Papua is a former Dutch colony that was placed under Indonesian rule following a UN-supervised referendum in 1969. The Indonesian government handpicked the majority of the Papuans who voted in the referendum. They voted unanimously in favour of integration with Indonesia.
Most Papuans consider the vote fraudulent. An independence movement has been active ever since. Over the last two decades, hundreds of men and women have been arrested for non-violent pro-independence activities. Dozens of peaceful protesters remain in prison.
We don’t take a position on the political status of Papua but we do support the right of all individuals, including Papuan independence supporters, to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of opinion, belief, expression and association.
Imprisoned for raising a flag
On 1 December 2004, a civil servant called Filep Karma attended a ceremony celebrating the anniversary of Papua’s independence from Holland. During the event, the Morning Star flag was raised. This flag – a symbol of Papuan independence – is banned in Indonesia.
Filep Karma was arrested on site. In May 2005 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for ‘treason’. Eight years later he continues to languish in a cell despite international outrage at his detention.
‘I would like to say a big thank you to everyone’
Filep Karma, from his hospital bed in 2010
During his time behind bars, Filep has suffered from a variety of health issues but the authorities have failed to provide him with adequate medical care. He finally received vital treatment in 2010 and 2012, but only after local and international campaigning groups raised funds to pay for it.
Tragic though Filep’s case is, he is not the only Papuan imprisoned in Indonesia for peacefully expressing pro-independence views. As recently as March 2012, five Papuan activists were imprisoned for three years because of their involvement in the The Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress – a peaceful gathering discussing Papuan independence.
In September 2012, Papuan human rights lawyer Olga Hamadi was threatened after investigating allegations of police torture. Human rights defenders as well as journalists, repeatedly face intimidation and attacks like this.
Abuses by security and police forces
Filep Karma claims police beat him on the journey to the station. Reports suggest that police opened fire on those gathered at The Third Papuan Peoples’ Congress. And Chair of the pro-independence National Committee for West Papua, Mako Tabuni, was shot dead by police officers in June 2012.
These incidents represent some of the many accusations made about the behaviour of Indonesian police and security forces towards those thought to be pro-independence supporters. These include:
- Unnecessary force used against even peaceful protestors
- Unlawful killings.
It is often hard to confirm reports because international observers, including NGOs and journalists, are denied free access to Papua.
As with the majority of such accusations, no independent investigation has ever been held into the beating of Filep Karma, the attack on the Congress or Mako Tabuni’s death.
Each failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice reinforces the confidence of perpetrators that they are indeed above the law.
Despite commitments at the national level for police reform, such confidence continues to be bred by a well-entrenched pattern of infrequent and ineffective investigations, of rare and compromised trials. And, perhaps most significantly, lack of action.
The armed opposition
The main armed opposition group in Papua is the Free Papua Movement (or OPM). This group carries out sporadic attacks on mainly military and police targets, but in a report from 2002 we found that civilians had also occasionally been targeted and suffered human rights abuses.
Although the government has a duty to protect its citizens, the counter-insurgency operations by the Indonesian authorities against OPM have often been excessive. As the above shows, anyone suspected of supporting Papuan independence – violently or not – is at risk of unjust imprisonment, unlawful killing, torture and beating.
What we’re doing
We don’t take a position on the political status of Papua but we do think that the problem can only be resolved if Papuans are able to participate fully and safely in the process of finding that solution.
A necessary pre-condition is for Papuan people to be able to engage in legitimate, non-violent political activities without risk of these human rights violations.
To this end, we continue to monitor the situation in Papua and to call on the Indonesian authorities to respect free speech.
Read more about human rights in Indonesia in our Annual Report or download the reports below for more information.