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A Culture of Impunity Continues to Plague Papua: Amnesty International

We spoke with Amnesty's Papang Hidayat about why so few extrajudicial killings in Papua result in justice for victims' families.
Police arrest a man after at a ceremony marking 50 years since West Papua's independence from Dutch rule in this file photo. Photo by Muhammad Yamin/ Reuters 

Hubertus Mabel was lying in the back of a pickup truck, bleeding heavily from the leg after police shot him in the knee from a distance of about one meter before searching him. "Just leave him to die," one of the officers said, according to testimony from two eyewitnesses. "Just leave him be."

Hubertus bled out and died a short while later as he lay unaided in the back of the truck while the officers drove to Wamena, in Papua's highlands. His death, just one of 69 extrajudicial killings to occur in Papua between 2010 and 2018, was recently uncovered in a damning report by Amnesty International Indonesia into human rights violations in Indonesia's most-remote province.


The report, titled "Don't Bother, Just Let Him Die: Killing With Impunity in Papua," in memory of Hubertus, is one of the harshest indictments of the culture of impunity that exists in Papua, a resource-rich region that's largest shut off from international press and heavily militarized security forces that largely police themselves.

The central government was quick to dismiss the report's claims as one-sided. The administration of President Joko Widodo has tried to make infrastructure and economic development a priority in Papua. But three years after Jokowi released five Papuan political prisoners in a show of good will, the violence in the far-flug province continues.

VICE reached out to Amnesty International Indonesia researcher Papang Hidayat, who's work in the field made this report possible, to figure out why the violence, and impunity, continues to be one of the biggest issues facing Papua today.

VICE: What do you think is the root of the problem to extrajudicial killings in Papua?Papang Hidayat: The Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ (LIPI) report, called Papua Road Map, established four core problems in Papua. Papuan people were not involved in the drafting and implementation of Act of Free Choice in 1962, which results in the integration of Papua and Indonesia. There’s also human rights violations and a culture of impunity. The LIPI report covers the torture and the arrests, as well as wider discrimination against Papuan identity. The Papuan people feel excluded. On top of that, Papua’s economy is stalling, which is ironic considering its rich natural resources. The people are poor because their nature is being exploited.


Of all the cases, can you share with us one that really stood out?
I think the most extraordinary case is what happened in Pinai, on December 8, 2014. All of the victims were under 18 years old. It’s extraordinary not only due to the number of victims but also the fact that it took place a couple of months after the inauguration of President Jokowi. With his nine key programs (nawacita), he’s committed to reopen past cases of human rights violations. And yet, it’s been almost four years and there’s still been no significant development on that end.

You talked to families of the victims. What were they like?
They’re very open and we really respect them. Some of them know someone in their family who were also a victim of other cases that aren’t our focus.

Human rights violations in Papua aren't something new and it was much worse back in the day, with higher number of victims. According to our research, out of 95 victims, 85 of them were Papuan. But they have been oppressed for so long that now they no longer feel afraid.

How did you come up with this research? Tell us how you collected your data.
Amnesty International focus and prioritize cases of human rights violations in Papua. In 2016, I did my field research for three weeks, talking to witnesses, the familes of victims, and human rights advocates in several cities in Papua, especially in Jayapura, Timika, Nabire, Wamena, and Sorong. At the same time, we were also gathering secondary data from National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) in Jakarta and Papua, church organizations in Papua, and the World Bank's Sistem Nasional Pemantauan Kekerasan that collected newspapers clips from several publications in Papua between 1998 to 2015. We focus on human rights issues and the extrajudicial killings in Papua.


Besides the numbers, what are the main and most important findings from your research?
We found that human rights violations is a systemic problem. It doesn’t matter who’s president—it has more to do with the authorities behavior in the field. We also found that there’s no mechanism of accountability, hence no deterrent effect. When the police commit a crime, where do we go to report them? Sure, we can go to the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM), but even then they can only make reports and, in the end, the reports will be sent to the police themselves.

If the perpetrator is a member of the military, we report them to the military. This isn’t right and that’s what we’re trying to show through our research. This lack of accountability is one of the main factors why human rights violations, in this case extrajudicial killing, persist. We need to change the system, improve it according to the international covenant on civil and political rights. There has to be an external and independent institution that investigates reports of human rights violations by the authorities.

What were the challenges in conducting this research?
The biggest challenge is that Indonesian researchers don’t have a good crime tracking system and database. In terms of safety, I felt relatively safe during my research. I kept a low profile.

Wiranto, Indonesia's top security affairs minister, claimed that your research is one-sided. Do you have any comments?
We’re trying to hold a discussion about this research and show our methodology. Maybe he said it’s one sided because we don’t show many instances where authorities were also victims of violence. We admit that such cases exist, but they were very hard to verify because the reports came from the military. We’ve met many government officials, talked to several ministries, and their responses are relatively positive. But I get it, maybe when they[re talking to the media, they have to show that they’re defending the nation's pride. And thus, the [negative] responses.

How likely is it that, considering how often extrajudicial killings go unreported, that the number of cases are actually higher than the 69 you found?
The sixty nine cases—we think it’s a rather conservative number. There could been more, considering that there are cases that have no eyewitnesses and others that happened in inaccessible locations.

What’s the most important thing the government, the NGOs, and the general public should do in response to the extrajudicial killings in Papua?
We all should acknowledge that there are cases of human rights violations in Papua, and that this is a systemic problem. If we dismiss this issue, if we deny it, we can’t make any progress. We have to urge [the government to investigate] by presenting the facts.