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Mass unrest in West Papua
by Human Rights Watch, IWGIA, ABC News, agencies
October 7, 2019
Indonesia: Investigate Riot Deaths in Papua. (Human Rights Watch)
Indonesian authorities should independently investigate recent riots in Wamena, Papua that resulted in 33 deaths, Human Rights Watch said today. Since September 29, 2019, at least 8,000 indigenous Papuan and other Indonesians have been displaced from their homes in Papua.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) should lead an investigation into the deaths and review the government’s policing policy. The Indonesian government should also immediately allow the United Nations human rights office unfettered access to Papua and West Papua provinces to investigate the situation.
“At least 33 people died during riots in Wamena in unclear circumstances,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “An independent investigation is needed to examine the role of the security forces and to prosecute anyone responsible for wrongdoing.”
Human Rights Watch spoke with two well-informed government officials and three indigenous Papuan men who had been detained briefly by the Wamena police.
In August, Papuans took part in protests across at least 30 cities in Indonesia that were preceded by an attack by Indonesian militants on a West Papuan student dorm in Surabaya on August 17.
The protests turned to pro-independence rallies, some of which became deadly. At least 10 men, including an Indonesian soldier, were killed in August in Deiyai and Jayapura in Papua.
In Jayapura, Indonesian settlers, mostly ethnic Makassar, set up checkpoints and attacked indigenous Papuans with clubs and machetes. On September 1, a group of settlers attacked a student dorm in Jayapura, most of whose residents were from Wamena, killing one student and seriously wounding two others. The incident raised tensions between the two different racial groups.
On September 18, a new teacher allegedly made racist taunts at Papuan students at a public high school in Wamena.
On September 23, Wamena students protesting outside the Jayawijaya regent office were joined by a larger crowd that burned the office. Violence escalated. Many shops, mostly owned by Indonesians from other islands, burned down. Many of those killed were found trapped inside their burned houses. The burning and some killings continued on September 24.
The government shut down the internet from September 23 to 29 in the vicinity of Wamena. The police listed the names and origins of the 33 people who died. They included 8 Papuans, including 2 children, and 25 people from elsewhere in Indonesia, including 3 children.
On September 27, Indonesia’s National Police chief replaced the Papua police chief, Rudolf Alberth Rodja, a non-Papuan, with Paulus Waterpauw, an ethnic Papuan who had been the Papua police chief from 2015 to 2017.
In Wamena, the main city in the area, the riots caused thousands of Papuan and non-Papuan residents to flee the city amid the deterioration of security and rumors of an increased Indonesian military deployment, ostensibly to prevent further violence.
More than 5,000 residents, both Papuans and non-Papuans, have sought safety in several refuge points in Jayawijaya regency, including the police station and two military posts. Some are staying in churches. An Air Force officer said 2,000 evacuees had reported to the military to leave Wamena on a Hercules transport plane.
Last December, Papuan militants killed 17 Indonesian workers in Nduga, near Wamena. It prompted the Indonesian military and police to initiate a security operation, displacing thousands of indigenous Papuans. Thousands of them are still seeking refuge in Wamena and Jayapura.
News about the recent deaths of non-Papuans in Wamena has angered many Muslims in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Java. The Islamic Defenders Front, one of the largest Muslim militias in Java, had started to call on Muslims for “jihad” against predominantly Christian Papuans in the two provinces.
Human Rights Watch has long documented human rights abuses in Papua’s central highlands, where the military and police have frequently engaged in deadly confrontations with armed groups.
Indonesian security forces have often committed abuses against the Papuan population, including arbitrary detention and torture. A lack of internal accountability within the security forces and a poorly functioning justice system mean that impunity for rights violators is the norm in Papua. The failure to appropriately punish serious abuses by Indonesian security forces has fueled resentment among Papuans.
The Indonesian security forces should exercise care when operating in Wamena, directing all security personnel to treat residents in accordance with international standards. They should transparently investigate and hold accountable anyone implicated in a criminal offense. Both the military and the police should allow journalists to operate independently in the area. The government should lift the decades-long official restriction on foreign media access to Papua.
