Papuan students rally in Jakarta in this Aug. 22 photo to protest against the arrest of 40 students in Surabaya in East Java province several days earlier. (Photo supplied)
Church and rights groups have called on the Indonesian government to launch an impartial investigation into the deaths of Papuans killed recently during some of the worst violence the Papua region has experienced in years.
Some activists have called for any investigation to include the involvement of the United Nations’ human rights commission.
The number of dead remains unclear with church activists saying at least 12 Papuans — eight in Deiyai district and four in Jayapura, the Papua provincial capital — were killed during the anti-racism protests. Human Rights Watch, however, put the death toll at 10.
Yuliana Langowuyo, deputy director of the Franciscan Commission for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation told ucanews.com that the number of victims could be higher.
“We are also coordinating with teams from other regions to ascertain exact figures,” said Langowuyo, who added that al least 30 people were injured during unrest in Jayapura alone.
“We’ve also had reports of restrictions being placed on families and journalists wanting to go to hospitals to see the injured,” she said.
Intermittent violence has wracked the Papua region for about two weeks since the arrest of 40 Papuan students in Surabaya, in East Java province.
The students were accused of vandalizing an Indonesian national flag.
During the arrest students were allegedly tear-gassed and had racial slurs shouted at them. Media reports say police and bystanders called them "monkeys, dogs and pigs" as they were being led out from a dormitory they were staying in.
Father John Djonga, founder of the humanitarian organization Yayasan Teratai Hati Papua, said the government must be able to explain to Papuans how people died and prosecute those responsible.
"If not, this will only worsen the current situation," he said.
He called for the involvement of the U.N. rights commission, which from Sept. 9-27 will hold its 42nd regular session in Geneva.
“We do not know, whether Papua will be addressed during the meeting, but it’s time for the U.N. to take a more active interest in what happens in Papua," he said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has expressed her concern and has urged the Indonesian government "to engage in dialogue with the people of Papua and West Papua on their aspirations and concerns."
Human Rights Watch's Australia Director, Elaine Pearson, also said the recent deaths need to be investigated.
"Indonesian police have a duty to avoid the use of force in response to Papuans who take their grievances to the streets,” she said in a Sept. 7 statement.
"Any wrongful use of force needs to be investigated and those responsible held to the account."
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal and Security Affairs, Wiranto, blamed the violence on separatist groups, particularly Benny Wenda, chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
Wenda hit back by saying the protests were a spontaneous reaction from the people to years of human rights violations committed against them by Indonesian authorities, according to news portal suarapapua.com.