Sunday, 24 June 2012

Criticism over Death of West Papua Independence Leader


Last year Mako Tabuni was urging the international community to recognize West Papua’s struggle for independence through peaceful means.

Last week, he was shot dead by police.

News of his death saw people take to the streets in the provincial capital Jayapura – some of them torching shops and vehicles. 

But with varying accounts from police and witnesses, the exact details of his death are unclear. 

Human rights groups say the government must allow independent investigators into the restricted province.

Kate Lamb has the story. 

Depending on who you talk to, the details of Mako Tabuni’s death vary significantly.

The police say the young and popular independence leader resisted arrest and grabbed a gun from a police officer – prompting other officers to shoot him four times.

But witnesses say that Tabuni was killed in a drive-by shooting, others that he was shot dead by plainclothes police. 

Whichever account you believe, the government has been quick to defend allegations the police may have over-reacted. 

Traveling to West Papua this week, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minster for Justice and Human Rights Djoko Suyanto, denied such claims from Indonesian human rights group Kontras.

“What if it was unintentional? Kontras was not in the field, the officers were in the field. I trust what they do. The president says the officers cannot go overboard. They did not. In fact, three of his friends that were arrested, they did not have anything done to them. As long as they are cooperative if they fight back, if they also take weapons with them, there are procedural steps where police can act like that.” 

Papua Police later said that a police-issued ‘Taurus’ pistol and ammunition were also found in Tabuni’s possession. 

But West Papuan priest, Socratez Yoman has a different story.

His nephew was with Tabuni when the police showed up.

“They’re eating together and they laugh, they enjoy it and suddenly the police coming. After they arrest him, Mako Tabuni tried to escape, the police shot four him times and he died suddenly. Police, police make lies, big, big lies. That Mako Tabuni brings revolver or gun. My nephew says no, Mako Tabuni is coming without gun.”

There has been a string of shootings in Papua over recent weeks. 

This month alone, at least 10 people have died in isolated attacks and tribal clashes.   

Police say they suspect Tabuni, the deputy chairman of the West Papua National Committee, was behind some of the attacks. 

But Reverend Socratez says that killing Tabuni, rather than proving his involvement, is the easy way out.

The questionable actions of security forces has led many Papuans to lose trust and accuse the police and military of corruption, says Socratez. 

“Who makes conflict in West Papua? I think, I think it is military itself, police itself. They are part of the conflict, part of the destabilized situation in West Papua because they want to get more money.”

The law has come down especially hard on political separatists.

Raising the Morning Star Flag, a symbol of West Papuan independence landed one political leader, Filep Karma, in jail for 15 years.    

In the case of Mako Tabuni, doubts over the police response are warranted, says Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch. 

“I think there are legitimate questions about what the police said. It is not only me, us saying that, but even the Indonesian parliament that doubt it and even the police in Papua they admit it, there is quote, social distrust unquote toward the police in Papua. Even the police admit it that they cannot find the perpetrators themselves and the police have a hard time to arrest, investigate police officers involved or intelligence or soldiers involved in many other killings in Papua.”

At a United Nation’s meeting in Geneva last month, 22 countries questioned rampant human rights abuses in the province. 

And while access to West Papua is restricted – particularly for foreign journalists – allegations of extrajudicial killings and impunity among security forces is nothing new.

Andreas Harsono again.

“Over and over again over the last 50 years, Indonesian police have basically failed to provide security, find perpetrators and over and over again Papuan leaders, activists are being killed, from Arnold Ap in 1984, Theys Eluay and now Mako Tabuni and many and we still don’t know what happened to them and who killed them. So my point is that Indonesia needs to lift its restriction for independent investigators to go to Papua.”

West Papua, home to one of the world’s largest goldmines, is extremely rich in natural resources. But levels of income, health and education are among the lowest in Indonesia.

The poor speed of development, curbs on freedom of expression, and distrust in security forces has led to resentment among native Papuans. 

The political and economic complexities mean that solving problems in West Papua is far from straightforward.

Still, Socratez Yoman says it’s time for a new approach – so incidents like the death of Mako Tabuni don’t happen again.

“The Indonesian government totally failed to develop Papua. West Papua cases are serious problems yet, not solved by the gun, not solved by the military, or military approach. Now we are looking, seeking another way. Dialogue is the way. The West Papuans representative and the Indonesian government come together around the table for genuine and peaceful dialogue without pre-condition.”

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