A CHURCH human rights advocate claims Indonesian militia are working alongside soldiers in a brutal crackdown on independence demonstrators in West Papua.
“It’s right in our own backyard. They’re human beings being treated with contempt by Indonesian security forces and migrants,” Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive director Peter Arndt said.
At least 20 people have died in clashes between protesters and government forces in recent weeks, with little coverage of the violence beyond social media.
More than 30 indigenous Papuans, demanding independence and claiming they are the victims of racism by Indonesian migrants, have been arrested.
Indigenous Papuans now make up about half the population of West Papua after years of government-backed migration by people from other parts of Indonesia.
In the latest upsurge of violence, Mr Arndt claims eyewitnesses had described a dirty war being waged by Indonesian security forces on the streets of the Papuan capital Jayapura.
“They’ve got trained and armed militia made up of Indonesian migrants who are wandering the streets as backup for the security forces, some with machetes and knives threatening indigenous Papuans who support independence,” Mr Arndt said.
“A number of contacts have said this feels like what was happening in East Timor in the late 90s.
“One of the Catholic contacts I know says the build up of terror is very similar.”
Mr Arndt said human rights lawyers had visited demonstrators in custody and reported brutal treatment.
“They (demonstrators) had been beaten and tortured – burnt with cigarettes, beaten with metal rods and rubber batons,” he said.
“We’re trying to draw attention to our national leaders to the dire situation, and to call for demands on Indonesia to pull back the troops, to stop the violence, to stop the racism, to hold those responsible for the violence accountable, and release political prisoners.”
Mr Arndt has made several fact-finding missions to West Papua in recent years, and conducted extensive interviews with Church workers.
He has found “clear evidence of ongoing violence, intimidation and harassment by the Indonesian security forces” and “a slow motion genocide” – a marginalisation of Papuans economically, socially and culturally.
Mr Arndt is now working with a group of congregational superiors in Rome that have formed a West Papua human rights group.
“They are trying to do their best,” Mr Arndt said, adding that the Church appeared to be doing very little on the ground.
“The leadership is Indonesia and it generally doesn’t speak out when things happen to Papuans.”
“There’s not much public concern being expressed at this stage.”
Indonesia maintains a tight grip on West Papua, which includes the country’s two most westerly provinces: West Papua and Papua.
Journalists are restricted from reporting there.
West Papua, a former Dutch colony, became part of Indonesia after a UN-supervised referendum in 1969 that involved only a small segment of the indigenous Melanesian population and was criticised as a sham.
Independence supporters want a second referendum.