“The situation in Wamena is tense, yet it’s difficult to verify the circumstances because no journalists can independently go into the area to interview witnesses,” Adams said. “Having independent monitors on the ground will help deter abuses by both the militants and security forces, which would benefit all Indonesians.”
24 Sep. 2019 (BBC News)
At least 16 people are dead and dozens injured in Indonesia''s eastern region of Papua after hundreds of protesters, mostly high school students, set fire to several buildings in one city. Among the dead were those trapped inside the buildings in Wamena city.
The protests on Monday were reportedly triggered by racist comments made by a teacher. It''s the latest flare up of violence in the region, which saw weeks of unrest in August.
Four people died in a separate incident in the provincial capital of Jayapura, after students reportedly attacked police officers.
The day of violence come after a brief period of relative calm in the region, which had last month been rocked by mass demonstrations in response to claims of racism.
The previous protests stemmed from an incident where nationalist groups accused Papuan university students in Surabaya of damaging an Indonesian flag during Independence Day celebrations. The groups had goaded the students, calling them "monkeys", "pigs" and "dogs".
A spokesman for a West Papua separatist group said the violence in Wamena was triggered by racist slurs directed at students by a teacher. However, Papua police denied this.
In Jayapura, clashes took place between security forces and protesters, with pictures showing scores of police gathered outside a university.
Papua is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua, and became a part of Indonesia following a controversial referendum. The former Dutch colony initially declared independence in 1961 but was controversially annexed by Indonesia in 1969.
A referendum on its independence was held in 1969 but only about 1,000 people were allowed to vote. As a result, a low-level separatist movement, fighting for independence, continues to this day.
The Indonesian military, meanwhile, is accused of gross human rights abuses in their attempt to suppress any form of dissent in the province.
Indonesia has sent almost 6,000 additional military and police personnel to the region.
Police have rounded up dozens of people for damaging public property in the protests, with several named as treason suspects over a demand for an independence referendum that authorities have ruled out.
5 Sep. 2019 (ABC News)
Thousands of people have been protesting across Indonesia''s eastern most territory over the past two weeks, torching government buildings and clashing with police, resulting in dozens of deaths and injuries.
The protesters demands range from an end to racial violence to calls for a referendum on independence for the region.
It''s not the first time Papuans have taken to the streets to demand independence, and incidents of armed resistance to Indonesian rule in the provinces of Papua and West Papua have also occurred periodically over the years.
But these latest protests are not only the largest held in the region in years, but they have also drawn support from across Indonesia.
"Today''s protest is different because it''s so widespread," said Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch.
While previous movements have been largely orchestrated by Papuan liberation leaders in exile, these recent protests have erupted from within West Papua and have since spread to other provinces.
Mr Harsono said he counted protests in 30 cities both inside and outside of the region during the first week.
"The spread of the protests indicates the deep frustration among indigenous Papuans against Indonesian rule," Mr Harsono told the ABC.
The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua — often referred to collectively as West Papua — share an island and ethnicity with Papua New Guinea.
While the east of New Guinea island was colonised by Britain and Germany prior to Australian administration — later gaining independence as Papua New Guinea — West Papua remained a Dutch colony until it was handed over to Indonesia in 1963 via the United Nations.
Some activists and armed groups have been fighting for independence ever since, and the region has been dogged by allegations of racism and discrimination against the native population.
Mr Harsono listed human rights abuses, impunity, drastic demographic change, environment degradation and poverty among the reasons for the growing frustration among the local population.
Mr Harsono said verifying information in West Papua is always challenging as authorities have "restricted access to the provinces since the 1960s".
"Foreign journalists have difficulties entering the area. Local journalists are regularly harassed, intimidated, if not co-opted with money," he said. "Without independent journalism, it''s very slow and difficult to verify facts in West Papua."
The protests have renewed calls for a new inclusive referendum to allow Papuans to decide for themselves if they want independence or to remain a part of Indonesia.
But the percentage of native Papuans in the region has been declining for decades due to the government''s transmigration policy that has resettled Indonesians from highly-populated regions, most commonly Java.
