Jakarta declares openness for peaceful dialogue as armed conflict in West Papua costs further lives

The number of victims in the violent conflict in West Papua rises while human rights organisations, churches and intellectuals keep calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Human Rights Monitor documented at least twelve armed clashes between Indonesian security forces and TPNPB fighters in the regencies Pegunungan Bintang, Maybrat, Intan Jaya and Puncak between 1 January and 10 March 2022. The violent conflict has resulted in the death of four security force members, one TPNPB fighter and eleven civilians within two months. Eight security force members were injured. This week, President Jokowi has reportedly given green light for a peaceful dialogue in 2022.

Update on violent incidents

There are no indications for a mitigation of the violent conflict in West Papua. However, on 2 March 2022, members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the killing of nine employees of telecommunication company PT Palapa Timur Telematika (PTT) in the Beoga District of Puncak Regency, Papua Province. The attack is believed to have far-reaching consequences for the local communities in the area. Similar incidents in West Papua have been responded to with security raids in surrounding indigenous villages under the involvement of the military.

IDPs from Beoga District seeking shelter at the Imanuel Milawak Church, Puncak Regency

The people in the conflict areas are afraid of the military. Its members are known for their violent and unscrupulous acts against indigenous Papuans. In late February 2022, military personnel tortured seven Papuan children in the Sinak District accusing them of stealing a firearm. One child died as a result of the torture. Observers expect a further wave of internal displacements in the conflict-affected regencies Puncak and Intan Jaya. First displacements were observed one day after the incident in the Beoga District, where local villagers sought shelter in a church (see photos).

An attack against military members also occurred in the Maybrat Regency, Papua Barat Province. On 20 January 2022, TPNPB members killed a military member and injured three others during an attack in the Aifat Timur Tengah District. Five days later, military members reportedly raided the Faan Kahrio Village, damaging at least four civilian houses (see photos below) and the Santa Maria Bunda Allah Catholic Church. The people fled into the surrounding forests. As of November 2022, more than 3,000 people from the districts Aifat Selatan, Aifat Timur, Aifat Timur Jauh, Aifat Timur Tengah and Aifat Timur Selatan fled their homes after security forces conducted raids in response to the attack on a military post in the Kisor village on 2 September 2021. There are no updated figures for the total number of IDPs available. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) have not returned to their villages, and continue to live in temporary shelters or with relatives.

IDPs from Beoga District seeking shelter at the Imanuel Milawak Church, Puncak Regency
IDPs from Beoga District seeking shelter at the Imanuel Milawak Church, Puncak Regency

The police investigators claim that members of the West Papua National Committee (KNPB) are responsible for the attacks in Maybrat. The KNPB denies any involvement in the attacks, arguing that it supports the right to self-determination only through peaceful means. The police continue to monitor IDP shelters in search of the perpetrators. Some IDPs were arrested in 2021 and are currently standing trial in Makassar. Lawyers claim that five out of eight defendants are still below the age of 18 years, but continue to be tried under the adult criminal system. One minor was found guilty of murder and sentenced to eight years imprisonment on 3 December 2021.   

Komnas HAM declares Jokowi open for dialogue with OPM

The chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), Mr Taufan Damanik, declared in early March 2021 that President Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi) agreed on initiating a peaceful dialogue between the government and the Papuan independence movement (OPM). The police, the military and the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security, Mahfud MD, welcomed a peaceful dialogue. Damanik elaborated that Komnas HAM will travel to West Papua and have its first consultation meetings in mid-March.

Damanik was confident that the dialogue could still take place in 2022. He added that dialogue between both conflict parties is a long process. The dialogue shall be initiated through consultation meetings with key actors. First talks should be held with church leaders, indigenous representatives and the chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), Mr Benny Wenda.

Even though Taufan Damanik’s announcement encourages new hope for a sustainable and peaceful solution to the long-lasting conflict in West Papua, many observers remain hesitant. In November, Indonesia will undergo the 4th Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. In light of the deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua throughout the past four years, the Indonesian Government is under pressure to prove its human rights commitment to the international community.

During Indonesia’s last UPR in 2017, Indonesian government representatives proudly announced the establishment of an integrated team under the lead of the Minister for internal, legal and security affairs and Komnas HAM to settle past human rights violations. However, almost five years later there has hardly been any significant progress in the settlement of these human rights cases while none of the perpetrators has been brought to justice. Observers fear that the initiation of peace talks shortly before the UPR may be nothing more than a strategic government move to whitewash Indonesia’s human rights image at the UN.

The TPNPB announced on 11 March 2022 that they are not interested in a dialogue facilitated or mediated by Komnas HAM. The TPNPB spokesperson, Sebby Sambom, stressed that the TPNPB would only agree to talks with Jakarta under mediation by the United Nations. Other pro-independence organisations such as KNPB, a civil resistance movement organisation promoting the right to self-determination through peaceful means, rejected dialogue with Jakarta under the format suggested by Komnas HAM.