Police Abuses Endemic in Papua: Rights Group

JAKARTA ~ Police routinely torture, rape and kill with impunity in easternmost Papua, where they risk fanning separatism, an international rights group said in a report released on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that endemic police abuse in the isolated Central Highlands region was deepening mistrust of the central government and called on it to open the region to independent observers.

A long-running but low-level separatist movement has simmered in the region since the 1960s, and the government does not permit journalists or rights workers to travel there without special permission.

The HRW report found that Indonesia’s paramilitary Brimob were responsible for the most serious violations in the region today, though some reports of brutal treatment by Indonesian soldiers persisted.

Indonesia’s military has for decades been accused by Papuans of committing human rights abuses in the isolated, resource-rich region, but the police have been gradually taking on more of their former security role.

“We found that both army troops and police units … continue to engage in largely indiscriminate village ‘sweeping’ operations in pursuit of suspected militants, using excessive, often brutal and at times lethal force against civilians,” the report said.

HRW documented 14 cases of abuse – in which only one security officer was prosecuted and jailed for eight months – and the report contains graphic first-hand accounts from the victims of the violence.

“I wanted to scream but he had his hand over my mouth and then he forced me. I resisted but he still forced me,” a 16-year-old rape victim said.

“Then he carried out the act on me. I couldn’t walk. I was in so much pain. After that he ordered me that if I told anyone what had happened he would come and kill me,” said the girl, whose village chief advised her not to report the attack, afraid it would cause trouble with the military.

The head of the police and military in the region did not respond to requests by HRW for information on the cases they documented, the group said.

A lack of internal accountability and an abysmal justice system meant impunity for perpetrators, the report said.

“The police are acting as a law unto themselves. This is a serious breach of the public trust necessary for effective policing,” Joseph Saunders, deputy program director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, told a press briefing.

Indonesia won sovereignty over Papua, formerly a Dutch colony in the western half of the island of New Guinea, in 1969 after a referendum widely seen as a sham.

A poorly armed separatist group, the Free Papua Organisation, has conducted a low-profile armed resistance since before Indonesia took over and the Central Highlands has seen tense confrontations erupt.

“Right now, the problems are festering and continuing tensions in Papua,” Saunders said.

Asked whether researchers had found separatist sentiment was increasing, Saunders said this was the first HRW report in the region so they could not identify trends, “but in terms of the distrust and the fear, it was palpable.”

HRW called on Indonesia to open Papua and West Papua provinces to independent observers to increase information about conditions there.

The UN envoy for human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, called for better protection for activists in West Papua during a visit to Indonesia last month, saying she was concerned about police and military harassment.

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