Amnesty International publishes new report on extra-judicial killings and impunity in West Papua

The human rights organisation Amnesty Internation (AI) has published a new report with the title "Don't bother, just let him die". The provocative title refers to the situation of widespread impunity in West Papua, which has paved the way for human rights violations such as torture and killings in the regency. There are hardly any cases known where perpetrators from the police have been prosecuted. If cases of human rights abuses are processed through military or public courts, the trials often lead to disproportionate low sentences which do not reflect the severeity of the violation.  Amnesty International has analysed 69 cases of suspected unlawful killings by security forces in Papua between January 2010 and February 2018 and has identified distinctive patterns. The full report in English and Bahasa Indonesia can be downloaded on the Amnesty International website. The executive summary can be read below.

Executive Summary

On the morning of 8 December 2014, hundreds of Papuan protesters gathered near the local military and police headquarters, in the town of Enarotali in Paniai District, Papua Province. The demonstration was a response to military personnel allegedly beating 11 Papuan children the day before. When protesters started throwing stones and pieces of wood at the buildings, security forces opened fire into the crowd, killing four people. At least 11 others were injured by bullets or bayonets. Witnesses told the National Human Rights Commission they saw police officers shoot a protestor at close range after he had fallen to the ground.

Several weeks later, at a national Christmas ceremony in Papua, newly elected President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo committed to bringing those responsible for the killings to justice as soon as possible. The Paniai shootings became a test for the new administration’s commitment to end pervasive impunity for serious human rights violations by security forces in Papua and throughout Indonesia. It is a test that President Jokowi’s government, like those before it, has failed.

Cases like the Paniai shootings are not uncommon in Papua. Over the two decades since Indonesia’s 1998 reforms (Reformasi) began, Amnesty International has continued to receive allegations of unlawful killings by security forces in the eastern provinces of Papua and West Papua, even as they decline across Indonesia. These killings occur mainly in the context of unnecessary or excessive use of force during mass protests, during law enforcement operations or due to misconduct by individual officials. Amnesty International has recorded 69 cases of suspected unlawful killings by security forces in Papua between January 2010 and February 2018, with 95 victims. In 34 of the cases the alleged perpetrators came from the police forces, in 23 cases they came from the military, and in 11 cases both security forces were allegedly involved. One more case also involved the municipal police(Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja, or Satpol PP), a body under local government and tasked to enforce localregulations. Most of the victims, 85 of them, have Papuan ethnicity.

Indonesian and international groups have long raised serious concerns about unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations by security forces in Papua. The subject is a frequent topic of discussion during Indonesia’s human rights reviews by UN treaty and UN Charter based bodies.

There is no explicit definition of unlawful killings, or "extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions" under international law. Amnesty International defines such acts as unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of a government or with its complicity or acquiescence, which is along the lines of descriptions provided by international experts. Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions would under this understanding include unlawful killings both by state forces and by non-state groups and individuals that state authorities fail to properly investigate and prosecute. All unlawful killings violate the right to life, a key human right protected by international law and Indonesia’s Constitution. Indonesia has ratified several international human rights treaties that protect the right to life, chief among them the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Papua is now the only region in Indonesia that has both peaceful and armed pro-independence movements. Since the end of the Soeharto government in 1998, political activists in Papua increased their demand for independence through peaceful means. The national government has been reluctant to respect their freedom of expression, arguing that their success would encourage other “secessionist” movements. A variety of armed pro-independence groups 6 have carried out sporadic attacks, mainly on military and police targets. They have also engaged in clear human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, abductions and hostage-taking.

Amnesty International takes no position on the political status of any province of Indonesia, including calls for independence.

Successive national governments have pledged to bring economic growth to Papua and to end human rights violations. However, they have maintained an uncompromising stance towards independence movements, whether peaceful or armed. They have limited access to Papua for international human rights observers and shown little tolerance for freedom of expression.

Based on a review of 69 cases of suspected unlawful killings by security forces in Papua between January 2010 and February 2018, Amnesty International has documented several patterns. First, the majority of cases, 41 of them, occurred in the context of events that were unrelated to calls for independence or a referendum for Papua. This type of unlawful killing often happens when security forces uses excessive force to handle peaceful social protests, incidents of public disorder, and attempts to arrest criminal suspects, or as a form of misconduct by individual members of the security forces.

In a second category are killings by security forces related to the issue of independence or a referendum for Papua. This type of unlawful killing, consist of 28 cases, happens when security forces deal with peaceful political protests, particularly flag-raising ceremonies or religious gatherings on commemoration dates.

Investigations into reports of unlawful killings by security forces in Papua are rare. There is no independent, effective, and impartial mechanism to deal with public complaints about misconduct by security forces, including criminal offences involving human rights violations, leaving many victims without access to justice and reparation.

In the 69 incidents documented in this report, not one has been subject to a criminal investigation by an institution independent of the one whose members were suspected of committing the killing. In 25 cases there was no investigation at all, not even an internal one. Meanwhile, in 26 cases the police or military claimed to have conducted internal investigation but did not make the results public. In only six cases were perpetrators held accountable for the deaths.

Most families of the victims of unlawful killings by security forces in Papua told Amnesty International that they still wanted to see the perpetrators brought to justice through trials in civilian court. Amnesty International believes that there is a direct and causal link between impunity and the commission of human rights violations. Each failure to investigate or bring those responsible to trial reinforces the confidence of perpetrators that they are indeed above the law.

Amnesty International acknowledges the complex environment law enforcement officials often find themselves in when carrying out their duty in Papua, and when being attacked they certainly have the right to self-defence. However, even in such situations they must ensure full respect for the right to life, liberty and security of persons, including those suspected of a crime. Firing without warning and firing indiscriminately at a crowd without distinction as to who presents an imminent threat to themselves or another person and who does not, is clearly a violation of international human rights law as well as domestic legislation. And it contributes to an ever-escalating cycle of hostility and violence with an increasing risk of more lives being lost or in danger - including their own.

This report focuses only on unlawful killings committed by the security forces in Papua as Amnesty International's main mandate is to expose human rights violations. However, the organization acknowledge that there have been human rights abuses and incidents of violence, including lethal violence, committed by non-state actors in Papua and recognize that the Indonesian government's right and duty to protect its population, including police and other officials. 7 Such protection must, however, be exercised strictly within the framework of human rights law and standards, as explained below. Amnesty International calls on all governments to apply these law and standards and refrain from human rights violations whatever the political context in which they are committed, whether in Papua, in other regions in Indonesia or globally.

Download full report in English here

Download full report in Bahasa Indonesia here