A video released by Minority Rights Group on April 8 shows the aftermath of the “Paniai massacre” in West Papua in December last year, bringing to light Indonesia's human rights abuses.
On December 8,Indonesian security forces shot dead four protesters — Simon Degei, 18; Otianus Gobai, 18; Alfius Youw, 17; Yulian Yeimo, 17 — and wounded dozens of others in Enarotali, Paniai district, in West Papua.
About 800 protesters, including many schoolchildren, had gathered to protest the ill-treatment of children by security forces the previous night. On the evening of December 7, members of Army Battalion 753 had assaulted a group of Papuan children, beating 12-year-old Yulianus Yeimo with their rifle butts.
The four-minute video, shot by members of the public, shows community members tending to and evacuating the bodies of the dead protesters. It also shows wounded protesters in Paniai General Hospital talking about the shooting, including a young child who says he is not at school because "the military shot me in the thigh".
Esther Cann from London-based Indonesia solidarity group TAPOL said on April 9: “This film gives a disturbing insight into the Indonesian military’s casual disregard for the lives of Indigenous Papuans.”
Amnesty International said in an April 10 statement: “The culture of impunity has contributed to previous administrations turning a blind eye to human rights violations by Indonesian security forces in Papua, including unlawful killings, excessive use of force, and torture and other ill-treatment.”
Indonesian President Joko Widodo was hoped by many to bring a more progressive policy in regards to West Papua after being elected last year.
Visiting West Papua in December, he said: “I want this case to be solved immediately so it won’t ever happen again in the future. By forming a fact-finding team, we hope to obtain valid information [about what actually happened], as well as find the root of the problems,” the December 28 Jakarta Globe reported.
Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) began an investigation into the incident in December. Its report has found evidence of gross human rights violations. It has recommended the formation of an inquiry team to investigate the massacre in more detail, which could lead to prosecutions in a human rights court.
Some groups have claimed the government's response has been too ambivalent. Claire Thomas, Deputy Director of Minority Rights Group, said: “President Widodo has left a trail of broken promises on West Papua. If he is serious about implementing political reform in Indonesia, he needs to ensure that the military is open to public scrutiny and state actors perpetrating abuses against Papuans are held to account. The investigation into the Paniai massacre will be a crucial test of Widodo’s commitment to human rights in West Papua.”
The political pressure on Indonesia's occupation of West Papua continues to grow. PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program on March 27 that he calls on Widodo to keep the previous Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government's promise to cut soldier numbers in West Papua.
“We will try and hold the Indonesian government to that, to make sure that the current government also has the same view about a reduction of presence of military on the island, and of course more autonomy for the people of West Papua,” he said.
“We all need to have a very cordial relationship with Indonesia and we will continue to maintain that. But that does not mean we will not keep quiet about the abuses that are taking place. I'm certain that Indonesia as a member of the international community will do the right thing, they've committed to us.”
This direct challenge to Indonesia is a change from the PNG government's usual soft tone when discussing the sensitive West Papua issue with its larger neighbour. Dr Richard Chauvel from the University of Melbourne's Asia Institute told the ABC on March 28: “Peter O'Neill's directness of laying the responsibility on the Joko Widodo government to fulfil Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono commitments ... The frankness of that was remarkable.
“The language he has used in terms of identifying West Papuans as ‘our people’, the other side of the border as ‘our fellow Papuans’, I think that is a remarkable change from the statements of any of his predecessors.”
Five people were arrested for treason in Jayapura on April 16, the Jakarta Post reported. They had just returned from a meeting in Jakarta with defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.
They were linked to the Papuan Independence Committee and the West Papua Federal Republic (NFRPB). The NFRPB was declared on October 19, 2011, during the third Papuan People's Congress. The Congress was broken up by Indonesian security forces.
Papua police spokesperson Senior Commissioner Rudolf Patrick said: “Our country is the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia and there is no other. However, these five people were conducting activities on behalf the NFRPB.”
Meanwhile, the people and government of Vanuatu have been awarded the 2015 John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award, which is given to individuals or organisations that support West Papua.
The Australia West Papua Association said in an April 7 statement: “The Vanuatu Government and its people have been consistent in their support of West Papua. It is the one country in the world where everybody knows the issue and the Vanuatu Government has raised concerns about West Papua in international fora …
“The Vanuatu Government supported the historic meeting of West Papuan leaders in Port Vila in December 2014, where the new organisation called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) was formed.”
The ULMWP submitted a membership application to the Melanesian Spearhead Group — a regional body composed of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front — in February. The application will be considered in a special MSG summit on May 21.