Human rights group urges access after Papua violence

June 14, 2012

An international rights group is urging Indonesian authorities to allow foreign media and civil society groups access to its Papua island following violence which has left at least 14 people dead since May.

In a separate incident – perhaps a sign of rising tensions – latest news reports say angry residents in Papua burned cars and shops on Thursday after an independent activist was shot and killed.

Mako Tabuni, deputy of a group pushing for a referendum on Papuan self-determination, was shot dead while resisting arrest, a human rights activist toldReuters. Tabuni had been campaigning for an investigation into the recent spate of shootings which HRW also expressed concern about in its statement.

Access to the region is severely limited and foreigners are required to obtain special permits routinely denied by authorities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement released on Thursday.

“The Indonesian government has failed to hold to account those responsible for recent violence,” the rights group said in the statement, referring to raids it said were conducted by hundreds of soldiers earlier this month in Wamena, a city in Papua’s central highlands.

A military spokesman initially denied that soldiers had injured any Papuans, although reports alleged that one person was killed and seven others injured during the raids, according to the statement.

The attack was in retaliation for an incident where a crowd stabbed an Indonesian soldier to death and injured another after their motorcycle struck a Papuan child.

“By keeping Papua behind a curtain, the Indonesian government is fostering impunity among military forces and resentment among Papuans,” said Elaine Pearson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

“It needs to let the media and civil society shine a light on conditions in the province,” she added.

Papua,  the western half of an island that includes Papua New Guinea, has long suffered strained ties with Indonesia which took over the area from Dutch colonial rule in 1963.

Despite being resource-rich, it is one of the least developed regions in Indonesia. According to the United Nations, 40 percent of Papuans live below the poverty line of $1.25 a day, compared to the national average of 18 percent.

HRW said there have been other violent incidents in Papua’s capital Jayapura in the past month, including unknown gunmen shooting dead several non-Papuan migrants and police killing members of a militant independence group while breaking up a protest.

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said there would be sanctions for law enforcement officers who commit inappropriate actions but also said the attacks were small scale compared the events in Papua with violence in the Middle East, Jakarta Globe reported.

HRW called his response inadequate in its statement.

“President Yudhoyono should stop making excuses for his government’s failure to investigate the violence,” said Pearson.

“Allowing full access to the province for UN rights experts, the press, and other monitors could curtail the rumours and misinformation that often fuel abuses.”

(Editing by Julie Mollins)

Picture caption: Residents set fire to a motorcycle and shops by in Waena, Jayapura of the Indonesia’s Papua province June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Frederik

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