October 14, 2016 |
Indonesia’s human rights problem: All eyes on Papua after United Nations
TOPICS:1965 TragedyHuman RightsPapua New GuineaRakhmatiaUnited Nations (UN)
Photo: UN Photo
October 17, 2016
Indonesia’s representative at the United Nations launched a spirited defence of
her country’s human rights record in the Papua provinces, saying other
countries were only raising the issue as a distraction from their own problems.
Rights groups, and the statistics, disagree – showing more must be done at
Nara Masista Rakhmatia, the second secretary of Indonesia’s Permanent Mission
to the United Nations was not a household name until she made her appearance at
a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York. During the 71st
session of the UNGA, several countries, including Pacific Countries, condemned
human rights violations that took place in West Papua and requested that both
the UN and the Indonesian government take action.
Rakhmatia quickly countered the statements, saying they were made simply to
draw attention away from problems in their own countries. She pushed back hard
saying, “Their politically motivated statements were designed to support
separatist groups in the said provinces, who have consistently engaged in
inciting public disorder and in conducting armed terrorist attack”. In no time,
the video recording of her rebuttal went viral, as the public put her on a
pedestal; praising her bravery and eloquent speech.
But how much does the public know of what is behind this attention-grabbing
statement made in front of national leaders. One online news outlet that covers
Papua called Rakhmatia’s notable statement as “a weapon of mass deception which
is as dangerous as the weapon of mass destruction”.
The comparison was apt, according to the site, as her words were intended
simply to save face and keep the public in the dark. In her speech Rakhmatia
mentioned criticisms made against Indonesia that it had violated the UN
Charter, and in the same breath, accused leaders of using false and fabricated
information as the basis of their statements. She also gave assurances that her
country would continue to focus on the development of the Papua and West Papua
This, according to the Papua-based news release, is a false statement crafted
to fool the public into believing there are no human rights violations taking
place in the Papua provinces. It also suggests that there are no terrorist
attacks taking place; just civil resistance. The reporter, a Papuan sociologist
residing in Papua, ended his article with a strong message, “Finally, the mass
deception done by Nara Masista and the officials of Indonesia is treason toward
the Constitution, conscience, and basic human values. May the truth strip bare
the lies for the sake of humanity.”
The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) has added to the discussion,
issuing a statement that calls out Rakhmatia. The “denial of reports of human
rights violations in Papua” does not sit well beside the truth, according to
LBH. This is backed up by numerical data that shows 2,282 Papuans have been
arrested for staging non-violent rallies between April and Sept 16 this year.
Within four years, over 4,000 arrests have been made, most of them involving
intimidation. Several shootings have also been recorded, including an incident
when the Indonesian Military (TNI) opened fire and killed student protesters.
The underlying threat
Human rights violations happening in Papua are definitely not the first or the
last in Indonesia. Back 12 years ago, Indonesia was shocked by the death of
Munir Said Thalib, a prominent human rights defender. No report into his
mysterious death was ever released, and even now, over a decade later, the
public’s suspicion has not been quelled. The State Secretariat insist that they
do not have a fact-finding report; some find this suggest hard to trust.
Rights activists have urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to push for both
judicial and non-judicial processes to clear up human rights abuse in
Indonesia. This applies particularly to the 1965 Tragedy, also referred to as
the Indonesian Massacres, where no exact amount of victims can be verified but
is estimated to be up to one million people.
The killings, which mostly targeted communists, ethnic Chinese, and alleged
leftists is a part of Indonesia’s dark history that cannnot be erased.
Initially the purge intended to wipe out the communists involved after the 30
September Movement, it quickly became a nationwide eradication. Now, 51 years
later, how the government deals with the aftermath defines public opinion. Are
the authorities advocates of human rights or an abusive force that neglects
While Western countries battle the fangs of centuries-long racism and rising
refugee problems, Indonesia is left with a battle of its own; defending human
rights. Though it is true that nothing can be done to change the past, there is
much that can be done to prevent human rights negligence today. The question
now, is the government ready to take the step despite possible political loss?
In Papua at least, it seems not.