UN Experts question Indonesia regarding security operation in Nduga

Since the security force operation in the regency of Nduga in Papua province started in December 2018, there have been numerous reports concerning a series of human rights violations happening in the area. The conflict in the Papuan highlands and its consequences, especially for the civilians caught in the middle, have been brought to the attention of the relevant United Nations Special Procedures first in March 2019 and then again in May 2020.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; UN Special Rapporteur on rights of indigenous peoples; UN Special Rapporteur on human rights of internally displaced persons; and UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, immediately reacted to this issue and communicated with the Indonesian government in April 2019 as the number of displaced indigenous Papuans was increasing.

These four UN Experts requested the Indonesian government to provide information, among others, about measures taken to protect the human rights of indigenous, to be protected against arbitrary displacement and to be free from discrimination; and about actions taken to guarantee that internally displaced persons in Papua province receive humanitarian assistance. The Indonesian government merely acknowledged the request and claimed that there is no military operation in Nduga but a law enforcement operation to protect public order and bring the perpetrators from the armed criminal group to justice. No further information was provided at this point.

In June 2020, as the conflict escalated, the number of displaced persons kept increasing, and their situation deteriorating, the UN Experts communicated again with Indonesia regarding this situation. They requested the Indonesian government once again to provide information, among others, on measures taken to protect the human rights of indigenous, and on actions taken to guarantee that internally displaced persons in Papua province receive humanitarian assistance. Additionally they requested details of any investigation carried out concerning the allegations of killings of indigenous Papuans during security operations.

The Indonesian government, in its preliminary response from July 2020 to the UN Experts, did not address any of the requests of the UN Experts. The government merely rejected that there is a pattern of racism and intolerance targeting Papuans. It claimed, contrary to credible reports from a wide range of sources, that Indonesia has a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination. The letter also explained the many challenges of bringing humanitarian aid to the affected areas in Nduga and the surrounding highlands. The challenges mentioned are common to most conflict areas and should not be used as an excuse for an inadequate humanitarian response.

The Indonesian government did not respond to the requests but mentioned in its letter that it has brought those requests to the attention of the relevant authorities in Indonesia, who according to the government should provide a comprehensive response to the UN Experts. In simple words, the government has passed on the responsibility to someone else. It remains to be seen whether the relevant authorities will fulfil this request, for which the Indonesian government should be accountable.