Impunity: Military tribunals in West Papua highlight fail to establish justice and accountability in Indonesia

Recent military tribunals related to the enforced disappearance and execution of five indigenous Papuans in the regencies Intan Jaya and Mimika illustrate the pressing issue of accountability and impunity in West Papua. The failure to detain defendants and the leniency of sentences in cases of violence against civilians perpetuate a climate of impunity.

Human rights organizations continue to advocate for justice, emphasizing the importance of ratifying international conventions and reforming the military justice system to uphold human rights and ensure accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations in West Papua. Lenient verdicts illustrate that the military justice system in Indonesia does not provide justice to victims or their families and path the way for more human rights violations in the region to re-occur.

The execution and subsequent disappearance of  Mr Luther and Mr Apinus Zanambani in Intan Jaya in 2020 highlight the urgent need for Indonesia to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) to address complex criminal offenses like enforced disappearance comprehensively. The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) urged the Indonesian House of Representatives to pass the Ratification Bill of the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances and reform the military justice system to ensure fair and accountable trials.

Lack of Accountability in the Murder of Mr Eden Bebari and Mr Ronny Wandik

On 13 April 2020, military members shot dead the two Papuan men, Mr Eden Bebari and Mr Ronny Wandik (see photo, source: independent HRDs), at Kali Biyu Low Land Mile 34 PT Freeport Indonesia Mining Area near the town of Timika, Central Papua Province . The military trial against the perpetrators highlights the lack of accountability and impunity surrounding cases of violence against civilians in West Papua.

The perpetrators received lenient sentences in a verdict delivered by Military Court III-17 Manado, North Sulawesi, on 6 July 2023. Lieutenant Inf Gabriel Bowie Wijaya was sentenced to seven years, while Private Sugi Harnoto received a six-year sentence. Both were dismissed from military service. Papua Human Rights Advocates Association (PAHAM Papua), the legal representative of the victims’ families, expressed appreciation for the verdict but criticized its leniency compared to the prosecutor’s demands. PAHAM Papua emphasized the need for gross human rights courts to address cases of human rights violations and hold all perpetrators, including those at higher levels, accountable. The lack of compensation, restitution, and rehabilitation for victims’ families adds to their trauma and raises questions about the state’s commitment to justice.

A second legal process at the Military Oditur III-13 Denpasar against two other military members in relation to the killings is ongoing. PAHAM expressed concern over the non-detention of the defendants, Sergeant Vicente De Oliviera and Private Bahari Muhrim. Both have been charged with murder and ill-treatment causing death. Despite the severity of the charges, the defendants have not been detained, raising fears of potential absconding and evidence tampering. The families of the victims and human rights advocates called upon the judges of Military Court III-14 Denpasar to detain the defendants to ensure a fair trial and deliver justice for the victims and the people of Papua.

Impunity in the disappearances of Mr Luther and Mr Apinus Zanambani, and the Murder of Rev Yeremia Zanambani

The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) has condemned the light sentences given by the Military Court to the perpetrators involved in the enforced disappearances of Mr Luther and Mr Apinus Zanambani, as well as the murder of Rev Yeremia Zanambani in the Intan Jaya Regency, Papua in 2020.

The court convicted and sentenced ten military members, seven of whom were processed by the Military Oditur  III-16 Makassar. KontraS criticised the sentences for not adequately addressing the severity of the crimes. Mufajirin Adi Yatma (eight months imprisonment), Baharuddin (six months imprisonment with eight months probation), Febi Puji Hantara (eight months imprisonment), Pance Gereuw (six months imprisonment), and Oktapianus Sangga Kalatiku (eight months imprisonment) were all found guilty of jointly committing ill-treatment resulting in death. The military members Mr Pance Gereuw, Mr Oktapianus Sangga Kalatiku, Mr Muhammad Syamsir, and Mr Josua Manghut Tua, were tried for the crime of concealing the killings and sentenced to six months imprisonment and nine months probation, respectively.

Meanwhile, the military members responsible for the torture and execution of Rev Yeremia Zanambani were tried at the Military Court III-19 Jayapura with case number 186-K/PM.III-19/AD/VI/2022. The defendants Mr Saiful Anwar, Mr Alex Ading, and Mr Mohammad Andi Hasan Basri were found guilty of collective murder and sentenced to one-year imprisonment each. The Military Oditur’s appeal against the verdict did not lead to an increase in the sentence. The lack of dismissals from military service shows a failure to hold TNI members accountable for their criminal actions.

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