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Four teenagers were shot at a protest in Papua. Eight years later, only one suspect faces trial | CNN

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Even by the bloody standards of Indonesia’s decades-long conflict in Papua, one massacre stands out for its brutality and the apparent impunity of those who perpetrated it.

On December 8, 2014, a crowd of hundreds of peaceful protesters in Paniai district, Papua province, was gunned down, allegedly by Indonesian soldiers, in an incident that left four teenagers dead and more than a dozen others injured. including women and children. .

His supposed provocation? Daring to protest the assault of a local 12-year-old boy beaten into a coma a day earlier, allegedly by Indonesian special forces.

Almost eight years have passed since those events, but no one has been held accountable. The Indonesian military has claimed in the past that Papuan rebels were responsible for the shootings, an account that even the government seems to hesitate

Last week, a retired military officer, Maj. Isak Sattu, who served in Paniai, went on trial in a long-delayed case organized by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, a government-backed body.

However, few in Paniai believe that the trial will give them the answers they seek.

The trial, which began on September 21, will not take place in Papua, the restive province where Indonesian forces have been fighting separatists since the Dutch colonial power withdrew in the 1960s. carried out 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away in Makassar, on the island of Sulawesi, which according to the families of the victims has made things difficult for them and witnesses to attend, and critics have already called the proceedings a cover-up.

Prosecutors charged Major Isak Sattu with four felonies carrying sentences of up to 25 years in prison, charging him with crimes against humanity and failing in his command responsibility by failing to prevent his men from drawing weapons from the arsenal.

The families are boycotting the trial, saying they do not trust justice and expressing disbelief at the government’s identification of a single suspect.

“It does not match the facts,” the families said in a joint statement released on September 14. “The Indonesian government only protects the perpetrators of serious human rights violations in Paniai. It’s a theater patio.”

“But the truth will never be defeated or covered up.”

CNN sent multiple email requests for comment to Indonesian government officials, including President Joko Widodo’s office, the military and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, but received no response.

Allegations of human rights abuses by Indonesian government forces against indigenous Papuans surface frequently.

Earlier this year, UN-appointed human rights experts said that between April and November 2021 they received reports of “several cases of extrajudicial executions, including of young children, enforced disappearances, torture and inhuman treatment, and the forced displacement of al least 5,000 indigenous Papuans by security forces.”

However, investigating allegations against the Indonesian military has traditionally proven difficult. International rights organizations have complained about not being able to access the region. UN experts have urged the Indonesian government to conduct “full and independent investigations into the abuses.”

But even in this context, the Paniai massacre stands out as particularly sensitive because it took place just two months after President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, first came to power, promising changes and “open dialogue”.

“I want to hear the voices of the people and I am willing to open a dialogue for a better Papua. The Papuan people not only need health care, education, the construction of roads and bridges, they also need to be heard,” Jokowi said as part of his inauguration speech in December 2014.

“One of the first promises the president made to the people of Papua was to solve this case,” said Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman of Amnesty International.

“He also expressed his desire to start a dialogue to end the conflict, but these promises have not yet been fulfilled, and since then many other Papuan children have been killed or tortured by Indonesian forces.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the 2014 protest shooting allegedly took place the day after a unit of special forces soldiers assaulted Yulian Yeimo, apparently to punish him for yelling at one of their vehicles that had driven through their village at night without headlights on. According to reports, Yeimo and his friends had been decorating a Christmas tree and a nativity scene at the time.

CNN has not been able to independently verify details of the incident.

Authorities have failed to acknowledge or address what happened to Yeimo, human rights groups said.

The beating sparked a fierce protest that led to hundreds of villagers protesting in the Enarotali public square. Four teenagers were killed when they fired into the crowd: Simon Degei, 18; Otiano Gobai, 18; Alfius Youw, 17; and Abia Gobay, 17.

Eyewitnesses said the gunmen were Indonesian soldiers, and weeks after the attack, during an official visit to Papua, President Widodo promised that the army and police would carry out a full investigation.

However, after the killings, army chief General Gatot Nurmantyo denied that soldiers fired on protesters, claiming that the shots had come from Papuan guerrillas.

Yeimo, the 12-year-old boy whose beating preceded the massacre, died of his injuries in 2018 and never recovered from his coma, according to his family. To this day, no one has been held accountable for his death, or for the deaths of those killed in subsequent protests.

Sophie Grig, a senior researcher at Survival International, a London-based charity that campaigns for indigenous rights, said progress for victims of the Paniai massacre had been “glacial” and called the situation “appalling”.

“The culture of impunity for human rights violators in West Papua must end,” said Grig.

Fueling tensions in Papua, human rights groups say, are both ethnic and religious divisions. Indigenous Papuans tend to have darker skin than other Indonesians and are generally Christian rather than Muslim, the majority religion in the country.

“There is certainly an element of racist discrimination in the way that Indonesian security forces treat Papuans as deserving of abuse,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

“The Papuans’ political demands for independence also bring out the worst in successive Indonesian governments and military,” he said.

“The underlying problem is discrimination and racism by Indonesian officials (military, police, judges) against indigenous Papuans, and the result is rights abuses and a culture of impunity that protects abuses.”

Papua, a former Dutch colony, was formally absorbed into Indonesia after a controversial referendum in 1969. Papua independence advocates say the vote was neither free nor fair.

Separatist sentiment remains, finding expression not only in the armed Free Papua Movement, but also in broader public protests. Huge student protests erupted in 2019 and turned into a civil resistance campaign demanding Papua’s independence from Indonesia. Public anger has also been fueled by a controversial law passed in July by the Indonesian Parliament to create three new provinces in Papua, a move critics say would disempower the indigenous population.

Hundreds of Papuans demonstrated in front of the Jakarta Palace in 2019.

Despite the opening of the trial, many unknowns remain regarding the events of December 8, 2014.

The Indonesian government prohibits independent reporting from inside Papua, and the region has been off limits to foreign journalists for decades. CNN was unable to independently verify several accounts featured in this story.

“The big question is whether this trial is the start of something different or just an effort to provide a scapegoat to divert international attention before world leaders go to Indonesia for the (G-20 meeting in November),” said Robertson of Human Rights. Clock.

“Foreign leaders should push Indonesia hard on what is happening in Papua, and not be sidetracked by a judgment that only scratches the surface of what needs to be done to right wrongs in Papua.”

The families of the Papuans who suffered during the Paniai massacre refused to participate in the trial.

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher at Human Rights Watch, added: “Yes, this (trial) is highly anticipated, but it is still a show trial and I am not hopeful that it will be independent or fair.”

“A retired military officer is due to stand trial, but many lives were lost that day,” he said.

“Who was the commanding officer who gave orders to shoot the protesters? Where are the other culprits?

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