Indonesia: Meet Paul: Restoring the human rights of indigenous Papuans amid on-going conflict
10 December 2015, Manokwari,
West Papua (Indonesia) — Even in West Papua, the easternmost and least
populous province of Indonesia, is torture used to crush and silence. Even
there people like Paul Mambrasar have dedicated their lives to fighting it.
Home to the world's largest gold and third-largest
copper mines, West Papua has abundant natural resources including timber and palm
oil that make it a coveted region. This has generated continuing conflict and
made it one of Asia’s sorest spots in terms of human rights violations. From
the 1960s on, Indonesia has maintained heavy military presence, resorting to
extrajudicial killings, torture and abuse to crack down on activists in an
attempt to crush the Papuan independence movement, whether peaceful or violent,
leaving locals deeply resentful and suspicious of the national Government.
Indigenous Papuans marginalized in their
homeland, suffer state violence and stigma, while their natural resources are
exploited by others and compromise their ancestral way of living. The on-going
conflict with separatists merely exacerbates discrimination against Papuans,
who have been repressed by decades of institutional racism and Indonesian
occupation. This is the vicious cycle of violence that Paul has to deal with in
his daily fight for the respect of the human rights.
“Torture worsens the distrust West Papuans have in the State which, by
failing to uphold the rule of law, merely fuels more separatist sentiments,” sums
up Paul, Secretary of the Institute of Human Rights Studies and Advocacy
(Elsham), a non-governmental organization defending human rights in Wet Papua.
of abuses, layers of grievances
Paul’s challenging working environment
is the result of decades of quasi-institutionalized abuses resulting in many
layers of deep-felt and pervasive grievances of West Papuans against the
Indonesian Government. He is, however, gradually managing to build networks in
his country, also thanks to support from organizations such as
OMCT, and gradually drawing attention to the
regular violations committed.
When the Dutch Government granted
independence to Indonesia in 1949, Papua was not part of it. At the end of the
Dutch colonial rule, Papua was first administered, and then absorbed, by
Indonesia in 1969, following a sham “referendum” requested by
the United Nations.
This so‑called “Act of Free Choice” was in fact a vote
by just over a thousand selected Papuans (out of a population of 800,000 at the
time) who had been pressured to agree to integration within Indonesia.
This vote has been the bone of contention between
Papuans and the Republic of Indonesian. Papuans
have ever since agitated for independence, and have been conducting a still
ongoing, low-level guerrilla warfare against Indonesian forces, in turn engaged
in bloody repression and unpunished human rights violations.
Papuans – who are Melanesian and whose
ancestors arrived in the New Guinea region tens of thousands of years ago –
do not identify culturally with the Asians. They see their Papuan identity and
indigenous culture based on customary subsistence-based agriculture threatened
by the arrival of migrants who, in turn, see the
traditional Papuan way of life as backward.
Discrimination and marginalization of Papuan have therefore
worsened the situation. According to the West Papua 2000 census, its population
consisted of twice as many indigenous Papuans as non-indigenous migrants from
other parts of the archipelago, but economic injustice and disadvantage limit the
indigenous population’s access to wealth. Poverty
rates in West Papua are twice the national average, and between 2002 and 2013,
income inequality increased by 24 per cent, according to UNDP.
Government policies have also contributed to the problem.
The arrival of migrants, fostered by transmigration programmes, has upset the
demographics and social and cultural heritage of the people of West Papua and
exacerbated competition over land and resources. Compounded with the socially
and environmentally destructive development projects pushed in the region by
Indonesia, this has caused widespread social disruption and environmental
damage, forcing Papuan tribal groups to relocate, according to researchers from
Yale Law School cited by Elsham in a 2003 Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights session.
to fight silence and impunity
Unreported exactions keep occurring as foreign
eyes and independent international observers are barred from West Papua. It is therefore
only thanks to the work of local organizations and human rights defenders such
as Paul, who runs Elsham’s office in West Papua and attends international
advocacy meetings at the Human Rights Council in Geneva communicating regularly
with donors, that the world can know what is happening there.
“Impunity has allowed the security force, the police and the army, free
access to inflict fear and terror through torture and other physical abuses,”
Paul explains his motivation. “In order for torture to end the Indonesia State
must take a strong action to punish those involved in its practice.”
Despite these odds and the many challenges of his job including being
under Indonesian intelligence surveillance being as an “independence
sympathizer”, Paul, 51, trusts that the human rights conditions in West Papua
“It will come although things
will change one at a time,” he says. “Perseverance with good strategies in work
will yield results.”
-- by Lori Brumat in Geneva
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