Indonesia Still Obstructs Foreign Media in Papua

November 12, 2015

Indonesian authorities continue to restrict foreign media access to the restive Christian-majority provinces of Papua and West Papua, despite assurances from President Joko Widodo that reporters would have unimpeded access to the region, a rights group says.

Phelim Kine, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said “elements of the Indonesian government” have failed to deliver on Widodo’s promise to open Papua to foreign reporters.

The New York-based rights group released on Nov. 11 a report interviewing 107 journalists, editors, publishers and representatives of domestic and international nongovernmental organizations.

Kine suggested a conspiracy was in place between the Indonesian government and security forces to keep foreign journalists out of resource-rich West Papua, where a low-level insurgency has clashed with military forces for several decades.

“There are elements within the Indonesian government and security forces that are intrinsically hostile to the concept of free media access to Papua,” he said, adding that a number of senior government and military officials intensely opposed opening the region to foreign media.

“This is an ongoing problem. There is no clear process,” he added.

He said that President Widodo has prioritized development in Papua as a way to provide stability and to appease local citizens’ dissatisfaction with the government.

Kine said that government officials have acknowledged that open access to information is key to Papua’s development. “But what’s clear is that they are unwilling or hesitate or suspicious about what opening [the region] to the media might bring in terms of having some influence on the separatist movement in Papua,” he said.

In addition, Indonesian journalists were “extremely vulnerable to intimidation, harassment and violence” by the government, security forces, and pro-independence groups, he said.

Father Neles Tebay, coordinator of the Papua Peace Network, told that harassment of journalists in Papua is common.

“Indeed, Indonesian journalists in Papua — both the Papuans and those coming from other regions — often face cruel treatment if they write something that annoys the government,” he said.

Still, the people in Papua have other avenues to distribute information with or without the help of a foreign media presence in the region, he said.

“In terms of the distribution of information, the presence of foreign journalists in Papua doesn’t have real influences. Whatever happens in Papua, they can be distributed through social media. So there’s nothing that can be hidden in Papua. The Internet is already here. It can’t be blocked,” he said.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch, said foreign journalists are routinely hassled when applying for visas. A British journalist applied five months ago for access to the region and still hasn’t heard back from Indonesian authorities, he said.

Harsono called on Widodo to formally lift restrictions on foreign media access to Papua and direct all government and security officials to immediately comply with the order.


West Papuan Women Left Isolated and Beset by Violence under Indonesian Rule

October 30, 2015

West Papuans have struggled for their freedom since they were annexed by Indonesia and robbed of their right to a fair referendum in 1969. While the independence struggle slowly gains more visibility due to acourageous network of civilian journalists on the ground, it is the stories and struggles of West Papuan women that are often silenced.

Under Indonesian rule, indigenous West Papuans are routinely subjected to violence and oppression. They have been disenfranchised, tortured, threatened and murdered, suffering multiple rights violations affecting their economy, land, culture, political participation, dignity and survival. Indeed, a 2013 Sydney University study called the situation “slow-motion genocide”, arguing that Indonesia has acted with intent in its strict control over the population – and with impunity over human rights violations such as the Biak massacre in 1998. The Asian Human Rights Commission has also described the situation as genocide.

President Joko Widodo recently announced lifting the decades-long restrictions on foreign media, but so far this appears to be little more than diplomatic lip service. Foreign journalists still require screening; they are not allowed to report on anything that “discredits” Indonesia, and are excluded from “forbidden areas”. The restrictions have meant that the rest of the world hasn’t paid attention to the situation for West Papuans – and women in particular have felt this isolation.

In 2009, a group of West Papuan women documented patterns of violence in a report entitled Enough is Enough! Testimonies of Papuan Women Victims of Violence and Human Rights Violations 1963-2009. The study details how women have experienced and resisted violence along a trajectory of two distinct, but intertwined struggles: the struggle imposed on them by Indonesian occupation, and the struggle within their indigenous culture and society.

The introduction to the report read: “We have experienced rape and sexual abuse in detention, in the grasslands, while seeking refuge, no matter where we were when the army and police conducted operations in the name of security. Furthermore, in our own homes we repeatedly have been victims of violence. When we cry for help, they say, ‘That’s a family matter, take care of it in the family.’”

The hope was that the broad pattern of violence against women could be exposed and addressed.

Unfortunately, little has changed for West Papuan women since the report was published in 2010. Ferry Marisan worked on the study and is the director of the Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights in West Papua. Marisan says that, though the report was distributed to parliamentarians and various state institutions – including the provincial government of Papua province, regency and municipal governments, police and the military – the government still fails to protect the rights of women, and violence continues.

The capture of data on violence against women in West Papua is inadequate. Organisations like Komnas Perempuan (the independent national commission on violence against women) attempt to document cases of gender-based violence across Indonesia. In 2011, for example, they documented 119,107 cases of violence against women. Their most recent “annual note”, from 2014, mentions multiple forms of violence suffered by indigenous women in Papua, resulting variously from armed conflicts between state security forces and armed civilian groups, conflicts over claims for natural resources, and discriminatory policies.

Legal and policy frameworks that deal specifically with violence against women do exist, starting with the Indonesian criminal code. Indonesia has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) in 1984.

However, while the framework is there, and the government has taken steps to improve women’s rights and protections, there is a lack of political will at all levels. Indonesia’s last periodic report to Cedaw, carried out in 2011, acknowledged a “lack of synergy and coordination among decision-makers”, adding: “This has led to a situation where many women’s rights issues remain unattended, both at the central, and much more so, at the regional levels. Many parties … have identified many discriminatory regional bylaws.”

In West Papua, special autonomy law No 21 (Otsus) was passed in 2001 as part of a plan to transfer political, economic and cultural authority to the Papuan people. However, the majority regard Otsus as a way of pouring an abundance of cash into the province that that will end up in the hands of corrupt local politicians, and as a mechanism to silence calls for independence.

Widodo pledged to champion human rights during his time in office but, more than 12 months into his term, little has changed. International pressure will be crucial in pushing for Indonesia to at least live up to its obligations under international law – or, at best, to support West Papua’s desire for self-determination and push for a referendum, as in East Timor in 1999.

As West Papuans remain under Indonesian rule, women’s rights will continue to be caught in the middle. Groups supporting self-determination recently came together in the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, a broad coalition looking to press their case within West Papua and internationally. For an end to the violence, and especially for the women of West Papua, independence must be taken seriously.


Papua Regional Military Commander Apologizes

October 8, 2015

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An Indonesian military commander in Papua region has officially apologized to the people of Papua for unethical actions of soldiers.

Cenderawasih Regional Military Commander Major General Hinsa Siburian made the apology in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of the Indonesian military.

West Papua Daily reports him as saying he hoped excesses would not occur in the future, and soldiers could focus on developing Papua.

The commander and other top leaders have been emphasizing the military’s role to protect the republic of Indonesia and its people.

Meanwhile, the Governor of Papua province, Lukas Enembe read a speech conveying a statement by the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo to commemorate the anniversary, saying the Indonesian Military was born from the ‘womb’ of the people.

The Supreme Commander General Soedirman also said the relation of Indonesian Military and the people were like the fish and water, which it could not live without water.


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