Jayapura, Jubi – London-based NGO concerning human rights TAPOL has called on the Indonesian government to properly address institutional racism and hold accountable perpetrators of military violence against civilians in Papua, internationally known as West Papua.
TAPOL strongly condemns the recent abuse by two airforce personnel who beat a disabled Papuan man, Steven Yadohamang, in Merauke on July 27, 2021. The incident, which has been widely shared on social media, shows the two personnel slamming a man to the ground and stamping on his head. It is clear from the footage that Yadohamang does not possess the capacity to defend himself against two individuals who appear to be unconcerned with possible consequences.
A similar incident in Nabire took place the following day. A West Papuan man, Nicolas Mote, was suddenly smacked on the head repeatedly during his arrest despite not putting up any kind of resistance.
Read also: Military police steps on Papuan’s head lays bare racism, resembles George Floyd’s case
The incident, according to TAPOL, follows a spate of previous violent incidents committed by the security forces against West Papuans and is likely to raise further questions about what purpose increasing numbers of military personnel are serving in West Papua.
“Furthermore, the airforce and the Indonesian media, have described the soldiers as ‘rogues’. This assessment is not consistent with a pattern of violence committed against civilians that has been allowed to go unpunished in recent months and years,” TAPOL writes on its website.
“Indeed, had there not been such indisputable visual evidence of security force violence, it is entirely possible that the incident would not now be subject to further investigation by the authorities”.
TAPOL says that despite facing possible punishment, the perpetrators are likely only to receive light sentences because they will be tried in military courts, as following the end of the New Order period, civilian politicians did not push for military personnel to be tried in civilian courts.
Since 2019, there has been a steady build-up of military and police personnel in the two provinces of West Papua. Deployments and security force operations have increased further since April of this year, when Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security Mahfud MD designated the armed resistance movement, TPNPB, as a “terrorist” group.
At the time, Mahfud instructed military personnel deployed to West Papua not to “target civilians” during operations. But West Papuans and Indonesians have raised concerns that the designation itself would further stigmatise ordinary West Papuans.
TAPOL also highlights that in West Papua there are significant underlying problems with institutionalized racism by the authorities, including the security forces, and with the criminalization of West Papuans and Indonesians for expressing the right to peaceful expression and assembly.
TAPOL says that merely encouraging military restraint or promising punishment in military courts is not enough to address these issues. Therefore, TAPOL calls on President Joko Widodo and the House of Representatives of Indonesia to finish the post-Suharto agenda of reforming the military.
The law on the military already allows soldiers to be tried in civilian courts for committing non-military crimes. However, this progressive provision still cannot be implemented because the law on Military Courts has not been changed. This step, TAPOL says, is very crucial to combat a culture of impunity because the Indonesian military are one of the main perpetrators of human rights violations in West Papua.