Trial in Indonesian human rights court brings hope for justice to West Papuans – The Organization for World Peace

An Indonesian human rights tribunal has opened a trial to determine whether a former army commander is guilty of crimes against humanity in West Papua. This represents an opportunity to ensure that the rights of West Papuans are protected against state violence and racial discrimination.

The trial, before the rarely used Indonesian human rights court, began on September 21, 2022. However, the trial is not taking place in West Papua, where the events took place, but in Makassar, a city located in more than 1,400 km, on the island of Sulawesi. This constitutes an obstacle for the witnesses and the families of the victims to attend the trial.

The Indonesian Human Rights Tribunal was established under Law No. 26 in 2000. Under this law, the tribunal has the “duty and authority” to review and adjudicate cases of gross violations of human rights, in particular genocide and crimes against humanity. Since its inception, however, the court has rarely been used.

Isak Sattu, a retired major in the Indonesian army, is accused of crimes against humanity. On December 8, 2014, in Paniai Regency, West Papua, the Indonesian military fired into a crowd of around 800 protesters for seven minutes in the town of Enarotali, killing five people, including four teenagers, Simon Degei , Otianus Gobai, Alfius Youw and Yuilian Yeimo. The shots also injured between 17 and 21 other people. The first protest was in response to an attack by Indonesian authorities on Yulian Yeimo on December 7, 2014. Before the shootings, it was a peaceful protest in the town square of Enarotali in front of the military command office Indonesian.

The trial prosecutor released a statement outlining the charges against Sattu, arguing that troops under his command “committed serious human rights violations by launching a broad and systematic attack” and that “the defendant does not has failed to take appropriate and necessary action within its authority to prevent or stop the crimes.

If found guilty, Sattu could face up to 25 years in prison.

After the killings, President Joko Widodo promised to investigate the events. However, the Indonesian military, which carried out the investigation, denied that the troops fired on the protesters and instead, without evidence, blamed the independence fighters in West Papua.

Although the timing of the trial is unclear, it has been hailed by independence and human rights activists as a positive step in bringing Indonesian authorities to justice for crimes committed against West Papuans. . Yet others are skeptical. Many witnesses and family members of the victims wonder why only one suspect has been brought to justice, and some even refuse to attend the hearing. They believe the Indonesian justice system is stacked against them.

The Indonesian judicial system lacks transparency and independence to hold offenders to account. This is because the system divides military and civilian jurisdiction for alleged crimes. Under the Military Courts Act 1997, soldiers on trial must appear before a military court, which often leads the military to resist or prevent investigations and prosecutions.

This highlights a bigger problem in the treatment of West Papuans under Indonesian rule.

The Indonesian military has been documented committing numerous instances of human rights abuses in West Papua, including torture and extrajudicial executions. West Papuans continue to experience excessive use of force and racist violence by the military and police, which limits their access to the justice system. Indonesian authorities frequently arrest, detain and prosecute West Papua protesters. These crimes are almost never prosecuted, let alone investigated.

Between July and August 2022, Indonesian authorities used excessive force, water cannons and batons, and racially assaulted protesters who peacefully opposed Papuan’s Special Home Rule Law. On August 16, 2022, police fired on protesters in Yahukimo Regency, wounding one, with water cannons and beatings reported the same day at another protest in Jayapura. Amnesty International reports that the authorities used discriminatory and excessive force in response to these demonstrations.

Under international law, it is legal for authorities to resort to the intentional lethal use of firearms only when necessary to protect life and only after all other measures have been exhausted.

The protests in West Papua are organized over legitimate concerns about racism, state violence and autonomy. These protests are mostly peaceful. It is therefore vital that West Papuans are treated in accordance with basic human rights guidelines under international and national law.

West Papuans are entitled to freedom of assembly and association under Articles 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and cultural. In addition, the right to freedom of assembly and expression is guaranteed by the Indonesian Constitution and Article 24 (1) of the Human Rights Law No. 39 of 1999.

The Indonesian government, which is a signatory to the above conventions, must respect its obligations and respect the human rights of its citizens. These include allowing peaceful protest and ending the arrests, detentions and abuse of protesters. The use of force by the authorities, and any resulting injury or death, must be punished in accordance with Indonesian law, without fear or favour.

The government must also protect West Papuans from racially motivated attacks and discrimination by authorities, including the military, police and judges. Indonesia prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity in civil, political, economic, social and cultural life under Law No. 40 of 2008. The government must therefore abide by its own legislation and ensure that that the rights of West Papuans are protected by law.

Finally, the government should open up West Papua to observers and international human rights organizations to allow investigations into past and current abuses. This will increase transparency in a remote region, where authorities continue to act with impunity.

While the trial of Isak Sattu offers hope to West Papuans that justice can be served for past crimes, it also represents the fundamental problems that West Papuans face in accessing justice and enjoying their human rights.

After years of discrimination and state violence, West Papuans no longer trust the justice system. This will only be rectified if the Indonesian government respects the human rights of all its citizens, including West Papuans, in accordance with international and national law. Only then will West Papuans receive the justice they deserve.

Elna M. Lemons