The human rights situation in West Papua significantly deteriorated throughout 2019 and 2020. This was caused by the aggravation of armed conflict, an increasing number of extra-judicial executions, enforced disappearances, and the internal displacement of thousands of indigenous Papuans in the central highlands. At the same time, ‘the Uprising’  led to a wave of legal prosecutions against protesters and the persecution of political activists and human rights defenders using vague criminal provisions such as treason and criminal conspiracy. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic in West Papua served as a justification for the government to add further restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly, the freedom of movement, and freedom of expression in the province.
Instead of increasing efforts to protect, respect, and fulfil human rights and find a peaceful solution to the long-lasting conflict in West Papua, the central government has continued to deploy its troops. It is thus preventing Papuan civil society from enjoying the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Indonesian constitution and international human rights treaties. Furthermore, perpetrators of human rights violations among security forces continue to enjoy impunity. Throughout 2019 and 2020, not a single case of human rights violations involving security forces was brought to a public or a human rights court. Numerous cases of extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances in this period have not been investigated because police or military representatives claimed that the victims were associated with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB).
The Human Development Index (HDI) and the Poverty Percentage in the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat continue to fall far short of the national average in Indonesia. Both figures are an indicator of the shortcomings in the education and healthcare systems in West Papua. The allocation of Special Autonomy funds and the ability to combat healthcare and education deficiencies through local regulations as part of the Special Autonomy status has failed to bring any significant change to these imbalances over the past twenty years. Significant disparities are evident in the availability, accessibility, quality, and adequacy of healthcare and education facilities between urban and rural areas across West Papua. The absence of teachers and medical personnel in remote areas continues to be a significant issue which the central and local governments have not effectively addressed.
In particular, women and indigenous peoples are vulnerable to becoming victims of violence and human rights violations. A large number of women in West Papua continue to find themselves trapped in a circle of domestic violence, economic marginalisation, and exploitation. Despite their essential role in ensuring the family’s wellbeing and the preservation of indigenous culture, women are often excluded from decisions over land and resources. They continue to be heavily underrepresented in politics and high positions in the local government.
The expansion of plantation and mining activities across West Papua is causing a large-scale deforestation and has become a major threat to the wellbeing of indigenous communities. They depend on their communal land to maintain their way of life as well as their ancestral traditions and customs. The presence of investors has engendered land tenure conflicts. Major stakeholders in these conflicts are the military and police, both of whom view the plantations and mines as vital assets, creating large revenues for the government. Hence, indigenous communities often face violence and criminalisation if they protest against a company. Non-transparent licensing procedures und corruption have contributed to a situation in which companies have been granted permits without the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) of the indigenous land rights holders.
In 2001, Indonesian Government Law No 21/2001 on Special Autonomy for the Papua Province came into force in response to growing aspirations for political self-determination across West Papua. Observers argue that this law has failed to improve the conditions of indigenous Papuans. On the contrary, a small political elite has taken personal advantage. The inconsistent implementation of the Special Autonomy law and the end of Special Autonomy funding in 2021 have revived calls for self-determination, which have been manifested in peaceful protests and solidarity initiatives against the government’s plan to amend that law.
The fact that multiple conflicts between various stakeholders continue to take place in West Papua, particularly the aggravation of the armed conflict throughout 2019 and 2020, is a cause for great concern. The deployment of additional troops and the decision to label armed separatist groups and their associated organisations as terrorist groups  suggest that the armed conflict will intensify in the future. The warfare has caused a humanitarian crisis in Papuan central highlands, resulting in a significant increase in civilian fatalities since 2018, the majority of whom died as a result of diseases, hypothermia, exhaustion, and malnutrition during internal displacement. Most originated from the regencies of Nduga, Puncak, Intan Jaya, Mimika, and Intan Jaya, which have become the new hotspots of armed conflict.
- Jakarta Post (29.4.2021): Indonesia declares Papuan rebels terrorists, available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2021/04/29/indonesia-declares-papuan-rebels-terrorists.html
- ‘The Uprising’ refers to a series of protests against the racial discrimination of ethnic Papuans and for selfdetermination in 23 towns across West Papua and 17 cities in Indonesia between 19 August and 30 September 2019