Indonesian military special force march during a security parade in preparation for the upcoming International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Indonesia will host IMF-World Bank meeting next week. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

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Indonesian military accused of killing minors in West Papua

Three high school students on their way home to celebrate Christmas and to see their families were found shot dead in the West Papuan central highlands. Domestic human rights activists lay blame for the atrocities on Indonesian military. The killings occur in a politically sensitive moment—and send a haunting echo from a massacre of minors, in 2004.

By Klas Lundström


WEST PAPUA
Indonesia has stepped up its military presence in West Papua, including the Puncak Jaya Regency in western New Guinea’s highlands. Of late, these highlands have become a precarious region in the wake of a series of murders of religious leaders and civilians without any adequate investigations, according to human rights activists who have reached out to Global Magazine in recent days.

On November 19, four civilians were shot dead, including three high school students—age 12, 17 and 18—as well as a civil servant of the Regional Government of Puncak Regency, during a hike between Agandugume District and North Gome District. The three minors were on their way back home to enjoy their annual Christmas holiday with their families, but never made it all the way.

Instead, they were shot dead by armed people clad in black.

The motive behind the murders may have been that the four hikers became aware of a secret militia in the North Gome district, whose presence thus risked being revealed to the public.

“Unarmed School Children”

The Jakarta Post reports that the four hikers were killed by “an unidentified group,” while several domestic and independent human rights activists lay blame on the Indonesian military.

“They were unarmed school children and not members of any armed guerilla group,” Theo Hesegem, human rights advocate and investigator, tells Global Magazine. “But the Indonesian military fired blindly, and their identities were not asked.”

He has been in touch with the relatives to one of the killed minors, who find neither support nor sympathy from Indonesian authorities.

“According to the family the actions in question were truly disappointing and very sad about the actions taken arbitrarily to eliminate their family,” says Theo Hesegem.

The Echo From Another Massacre

The November 2020 incident in Puncak Jaya Regency evokes great discomfort among many West Papuans. The killed minors echo a tragedy that took place here in December 2014, now known as the “Paniai Massacre.”

Then, Indonesian military opened fire during a peaceful demonstration with some 800 participants. Four protesters aged 17 to 18 died as a result of gunshot wounds. In all, six protesters died and 17 people—including five primary school students—were forced to seek hospital care for their injuries.

The November killings of minors in the highlands occurred at a time when the outside world remains busy tackling a global pandemic—all while West Papua remains “terra incognita” for international human rights organizations, independent reporters, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Twice-Rejected “Special Autonomy”

The killings also take place while the Indonesian government, led by President Joko Widodo, finds itself in the middle of trying to broker an extension of the two West Papuan provinces’ “Special Autonomy” status, which has been in place since 2002 and expires at the turn of the year.

Several West Papuan movements and organizations reject the idea of ​​an extension, instead demanding a U.N.-monitored referendum on the future of western New Guinea; one similar to the 1999 referendum in East Timor.

Guerrilla groups have also promised a “continued and intensified opposition to the Indonesian presence” if “Special Autonomy” once again is being imposed on West Papua’s socio-economically and ecologically vulnerable population without credible approval.

“They Kill Our Future”

An armed conflict has been the harsh reality in the central highlands since December 2018; resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths due to Indonesian military operations—with suspected usage of chemical weapons—and some 45,000 internally displaced persons.

Socratez Yoman, religious leader and human rights activist, perceives the Indonesian military’s systematic crackdown on civilians—and presumably minors in Puncak Jaya Regency on November 19—as “an attack on West Papua’s next generation.”

“The killing of Papuan children is a strong indication that the Indonesian military is killing the future of West Papua,” he tells Global Magazine. “These are barbaric and criminal acts, and serious human rights violations.

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