Report Finds Police Kill Civilians with Impunity in Papua, Indonesia

A report by Human Rights Watch says the Indonesian police are killing and abusing civilians with impunity in the central highlands of Indonesia's Papua province where they have been fighting a separatist insurgency for decades. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Dili has more.

Human Rights Watch says the Indonesian police "appear to be acting routinely" in killing, raping, and torturing civilians in the remote central highlands of Papua.

The province in the eastern most part of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago is extremely poor and isolated.

Few outsiders, including journalists, diplomats, or rights workers, have been to the region because Jakarta requires them to get special permission, which is usually denied.

Because of the lack of outside scrutiny and accountability, Charmain Mohamed, from Human Rights Watch, says the police are able to act with impunity.

"There are almost no repercussions for perpetrators whether they be internal administrative sanctioning or whether they be criminal prosecution. There is no precedent for that," Mohamed said.

The central highlands have long been an area of conflict between the police and members of the Free Papua Movement, which has been fighting for independence from Indonesia for over three decades.

The report says the security forces displaced thousands from their homes in 2005 while searching for the separatists.

The Human Rights Watch report was released after more than a year of research, some of it done secretly.

Government officials deny that rights abuses happen routinely in Papua and say President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is committed to achieving peace in the province and to improving living standards there.

Rights groups, however, say that without independent witnesses in Papua, there is no way to trust what the government says.

Mohamed says Jakarta needs to open up the province to outsiders.

"A very key, concrete first step would be to open up access not just to Human Rights Watch, but also to members of the foreign media, to members of the diplomatic community in Jakarta, and also to other independent observers," Mohamed said.

On Wednesday, the government barred a United States congressman known for his criticism of Jakarta's policies in Papua from visiting the region. Indonesian officials said there were concerns that a visit would lead to unrest.