Feb. 2019
Continuing violence in West Papua. (Guardian News)
The UN office of the human rights commissioner is seeking access to West Papua amid continuing violence in the region.
The long-running low-level insurgency violently escalated late last year, after West Papuan guerrillas attacked a construction site in Nduga, killing at least 17 people they claimed were Indonesian military but who Jakarta insists were civilian workers.
In response Indonesia launched a military crackdown in the region, leading to a number of deaths and thousands of people allegedly being displaced after they fled into the jungle.
The office of the high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR), Michelle Bachelet, told the Guardian she had been engaging with Indonesian authorities on the issue of West Papua and “the prevailing human rights situation” and had requested access to the area.
West Papuan leaders were informed of the development at a Geneva meeting between the commissioner and Vanuatu representatives on Friday, during which the exiled West Papuan leader Benny Wenda handed over a petition signed by 1.8 million of his people.
A UN spokeswoman said the meeting had not been arranged for the purpose of receiving the petition but was in the context of Vanuatu’s universal periodic review session before the UN human rights council.
The petition, smuggled out of the region in 2017, calls for a UN investigation into allegations of human rights abuses and for an internationally supervised vote on independence.
“In 2017 nearly 2 million of you risked arrest, torture and assassination to raise your voices through this historical petition,” Wenda said after the meeting.
“Today, with official state-level support from the Vanuatu government, we, the people of West Papua, have presented it to the UN high commissioner for human rights.”
The petition was banned in West Papua and blocked online at the time activists collected signatures. Papers were “smuggled from one end of Papua to the other”, Wenda told the Guardian at the time.
In September 2017 Wenda sought to deliver the petition to the UN’s decolonisation committee but was rebuffed, with the committee saying West Papua was outside its mandate.
The committee’s chair, Rafael Ramírez, said at the time the mandate extended only to the 17 states identified by the UN as “non self-governing territories”.
West Papua was removed from the list in 1963 when it was annexed by Indonesia, an act many Papuans consider to be illegal and which was the start of a long-running separatist insurgency.
Amid a crackdown, which followed mass arrests of pro-independence protesters in early December, Indonesian authorities raided and destroyed a number of headquarters of the domestic movement, the West Papua National Committee.
Jan. 2019
Why nearly 2 million people are demanding an independence vote for West Papua province, by Tasha Wibawa. (Asia Pacific News)
Earlier this week, a petition signed by more than 1.8 million people calling for an independence referendum in Indonesia''s West Papua province was delivered to United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
Benny Wenda, chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), said he hoped the UN would send a fact-finding mission to the province to substantiate allegations of human rights violations.
"Today is a historic day for me and for my people," Mr Wenda said after the meeting in Geneva. "I handed over what I call the bones of the people of West Papua, because so many people have been killed."
Local media reported Indonesia''s Minister for Defence, Ryamizard Ryacudu, told Parliament: "They''re not allowed independence. Full stop."
The embattled Indonesian province has had a decades-long independence struggle, with its identity torn between several conflicting stakeholders.
West Papua and Papua, often referred to collectively as West Papua, are the easternmost provinces of Indonesia and their acquisition has been the cause of controversy for more than 60 years.
West Papua shares its borders and cultural ethnicity with Papua New Guinea, but while PNG was colonised by the British, prior to German and Australian administration, West Papua was colonised by the Dutch, setting it on a different course.
According to the Indonesian Centre of Statistics and the World Bank, West Papua''s regional GDP per capita is significantly higher than the national average, mainly due to mining.
However, it is also the most impoverished region in the country with the highest mortality rates in children and expectant mothers, as well as the poorest literacy rates.
Control of West Papua was agreed to be transferred to Indonesia from the Dutch with the assistance of the United States government as a part of a US Cold War strategy to distance Indonesia from Soviet influence in 1962.
Prior to this, Australia had also supported the West Papuan bid for Independence, but backtracked due to a Cold War security logic to minimise ''the arc of instability''.
The Netherlands and Indonesia signed the New York Agreement, which would place Indonesia under UN Temporary Executive Authority until a referendum that would allow all adult West Papuans to decide on the fate of their independence, called the Act of Free Choice.
