Catholic activists have called on Indonesian government to probe and ensure justice after a rights group released a report detailing military atrocities that displaced thousands of villagers and led to deaths due to hunger and diseases in Christian-majority Papua region.
The 50-page report entitled "Destroy Them First, Discuss Human Rights Later" by Germany-based Human Rights Monitor (HRM), was released on Aug. 17, the 78th anniversary of Indonesian independence.
"The report provides a meticulous and scientific analysis of the Indonesian forces' attacks on indigenous villages, highlighting the urgent need for international attention and action," the group said in a press release.
The report focuses on the army attack on the Kiwirok District between 13 September and late October 2021 where the Indonesian military used mortars in air strikes, which destroyed 206 buildings, including public facilities such as schools and churches.
The report "really describes conditions on the ground, which have so far not been noticed," said Neles Kieb, a Catholic activist in Papua. The findings can "hopefully open international eyes on the situation in Papua," he said.
"Reports like this represent the hope of the Papuan people to end the inhumane situation that has led to the long-running conflict in the region," he told UCA News.
Father Bernard Baru, from the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission in the Diocese of Jayapura covering the provincial capital, said ongoing impunity must end to stop such atrocities.
"Unfortunately, the government's current series of policies are actually exacerbating the situation, such as by adding more security forces to secure the expanding investment in Papua," he said.
President Joko Widodo's visit to Papua did not improve the situation in Papua, the priest said.
"Promises of changing approaches to problems in Papua, including through dignified dialogue with all parties to the conflict, are just empty messages," he said.
Since Papua is a Christian-majority region, Church groups and leaders from across the world including the Vatican and Pope Francis, will open their eyes and hearts to the people here following the report, he added.
"Indonesian security forces repeatedly attacked eight indigenous villages in the Kiwirok District, using helicopters and spy drones. The helicopters reportedly dropped mortar grenades on civilian homes and church buildings while firing indiscriminately at civilians," the report noted.
The military attacks displaced at least 2,252 indigenous Ngalum people who fled their villages and have not returned to their homes as of June this year.
Though the military operations caused no direct civilian deaths, people were forced to flee into the forest and live in shelters without access to adequate food and medicine, where they are vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition, and disease, the report said.
As of July, at least 72 displaced people died due to dire conditions in shelters amid a lack of any form of government support.
The military atrocities came in response to attacks on security forces by members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), an armed outfit fighting for the independence of Papua from Indonesian rule.
The report "paints a harrowing picture of over two thousand villagers displaced and forced to live in subhuman conditions, without access to food, healthcare services, or education." said Eliot Higgins, director at Bellingcat, a Netherlands-based investigative journalism group.
Higgins said the instances of violence deliberately perpetrated against indigenous Papuan civilians by security forces, leading to loss of life and forced displacement amounts to "crimes against humanity" under the Rome Statuteof International Criminal Court.
Indonesia is not a signatory of the Rome Statute.
Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said the report provides necessary information for the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) to take up the case for a probe.
Peter Prove, director for International Affairs at the World Council of Churches said the conflict in Papua "remains a hidden crisis, largely forgotten by the international community – a situation that suits the Indonesian Government very well."
"This report helps shine a small but telling beam of light on one specific part of the conflict, but from which a larger picture can be extrapolated," he said.
"Indonesia – which is currently campaigning for election to the UN Human Rights Council – must provide more access and transparency on the situation in the region, and the international community must respond appropriately to the increasing gravity of the crisis," he said.
Indonesian authorities and human rights commission were not available for comment.
Papua endured bloody conflict, deaths, and displacements since the 1960s when Indonesia annexed the region following the end of Dutch colonial rule, triggering an armed insurgency for independence and a heavy military crackdown.