Senator the Hon Marise Payne
Minister for Foreign Affairs
PO Box 6100
Senate, Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
18 December 2018
Dear Foreign Minister,
On behalf of the Australia West Papua in Sydney, I am writing to you concerning an ongoing Indonesian security force operation that is taking place in the Nduga region of West Papua. The sweep is in response to the killing of 16 construction workers who were building bridges on part of the 4,300-kilometer Trans-Papua road project (from Strong to Merauke) which is expected to be completed next year.
There is great concern for the local people in the area of the security operation and at least 300 villagers have fled in fear of their lives to the forest to escape the military. In a media report Pastor Benny Giay, the head of Papua's Gospel Tabernacle Church, told Reuters by telephone, "they are cold and hungry after 11 days in the forest ". In the past, during military operations in West Papua the military have burned homes and destroyed food gardens leaving the local people traumatised and in fear for the lives. The Rev. Benny Giay also confirmed that five civilians had been killed, two in Mbua and three in Yigi when security personnel were attempting to retrieve the bodies of the construction workers.
There have been a lot of conflicting reports in relation to this incident including the number of those killed which was originally reported to be 31. A number of reports have also said that those killed were not civilian workers but soldiers from the army's engineering detachment. The incident was triggered when a suspected military member took a pictures of community events on 1 December 2018. When residents saw him taking the pictures, they were scared and asked him to delete the photos but he refused and went to a local military post.
The 1st December is West Papuan National Flag Day and West Papuans raise their flag to celebrate their national day and to bring attention to the world the injustices they suffer under Indonesian rule. On the 1stDecember over 500 West Papuans and their supporters were arrested in West Papua and Indonesia for peacefully celebrating their national flag day.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also raised concerns about the arrests in Papua on the 1 December. From UN media release:
We are concerned about the large number of arrests – more than 500 – during peaceful demonstrations held to commemorate West Papuan National Day in various locations across Indonesia on 1 and 2 December. We have received reports of security forces using blockades to prevent demonstrators from conducting peaceful rallies in Jakarta, East Nusa Tenggara, North Maluku, Merauke and disrupting prayer services organised by indigenous Papuan students to end the commemorations, resulting in several individuals being arrested and detained. We understand that the majority of arrests took place in the city of Surabaya in East Java where we have received worrying reports of excessive use of force and violence by security forces during a protest where fighting erupted between the protestors and people shouting anti-Papua slogans.
Security forces also conducted search operations at student dormitories. These resulted in the arbitrary arrest and detention of at least 300 individuals. All of those detained have since been released without charge. While we acknowledge the complexities of the situation in Papua, we are troubled by the crackdown over peaceful demonstrations and increasing reports of excessive use of force by security forces, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in Papua, including harassment and threats to lawyers working on these cases. Full release at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23990&LangID=E
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet in West Papua up to 100 West Papuan peaceful activists were arrested as they celebrated International human Rights Day. Thousands of West Papuans marched in peaceful demonstrations in a large number of regions in West Papua. However, the security forces arrested people, confiscated megaphones, pamphlets, and mobile phones.
The Australian Government continuous to say the human rights situation in West Papua is improving. However the mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, and military operations which cause hundreds of civilians to flee to the bush proves otherwise.
We ask you to use your good offices with the Indonesian Government urging them to halt the security operation in the Nduga region as a way of saving further lives in the conflict area.
We also urge you to rethink the Australian Governments policy of offering military aid and training to the Indonesian military.