ISSN 2477-1686

 Vol. 6 No. 21 November 2020

Papua and Human Rights Violations

Idhamsyah Eka Putra

 Persada Indonesia University  & DASPR


At United Nations General Assembly 2020, Vanuatu, a small pacific country, raised an issue about human rights violation in Papua. Prime Minister of Vanuatu Bob Loughman conveyed his concerns on Papuan people who continue to suffer.

Indonesia’ representative Silvany Austin Pasaribu responded to the allegation by defensive and offensive ways. She asked Vanuatu not to interfere with Indonesian internal affairs and don’t act like they are Papuan people. Even she accused Vanuatu of attempting to divide Indonesia by supporting separatist groups in Papua. She then denied the allegation from Vanuatu has no basis and claimed that Indonesia is committed to human rights that value diversity and respect tolerance.  And by attacking back to Vanuatu, according to her, it is them who has not signed international covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights (in detail see CNN Indonesia, 2020).

This is not new for Indonesia denying the accusation of human rights violation in Papua. If we want to trace back Indonesian history, such denial of human rights violations is not just the case about Papua. Massacres during 65-66 (Putra, Wagner, Holtz, & Rufadah, 2019) and in East Timor (Human Rights Watch, 2014) during Indonesia occupation are a few of those, in which Indonesia denied there were massacres and refused to acknowledge such incidents. To note here, Indonesia is also so defensive about this and seems not open with other perspectives that are different from Indonesian “official” perspective. Other perspectives are considered as a lie developed to destroy Indonesia.

It is important to note that it is common for perpetrators of mass killings deny their criminal acts (Leach, Zeineddine, & Čehajić-Clancy, 2013). To name a few are Bosnian Muslims genocide (BBC, 2020) by Serbs, Armenian genocide by Turks (Bilali, 2013), and Cambodian genocide by Khmer Rouge (Kiernan, 2003). Even such denial was expressed by a peace icon such as Aung Sang Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace winner. She represented Myanmar at International Court of Justice in December 2019 to defend against the accusation of genocide on Rohingya Muslims (Human Rights Watch, 2019). Suu Kyi admitted there were problems in Rakhine state, as well as people fled from their home and living in shelters in neighboring countries, but she denied that there were systematic killings targeting Rohignya Muslims. She stated that there were armed conflicts between Muslims and other sides with which the victims were not just Muslims but also people from other religious groups. And perhaps the arguments even better than Indonesia in which She claimed that Myanmar government is not silent to what happened. They had sent investigators to deeply understand the problems and had ordered law enforcement to solve the problems of the conflicts1.

Back to Indonesia. As Indonesian myself and grew up here, more often perspective that is taught in Indonesia tends to be singular. About Indonesia's history, it only accepts one side of perspectives assigned by the government. In the mainstream narrative, when it talks about PKI (abbreviation of Indonesian communist party), it is always about the cruelty of the communist inhumanly killing 6 military generals. When it talks about East Timor, the story is about Indonesia integrating it as part of Indonesia during the vacuum of political power around 1975. To the effect of this, East Timor was set as the 27th province of Indonesia. As far as I remember, no massacres were told in Indonesian school books and in everyday discourse on both incidents. Only from other/external sources and such sources are trusted, Indonesians are able to notice that there are massacres around 65-66 and during Indonesia occupation in East Timor. How I know there were mass killings targeting people accused as PKI around 65-66 (Cribb, 2001) and a massacre in East Timor (Kiernan, 2002)carried out by Indonesian military members and its local militia trainees during Indonesia occupation is also because of external sources. 

It is also the case about Papua. Rather than investigating human rights violations, Indonesian authorities tended to raise an issue about separatists. When Papuans set a protest that they are concerned about human rights in their place, it is not new the story is built up that the protesters were mobilized by separatists.  Indonesia also denied that there were human rights violations or discrimination in Papua as it claims that under Indonesian law, all citizens are treated equal and have equal rights. This is of course speculation with no basis of empirical evidence. Indeed, there have been ample of evidence on violence and hate crimes with Papuans as the victims. So why Indonesian authorities are negligent about this? 

If Papua as part of Indonesia is ‘a dead price’, I wonder whether Indonesia has deeply investigated what actually happened in Papua or toward Papuan people? I also am curious whether there have been research supported by Indonesian government conducted to know what is meant by Papuan people for being Indonesians? Is there any investigation to know perspectives from Papuan People? Have people living in the west regions of Indonesia ever tried to understand Papuan people? Or is it always them forced to understand that they are part of Indonesia?

I think this is the reason why Indonesians (i.e. authorities or diplomats) always failed to answer whether there are human rights violations in Indonesia? Whether such issue has been investigated seriously? In my opinion, to raise people’ trust, why don’t Indonesia build an independent investigation body?

Other question, If Indonesia thinks that there is nothing happening in Papua, why is it so closed with foreigners (see Burhanan, 2019)? Even with UN delegations attempting to investigate, Indonesia is also so closed. This raises a question, what actually is happening in Papua? Why does Indonesia see foreigners like a threat? For me, if Indonesia is not aware or even ignorant of what has happened in Papua, it would be better using a third party to investigate what happened there. Just choose who are thought to be independent, trustful, and have no interest with Papua or foreign interests. At least it can guarantee objectivity. With this, if there is human rights violation found, Indonesia needs to acknowledge it! is it possible? Or is it actually because Indonesia is afraid to know the truth why they are so defensive toward criticism about Papua? If it is the case, well, it is pretty much the same to people who are afraid to go to a doctor as they are afraid the doctor will find a medical problem in their body. And I am afraid that Indonesia will be known as a country that likes to deny its past wrongdoings. IEP




1.Suu Kyi’s speech in ICJ can be viewed through this link: , and the transcript through this link 



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