Victims and relatives disappointed over settlement of serious human rights violations in Indonesia

The year 2022 marks a lousy year for the victims of serious human rights violations and their relatives in Indonesia. Even though the Jokowi administration took the initiative to address past human rights violations, these efforts were poorly planned, monitored, and implemented. Both the trial of the 2014 Panai Case and the presidential decree for the non-judicial settlement of past serious human rights violations gave the impression that the government wants to burnish its human rights image among the international community instead of making a serious effort to establish justice and eradicate impunity. The government’s half-hearted attitude toward Indonesia’s dark past has left many victims disappointed. Particularly, victims in West Papua have lost their trust in the Indonesian Government and justice system.

Human rights court acquits single defendant in 2014 Paniai trial

 On 1 April 2022, the General Attorney’s Office (GAO) published the findings of its investigation into the Paniai Case of 2014. The findings contradict the results of the preliminary investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) as well as victim testimonies.  According to the survivors, security force members opened fire from different directions at them. Four minors died, and 21 persons were injured. The GAO investigation team identified only a single suspect, the former military commander Major Isak Sattu.

On 8 December 2022, judges acquitted Mr Isak Sattu from all charges. The verdict is another setback for the victims and their relatives, adding to a long list of disappointments by Indonesian authorities over the past decades. According to the judges, there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mr Sattu neither committed nor gave the order to carry out a gross human rights violation. The judges acquitted the defendant of all charges because there was no proof of his command responsibility.

The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches (PGI) expressed disappointment about the verdict. They called upon the GAO to re-launch an investigation to identify all perpetrators, both those who committed the shooting on the ground and the commanders in charge of the operation.

On 28 November 2022, the relatives of the four killed victims sent an open letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They reaffirmed their rejection of the investigation and trial process. Moreover, they called upon the High Commissioner to support a second investigation into the case. The relatives demand that the GOA should re-investigate the case and identify the perpetrators.

All victims and their relatives were absent from the trial. In June 2022, they signed a joint statement declaring their rejection of the law enforcement process at the human rights court in Makassar. They declared that none of them would attend or testify in court. Accordingly, most witnesses examined in court were security force members. The victims and their relatives understand the outcome of the legal process in this case as proof of the government’s lack of sincere commitment to settling gross human rights violations.

Human rights organisations carefully monitoring the court process expressed concerns regarding the prosecutor’s performance in court and the investigation by the GAO, which excluded victims and lacked transparency. The GOA failed to identify the perpetrators in the field before revealing superior command structures responsible for the crime. The legal definition of crimes against humanity comprises a widespread, systematic attack against civilians. It implies that such attacks must be coordinated or approved by superiors and implemented by security force personnel on the ground.

Surprisingly, Mr Sattu was never detained since the beginning of the trial. The judges refrained from taking him into custody, arguing that he had cooperated. Defendants with far more lenient charges than crimes against humanity are usually detained in Indonesia during the trial. Observers also criticized that neither the victims nor the judges had received protection throughout the trial process.

Extra-judicial settlement of serious human rights violations

This year, the Indonesian President, Mr Joko Widodo (‘Jokowi’), issued Presidential Decree No 17/2022 on the formation of a team for non-judicial settlement of past serious human rights violations. The decree was widely criticised after being presented to the public. Human rights observers and victims feared that the decree was an attempt to settle past serious human rights violations outside the law in an effort to avoid a legal process against the perpetrators.

In addition, the decree seemed rushed and over-hasty. It was issued on 26 August 2022 but only sets a timeframe until 31 December for its implementation. A team consisting of a steering team and an implementation team was mandated to reveal and conduct a non-judicial settlement of twelve past gross human rights violations, recommend the restitution of victims or their relatives and recommend measures to prevent gross human rights violations from recurring.

In mid-December 2022, the implementation team had a closed-door meeting with the coordinating minister for politics, law, and security affairs, Mahfud MD. According to Mahfud, the team had carried out its duties in line with the decree and will complete its work in early 2023. The results of this process will be shared directly with the president. A draft report on the team’s work was already existing, said Mahfud MD. It will be finalized after consultation with the executive board of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia and the world.

Mahfud MD explained that the team had not only met with victims but also with religious leaders, academics, and civil society representatives to get a “comprehensive perspective” on the issue. He stressed that the restitution of victims could not substitute or stop the legal settlement of the case, as stipulated in Indonesian law.

Among the twelve cases of the past serious human rights violations are two cases that took place in West Papua. The implementation team met with victims in Wamena, Papua Province, and Wasior, Papua Barat Province, where serious human rights violations occurred in 2003 and 2001. Victims in Wasior declared that the Wasior incident must be brought to a human rights court. They agreed on a compensation payment to the victims or their relatives and the provision of free education programs for their children. The victims expressed their disappointment regarding 21 years of negligence by government authorities to settle the case through a human rights court.

In Wamena, the victims and relatives rejected both a judicial and non-judicial settlement of the Wamena Case (see photo on top and video below, source: YKKMP). Instead, they called upon the Indonesian Government to meaningfully engage in a human rights dialogue under international mediation by the United Nations. Moreover, they demanded that the central government allow foreign journalists and international observers to come to West Papua as a first step to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations in the territory. The victims’ relatives strongly criticised the government for disguising the human rights situation in West Papua from the international community and the United Nations.

Statement delivered by the victims’relatives in Wamena