On December 18th, the families of Papuan victims acclaimed their rejection of the investigation team formed by Indonesia’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which is tasked with re-investigating the Bloody Paniai Case. Formed on December 3rd the team will re-investigate the gross human rights violations that took place in Papua’s Paniai regency on the 8th– one of Indonesia’s many gruesome killings that remain unresolved. This investigation team was formed in response to the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM)’s letter to the Attorney General, urging a re-investigation due to the case failing to compile sufficient evidence. According to Human Rights and Peace for Papua, this re-investigation means that the 2014 Paniai case could be settled at a human rights court through the national human rights mechanism, should the investigation team compile adequate evidence for a prosecution.
On December 8th, Indonesian police and military personnel opened fire on a crowd of peaceful protesters at the Karel Gobai field in Papua province. Four young students died and many others were injured – evidence of gross human rights violations were found, yet official reports were not made public and no criminal investigations were conducted. This incident came to be known as the “Bloody Paniai Case.” As Amnesty International noted back in their 2015 letter regarding the shootings, the case “is not an isolated incident but speaks to a culture of impunity that continues to exist in the Papua region.” In similar appeals that have been taken forward, “members of the security forces in Papua do not face prosecution or are just given disciplinary sanctions when found to have committed human rights violations.
With Indonesia’s record of slamming human rights allegations, this news comes as a surprise. According to lead Deputy Attorney General for Special Crimes, Ali Mukartono, the team has also been instructed to follow-up on the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66, the Petrus killing, the 1989 Talangsan Case in Lampung, 1997-8 activist kidnappings – among other numerous cases that stagnated due to “incomplete processing” for years. With regard to Indonesia’s previous attempts (or lackthereof) to settle the Paniai case, Papuan activist Andi Yeimo remarked: “We already know that the government talks nonsense. Indonesia once offered 4 billion [rupiah] in money as compensation. But we, the families of the victims, rejected this evil attempt outright.”
Furthermore, Yeimo asserted, “To this day, Indonesia has never solved any cases of human rights violations in the land of Papua. So we, the people of Paniai and the families of the victims are [instead] hoping for a visit by the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights to see for themselves the evidence and facts on the ground in Karel Gobai, the location of the shootings.’ In addition, he urged for ‘all students, youth, religious figures, state civil servants, and all of OAP (indigenous Papuans) unite now, take part in rejecting the [investigation] team formed by the state. We Papuans know that Indonesia has never taken responsibility for its actions.’
Since 1963, Papua continues to suffer in Indonesia’s colonial genocide project. Indonesia has made it clear that their project intends to erase the Papuan identity under with ‘anti-subversion’ measures under the ‘Indonesianization’ process. Despite the recently-escalating situation – Indonesia deploying the 315/Garuda Battalion in West Papua in May, and West Papuans fleeing to Papua New Guinea following violence in Kiriwok in October– this conflict has received little, if any, media coverage. Neighboring Pacific countries have been silenced or ineffectual. Papuan customary representatives, civil societies, and the pro-independence movement for many years, have called for facilitated dialogue with Indonesia. Countries with diplomatic relationships with Indonesia, such as Australia, continue to ensure that any discussion on this genocide is silenced.
In November 2016, Indonesia’s Defense Minister asked Australia to pressure Pacific Nations against supporting West Papuan independence. In September 2021, an unredacted report revealed than an Australian intelligence officer provided compelling evidence to the Australian government of Indonesia being responsible for the 1998 Biak Massacre. However, this was destroyed despite calls for a proper investigation. 32 years on, not a single person has been brought to justice for Indonesia’s human rights abuses against the peaceful demonstrators – and this massacre isn’t even recognized officially, and no government or international inquiry has reported on it.
While we may not know Indonesia’s true intentions for this newly-formed investigation team, the fact remains that Indonesia still gets to dictate how history is written – what gets to be investigated and what stays under wraps. While Yeimo expresses Papuans’ wish for the UNCHR to manage this instead, it was the UN’s complicity with the 1962 New York Agreement (NYA) that interfered with West Papua’s supposed decolonization, and brought them into Indonesia’s hands in the first place. The UN has facilitated the dehumanization of West Papuans – incapable of deciding their political future, their connection with the outside world smothered by Indonesia, and oppressed in every degree possible – the definition of what Spivak called the “subaltern.”
