A UN panel of experts is demanding an inquiry into allegations of police violence, unlawful arrests and torture in Indonesia after a video was released showing police interrogating a young West Papua boy with a snake.
The officers were laughing as they wrapped a large snake around him whilst he remained handcuffed and screamed in fear, becoming increasingly distressed. The boy was arrested for stealing a mobile phone in the Jayawijaya district, during a police crackdown on petty crime. The UN views this case as part of “a widespread pattern of violence” by the police against the West Papua community.
In their initial statement, the UN panel said, “this latest incident is symptomatic of the deeply entrenched discrimination and racism that indigenous Papuans face, including by Indonesian military and police.” The panel urged the government to act so as to prevent “excessive use of force by police and military officials involved in law enforcement in Papua”.
In their statement, they also raise concerns over the “culture of impunity and general lack of investigations into allegations of human rights violations in Papua.”
The UN’s assessment follows increasing tension between West Papua separatists, who allege a history of racism and abuse from the Indonesian government. The exiled West Papuan leader, Benny Wenda, has welcomed the UN’s response stating it was a vindication of their claims.
“The West Papuan people are crying out for their freedom and self-determination […] Finally, the Indonesian state’s brutal repression and genocidal killing is being recognised by the United Nations," Wenda said.
Tensions between the government and the Papuan minority were inflamed after an attack on a military post in the Nduga province in December. Seventeen people were killed. The separatists claimed those killed were Indonesian military personnel whilst the government claimed they were civilians. This attack followed the police’s arrest of over 500 people, including those who attended West Papua independence protests across the land.
The police responded to the Nduga incident with a brutal crackdown in which they were alleged to have used white phosphorous on civilians. The government has rejected this claim stating it is “totally baseless, non-factual and gravely misleading”. An estimated 500,000 people have been killed during this conflict, reports the Guardian.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, met with Wenda earlier this month where he presented a petition signed by 1.8 million Papuans demanding a UN investigation into human rights abuses and an internationally supervised vote on independence. The Guardian reports that Indonesia has condemned the Vanuatu delegation for allowing Wenda to “infiltrate” the meeting.