The years 2015 and 2016 were characterized by a significant aggravation of the human rights situation in West Papua compared to previous years. The term West Papua refers to the Indonesian easternmost provinces of ‘Papua’ and ‘Papua Barat’. Reports by local human rights defenders describe an alarming shrinking of democratic space. Although Indonesian President Joko Widodo pushed economic development and granted clemency to five long-term political prisoners, the police strictly limited even the most peaceful dissident political activities.
Indigenous Papuans, particularly women, continued to have a high risk of becoming victims of human rights violations. Racist attitudes toward West Papuans among the police and military, insufficient legal protection, the lack of proper law enforcement, inconsistent policy implementation and corruptive practices amongst government officials contributed to the impunity of security forces.
Government critics and activists faced legal prosecution with varying charges. Using a charge of treason (‘makar’) remained common against non-violent offenders. West Papuan political activists also faced an increasing number of charges incitement or violence despite the non-violence of protest and almost all activism. The deterioration of the political and civil rights situation in West Papua during the past two years was most obvious in the sheer number of political arrests. Those arrests drastically increased to 1083 in 2015, and then quadrupled in 2016 to 5361 arrests, in tandem with growing political protest for self-determination. Almost all of the arrests came during peaceful protest in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP). In addition, the Indonesian government and the regional police in West Papua increasingly restricted the right to freedom of opinion and expression using official statements (Makhlumat) issued by the Papuan Regional Police in 2016.
Local journalists in West Papua faced continued intimidation and obstruction from the security forces. In comparison to previous years, the number of reported cases against local journalists has slightly decreased throughout the reporting period 2015 and 2016. President Joko Widodo’s promise in May 2015, to make West Papua freely accessible to foreign journalists andinternational observers was not implemented. Foreign journalists were in an increasing number of cases prevented from entering West Papua or when permitted to enter, they faced obstruction, surveillance, intimidation and physical violence. International human rights organisations and humanitarian organisations such as the Inter
national Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) remained banned from freely accessing West Papua.
Human rights defenders in West Papua had to work under fear of being monitored, threatened and obstructed by the security forces. The killing of well-known human rights defender Joberth Jitmau, marked the sad highlight of attacks against human rights defenders during these two years. The police termed Jitmau’s killing a traffic accident and did not conduct a criminal investigation. Jitmau’s case was a representative example of the widespread impunity in West Papua. Only in rare instances were security forces prosecuted in public or military trials. Two of the three cases of prosecution resulted in considerably low sentences for the perpetrators in view of the severity of the criminal offences. Security force members also continued to use torture and ill-treatment as a common response to political protest or incidents of alleged disturbance of public order. Extra-judicial killings occurred particularly often as an act of revenge or retaliation for violent acts or other non-violent interactions with members of the security forces.
The situation with regard to economic, social and cultural rights in West Papua was stagnant. The quality of education in West Papua remained considerably low, due to poor management of the education system, inadequate competencies, high absence rates amongst teachers, and inadequate funding. (Less than 1% of Papua Province’s annual budget goes to education.) There is still no culturally appropriate curriculum in place, which is capable of improving the educational situation of indigenous Papuan children and of preserving local cultures. Health care and education remained in a devastating condition, far below the national average, despite the large amount of special autonomy funds that flow to the two administrative provinces Papua and Papua Barat. There is a strong imbalance in the fulfillment of minimum standards in terms of health, education, food and labor rights between the urban areas and the remote inland areas of West Papua. Indigenous Papuans, who mostly reside outside the urban centres, suffer the most of this imbalance. Both Papuan provinces are amongst the regions with the highest prevalence rate for HIV/AIDS infections and child mortality of any ‘Indonesian province’, whilst the quality of health services is alarmingly low. Insufficient equipment in rural health care institutions and a lack of adequate health monitoring and response mechanisms remained strikingly evident. These shortcomings were highlighted when a pertussis epidemic broke out in the remote highland regency of Nduga, killing least 51 children and three adults within a span of three months in late 2015. Malnutrition enabled the rapid spread of the epidemic.
The case also mirrors the government’s growing challenge to guarantee indigenous Papuans right to food. Palm oil plantations and other agricultural mega-projects have led to the destruction of local food sources, livestock and access to clean drinking water. Cases of domestic violence are often settled in non-legal ways, which fail to bring justice for the victims and lack a deterrent effect for perpetrators. Women living with HIV/AIDS are particularly often facing discrimination and stigmatization.
The very existence of West Papuans is threatened by the uncontrolled migration from other parts of Indonesia. This particularly applies to the urban centers where they have largely become a marginalized minority facing strong economic competition. In most rural areas, where indigenous Papuans are still the majority, government-promoted large-scale naturalresource exploitation projects attract migrants and continue to cause severe environmental degradation as well as the destruction of live stock of indigenous communities. Government institutions continued to facilitate the interests of private Indonesian and foreign companies. This practice negatively impacts indigenous people’s right to their ancestral lands and resources as well as their right to determine their development. Resource extraction often means clearing large forest areas and polluting of water resources, thereby forcing indigenous communities to change their very way of life. Destruction of forests and hunting grounds as a life source puts an additional burden on women, in particular.
A significant development throughout 2016 was the growing international attention for the human rights situation in West Papua. The formation of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) and the regional support group, Pacific Decolonization Solidarity Movement (PDSM) brought a new dynamic to the international human rights advocacy work. MSG member states, such as, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and other pacific states have all expressed their concerns regarding ongoing human rights violations against the indigenous Papuan population in the UN General Assembly in 2016. Vanuatu also addressed the human rights situation in West Papua during the UN Human Rights Council Sessions in 2015. In response, the government of Indonesia accused pacific countries of the miss-use of allegations of human rights violations to support the Papuan pro-independence movement. Indonesia further rights mechanisms and their achievements in the field of economic development in West Papua. The human rights situation in West Papua was additionally addressed by other United Nations bodies, among them the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) which issued an Early Warning to the Government of Indonesia.