The 49-page research report “Destroy them first… discuss human rights later: An investigation of Indonesian Security Forces’ operations in Papua’s Kiwirok under international law” provides a meticulous and scientific analysis of the Indonesian forces’ attacks on indigenous villages in Kiwirok District, Pegunungan Bintang Regency, Papua Pegunungan Province, Indonesia between 13 September and late October 2021. It provides evidence of the attacks and highlights the urgent need for international attention and action in West Papua.
In April 2021, Bambang Soesatyo, a prominent Indonesian political figure, publicly called for a forceful response against the West Papua separatist group following the killing of an Indonesian Intelligence official. Subsequent months saw intense raids on indigenous villages in Kiwirok District, with security forces causing widespread destruction and displacing over 2,000 Ngalum locals. Satellite imagery confirmed the devastation, with 206 buildings destroyed. The systematic nature of these attacks prompts questions of crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute, urging an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission.
“The main findings of this report include instances of violence deliberately perpetrated against indigenous Papuan civilians by security forces, leading to loss of life and forced displacement which meet the Rome Statute definition of crimes against humanity”, said Eliot Higgins, Director at Bellingcat.
Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia Director said: “Impunity for violence by the security forces is a major concern both from both a human rights and a conflict perspective. This report provides the necessary information for the National Human Rights Commission, Komnas HAM, to take up the case.“
Peter Prove, Director for International Affairs at the World Council of Churches explained “… it (the conflict in West Papua) remains a hidden crisis, largely forgotten by the international community – a situation that suits the Indonesian Government very well. This report helps shine a small but telling beam of light on one specific part of the conflict, but from which a larger picture can be extrapolated. “
Photo of burning houses in the Mangoldogi Village, Kiwirok District, taken shortly after armed clashes between TPNPB and Indonesian security forces broke out on 13 September 2021.
On 26 April 2021, Bambang Soesatyo, Speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR), the legislative branch in the Indonesian political system, was quoted in the media as saying, “Destroy them first. We will discuss human rights later”. Soesatyo made the statement in response to the killing of the Papuan Intelligence Chief, I Gusti Putu Danny, by members of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPN PB) in the Puncak Regency on 26 April 2021.
Soesatyo’s statement demonstrates low regard for human rights in Indonesian security force operations against the TPNPB and shows the central government’s frustration with the five-decade armed conflict in West Papua. Soesatyo called on the government to change its policy on West Papua and to take a violent approach with the armed resistance, despite its detrimental impact on the civilian population. He repeated this statement on 18 September 2021, shortly after armed violence resulted in the death of a health worker in Kiwirok District.
This report provides detailed information on a series of security force raids in the Kiwirok District, Pegunungan Bintang Regency, Papua Pegunungan Province (until 2022 Papua Province) between 13 September and late October 2021. Indonesian security forces repeatedly attacked eight indigenous villages in the Kiwirok District, using helicopters and spy drones. The helicopters reportedly dropped mortar grenades on civilian homes and church buildings while firing indiscriminately at civilians. Ground forces set public buildings as well as residential houses on fire and killed the villagers’ livestock. In response, schools and public buildings used by security forces as bases were burnt to the ground by resistance fighters.
The attacks on indigenous villages had far-reaching consequences for the indigenous Ngalum people of Kiwirok. Analysis of satellite imagery indicates that 206 buildings in the eight villages were destroyed during the security force operation in Kiwirok, including homes and public buildings such as churches and schools. At least 2,252 indigenous Ngalum people fled their villages and have not returned to their homes as of June 2023. The security situation in Kiwirok has not yet calmed down. Security posts and sniper positions throughout the Kiwirok District restrict freedom of movement and cause fear among the displaced indigenous population. Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kiwirok are forced to live in forest shelters without access to healthcare or education services and with serious food security difficulties. Many of the IDPs are women, elderly, and children. They are not receiving any form of government assistance.
The pattern of the security raids raises the question of whether the operation of Indonesian state forces in Kiwirok has been conducted according to international humanitarian law. The Rome Statute provides a legal definition for the most serious crimes such as genocide and crimes against humanity. These definitions include grave human rights violations. According to Article 7 of the Rome Statute, crimes against humanity are ‘atrocities committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population’, ranging from murder and extermination to the forcible transfer of a population.
The open-source investigation into the security force operations in Kiwirok between 13 September and late October 2021 provided new findings that allow the conditions and circumstances of the raids to be assessed against the legal criteria of crimes against humanity as defined in the Rome Statute. The findings indicate that the aerial and ground attacks were widespread and systematic, and targeted the indigenous civilian population in Kiwirok (Article 7(1)). Additional security forces were deployed to carry out raids in villages, following the same patterns and using sophisticated military equipment. In the case of Kiwirok, Human Rights Monitor found supporting evidence for extermination (Article 7(2)(b)), and the deportation or forcible transfer of population (Article 7(2)(d)).
Although the raids caused no direct civilian deaths, people were forced to flee into the forest and live in shelters without access to adequate food and medicine, where they are vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition, and disease. As of 23 July 2023, at least 72 IDPs have reportedly died since their displacement. The living situation in the IDP shelters, the isolation from any form of government support, and the lack of possibility to return to their homes amount to conditions that meet the definition of Article 7(2)(b) of the Rome Statute on Extermination. The pattern of attacks is consistent with the description of the forced displacements through coercive acts as stipulated in Article 7(2)(d).
While Indonesia has not yet been willing to become a party to the Rome Statute, the definitions provided in it are internationally recognised legal norms. An investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) into allegations of crimes against humanity is necessary and mandated by Indonesian law to reveal command structures, determine who authorised the attacks, and what security force units carried out the raids in Kiwirok.
 CNN Indonesia (26.04.2021): Ketua MPR: Tumpas Habis KKB Papua, Urusan HAM Bicarakan Nanti, available at: https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20210426114223-32-634743/ketua-mpr-tumpas-habis-kkb-papua-urusan-ham-bicarakan-nanti
 Banyuwangi Times (18.09.2023): KKB Papua Makin Biadab, Ketua MPR RI Minta TNI-Polri Tumpas Teoris KKB available at: https://banyuwangi.times.co.id/news/berita/wfpz57wvqx/kkb-papua-makin-biadab-ketua-mpr-ri-minta-tnipolri-tumpas-teoris-kkb