July 2012

Tensions run high in Papua as Amnesty calls for investigation

Amnesty International has called on Indonesian authorities to ensure a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into reports of unnecessary and excessive use of force including the use of firearms by security forces in Wamena, Papua province.

The Human Rights Law Centre's Tom Clarke said a number of recent incidents reveal just how on-edge the troubled Indonesia province is.

“Despite the effective media ban on international journalists from travelling to Papua, a very disturbing picture is emerging. The overall mood seems to be very tense and if the various tensions and resentments are not addressed in a constructive way, it’s likely the situation will deteriorate further,” Mr Clarke said.

Amnesty’s statement was in response to violence that was ignited when on 6 June two soldiers on motorcycles reportedly ran over and injured a three year old who was playing by the side of the road in a remote village.

Villagers who witnessed the incident chased the soldiers and stabbed one to death and injured the other. In retaliation, two trucks of soldiers soon arrived and reportedly opened fire on the village killing one person. According to Amnesty’s sources, the soldiers also stabbed around a dozen people with their bayonets and burned down a number of homes, buildings and vehicles during the attack. Many of the villagers have fled the area and are afraid to return to their homes.

Eight days later on 14 June Indonesian authorities shot dead the deputy chairman of the West Papua National Committee, Mako Tabuni. This sparked rioting and a security crackdown followed.

In the police version of events, Mr Tabuni was threatening to shoot a police officer who had tried to arrest him, while witnesses have said he was unarmed and was shot as he tried to run away. Police have since claimed Mr Tabuni was carrying a gun that had been used in the non-fatal shooting of a German tourist in May.

Police spokesman Senior Commissioner Johannes Nugroho confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald that the weapon Mr Tabuni is claimed to have possessed was a police-issue Taurus and said, “Mako Tabuni did have a gun with him and it belonged to the police. They stole it but I don’t remember when.”

Jakarta Post acknowledges that while the Indonesian Government continues to blame the OPM (the Free West Papua Movement), for the deteriorating security situation in Papua, it has so far declined to provide concrete evidence of the group’s complicity in the violence that has wracked the province in recent months.

The Human Rights Law Centre believes the Australian Government can and should be doing more to encourage Indonesia to allow journalists and human rights monitors into Papua.

“The situation in Papua is like a tinderbox. It’s foolish and unsustainable for the Australian Government to maintain its policy of turning a blind eye. It’s not in our interests to have a festering human rights problem on our doorstep and it’s certainly not in the interests of the people of West Papua,” Mr Clarke said.


This report was taken from the Human Rights Law Centre's monthly bulletin, Rights Agenda.