Jokowi and West Papua: progress on the human rights front?



Indonesian human rights activists had high hopes for Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and his administration when they formed government in 2014 about the prospect of improvements on the human rights front in Indonesia. These hopes were motivated by pledges from Jokowi himself to champion human rights during his tenure. Almost two years into his presidency, now is an apt time to assess the extent to which human rights activists’ hopes have been realised in relation to the human rights of West Papuans and in West Papua, the territory Indonesia annexed in 1963.

In 2015 Jokowi released six Papuan political prisoners from Papuan prisons. Among these included arguably the most famous Papuan political prisoner and the father of the Papuan independence movement, Filep Karma, who had been imprisoned since 2004 for raising the Morning Star flag—the flag of the Papuan independence movement.

Through his initiative Jokowi has released a greater number of Papuan political prisoners than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who released just two during his decade as president. In May 2015 Jokowi also announced the lifting of decades-long restrictions on foreign media access to West Papua.

Despite these positive developments, over 30 Papuan political prisoners remain imprisoned in Indonesia. Human rights monitors and foreign media still face barriers to access in West Papua, while local journalists continue to be monitored. Moreover, under the Jokowi administration, Papuan civilians have been tortured and killed by the Indonesian military. The fact that these human rights violations have been perpetrated by the military during Jokowi’s tenure is unsurprising given Indonesia’s current Minister for Defence, Ryamizard Ryacudu, is linked to allegations of human rights abuses in West Papua.

Therefore, one can assess that improvements in Papuans’ human rights and rights of foreign media in West Papua during Jokowi’s tenure have only been minor, and the perpetration of gross human rights violations against Papuans continues. As such, human rights activists’ hopes for improvements in Papuans’ rights have largely not been realised thus far. Moreover, Jokowi’s pledges to champion human rights and end human rights abuses in West Papua appear to be little more than rhetoric.

The prospect of progress on the human rights front in West Papua is likely to be reduced by Jokowi’s recent appointment of Wiranto as Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security. Wiranto’s appointment is controversial because he led the Indonesian military in 1998, and supported the Indonesian army killing and raping Papuan civilians who raised and guarded the Morning Star flag in West Papua in 1998. Jokowi’s appointment of the hardline Wiranto to the third most powerful position in the Indonesian government thus further undermines his pledge to champion human rights.

Although Jokowi has three years remaining in office, given his record thus far and the composition of his current cabinet, it appears unlikely that he will fulfil the aspirations of Indonesian and international human rights activists in relation to West Papua. It is likely that Papuans’ human rights will remain stagnant or at best improve marginally over the next three years.

Olivia Tasevski holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, where she currently tutors Politics.

Image credit: Kreshna Aditya 2012 (Flickr: Creative Commons)

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