Indonesian rights violations in Papua triple

Groups blame emphasis on economic development, militarist approach for being behind sharp increase in abuses
Indonesian rights violations in Papua triple

Police use water canons on protesters, mostly university students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance in Jakarta in this Dec. 1, 2016 photo. The protesters were rallying against Indonesian rule over the eastern region of Papua. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Human rights violations in Papua more than tripled last year, undermining Indonesian President Joko Widodo's post election pledge to solve longstanding grievances in the restive region, church and rights activists said.

In a report released on Feb. 20 by rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, there were 107 recorded cases of rights violations in 2016, which included arrests, torture, forced dismissals, killings and intimidation.

This was a sharp increase on the 2015 figure where only 30 cases were recorded, the report said.

More than 2,200 civilians were victims of violations, and included the arrest of more than 500 people on Dec. 19 during rallies calling for self-determination. Dec. 19 is the anniversary of Indonesia's invasion of Papua in 1961.

President Joko Widodo's emphasis on economic and infrastructure development, as well as his military approach in dealing with Papuan issues, caused the sharp increase in rights abuses, according to Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chief of the Setara Institute.

"President Widodo claimed that he would take a different approach from those followed by previous presidents. But what happens is that human rights violations continue to occur," he said.

"This is dangerous because it can jeopardize relations between the central government and the Papuan people," he said.

 It could eventually result in complete lost of trust in the central government, he said.

Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papuan Peace Network, described the human rights situation in the region as "gloomy."

The sharp increase in violations showed that "the Papuan people are still regarded as a state enemy that needs to be destroyed," he said.

"Continued violations have strengthened the spirit of nationalism among Papuans," the priest said.

"It makes people proud if they can raise the Morning Star flag in public places even though they would end up being arrested and jailed," he said.

Papuans look upon the flag as their national flag.

Father Tebay said Papuan people want central government to respect their rights and dignity.

He suggested Jakarta should hold dialogues with Papuan people to seek ways to resolve human rights violations.

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