Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – Indonesia must carry out "thorough, independent and impartial" investigations into a string of violent incidents in its easternmost provinces, a spokeswoman for the United Nations' human rights office has said.
Tensions in the provinces of Papua and West Papua have risen in recent months amid altercations between security forces and armed rebel groups, some of which have ended in violence and death.
A slew of alleged killings involving minors in recent weeks has stoked fears among local residents, especially ahead of West Papua's self-proclaimed independence anniversary on Dec. 1, which the Indonesian government does not recognize.
The Southeast Asian branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed concern over the escalating conflict in the restive region.
"We are disturbed by escalating violence over the past weeks and months [...] and the increased risk of renewed tension and violence," UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Monday.
Shamdasani cited a series of killings in Papua over the past three months, including the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old on Nov. 22 and the murder of a local public figure, pastor Yeremia Zanambani, in September.
The 17-year-old, named Atanius Wuka, was one of four civilians who were shot dead by unidentified assailants in two separate incidents in Papua's Puncak regency last week. Another minor survived and went on to post a video about the incident that went viral.
On Sept. 19, Yeremia was allegedly tortured and shot at close range in his pig pen in Intan Jaya regency. An investigation launched by the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) found that a member of the Indonesian Military (TNI) was allegedly behind his death.
The deaths of minors in last week's incidents echoed the Paniai shootings in 2014, where four teenagers were killed and which Komnas HAM called a "gross human rights violation". Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko, who was serving as TNI commander at the time, denied accusations that the military had responded improperly.
"Authorities need to pursue thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all acts of violence, in particular killings, and for all perpetrators regardless of their affiliations to be held accountable," Shamdasani said.
The UN human rights office also criticized the arrest of participants in a meeting organized by the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP) to evaluate Papua's 20 years of special autonomy and the related funding in November.
"UN human rights experts have repeatedly expressed serious concerns regarding the intimidation, harassment, surveillance and criminalization of human rights defenders for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms," the spokeswoman said.
She urged the government to uphold the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, especially ahead of Dec. 1 – a day that some Papuans celebrate as the birth of the West Papua nation in 1961.
The government has dismissed any claims to independence by separatist groups and insists that the issue of Papua should not be internationalized.
According to Shamdasani, her office has noticed an increase in violence in Papua since 2018, following the killing of 19 people working on the trans-Papua Highway in Nduga regency by an armed group.
The UN body was concerned about reports of extrajudicial killings, the excessive use of force, arrests and the harassment and intimidation of protesters and human rights defenders in the province, especially since the TNI brought in reinforcements in 2019.
The additional security forces were deployed in response to a series of riots and antiracism protests in the province in August 2019.
"We are concerned about reports that both armed elements and nationalist militias have been actively involved in the violence," the UN spokesperson said.
"There is an urgent need for a platform for meaningful and inclusive dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua to address long-standing economic, social and political grievances. We urge all sides to work to prevent further violence," she added.
In his response, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah said that Indonesia was "disturbed" by the timing of such a statement issued by the UN body, which could be interpreted as supporting a separatist agenda.
"While we take alleged human rights issues, including those expressed by the UN HR Office Spokesperson on 30 November 2020, seriously, we are deeply disturbed by the timing chosen by the Office to deliver its statements every year. The date chosen around the 1st of December simply serves those promoting [a] separatist agenda," he said in a statement to The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
"We believe the Office of the UN Human Rights should take more care in delivering its statements so as to avoid such abuse and misuse, which is a contravention of the UN Charter and international law," Faizasyah added.
Also on Tuesday, a pro-referendum group claimed that it had begun forming what it dubbed a new "provisional government" in West Papua, starting by naming separatist leader-in-exile Benny Wenda as "interim president".
However, the ministry dismissed such a declaration, arguing that the reintegration of Papua into Indonesia was made final decades ago and accepted by the international community.
"The overall process of reintegrating Papua into Indonesia from the Netherlands was supervised by the UN, including through the adoption of a UN resolution," Faizasyah said.
As a region that was never registered with the UN Special Committee on Decolonization, Papua has been defended by Indonesia's diplomats as an integral part of Indonesia based on the legal principles of territorial integrity and uti possidetis juris (as you possess under law), with the latter providing that newly decolonized states should retain the borders they had before independence.
Indonesian diplomats have also adamantly stressed that a referendum on self-determination could only be carried out in the context of colonialism, while present-day Papua was included with all other territories when Indonesia declared independence on Aug. 17, 1945.
Following Japan's World War II defeat in 1945, the Dutch attempted to restore control over its former colony. The Netherlands and Indonesia eventually signed the New York Agreement on Aug. 15, 1962 that determined Papua – West Irian at the time – to be an Indonesian administrative territory.
Indonesia consolidated its sovereignty over West Irian in 1969, when selected representatives of the local population voted unanimously for Indonesian rule in the controversial but legitimate Act of Free Choice (Pepera), which was monitored by UN observers and United States diplomats.
The international community accepted the results of the Pepera under UN General Assembly Resolution 2504 (XXIV), which reaffirmed as legal fact that West Irian had always been a part of Indonesia.