Dear Editor – This is an open letter to Pacific Islands Forum Leaders from the Australia West Papua Association (AWPA) in Sydney, Australia.
Dear Pacific Islands Forum leaders – on behalf of the Australia West Papua Association (Sydney), I am writing to you concerning the deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua.
There has been no improvement in the human rights situation in West Papua since the last Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Summit was held in Koror, Palau.
The West Papuan people continue to suffer human rights violations from the Indonesian security forces. We continue to hear from governments that there is an improvement in the situation in West Papua, that Indonesia is now a democracy and human rights abuses are something that occurred in the past. But where is the improvement in West Papua?
Throughout 2014, the security forces cracked down on peaceful rallies called by civil society groups and in particular on the West Papua National Committee (KNPB).
These peaceful rallies were met with an excessive use of force by the security forces with arrests and incidents of police brutality against the demonstrators.
In fact, all aspects of society in West Papua including lawyers, human rights defenders, activists, clergy and journalists faced regular intimidation or the threat of arrest.
On Monday 8th December 2014, the security forces fired into a crowd of approximately 800 peaceful demonstrators (which included women and children) in Enarotali in the Panai regency, killing four.
Up to 17 others were reported injured. The demonstrators had gathered to demand an explanation for the beating of a number of children by soldiers the previous evening. We point out that at this stage none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. This incident shows that the security forces can act with impunity in West Papua.
The crackdown on civil society groups by the security forces is ongoing. On the 1st, 20th and 28th of May this year, the security forces cracked down on rallies called by civil society organizations with over 400 peaceful demonstrators arrested.
The West Papuans were commemorating the 52nd anniversary of the administrative transfer of West Papua to Indonesia. These arrests are examples of the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression in West Papua.
We understand that many people were encouraged when the Indonesian President announced (during a visit to West Papua at the beginning of May), the granting of clemency to 5 West Papuan prisoners and the lifting of media bans for foreign journalists wanting to visit West Papua.
However, to receive clemency or pardon, prisoners have to admit guilt before it is granted. Political Prisoners such as Filep Karma one of the most well known political prisoner in West Papua has refused clemency as have the majority of political prisoners. They refuse to admit any guilt in return for a release.
The lifting of media bans for foreign journalists wanting to visit West Papua raises a number of questions.
1) Is this just an image making exercise or stunt? The Indonesian President has received international condemnation because of his policy on the death penalty for drug offences.
2) Will his decision be actually implemented? Jakarta’s or Jokiwi’s policies are not necessarily carried out by officials and security forces in West Papua.
3) If journalists are allowed in will official minders or BIN agents follow or control their movements?
Already statements from Indonesian officials question how free journalists will be to report on issues of concern in West Papua.
The Indonesian Parliament’s Deputy Chairman Taufik Kurniawan has already suggested that President Jokowi should reconsider his policy to open access for foreign press in Papua. “I think it’d be better to reconsider because the issues in Papua which are currently are very sensitive could be easily politicized either its poverty or social aspects if there is no filter”.
Indonesia’s Military Chief General Moeldoko said his institution was considering implementing a policy of having security personnel accompany foreign journalists in Papua to ensure their safety. It is hard to imagine West Papuans discussing the human rights situation with journalists while the Indonesian security forces are in attendance.
We also note the growing support throughout the Pacific region for the right of the people of West Papua to self-determination.
An indication of this support is the fact that at the recent Melanesian Spearhead Group Summit in the Solomon Islands, the West Papuan umbrella organization the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), was granted observer status at the MSG.
In light of the ongoing human rights abuses in West Papua AWPA urges the PIF Leaders;
- To discuss the human rights situation in West Papua at the 46th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Summit in PNG and to acknowledge these concerns in the official communiqué.
- To request permission from the Indonesian Government to allow a PIF fact finding mission to West Papua to investigate the human rights situation in the territory.
According to Papuans Behind Bars there were at least 45 political prisoners in Papua at the end of June 2015. We ask the PIF leaders to urge the Indonesian Government to grant an amnesty to all West Papuan political prisoners, releasing them immediately and unconditionally.
We note the large number of non-self governing territories and organizations that have various types of status at the PIF. The glaring omission is the territory of West Papua.
We urge the PIF leaders to also grant observer status to genuine representatives of the Melanesian people of West Papua, those who are struggling for their right to self-determination.