Urgent appeal filed with UN Special Rapporteurs by Victor Yeimo and West Papua National Committee over crackdown on protests by Indonesia

Widespread and unprecedented protests have taken place across Indonesia and in West Papua over the past fortnight, with tens of thousands of West Papuans protesting against Indonesian occupation and calling for a UN referendum on independence. The situation on the ground in West Papua is fraught, with the Indonesian Government implementing an extreme crack-down. Indonesia has deployed more than 6,000 troops to West Papua, activating thousands of civilian nationalist militia (renowned for involvement in crimes against humanity in East Timor) and police and military violence (gunfire, tear gas, rubber bullets and other force). Residents, demonstrators and police have been killed. Several others, including children, have been injured. Human rights violations are ongoing and there is an imminent risk of further violence and escalation. In a move reminiscent of actions taken by Egypt during the Arab Spring and current restrictions in Kashmir, the Indonesian government blocked the internet in West Papua, effective Wednesday 21 August 2019.

Victor Yeimo is the International Spokesperson for the National Committee for West Papua (Komite Nasional Papua Barat or KNPB). KNPB is part of the independence movement and one of the key organisations on the ground in the struggle for self-determination, organising at the grassroots level. The KNPB has been leading the organisation of the protests in recent weeks to make the 50 year anniversary since the sham vote in 1969 and the racist attacks on West Papuans, as well as in response to arbitrary detention, police and military violence and extrajudicial killings, and the internet blackout. The KNPB’s broader campaign is for a referendum on self-determination, which was denied in 1969.

Mr Yeimo instructed Jennifer Robinson and Indonesian human rights lawyer, Veronica Koman, to make a joint urgent appeal to a group of relevant UN Special Rapporteurs. The complaint sets out how the Indonesian government response – including the internet blocking and excessive use of force to prevent demonstrations – fundamentally violates his rights, the rights of KNPB members, the rights of West Papuan protestors and the rights of all West Papuans to freedom of expression and assembly. 

The complaint requests the UN Special Rapporteurs to make a public statement of concern; engage with the Indonesian Government in relation to this case, including by way of a country visit to West Papua; make recommendations to the Indonesian authorities; and issue an opinion finding that Indonesia has violated international law.

Protests started two weeks ago to mark the 50 year anniversary since Indonesia held the ‘Act of Free Choice’ in 1969, when a hand-picked group of 1,022 West Papuans were forced to vote under threat of violence in support of integration with Indonesia, in violation of international law and their right to self-determination. West Papuans have long resisted Indonesian occupation, calling for there to be a proper UN supervised referendum on self-determination. Hundreds of thousands protested across Indonesia this week, shouting ‘Papua Merdeka’ (Free West Papua) and ‘Referendum! Yes!’.

In response, violent police and civilian militia actions have taken place against West Papuans in different parts of Indonesia, including mobs threatening indigenous Papuans, using racial slurs such as calling them monkeys. This has led to even larger protests around the country against racism, fuelling further protests about self-determination and Papuans carrying signs saying “I’m not a monkey”. Mr Yeimo was central in turning the racist slurs into a symbol of resistance.

The current, ongoing violent repression of West Papuan protesters is described by KNPB as the Indonesian security forces creating horizontal conflict to distract the international community from their legitimate claims to self-determination under international law.

Veronica Koman said: “Right-to-self-determination protests have swept West Papua. Indonesia responded with six thousand new security forces and a ban on demonstrations. Twenty years ago Indonesian troops stood by while militia rampaged against self-determination in East Timor. Alarmingly militia are once again emerging to counter legitimate protests. While the world condemns police brutality in Hong Kong,  a deadly crackdown is underway in West Papua, free from international scrutiny.”

Jennifer Robinson said: “The situation on the ground in West Papua can only be described as a human rights emergency. Mr Yeimo and others involved in the protest movement face arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings and violence for exercising their right to freedom of speech and association. West Papua requires the urgent attention of U.N. Special Mechanisms”.