Families slam Indonesia's acquittal over Papua army killings

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 10 2022 04:31 PM

Free Papua activists hold placards during a protest to mark the Free Papua Organization anniversary in Jakarta, Indonesia, 01 December 2022. Dozens of activists staged a rally demanding the government to provide freedom for the people of Papua. Adi Weda, EPA-EFE
Free Papua activists hold placards during a protest to mark the Free Papua Organization anniversary in Jakarta, Indonesia, 01 December 2022. Dozens of activists staged a rally demanding the government to provide freedom for the people of Papua. Adi Weda, EPA-EFE

The acquittal by an Indonesian human rights court of a retired army officer from charges over the killing of four Papuan teens in 2014 was a sign of impunity, a representative of the families said.

The families called for the case to be reopened after a human rights court in Makassar, in South Sulawesi province, acquitted Isak Settu on Thursday from charges of "crimes against humanity".

An earlier Indonesian human rights commission found that the military had shot the four high-school students during protests in Paniai, a central area of Papua province where a long-simmering insurgency has often flared into violence.

"We, the victims' families and witnesses, see that the country commits impunity, and protects the perpetrators of the case of gross human rights violations in Paniai," Yones Douw, who represents the victims' families, told AFP late on Friday.

Settu faced 10 years in jail over his alleged role in the incident, when Indonesian security forces opened fire on a crowd protesting against the beatings of Papuan youths by the army.

The earlier human rights commission found that rank-and-file soldiers and their superiors were to blame for the deaths of the students, aged 17 and 18, as well as wounding another 21 demonstrating Papuans.

The incident constituted "gross human rights violations", the commission, known as Komnas HAM, concluded in 2020.

Settu was the only officer brought to trial over the incident and was acquitted of all charges in Thursday's hearing, which was live-streamed.

He was a liaison officer during the incident and the court ruled he did not have effective command of the local military office when the shooting occurred.

Two of the five judges dissented from the ruling, arguing that Settu was the highest-ranking officer there at the time and thus could be held responsible for failing to control the conduct of the troops.

"This verdict is yet another slap in the face not only for victims and families of victims of the Paniai shootings, but also for victims of other gross human rights violations in Indonesia who for years have demanded justice and accountability," Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia executive director, said in a statement. 

Usman also said it was hard to believe that only one officer had been brought to trial.

The human rights trial, a special jurisdiction, was the first in Indonesia since 2004. No perpetrators were punished in the three previous human rights trials. 

The victims' families also sent a letter, seen by AFP, to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Volker Türk, asking for help in pushing the Indonesian government to reopen the case.

Indonesia's military has been accused of committing atrocities against Papuan civilians during a decades-long insurgency seeking independence for the mineral-rich province.

A former Dutch colony, Papua declared itself independent in 1961 but neighbouring Indonesia took control two years later. A subsequent vote in favour of staying part of Indonesia was widely considered a sham.