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Papuan justice denied

Indonesian human rights campaigner Peneas Lokbere talks to Kirk Ward about transmigration policy, Papuan rights and Indonesian state torture

November 1, 2007
3 min read

Asleep in his school dormitory at 2am on the morning of 7 December 2000, Peneas Lokbere would soon be embroiled in one of the Indonesian state’s most infamous and flagrant breaches of human rights. The Abepura case is the only trial ever to make it before the Indonesian permanent court of human rights and it was a whitewash.

Speaking through his interpreter, Lokbere reiterates the problems created by the Indonesian state’s relocation of people from Java into West Papua. ‘It is a question of political space. We Papuans have no space to express our aspirations or culture,’ he says.

During the 1990s, the Indonesian Department of Manpower and Transmigration relocated 1.2 million Javanese into Papua. As a geopolitical cornerstone of the long-ruling President Suharto’s militarist regime, the programme survived mounting domestic and international criticism until the end of Suharto’s reign in 1998. ‘The ability for us to talk and speak out is limited by the military and police (Brimob). People are too scared of the consequences,’ says Lokbere.

He recalls what happened to him as part of the repression of indigenous Papuans. ‘Troops surrounded student dormitories, smashing their way in, rounding up over 100 of us. We were forced into trucks amid confusion and violence and held for two days and one night before being released without charge. The orders came from senior officials within the Abepura Police and Brimob.

‘I was in bed when we heard soldiers coming. They dragged us violently into trucks. At the jail things worsened. We were beaten and burned with cigarettes, the women were forced to stand in stress positions for hours. Some people had their heads shaven at gun point and forced to eat hair drenched in blood from their wounds.’ The result was that two died in the cells and one student was shot dead in the raids of 7 December.

‘We are still victims of the torture, but also of the judge who dismissed our case,’ he continues. ‘The public prosecutor did not include treatment or compensation for survivors in his indictment, so the judge did not have to think of us at all. No effort has been made to bring the criminals to justice. Twenty-five police were arrested but only two stood trial; both were aquitted. The public prosecutor has failed to protect the rights of survivors, which leads us to think that the only people targetted here are the innocent. Of over 100 victims only 17 figured in the trials.’

Lokbere believes that only ‘full implementation of the special autonomy provisions [will] improve the Indonesian human rights record. Justice has been denied by the state but now I campaign as head of a committee of Abepura survivors, finally speaking out in our battle and bringing help to other survivors ignored by the state.’

Many survivors rely on Lokbere’s organisation for support. The PBHI (Perhimpunan Bantuan Hukum dan Hak Asasi Manusia Indonesia – the Indonesian Legal and Human Rights Association) helps to run an office for the distribution of medicine and treatment. studies,’ he says.

Recently (on 23 March) Indonesia’s supreme court has rejected our case again, but we want to fight for others, like the survivors of Wasior in 2001 and Wamena in 2002 who need international support. Justice delayed is justice denied.’

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