2021- resulting in seven deaths. It is extremely rare for any military personnel to be held accountable for civilian deaths, even when witness testimony is readily available.

Foreign Minister, you have spoken of a role for Aotearoa in offering indigenous models of conflict resolution as a possible way out of intractable disputes. We also note New Zealand's positive role in helping to resolve the crisis in Bougainville at the turn of the century. New Zealand has a potential role to play in brokering much needed dialogue between all sectors of the community in West Papua.

We strongly agree with your recent statement that human rights should be approached ' in a consistent country agnostic manner'. If lives are to be saved the urgent need is for an end to Indonesia's militarist approach. We urge you to use your good offices with Indonesia to press for an immediate halt to all military operations in West Papua.

Nga mihi nui,

Maire Leadbeater
Catherine Delahunty
Brian Turner

For West Papua Action Aotearoa

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