But in 1967, the Indonesian government signed a 30-year lease with US gold and copper mining company Freeport-McMoran to start mining in the resource-rich region, prior to the referendum.
Two years later, according to historians, a number of men were handpicked to vote under the monitor of the Indonesian military and voted unanimously to remain under Indonesian rule. It has since been dubbed the "Act of No Choice" by activists.
Indonesia and its representatives at the UN have since repeatedly rejected claims of human rights abuses in the region and demands for another referendum, saying the allegations have been spread by "Papuan separatist movements".
"The provinces of Papua and West Papua … will always be a part of a unified Indonesia," Indonesian diplomat Ainan Nuran told the UN security council in 2017.
Clashes have occasionally broken out. In December, Indonesian police claimed independence supporters killed 19 people working at an Indonesian-owned construction company.
On Monday, the Indonesian military said separatists opened fire on an aircraft carrying military personal and local goverment officials, killing one soldier.
But verifying any information is difficult because of restrictions on press freedom and the remoteness of the location.
In 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced he would open the region to foreign journalists following decades of media blockades and bureaucratic red tape, but a series of statements by foreign journalists suggests otherwise.
A 2004 report from Yale Law School said the Indonesian government had "acted with necessary intent to … perpetrate genocide against the people of West Papua", a claim the Indonesian government has strongly denied.
Activists have been imprisoned for displaying the West Papuan pro-independence Morning Star flag, and say they face discrimination and are subject to violent attacks for expressions of political views.
There have also been a number of military crackdowns that have been referred to by Human Rights Watch as "high priority" human rights abuse cases.
The number of insurgencies in the region has declined as the Papuan indigenous population halved due to government policies of transmigration.
The late West Papuan academic and activist John Otto Ondawame described the situation as "cultural genocide".
Transmigration refers to the government resettling Indonesians from high-population regions to low-population areas, which was formally ended by Mr Widodo in 2015.
The program was deemed controversial by analysts as it involved permanently moving people from densely populated areas of Java to sparsely population regions such as Papua.
It has been criticised as causing fears of the "Javanisation", or "Islamisation" of Papua, resulting in strengthened separatist movements and violence in the region. It''s hard to say.
In 2017, Mr Wenda said he had presented a similar petition with the signatures of 1.8 million people demanding a vote on independence to the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, although it became unclear whether the decolonisation committee actually received the documents.
This time, Mr Wenda was accompanying a Vanuatu delegation in Geneva and reportedly presented the document to the UN''s human rights wing rather than the decolonisation committee.
Mr Wenda told the ABC he was hopeful the new petition delivered to a different branch of the UN would have an impact.
"We hope that she will deliver the petition to the secretary-general to review [the referendum] of 1969, and give the people of West Papua [the opportunity] to choose its own destiny," he said.
But the head of the Presidential Palace in Indonesia told local journalists this week, "The UN will respect Indonesia''s sovereignty".
In the past, the ULMWP, along with other international activists, have called on the UN to review the 1969 referendum and investigate human rights abuses in the region. These requests have been repeatedly rejected by the UN and Indonesia has continued its administrative powers over the region.

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UN experts urge decade of action to aid survival of indigenous languages
by UNESCO, UN Office for Human Rights, agencies
In a statement to mark International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, UN human rights experts are calling for a decade of action to protect and promote the use of indigenous languages, many of which are endangered:
“Indigenous languages are necessary for the enjoyment of human rights, as well as being a part of the rich linguistic and cultural heritage of indigenous peoples.
However, indigenous rights experts are concerned that of the 7,000 indigenous languages around the world, many are endangered. Forty per cent of them are in danger of disappearing altogether.
This situation reflects historic State policies and ongoing discrimination against speakers of indigenous languages, and towards the assimilation of minorities and nation building. Over time, such policies can undermine and effectively destroy a culture and even a people.
Indigenous languages allow for the freedom of expression and conscience critical to human dignity, as well as cultural and political self-determination. They are also critical for the survival of our global society. Containing the wisdom of traditional environmental knowledge and cross-cultural communication, indigenous languages hold the keys to combating climate change, and living in peace.
