By Mike Puia
THE issue of human rights violations has come to the forefront in West Papua’s quest for independence from Indonesia.
Amnesty International has mounted pressure on Indonesia to address issues of past human rights violations.
The London-based non-governmental organisation says Indonesia has failed to address past human rights violations.
In its 2017/2018 publication online, Amnesty International says the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association has continued to be restricted by Indonesia.
Indonesia controls Papua, and West Papua forms the western half of the island of New Guinea.
Political control of the region has been contested for more than half a century and Indonesia has consistently been accused of human rights violations and violent suppression of the region’s independence movement.
The indigenous people of the province are Melanesian, ethnically distinct from most of the rest of Indonesia and more closely linked to the people of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia and Solomon Islands.
Papua was retained by the Dutch after Indonesian independence in 1945 but the province was invaded by Jakarta in 1963.
Indonesia formalised its control over West Papua when in 1969 voting was done in favour of Indonesian takeover under a UN-supervised, but undemocratic, process known as the Act of Free Choice.
Many Papuans regard the Indonesian takeover as an illegal one and the Free Papua Movement has led a low-level insurgency for decades.
With the heightened police and military presence, there have been reports of security force abuses including extrajudicial killings, torture and arbitrary detention, excessive use of force and mistreatment of peaceful protesters.
Dozens of Papuans remain behind bars for peaceful demonstration or expressing solidarity with the independence movement.
Raising West Papua’s independence flag can send someone behind bars for 15 years.
Most observers estimate that about 500,000 native Papuans have been killed since 1963 by Indonesia.
Amnesty International says Indonesia’s human rights record has been examined under the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process two months ago.
The process is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council (HRC) aimed at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 193 UN Member States.
Although Indonesia accepted 167 out of 225 recommendations, it rejected, among other things, calls to investigate past human rights violations.
The organisation says Indonesian authorities have continued to prosecute those participating in peaceful political activities, particularly in areas with a history of pro-independence movements such as Papua.
Amnesty International says despite killings happening in West Papua, no perpetrators were known to have been held to account.
The recent incident at the 6th Melanesian festival that ended in Honiara yesterday where police confiscated the West Papua’s flag from local activists who held up the morning star flag in front of the Indonesian stall has again attracted much interest toward the issue of West Papua.
Indonesia, an associate member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), took part in the festival on the invitation of the government.
West Papua, with a MSG observer status, is not included in the festival – an issue that also raised questions among local activists.
Local activists insist Indonesia is not a Melanesian country – West Papua is Melanesia.
The former Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, has been vocal about West Papua’s issue.
Sogavare, who is now the deputy Prime Minister, earlier blamed the UN for showing little commitment towards the West Papua issue.
He said UN is responsible for facilitating the question of self-determination for the people of West Papua.
The principle of self-determination is embodied in article one of the UN charter. The first paragraph of the article in the UN charter stated that all peoples have the right to self-determination.
The issue of self-determination is recognised in many international and regional instruments.
These instruments include the declaration of principle of the international laws concerning friendly relationship and cooperation among states which was adopted by the UN assembly in 1970, the African charter of human and people’s rights 1981, the cooperation among states charter of parish for new Europe adopted in 1990, the Vienna declaration and program of action of 1993, committee on the elimination of racial discrimination and many others.
When it comes to human extortion, Sogavare said Solomon Islands stands to condemn it.
Solomon Islands has opened an Embassy in Indonesia with hope talks will continue to happen between the two countries about the issue of West Papua.
Indonesia has set up its own human rights committee to look at human rights violations issues there. The status of the work carried out by the committee is unknown.