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Distrust hinders hopes for peace in Papua, activist says

Restive province beset by rights abuses, civil liberties crackdown

Distrust hinders hopes for peace in Papua, activist says

A lack of trust between the Indonesian government and the people of Papua has jeopardized hopes for a lasting peace in the restive province, according to a prominent human rights activist.

Persistent human rights abuses, a crackdown by the government on civil liberties and a focus on corporate development, rather than on the people, has left citizens feeling disenfranchised and distrustful, Latifah Anum Siregar said.

"We ask for open space for democracy, freedom of expression, and dialogue as promised by President Joko Widodo several times," Siregar told ucanews.com Dec. 15 during a two-day "Torture and Violence in Asia" workshop held in Jakarta.

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Siregar, a human rights lawyer and the chairwoman of the Alliance for Democracy in Papua, received the South Korean Gwangju Human Rights award in May for her role in promoting peace in Papua.

She said government efforts for progress in Papua will always be met by resistance because Papuans are not involved in policy making.

"Many of the government policies to encourage progress in Papua don't work because they never involve the Papuan people," she said.

Indonesia has maintained a heavy military presence in Papua, where a low-level insurgency against the central government has simmered for decades. The military has been accused of resorting to extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse to defeat rebel forces. A crackdown on activists in an attempt to crush the Papuan independence movement, has left local people deeply resentful and suspicious of the national government.

Siregar noted that the government has taken some positive steps this year, such as freeing political prisoners, including pro-independence activist Filep Karma.

"But, it's useless if freedom of expression remains prohibited. People will be arrested again," she said.

Siregar urged the government to change its approach to Papua from a pro-investment to a pro-people strategy.

 

Stop torturing people

Poengky Indarti, executive director of the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor, or Impartial, said that the government should stop using torture and violence in Papua.

"We witnessed many cases in which security officers in dealing with the Papuans failed to uphold their rights," Indarti said.

Instead, Indonesia should take persuasive steps in holding accountable human rights abusers, she said.

"Conflict in Papua has lasted for 50 years now. However, we have not seen any efforts that can really solve the problem," she said.

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