(London, March 17, 2006) – Escalating violence in Papua’s provincial capital should be investigated by an independent commission, Human Rights Watch said today.
Some 150 demonstrators, including students from the University of Cenderawasih, have spent the last two days demanding the withdrawal of the Indonesian army (TNI) and police from Papua, and the closure of the U.S.-owned Freeport mine in Timika, Papua. In response to the demonstrators’ attempts to block the road in front of the university, Indonesian riot police yesterday moved in to break up the demonstration, resulting in the violent clashes.
“These are deeply disturbing accounts of violence,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The Indonesian government should immediately grant access to an independent investigation by Komnas HAM and Indonesian NGOs to determine how the violence escalated.”
Human Rights Watch said that the report of the investigation must also be made public.
Reports indicate that BRIMOB (Brigade Mobile, Indonesian riot police) officers used tear gas, and some eyewitnesses say that they saw the police open fire on the crowd of unarmed demonstrators. In response the crowd attacked the riot units and beat to death four policemen, injuring at least 19 other officers.
Media reports indicate that two civilians may also have been killed in the clashes. Local human rights groups report that at least six demonstrators were seriously injured, one of whom is in critical condition. Some of those injured are receiving treatment for gunshot wounds, and all are currently in Abepura hospital. One of those wounded is a journalist from the Indonesian newspaper Tempo. Unverified reports indicate he was beaten by police officers while trying to film the demonstration.
In addition to an independent investigation, Human Rights Watch also called for the removal of arbitrary restrictions on access to all regions of Papua by journalists, human rights workers, and other independent monitors. In response to government announcements that no foreign media would be allowed to Papua, Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in February, warning that the lack of access and monitoring to Papua by independent observers, including the media, would create a climate in which the armed forces and police believe they can act with impunity and commit abuses, unreported and away from the public eye.
“This is an opportunity – albeit a grim one – for the government to open up access to the province and allow independent monitors, media and human rights organizations in,” said Adams.
Human Rights Watch has received reports that at least 20 demonstrators have been arrested by the police and are currently being held at the police station in Jayapura. Local human rights organizations have been denied access to them. Unverified sources report that two of the Cenderawasih University student dormitories have also been shot at with automatic weapons, with gunshots being heard in Jayapura hours after the demonstration had ended.
“While all efforts must be made to bring perpetrators of killings to justice, arbitrary, retaliatory attacks on the general Papuan population are never justified,” said Adams. “Worse, attacks on the public will only undermine potential cooperation from witnesses and other victims.”
In another region of Papua, reports have emerged of the destruction of part of the Sheraton hotel in Timika, adjacent to the Freeport copper mine. Anti-Freeport demonstrators attacked the hotel after being unable to address local officials meeting with Freeport representatives. At least 15 people are reported to have been arrested in relation to the attack.
An ongoing, low-level armed insurgency in Papua, in the easternmost part of Indonesia, has resulted in crackdowns by Indonesian security forces with ensuing human rights violations. Since 2005, there has been a visible build-up of troops in the province with reports of widespread displacement of civilians, arson, and arbitrary detention in the central highlands region.
Demonstrations against Freeport have increased in recent months after Freeport security forces tried to evict local miners, alleging their activity was illegal. Protestors accuse Freeport of not providing enough to the people of Papua in return for the mine, polluting the local environment, and for being responsible for human rights abuses through their use of the military for security services.