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Peaceful protests against Indonesia’s plan to divide West Papua provinces violently cracked down



Starting on the 11th of March 2022, thousands took to the streets in various regions around West Papua to protest against Jakarta’s proposal to divide the Papua and West Papua provinces into several smaller administrative areas. This proposal is seen as undermining West Papua’s struggle for self-determination.

Violent crackdowns by Indonesian security forces occurred as a response to the peaceful protests. These culminated on March 15, when Indonesian police fired at a crowd of peaceful protestors in Yahukimo Regency. The incident left two dead: 22-year-old Erson Weipa and 30-year-old Yakob Meklok. Three other protestors were severely wounded and are in critical condition after being shot by the Indonesian police. Indonesian news sources also report the injury of one policeman.

Tito Karnavian, the Indonesian Home Affairs Minister, has proposed to divide the provinces of Papua and West Papua into six smaller administrative regions: Southwest Papua, West Papua, Central Papua, the Central Highlands, South Papua and Papua Tabi Saireri. This proposal comes as part of the renewal of the ‘Special Autonomy Law’ of 2001.

The government has justified the division by saying it will accelerate development, increase accessibility to public services and improve public welfare for the Papuan population. However, critics, including interim president Benny Wenda of the United Liberation Movement of West Papua (ULMWP) argue that this proposal is simply part of Jakarta’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy. It serves to maintain the status quo of Indonesian control over the resource-rich area by sowing divisions between the Papuans demanding independence. It also strategically serves Jakarta’s long held opposition to West Papua’s right to independence. If more autonomy were to be conceded to one smaller province, but not the rest, it could quell and disperse further efforts for complete independence of the full territory.

Protests against the Special Autonomy Law in West Papua are not new. Neither are the violent tactics used to repress peaceful protestors. In August of 2021, research by Amnesty International concluded that during similar protests that took place from July to August, Indonesian military forces used “unlawful” and “discriminatory excessive force”, and racially abused protestors. Peaceful protest is a fundamental pillar of democracy, and under international law, any use of force by authorities during protests must be proportional, lawful, and necessary. With repression such as that seen on March 15th , Indonesia is failing to safeguard the rights of Papuans as enshrined in international law. Peaceful social protest is protected under the rights to freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

Indonesia is thus obligated to respect and protect, without discrimination, the rights of all protesters. This includes those in West Papua calling for their self-determination and freedom from the injustices and human rights abuses that they face under Indonesian rule.

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