Even if Papua or Interim President Benny Wenda continue to ask for humanitarian intervention, Papua still has a disenfranchised subaltern status – and this is why we are yet to see any unification effort against this genocide. Epistemic injustice from this colonial power imbalance prevails, as Papua holds no voice or power against Indonesia. The silence on West Papua clearly indicates how media coverage on specific crises and conflicts over others are not incidental – they are chosen by politicians to advance certain geopolitical objectives. We see the nonexistence of West Papua’s ‘legitimacy’ – how their genocide means nothing to these countries compared to their relationship with Indonesia and their status of colonial privilege in the international system. There is a pattern of epistemic injustice that has been repeating since before 1969 – and looking at this genocide from such a lens may give us insight as to why international community just seems to be watching when a genocide continues to unfold before them – and what we can do as part of the general public.
Spivak’s work on epistemic injustice provides valuable insight as to how difficult it is to address this violence – a type of violence that seeks to eradicate knowledge possessed by marginalized groups. As West Papuan resistance leader Tom Beanal said on 4 February 2005 when he was interviewed, “If people kill with guns, and others kill with injections [with HIV], and in the highlands there are no teachers, no hospitals, no clinics…children have no skills, no knowledge, that’s Genocide!” Indonesia’s neo-colonial project goes beyond genocide and overt forms of violence – the epistemic aspect of this conflict is critical. Papuans are devastated by Indonesia not only erasing their voice (media blackouts, restricting UN and humanitarian access to Papua, human rights defenders being targeted), but also discrediting these ‘local’ and ‘provincial’ institutions and actors linguistically (branding the Papuan separatists as “terrorists” under the law, labelling them as “monkeys”).
The Indonesian government and security apparatus continue to stigmatize Papuans as “primitive people” – even animals – that need to be civilized. In terms of identity, declaring expressions of cultural identity are punishable by torture and death – the Indonesian government banned singing the Papuan national anthem, wearing traditional Papuan apparel, raising the Morning Star flag, and all political assembly. Opponents of Indonesian rule and the colonial project have been either eliminated and silenced through countless means, including: restriction of freedom of movement and political organization, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest, torture, domestic spying, insufficient food supply, burning of livestock, houses and churches. Papuan communities have been forced to live through this systemic structural violence. Their strife is necessary to Indonesia for the goal of unification, and Indonesia has glorified this discourse through their colonial project.
Given the numerous ways in which Indonesia has damaged Papuans’ ability to speak and to be heard, epistemic injustice underpins this conflict. Papuan people cannot communicate with the rest of the world unless their audience is not only capable, but also willing to listen to them. Papuans have been, for decades, denied this reciprocity not only by Indonesia, but also by the international community that have been complicit – and thus, this epistemic injustice persists to an institutional and systemic level.
How do we undo this silencing? Perhaps we can turn to social media to show the general public how severe this conflict is. For example, in 2021 young Palestinians used social media to raise awareness of human rights violations that the Israelis subjected them to in Sheikh Jarrah (and occupied Palestine). While censorship of pro-Palestinian content showed how platforms could still be manipulated as instruments of state propaganda, the fact remains that the Israeli government saw this as such a threat that they met with senior TikTok and Facebook executives and urged them to remove the content. Despite other issues this brought up, this helped the international community see, in graphic detail, the severity of the situation in Palestine – and to wake up to the horrors of Israeli occupation. As Human Rights lawyer Veronica Koman said similarly, it was witnessing the grievances of Papuans that led Indonesians to gain a better understanding of the situation – “this is enough,” Koman said of their reaction, “they are not being treated as humans.”
For silencing and media blackouts to work, resistance and defiance must be absent – showing that there are people outside of Papua aware of the situation will at least make Indonesia aware that the world is watching. While institutional and systemic overhaul may be needed, widespread awareness may be the first of many steps that need to happen. If the international community can show that they are watching, we are at the very least tackling the epistemic intimidation and smothering aspect of the Indonesian colonial project.
- Students In Yahukimo Protest Against Indonesian Forces In Schools - January 28, 2022
- West Papua Interim President Benny Wenda: ‘Indonesia Must End This’ - January 28, 2022
- Yeimo: “Indonesia Has Never Solved Any Cases Of Human Rights Violations In Papua” Why Does The World Remain Silent? - January 23, 2022