The ancient philosopher Laozi wrote that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Indonesia still faces obstacles in protecting the human rights of her citizens. This is a nation-wide legacy problem that the government of President Joko Widodo is determined to address one step at a time. Recently, President Widodo personally instructed relevant government agencies to take actions to settle past human rights cases, including those related to Papua, and to put in place safeguards to prevent future incidences.
Leading an inter-ministerial meeting last April, the coordinating minister for security, Luhut Pandjaitan listened to the views and reports of human rights activists and Papuan public officials. Paulus Waterpauw, an ethnic Papuan police chief of Papua, is personally heading the efforts to resolve four cases of alleged rights abuses. While the Chief of the National Police, Attorney General and the National Commission on Human Rights are in charge of another five rights cases. In past trials, Indonesian courts have prosecuted and convicted a number of individuals for rights abuses including those committed by members of the security forces.
This is a small move on the way to resolve a number of past cases of alleged unjustified killings. Killings, especially those involving security forces do deserve greater scrutiny to bring justice and put the perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Prosecutions send a strong message that no one is above the law and in turn discourage potential rights abuses.
Rights abuses are not the monopoly of the security forces however. The United Liberation Movement for West Papua’s (ULMWP) single agenda is to take possession of sovereign territories of Indonesia: Papua and Papua Barat (West Papua). In pursuit of that goal, it wages an international propaganda campaign. As part of its strategy, the armed faction of the Papuan separatist group including the West Papua National Liberation Army (WPNLA), the Purom Okinam Wenda Group and their affiliates are systematically conducting armed attacks designed to terrorize Papuan residents, the Papuan Police and security personnel as well as local and multi-national businesses.
Benny Wenda, the spokesperson of the ULMWP is himself [allegedly] a fugitive of the law wanted on the charges of involvement in attacks in Abepura, Papua in December 2000. In those [alleged] attacks, Police Staff Sergeant Petrus Epaa and security guard Markus Padama died of their injuries. Wenda [allegedly] escaped in the middle of his trial and fled to the UK.
This separatist group has committed many human rights abuses including towards ethnic Papuans. A number of Papuan casualties that are repeatedly used by the ULMWP in their scare and smear campaigns are oftentimes a result of armed contacts between the Police against the armed WPNLA and its affiliates.
To illustrate, on March 2016, an armed separatist group of 20 people ambushed workers who were building roads to connect the cities of Sinak and Mulia. Four workers, Anis and the Demena family of Andarias, Daud and David died from gunshot wounds. On 30 November 2015, separatists attacked military officers in Namuniweja Village, Mamberamo Raya. One officer, Major Jhon E deFretes who was also a priest, died from his wounds. On July 28 2014, the Lanny Jaya faction of the WPNLA under the command of Enden Wanimbo attacked eight police officers who were travelling for a community counseling program. Two officers, Second Brigadier Zulfikli and Second Brigadier Prayoga Ginuni died at the scene from gunshot wounds. On 31 July 2013, an armed separatist group linked with the Purom Okinam Wenda Group attacked civilians only 100 meters from an army station. The group attacked and shot an ambulance owned by the Puncak Jaya Hospital and [allegedly] killed Hery Yoman, a health worker from the local hospital. On 27 November 2012, an armed separatist group attacked and burned the Perime Police Station in Lanny Jaya. Three police officers, Rolfi Rakubessy, Jefry Rumkorem and Daniel Makuker died of gunshot wounds and burn wounds. The list goes on and on.
In that context, consider this hypothetical scenario. Suppose a group of seemingly peaceful group of people is holding a rally in front of the Port Vila Parliament House. The group is waving the ISIS flag and calling for an establishment of an Islamic caliphate in Vanuatu. On a different day, the group’s more extremist faction wielding automatic rifles attacks and kills a number of Vila police officers who were patrolling the Port Vila Market and a number of shoppers on their Easter shopping. How would the Vanuatu Police react?
They would probably take those demonstrators for questioning. The Police would possibly scour the neighborhood of the suspects to obtain lead. Maybe the Police would then conduct house-to-house search and perhaps must resort to using lethal force to stop the terrorists in their tracks.
How is this then, any different from the reaction of the Police in Papua towards those groups of people—that are not just peacefully calling for their goal that threatens the national security and the existence of Indonesia as a sovereign country—but their violent and extremist wing that do not hesitate to use lethal force against Papuan civilians and the Police?
We should reject the use of [alleged] terrorism, for any purposes, whether to establish an Islamic State or to break Indonesia up and establish a new state in place of its territories.
Let us not forget that the ULMWP aims to take possession of territories of a sovereign country. Let us not forget that the Papuan voters have fairly and freely elected their government and legislature. Let us not forget that the ULMWP seeks to overthrow this democratically elected government and their people’s representative for their own political agenda.
Two wrongs do not make a right. The Government of Indonesia is taking steps in that thousand miles journey. Is the ULMWP and its armed wing taking any actions to right what is wrong?
Follow him on Twitter @SadeBimantara