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Indonesia's Alleged Human Rights Abuse in West Papua Is Getting International Attention

Allegations of "extrajudicial executions, fatal shootings of peaceful demonstrators, and persistent violence against Papuan women​" were raised at the UN this week.

by Maddison Connaughton
03 March 2017, 1:21am

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Representatives from Nauru, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, Palau, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands have joined calls for the United Nations to investigate allegations of mass human rights abuse in West Papua—an Indonesian province that's long sought independence. The seven Pacific nations are alleging there have been extrajudicial killings, and beatings of activists campaigning for the region's sovereignty as part of the "Free West Papua" movement.

Speaking during a session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Vanuatu's justice minister Ronald Warsal requested the UNHRC investigate "the grave situation in West Papua." Minister Warsal said the Indonesian Government had repeatedly failed to stop "killings and arrests of Papuans; extrajudicial executions of activists; the arrests, beatings and fatal shootings of peaceful demonstrators, including high school students; and reports of persistent violence against Papuan women."

Representatives from Indonesia denied the allegations. As the ABC is reporting, an Indonesian representative told the UNHRC that "the Indonesian Government has always endeavoured to address any allegation of human rights violation as well as taking preventative measures and delivering justice."

After the UNHRC meeting, the leader of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda—who was in Geneva but not taking part in the meeting—labelled Minister Warsal's speech as "a historical moment for West Papua." Wenda noted it marked the first time the province had been represented at the UNHRC. "For more than 50 years, West Papua has been kept a secret. The time is now to request the UN revisit our case," Wenda said. "We ask for all brothers and sisters across the Pacific, Africa, and around the world to please support West Papua's legal right to self-determination. We want to be free."

At the end of 2016, reports emerged that the Indonesian military had suspended cooperation with Australia over allegedly offensive training materials referencing West Papua. Indonesia's military chief Gatot Nurmantyo told reporters that the materials, which were found by an Indonesian officer at a Perth military training base, said "Papua needs to be independent." Nurmantyo also said the materials "mocked" Indonesia's founding principles (called pancasila) as "crazy." Australian defence minister Marise Payne assured that the materials were being investigated, and reiterated Australia's support for Indonesia under the Lombok Treaty.

The Lombok Treaty is a broad agreement between Australia and Indonesia but it specifically states "strong support for each country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Indonesia's sovereignty over Papua." Indonesia's sensitivity over West Papua arises from a dispute between the two that's been running for at least 55 years. Most Papuans want a referendum about independence and feel they are living through an Indonesian "occupation." The Indonesian Government denies this, maintaining it has a legitimate claim over the region.

Responding to questions from VICE, a DFAT spokesperson said Australian Embassy officials regularly visit the province. "Australia believes the human rights situation has improved in recent years but there are still issues to be addressed," they said. "We have consistently urged Indonesia to allow free and open access to the Papua provinces. President Widodo's May 2015 announcement that reporting restrictions for foreign journalists in the Papua provinces would be lifted is a positive development. 

"We encourage Indonesia to fully implement this commitment."

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