Indonesia is being criticised for refusing to allow the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to visit troubled Papua and West Papua provinces.
Zeid said he was “concerned that despite positive engagement by the authorities in many respects, the government’s invitation … to visit Papua – which was made during my visit in February – has still not been honoured.”
Jakarta’s unwillingness to allow scrutiny of Papuan human rights is well known with foreign journalists and rights monitors barred from the resource-rich but impoverished provinces. In 2015 President Joko Widodo promised foreign media access to Papua, where there is a low-level insurgency, corruption, environmental degradation, dissatisfaction with rule by ethnically distinct Indonesians and the security forces are accused of regularly killing peaceful protesters.
In March last year, the government allowed a UN health envoy to make a two-day visit to Papua.
Indonesia hit back at the UN, saying Zeid’s regional office in Bangkok should first coordinate with the government instead of demanding immediate access.
“It is deeply regrettable that the staff members of his regional office in Bangkok, instead of coordinating the planned visit with the Indonesian authorities, have unilaterally set the dates and areas to visit in Papua and West Papua, while demanding immediate access,” said Hasan Kleib, Indonesia’s representative to the UN in Geneva.
During his visit to Indonesia in February, Zeid expressed concern over the excessive use of force by the security forces, harassment and arrests in Papua. During the visit, Zeid was reportedly invited to arrange a Papuan visit.
Hasan said Indonesia was still committed to inviting Zeid to visit Papua if procedures were followed.
In a November 2017 report, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict said Papuans had suffered from torture, the excessive use of force, lack of accountability and restrictions on civil liberties.
Human Rights Watch said: “It’s clear that parts of the Indonesian government remain hostile to the idea of greater transparency in the region. Yet granting reporters and human rights monitors access to Papua is an essential element of ensuring the rights of Papuans are respected.”
Papua hosts one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines (pictured), run by US giant Freeport-McMoRan and BP has a large natural gas plant in West Papua.
Most Papuans are rural, with poverty rates that are the highest in Indonesia, at around 41 per cent, compared with only 5 per cent in urban areas. Papuans have the highest rates of illiteracy in Indonesia, with around 25 per cent of children not in school, and the two provinces have the highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates in the archipelago while having the lowest basic child vaccination rates.
The Grasberg copper mine generates little wealth for Papuans. Picture credit: YouTube