Police use water cannons during a protest by mostly university students from the Free Papua Organization and the Papua Student Alliance in Jakarta in this Dec. 1, 2016 file photo. A recent report on human rights in Papua contradicts govt claims that the situation has improved. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)
No progress has been made in improving the human rights situation in West Papua despite claims to the contrary by Jakarta, according to a recent report released by a coalition of faith and human rights groups.
If anything, the situation has worsened, it says.
The region "faces an alarming shrinking of democratic space" while "economic, social and cultural rights are stagnant," said the report by the International Coalition for Papua.
"Although Indonesian President Joko Widodo pushed economic development and granted clemency to long-term political prisoners, the police strictly limit even the most peaceful dissident political activities," the report said.
The Indonesia government, it said, still uses treason charges against political activists who voice their opinions in protests.
"Security force members also continue to use torture and ill-treatment as a common response to political protest."
According to the report, arrests quadrupled from 1,083 in 2015 to 5.361 in 2016, mostly during peaceful protests in support of pro-independence group the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.
It also stated that there is a significant imbalance in fulfilling minimum standards of health, education, food and labor rights between urban centers and remote areas.
Additionally, the report criticized Widodo's failure to come good on a 2015 promise to make West Papua freely accessible to foreign journalists and international observers.
The report came amid various government denials on human rights abuses, which in recent years have sparked international concerns, especially from Pacific countries.
On Sept. 27, during the U.N. General Assembly, Pacific leaders called for an investigation into killings and alleged human rights abuses in West Papua.
However, Ainan Nuran, an Indonesian government spokeswoman, accused them of being misled into supporting separatism.
"These countries were deceived by individuals with separatist agendas to exploit human rights issues," she said.
Meanwhile, Father John Djonga, a human rights activist in Papua who also contributed to the report, said it is hard to believe the government's claims.
"When Papuans heard a statement [on the human rights situation] from the Indonesian representative at the U.N. meeting, they said, 'this government is lying again,'" the priest told ucanews.com on Oct. 3.
According to Father Djonga, to win the trust of Papuans, the government must encourage law enforcement and bring perpetrators to justice.
"Nothing has changed so far, as killing is rampant," he said, citing the killing of Yulianus Pigai, a villager in Deiyai district by police on Aug. 1, following tensions between villagers and workers of a private construction company.
Yuliana Langawuyo, director of the Franciscan Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Papua, said good government intentions are not followed by concrete action.
"The economic development approach, including building infrastructure, will not solve the problem as the economy is not the root of the Papuans' problems," she told ucanews.com.
Meanwhile, Theo Hesegem, head of local group, the Advocacy Network for Law Enforcement and Human Rights, urged the government to allow U.N. special rapporteurs and foreign journalists to visit the region.
"The international community must see directly what is happening in Papua in order to believe the government's claims," he said.
He said Jakarta has no reasons to dismiss international concerns, because "this is a longstanding humanitarian problem that has not yet been resolved."