Language is a right not a privilege. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises the right of indigenous peoples to revitalise, use, develop and transmit their languages to future generations. Importantly this includes the right to establish and control institutions responsible for education, media, and governance.
We call on UN member States to recognise, protect and promote indigenous languages through legislation, policies and other strategies, in full cooperation with indigenous peoples, including adequate, sustained support for bilingual and mother tongue education.
We call on States to ensure access to health, employment, judicial and other public services in the languages of indigenous peoples, including through cyberspace and the internet.
We support the States that have encouraged the UN to declare a Decade of Indigenous Languages. Ten years would provide the time and resources necessary to reverse the historic destruction of indigenous languages and reclaim these languages for the future of indigenous peoples and the world community, alike.”
Call to revitalize ‘language of the ancestors’ for survival of future generations. (UNESCO)
Hundreds of ancestral languages have gone silent in recent generations, taking with them the culture, knowledge and traditions of the people who spoke them. To preserve and revitalize those that remain, the United Nations has officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
Delivering inaugural remarks, Kanentokon Hemlock, a Mohawk community Bear Clan Chief from Kahnawke, paid tribute to Mother Earth.
“As indigenous people, our languages are those of the earth and it is those languages that we use to speak with our mother”, he said, saying “the health of our languages is connected to the health of the earth”, which is being abused.
“We lose our connection and our ancient ways of knowing of the earth when our languages fall silent”, he explained, stressing that “for the sake of future generations we must ensure they too can speak the language of our ancestors”.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces highlighted the close connection between indigenous languages and ancestral culture and knowledge, saying that “they are much more than tools for communication, they are channels for human legacies to be handed down”.
“Each indigenous language has an incalculable value for humankind”, she said, calling each “a treasure laden with history, values, literature, spirituality, perspectives and knowledge, developed and garnered over millennium”.
“When a language dies,” she spelled out “it takes with it all of the memory bound up inside it”.
Indigenous languages are symbols of their people’s identity, “vectors for values, ways of life and expressions of their connections with earth”, according to the Assembly president, who called them “crucial” for survival.
Indigenous languages also open the door to ancestral practices and knowledge, such as in agriculture, biology, astronomy, medicine and meteorology. Although there are still 4,000 in existence across the globe, many are on the brink of extinction.
“This International Year must serve as a platform from which we can reverse the alarming trend of the extinction of indigenous languages”, to recover and preserve them, including by implementing education systems that favor the use of a Mother tongue, Ms. Espinosa stated.
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, addressed the survival of indigenous people and languages under the force of colonialization.
“Today we come here having survived the colonial era which has tried to bring our elders to their knees and squash them beneath the weight of injustice”, he said.
Mr. Morales called on everyone to work together through dialogue to promote policies which help to preserve Indigenous lives, identities, values and cultures.
There are 770 million Indigenous people across 90 countries, constituting six per cent of the global population, living in many biodiverse regions, the President noted. And yet “capitalist greed” has left them among the poorest 15 per cent of the population.
Warning that greed was driving the move to annex yet more indigenous resources, he said that there was a “criminal silence” on the part of world leaders “when it comes to speaking out against these phenomena”, pointing out the hypocrisy of lecturing indigenous people about democracy and human rights, while quashing their community identities and suppressing languages at risk of dying out.
“Language is culture, language is an expression of a cosmovision and that is a way of seeing the world”, he said. “If languages disappear… the memories that they bear will disappear as well as the people that speak them”.
Encouraging everyone to “preserve the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors”, Mr. Morales urged that a new paradigm be ushered in, one which is the fruit of indigenous peoples and “champions the Mother Earth”.
I grew up speaking a foreign language, by Stan Grant.
A language brought to Australia on convict ships more than 200 years ago. A language imposed on my ancestors as they were pushed from their land, massacred, and stricken with disease.
In the 1830s, martial law was declared on my people, the Wiradjuri of Central West New South Wales. My ancestors could be killed on sight. British settlers formed raiding parties to hunt down and round up Wiradjuri people.
