Activists: More Talk, Less Military Needed in Papua

There can be no development in Papua unless it is demilitarized, human rights watchdog Imparsial said on (31/5) as it launched a new report on the impact of the military presence in the restive province.

The report, “Human Rights Implications of the Military Presence in Papua From the Old Order to the Reform Era,” was based on research carried out from September 2010 to May 2011. It includes interviews with residents of Papua, officials and high-ranking military officers assigned to the province.

A book on the topic will be published by the end of this month and policy recommendations will be presented to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Imparsial is urging the demilitarization of Papua to be conducted soon because the military approach only brings human rights violations,” said Al Araf, program director of Imparsial. Since the country’s so-called reform era, he added, human rights conditions in the region had been marked by intimidation, torture and sexual violence.

He said the handling of conflicts in Papua — home to a low-level but persistent insurgency by the Free Papua Organization (OPM), which has been active since the 1960s — had not changed even though the leadership of the republic did change several times.

“In general, the security approach in Papua has not shifted. The government still uses the military approach as the main instrument to prevent conflicts in Papua,” Al Araf said.

The special autonomy given to Papua in 2001 is largely seen as not having the desired effect, he added, with no direct benefits felt by the majority of the people there.

In January, for example, more than a thousand activists, students and church leaders protested in front of the local legislature in Jayapura, the capital of Papua. They carried a wooden coffin covered with a black cloth that said: “Special Autonomy Is Dead in Papua.”

“The government,” Al Araf said, “must evaluate the special autonomy because it has been unable to stem the security problems still taking place there.”

Poengky Indarti, the executive director of Imparsial, said the military presence was serving as a psychological obstacle for Papua’s development.

“For Papua to develop, the government needs to treat it properly, like any other region, so the development can be effective and efficient,” she said.

“The policy in Papua is a reflection of the policy in Jakarta. The military officials assigned there only follow orders from their superiors in the central government” she said.

To solve the problems in Papua, a reform of the security and military approach is paramount, Poengky said.

She also suggested improving the welfare of military personnel, pointing to persistent claims that soldiers in Papua get involved in the private security business in the province to make extra money.

Human rights education for military officers is also important, she said.

But it is crucial that the military presence, currently numbering 15,000, is reduced, Poengky said. And to resolve the conflict peacefully, there should be a dialogue between Jakarta and Papua, she added.

Another recommendation by Imparsial is to make sure that human rights violations do not go unpunished. The government must also arrange human rights trials to settle the many violations in Papua, the organization said.

One example of relative impunity is a case of torture of two civilians in Papua last year by soldiers. The perpetrators were court-martialed but given sentences of less than a year.

Poengky also suggested strengthening civil authority and public monitoring, and urged the House of Representatives and the administration to evaluate the present security policy in Papua, including the budget for military operations.

“Civil participation must also be encouraged in the security policy to uphold human rights in Papua,” she said. She also said that there had to be a fair approach to law enforcement.

Ardimanto, a researcher with Imparsial, said there was a long history of distrust between Jakarta and Papua.

The central government, he said, focuses on separatists in Papua, while local officials there have the perception that Jakarta doesn’t care about the development of the province.

There has been a serious lack of mutual understanding, Ardimanto said.

“Military officers do not know the local culture in Papua. For example, if they see indigenous people walking around with bows and arrows for hunting, officers immediately assume they belong to the OPM,” he said.

Source: Jakarta Globe

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