The father of a high school student who was one of four protesters killed by soldiers in Indonesia’s troubled Papua province in 2014 demanded justice for his son, a day after the National Commission on Human Rights ruled the shooting “a gross violation.”
Alpius Gobai, Yulian Yeimo, and Alpius Youw – all 17 – and fellow student Simon Degei, 18 were shot and killed during anti-Jakarta protests in Paniai regency on Dec. 8, 2014. Violence erupted in Enarotali, the regency’s capital, after two soldiers who had been challenged by local teenagers the previous day for reckless driving allegedly attacked the youths, seriously injuring one of them.
“We want the perpetrators to be tried and punished according to the law. My child is dead and he won’t come back, but the culprits must be tried,” Obet Gobai, the father of Alpius, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
He was speaking from Paniai, through a relative who interpreted for him. Obet does not speak Indonesian but said the shootings occurred in broad daylight and were witnessed by many people.
On Monday, more than five years after the killings, a team set up by the national commission known as Komnas HAM – an independent body – concluded that soldiers were responsible for the incident.
“By acclamation, we decided that it was a gross violation of human rights,” Komnas HAM Chairman Ahmad Taufan Damanik said in the statement.
Team leader M. Choirul Anam said the Paniai incident met criteria necessary for a gross human rights violation, saying it was part of a pattern of “widespread or systematic crimes directed against a civilian population.”
The team questioned 26 witnesses, inspected the scene of the shootings in Enarotali, examined documents and consulted experts during its investigation, the commission said.
The team also found indications of “obstruction of justice” in the aftermath of the shootings, Choirul said.
It submitted a report on the investigation to the Attorney General’s Office on Feb. 11.
Meanwhile, human rights activists called on Indonesian leader Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to act on the report.
“We urge the president to take concrete steps following Komnas HAM’s investigation into the Paniai incident and to order the attorney general to immediately conduct an investigation,” Yati Andriani, coordinator for the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS), told BenarNews.
Yati said the report could be the first step in efforts to heal the wounds of the Papuan people. She also called on Jokowi to start a dialogue with Papuans and end what she called “the militaristic approach.”
John Gobay, secretary of the Papuan Customary Council, urged the government to establish a human rights court in Papua where the Paniai case could be tried.
“The Papuan public must be able to see the judicial process with their own eyes. If a human rights court is established in Papua, it will be easier for witnesses to testify,” Gobay said.
Chief of staff: ‘No structural of systematic attacks’
In Jakarta, presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko challenged the Komnas report. The Paniai incident was not a gross human rights violation, he insisted, adding there were no orders for soldiers to shoot.
“Paniai was a sudden event. It must be seen in that context because there were no structural or systematic attacks,” Moeldoko said on Monday.
Moeldoko, who commanded the Indonesian military at the time of the shooting, said soldiers were responding to an attack by the crowd.
“Don’t make an inaccurate conclusion,” Moeldoko said.
AI speaks out on Papua
On Tuesday, the director of the Indonesian chapter of Amnesty International said the Paniai case was one of many attacks allegedly conducted by the military in Papua.
“According to a 2018 Amnesty report, the Paniai case was only one of a total of 69 extra-judicial killings that occurred from 2008 to early 2018,” Usman Hamid said.
Meanwhile, Mahfud MD, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said he had not seen the report.
“I have not received the letter. I just read about it in the news. Why should I make statements to the media?” Mahfud told reporters at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Tuesday.
In a report released a year after the shootings, Amnesty and KontraS said the Paniai case was “not an isolated incident but speaks to a culture of impunity that continues to exist in the Papua region.”
“Previous administrations have also turned a blind eye to human rights violations carried out by security forces, including unlawful killings, excessive use of force, and torture and other ill-treatment, which is evident from investigations that have been delayed, dropped, or their findings buried, leaving victims and their families without access to truth, justice and reparations,” the groups said.
The Papua region, which makes up the Indonesian half of New Guinea island, is home to a separatist insurgency that has simmered for decades. The region was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969, after a U.N.-administered ballot known as the Act of Free Choice. Many Papuans and rights groups said the vote was a sham because it involved only 1,000 people.
Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta contributed to this report.