Indonesia’s human rights problem: All eyes on Papua after United Nations outburst

Photo: UN Photo

Indonesia’s representative at the United Nations launched a spirited defence of her country’s human rights record in the Papua provinces, saying other countries were only raising the issue as a distraction from their own problems. Rights groups, and the statistics, disagree – showing more must be done at government level. 

By Fawnia

Nara Masista Rakhmatia, the second secretary of Indonesia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations was not a household name until she made her appearance at a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York. During the 71st session of the UNGA, several countries, including Pacific Countries, condemned human rights violations that took place in West Papua and requested that both the UN and the Indonesian government take action.

Rakhmatia quickly countered the statements, saying they were made simply to draw attention away from problems in their own countries. She pushed back hard saying, “Their politically motivated statements were designed to support separatist groups in the said provinces, who have consistently engaged in inciting public disorder and in conducting armed terrorist attack”. In no time, the video recording of her rebuttal went viral, as the public put her on a pedestal; praising her bravery and eloquent speech.

Another agenda?

But how much does the public know of what is behind this attention-grabbing statement made in front of national leaders. One online news outlet that covers Papua called Rakhmatia’s notable statement as “a weapon of mass deception which is as dangerous as the weapon of mass destruction”.

The comparison was apt, according to the site, as her words were intended simply to save face and keep the public in the dark. In her speech Rakhmatia mentioned criticisms made against Indonesia that it had violated the UN Charter, and in the same breath, accused leaders of using false and fabricated information as the basis of their statements. She also gave assurances that her country would continue to focus on the development of the Papua and West Papua provinces.

This, according to the Papua-based news release, is a false statement crafted to fool the public into believing there are no human rights violations taking place in the Papua provinces. It also suggests that there are no terrorist attacks taking place; just civil resistance. The reporter, a Papuan sociologist residing in Papua, ended his article with a strong message, “Finally, the mass deception done by Nara Masista and the officials of Indonesia is treason toward the Constitution, conscience, and basic human values. May the truth strip bare the lies for the sake of humanity.”

The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) has added to the discussion, issuing a statement that calls out Rakhmatia. The “denial of reports of human rights violations in Papua” does not sit well beside the truth, according to LBH. This is backed up by numerical data that shows 2,282 Papuans have been arrested for staging non-violent rallies between April and Sept 16 this year.

Within four years, over 4,000 arrests have been made, most of them involving intimidation. Several shootings have also been recorded, including an incident when the Indonesian Military (TNI) opened fire and killed student protesters.

The underlying threat

Human rights violations happening in Papua are definitely not the first or the last in Indonesia. Back 12 years ago, Indonesia was shocked by the death of Munir Said Thalib, a prominent human rights defender. No report into his mysterious death was ever released,  and even now, over a decade later, the public’s suspicion has not been quelled. The State Secretariat insist that they do not have a fact-finding report; some find this suggest hard to trust.

Rights activists have urged President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to push for both judicial and non-judicial processes to clear up human rights abuse in Indonesia. This applies particularly to the 1965 Tragedy, also referred to as the Indonesian Massacres, where no exact amount of victims can be verified but is estimated to be up to one million people.

The killings, which mostly targeted communists, ethnic Chinese, and alleged leftists is a part of Indonesia’s dark history that cannnot be erased. Initially the purge intended to wipe out the communists involved after the 30 September Movement, it quickly became a nationwide eradication. Now, 51 years later, how the government deals with the aftermath defines public opinion. Are the authorities advocates of human rights or an abusive force that neglects them?

While Western countries battle the fangs of centuries-long racism and rising refugee problems, Indonesia is left with a battle of its own; defending human rights. Though it is true that nothing can be done to change the past, there is much that can be done to prevent human rights negligence today. The question now, is the government ready to take the step despite possible political loss? In Papua at least, it seems not.