Increased violence in West Papua amidst the Ukraine crisis

Preparations for the cremation of Makilon Tabuni, who was beaten to death by Indonesian security forces on February 24, according to human rights activist Theo Hasegem. Photo: Anonymous


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Increased violence in West Papua amidst the Ukraine crisis

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges Indonesia to let in independent journalists, human rights investigators, and aid organizations West Papua, where human rights movements report on assaults on civilians – among them a fatal beating of minor by Indonesian security forces.

“Violence in West Papua has sharply increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, a human rights activist tells Global Magazine.

By Klas Lundström

WEST PAPUA | On 1 March the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), led by Michele Bachelet, published a statement condemning the situation in West Papua, which is called “a deteriorating human rights situation”.

“Between April and November 2021, we have received allegations indicating several instances of extrajudicial killings, including of young children, enforced disappearance, torture and inhuman treatment and the forced displacement of at least 5,000 indigenous Papuans by security forces”, the OHCHR says in the statement.

Furthermore, there are numerous reports of acute hunger and malnutrition in several conflict-torn parts of West Papua, which has since the 1960s, and thanks to an UN-led but democratically dubious “Act of Free Choice” referendum in 1969, remained politically, economically, and socially controlled by the Indonesian state.

Stage of war since 2018

Lately, the armed conflict in West Papua has created several “hotspots” where the West Papuan liberation army movement offers armed resistance to a technically and numerically superior Indonesian army. Since December 2018 has Indonesia increased its military presence and is today understood to consist over 20,000 stationed soldiers.

Witness accounts from these “hotspots”, among them Puncak Jaya in the central highlands – an area with vast richness in natural resources such as gold, copper and exclusive tree species – speak of an escalated use of force against civilians in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and a war which the Indonesian President Joko Widodo lamented as “a threat to mankind” on Twitter, reports Tempo.

“And yet, at the same time, Widodo’s own soldiers, who in the end answers to his command, are guilty of violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child and basic human rights”, an anonymous source tells Global Magazine.

Weapon theft and fatal beatings

In connection with a theft of weapons from a depot near the airport in Tapulunik Sinak, in Puncak Jaya, late in the evening of 22 February, Indonesian police and military accused seven young people of stealing the equipment.

The minors, all aged between 11 and 15, were watching TV in a public community room when they, against their will and while denying having anything to do with any stolen property, were severely beaten by Indonesian military and police personnel, according to a report by human rights advocacy group Tim Advokasi HAM, also obtained by Global Magazine.

The advocacy group has along with independent local media outlets reported about at least one death in connection with the assaults, a youth named Makilon Tabuni.

“Makilon Tabuni was fatally beaten by Indonesian security forces. The Indonesian government has so far not responded to the information we’ve collected about the incident”, Theo Hasegem, an experienced human rights activist, tells Global Magazine.

Increased violence since Russia’s invasion

Neither has the Indonesian government nor any responsible federal agency responded to the emergency call from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) regarding the acute human rights situation in West Papua.

“The security situation in highland Papua had dramatically deteriorated since the killing of a high-ranking military officer by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) in West Papua on 26 April 2021. The experts pointed to the shooting of two children, aged 2 and 6, on 26 October when bullets pierced their respective homes during a firefight. The 2-year-old later died”, the OHCHR states in its report.

Independent reporters, independent human rights workers and aid organizations must be gained access as soon as possible, the UN agency adds.

“Steps should include ensuring all alleged violations receive thorough, prompt, and impartial investigations. Investigations must be aimed at ensuring those responsible, including superior officers where relevant, are brought to justice. Crucially lessons must be learned to prevent future violations”, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights summarizes.

It is urgent for several reasons, emphasizes Theo Hasegem, who points at a clear trend since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, which has fixed the world’s political and media attention entirely on the developments in Eastern Europe.

“The violence in West Papua has definitely increased since the invasion”, he says.

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