The remnants of these frontier wars were pushed onto Christian missions and reserves. Speaking their language, practising their culture or performing ceremonies was often banned.
My people, like the languages they spoke, were expected to die out. "Aborigines" were deemed a dying race. Settlers spoke of "smoothing the pillow of a dying race".
When Australia became a nation in 1901, one of the founding fathers Alfred Deakin forecast that within a hundred years: "Australia will be a white continent with not a black or even dark skin amongst its inhabitants. The Aboriginal race has died out in the south and is dying fast in the north and west …."
An Aborigines Protection Board was established, a body that exercised a fearsome power over Indigenous lives. The board oversaw restrictive segregation policies and could determine where my family lived, who we could marry, or whether we could keep our children.
''Think white, act white, be white''
For much of the 20th century, a policy of mad race science was inflicted on the Aboriginal people.
Assimilation - as it was known - aimed to breed out Aboriginal people. Its stated objective was that the Aboriginal people would be "absorbed into the commonwealth".
The policy was captured in a poster depicting a dark-skinned Aboriginal woman, her lighter-skinned daughter and her blond, blue-eyed grandson. From black to white in three generations.
Light-skinned "mixed-race" children were often taken from their families to break the links of culture and kinship. Every Indigenous family I know has been touched by what we call the Stolen Generations.
My great-aunt was taken from her parents and sent to a dormitory for Aboriginal girls where they would be trained to work as domestic servants for white families. It was hoped they would marry white men and have whiter children.
My aunt slept under a sign that read "Think white, act white, be white".
But in spite of it all, we did not die out. Aboriginal people regrouped on the fringes of towns, trapped in never-ending cycles of poverty and neglect.
We survived. Our language did not. By 1963, when I was born, we spoke English, spiced with some words left over from our old times.
When the British invaded Australia and claimed Aboriginal land, there were at least 250 distinct languages and more than 800 dialects. Today most are silenced. Of those that remain, 90 percent are considered endangered.
But Aboriginal people do not surrender so easily. My ancestors thrived in the land we now call Australia, for at least 65,000 years before Europeans came.
A skeleton of a man, dated at 42,000 years old, is considered to be among the earliest evidence of human ceremonial burial. We are today, considered the oldest continuous civilisation on earth.
The green shoots of language are poking through. It is part of a spiritual and cultural revival, the descendants of the First People speaking ancient languages again.
My father has been at the forefront of this renaissance. When he was a boy, he saw his grandfather arrested and jailed when he spoke Wiradjuri to my father in the Main Street of our hometown.
Fifty years later, my father was awarded an Order of Australia medal for saving his grandfather''s language. What a remarkable journey.
My father lived a hard life. A black man in a country where being black could be a crime. He was denied access to a full education. He raised me and many brothers and sisters with the strength of his own hands.
Like too many Aboriginal men, he was brutalised, beaten by police. But he never lost his belief in who he is. He never lost hope. He never lost the love and memory of his grandfather.
In his late 50s, this man - who had lived on the margins of Australia - was approached by a white linguist, John Rudder, who was interested in salvaging the Wiradjuri language.
Over the next 20 years, these two men wrote the first-ever Wiradjuri language dictionary, set up language teaching centres across Wiradjuri land, and established a postgraduate Wiradjuri studies programme with Charles Sturt University. Several years ago, my father was awarded a Doctor of Letters by the university for his work.
His name is Stan Grant. It is the greatest honour of my life that I am named after him. Everything I am is because of him and my mother. Together they kept us strong and proud. They kept our family together. They kept our stories alive. They told me who I am.
On Australia Day - Invasion Day - I think of them. I think of all of my family. I think of how we are still here.
We are the truth that exposes the great lie of Australia. The British claimed our continent on the basis that it was terra nullius - an empty land. They did not see the humanity that had always lived there.
Australia thought we would die out. Thought we would be bred out. Absorbed and assimilated. Two hundred and fifty years after British sailor James Cook planted the British flag and took our land, we are talking back. In our languages.
* Stan Grant is a journalist and filmmaker from the Wiradjuri, Kamilaroi and Dharawal First Nations of Australia.

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