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  • Papua
  • Budi Hernawan (bio)

Papua concluded 2018 with a tragic incident when thirty road workers and one soldier in Nduga District were killed by the West Papuan National Liberation Army (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat, or tpnpb), one of the military wings of the Free Papua Movement (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) led by Egianus Kogoya (Tehusijarana 2018). The workers were working on an infrastructure project that penetrated the isolation of the Papua Central Highlands. The incident constitutes the largest number of civilian casualties by a non-state armed group in Papuan history. The tpnpb insisted that the workers were double agents who worked for the Indonesian military in disguise. The responses from the Papuan community were quite diverse. Some believed that the tpnpb would never attack civilians, and some regretted it. Sebby Sambom, the spokesperson for the tpnpb, made it very clear, however, that the tpnpb was responsible and had planned the attack three months in advance (Hadi and Ayu 2018).

Despite these claims, the truth remains far from resolved since none of the state’s legal institutions conducted investigations to establish facts. Indonesia’s national human rights commission (Komisi Nasional Hak Asasi Manusia Republik Indonesia, or Komnas ham) issued a press statement declaring that “such an act carried out by the armed group is a serious human rights violation” ( 2018a). The public statement, however, did not prompt Komnas ham to undertake a proper fact-finding mission, even though it is the only legal institution in the country that has subpoena authority to look into allegations of human rights abuses. As a result, both the victims’ families and the public live with one-sided stories about the incident.

In contrast, the government’s response was to immediately deploy troops to hunt down the tpnpb. This decision shows that a heavy-handed approach remains the most preferred option for state authorities in dealing with Papua’s security. Still, two months after the incident, it remained unclear whether the joint operation between the Indonesian police and the military had captured the group. Instead, the public was informed that many Nduga residents, especially women and children, had fled their homes and taken refuge in Wamena or Agats for safety. At the time of [End Page 536] writing, these vulnerable groups were living in dire conditions and required immediate humanitarian assistance. Father John Djonga, a local Catholic priest who shelters internally displaced persons from Nduga, made a public appeal: “Please help us since we are overwhelmed with thousands of refugees. Nobody helps us to date” (pers comm, 20 Jan 2019). He had already established a temporary school to shelter some four hundred internally displaced children.

The worker tragedy was not entirely unprecedented. Five months earlier, a number of violent incidents had occurred. tpnpb members shot at Dimonim Air and Trigana Air commercial aircrafts that carried ballots for the regional elections, injuring the pilots of both aircraft and killing three civilians during the Trigana Air attack (Gumilang 2018; cnn Indonesia 2018). These incidents were considered a bad omen, prompting the locals to flee their homes and take safety in the Asmat area (Tempo. co 2018b), even though they had to walk and canoe across difficult, swampy terrain.

In retrospect, the protracted conflicts in Papua have changed little in the last five decades. The heavy-handed approach of the authorities is not just meted out against Papuans inside Papua’s jurisdiction. Rather, it has become a common pattern for the police to put pressure on Papuan communities across the Indonesian archipelago. The International Coalition for Papua has documented a persistent pattern of police brutality against Papuan students and their solidarity groups. The police raided Papuan students’ dormitories in various cities in Indonesia, such as Ambon, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, and Makassar.

Statistically, the coalition documented the ten most common patterns of human rights violations, the top three being political arrests in relation to political events (1,201 cases); violations of victims’ health (648 cases); and torture (80 cases) (icp 2019).

Unlike in previous years, in 2018 we have seen new players involved in the raids, namely mass organizations (organisasi kemasyarakatan, or ormas) such as the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defender Front), the Pancasila Youth, the Community Forum...