The Jakarta Post: Stop fighting fire with fire in Papua – it only leads to a bigger fire

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Indonesian soldiers board a transport ship for Papua
Indonesian soldiers board a transport ship for Papua as part of a routine redeployment of 450 troops, at the port in Krueng Geukueh, Aceh, in 2021. Image: Editorial screenshot APR

EDITORIAL: The Jakarta Post

It happens again and again; indigenous Papuans fall victim to Indonesian soldiers.

This time, we have photographic evidence for the brutality, with videos on social media showing a Papuan man being tortured by a group of plainclothes men alleged to be the Indonesian Military (TNI) members. One clip shows the man’s head being beaten with a rod, while another has his back slashed by a blade that looks like a combat knife.

After initially denying the assailants in the footage were military personnel, the TNI issued on Monday a rare apology and said that 13 soldiers had been arrested following the viral video.

THE JAKARTA POST

“I apologise to all Papuans, and we will work to ensure this is never repeated,” said Cenderawasih Military Commander in Papua Major General Izak Pangemanan.

That rare apology is a positive sign, but it is not enough. We have had enough pledges from the military about not inflicting more violence on Papuans, but time and again blood is spilled in the name of the military and police campaign against armed separatist [pro-independence] groups.

The resource-rich Papua region has seen escalating violence since 2018, when the military increased its presence there in response to deadlier and more frequent attacks, allegedly committed by armed rebels.

Throughout 2023 alone, there were 49 acts of violence by security forces against civilians recorded by the rights group Commission for Missing Person and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in the form of, among others, forceful arrest, torture and shooting. At least 67 people were injured and 41 others lost their lives in the violence.

Also according to Kontras, some of the arrested civilians could not be proven to have ties to the armed rebel groups, particularly the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB).

In regard to this week’s viral videos, the TNI claimed that the man beaten in the video was identified as Defianus Kogoya, a separatist [pro-independence activist] who planned to burn down a health center in Central Papua.

Whether Defianus was a rebel or civilian, what the soldiers did to him is unjustified, because no national or international law allows the torture of members of hostile forces.

The Geneva Conventions and its additional protocols have at least seven articles banning torture. There are also other sets of regulations banning cruel or inhuman treatment of captured enemies.

National regulations also prohibit security forces personnel from committing unnecessary violent acts. Article 351 of the Criminal Code mandates two years and eight months’ imprisonment for any individuals committing torture, a provision that also applies to military personnel.

For soldiers, the punishment can be heavier as they face the possibility of getting an additional one third of the punishment if they are found guilty of torture by a military court.

The TNI also announced on Monday that it had arrested 13 soldiers allegedly involved in the incidents in the video. The investigations are still ongoing, but the military promised to name them as suspects soon.

These might be good first steps, but they may mean nothing if their superiors are not prosecuted alongside the foot soldiers. At the very least, the TNI must ensure that the 13 suspects are prosecuted thoroughly in a military court of justice.

The TNI should also work harder to prevent systemic issues that allow such violence to occur. A TNI spokesperson acknowledged on Monday that the military was far from perfect. That is good, but it would be better if the TNI actually worked in a transparent manner on how it addresses that imperfection.

Overall, the government and especially the incoming administration of President-elect Prabowo Subianto must make more serious efforts at achieving a long-lasting peace in Papua.

Sending more troops has proven to merely lead to escalation. The incoming government should consider the possibility that fighting fire with fire, only leads to a bigger fire.

This editorial in The Jakarta Post was published yesterday, 27 March 2024, under the title “Stop fighting fire with fire”.

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