From New York to Papua, the case for human rights – Galuh Wandita

Eric Garner was an African-American man, unarmed and not dangerous, selling cigarettes on the sidewalk in Staten Island, New York. A brush with the police quickly escalated into a life and death situation.

Published: 13 December 2014

Eric Garner was an African-American man, unarmed and not dangerous, selling cigarettes on the sidewalk in Staten Island, New York. A brush with the police quickly escalated into a life and death situation.

Caught on camera saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times, as a police officer secured him in a chokehold, Garner lost his life.

Last week, a grand jury exonerated the police officer who had held down Garner from criminal liability. The American public reacted swiftly, adopting Garner’s last words – “I can’t breathe” – to describe a growing frustration toward racism and violence against African Americans, especially within the police force.

As we celebrate our commitment to human rights here in Indonesia, there is news about another massacre in Papua.

According to a Papuan civil society coalition, military personnel from Battalion 753 opened fire on a crowd of unarmed protestors in Enarotali, Paniai, Papua on December 8, killing four high school students: Alpius Youw, 17; Yulian Yeimo, 17; Simon Degei, 18; and Alpius Gobai, 17; and another man.

Like Garner (and the Ferguson) case, it started with a small incident that quickly escalated with overtones of racism. Allegedly, some young people gathered at a Christmas nativity scene were drawn into an altercation with members of the military driving by in a vehicle.

The incident led to one of the young boys being beaten. He was brought to a nearby hospital. The next day, angry community members set up a roadblock and when military personnel arrived in the same vehicle thought to be the one used in the incident the night before, the community members wrecked the vehicle.

According to the press report, the military personnel retaliated by shooting their guns in the air and destroying parts of the crèche. In reaction to the shooting, a crowd began to gather in a field nearby. They began to perform a traditional dance that signified a demand for accountability from the military and police.

The incident occurred less than 100 days since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s inauguration. During this short time span, he has already made a statement to establish a new military command for Papua, as if adding more soldiers were a solution to the ongoing lack of trust and disappointment felt by many indigenous Papuans.

Under the 2001 Special Autonomy Law for Papua, the central government acknowledged that it had “yet to fulfill the feeling of justice […] and yet to respect human rights” in Papua. Article 46 of the law, titled “human rights,” states that human rights can be achieved through three mechanisms: a human rights court with jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and genocide, a truth and reconciliation commission to clarify and establish the history of Papua and formulate and determine reconciliation measures, and third, a Papua branch of a national human rights commission.

However, 13 years since special autonomy was granted, only the branch office has been established. Jakarta has steadily reneged on its promises to reconcile a bloody history in Papua and commitment to justice and reconciliation.

Sadly, since special autonomy was put in place, more outbreaks of killings and other violence have been rampant in Papua. The only case brought to the human rights court in Makassar was the Abepura case of 2000, but this resulted in the acquittal of the two police officers indicted.

As the news about the killings in Enoratali hit the media, with pictures of the bodies of the high school students quickly going viral on social media, I found it difficult to breathe.

My father, Soedjatmoko, was a diplomat who argued for international recognition of Papua’s integration into Indonesia in 1969. Were he still alive, I believe he would be distressed to hear about the continuing bloodshed.

Papua is again in a chokehold of violence, and the rest of the country seems uninterested. We turn a blind eye to our own racial profiling and inability to deliver justice that continues to perpetuate a cycle of hatred and violence in Papua.

In October this year, the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK), a national coalition of human rights organizations, launched a report based on a year-long civil society inquiry into Indonesia’s violent past.

During a public hearing held as part of the report’s launch in Jakarta, two victims from Papua also testified. One man was a torture survivor who was detained with about 900 others in 1967. He was electrocuted and made to do forced labor gathering stones and building a government radio station.

He witnessed some 100 detainees being sent to Java, where they were detained together with political prisoners from 1965 for a couple of years. He was freed in 1969, but detained again in the 1980s.

He also spoke about how people from Jakarta lacked an understanding of the Papuans. Closing his testimony, he said: “I do not feel I need to exact revenge from those who tortured me […] instead, we must build on the language of love because it can be heard by those who are deaf and seen by those who are blind.”

Jokowi’s administration must respond to the Enarotali killings with an independent investigation and push for an overhaul of Jakarta’s approach to dealing with the conflict in Papua.

It must be able to provide a listening ear and open a dialogue based on love and hope for peace, not bloodshed. Indonesian social media campaigners should adopt the “I can’t breathe” campaign to highlight the racism against Papuans, which is so prominent in our daily interactions with our Melanesian brothers and sisters. – Jakarta Post, December 13, 2014.

* Galuh Wandita is a member of the Coalition for Justice and Truth (KKPK) and director of Asia Justice and Rights.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.