The video uploaded on Youtube last October where Indonesian solders tortured Papuan civilians. (Photo courtesy of the Jakarta Times)
By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia, Oceania
JAYAPURA, Papua – Three Indonesian soldiers who were accused of torturing two Papuan men were brought before a military court in Papua province on Thursday.
In October 2010, these soldiers featured in a 10-minute video in which they poke a burning stick to the genitals of unarmed bound Papuans and threatened to kill another with a knife. The video was uploaded onto Youtube by human rights activists and it immediately created an international furor.
The incident occurred earlier last year near Gurage village in Papua where Indonesian troops often violently clashes with poorly armed separatist rebels from the indigenous Melanesian majority.
The charge against the soldiers has been subject to doubts, however, as military prosecutors have charged the men with insubordination, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 months in prison.
“Before they were sent to their post, their commander instructed them not to commit any acts of physical or emotional violence against civilians. But they were disobedient,” said the lead prosecutor, Maj. Soemantri.
On the question of whether the soldiers should be charged with the more serious offense of assault under the civilian Criminal Code, Mr. Soemantri said he and other prosecutors had been unable to obtain the necessary physical evidence and statements from the victims.
“We need physical evidence like medical examinations and witness testimonies, that is what we failed to get,” he said.
“We only have the video to rely on as evidence.”
Human rights activists say, however, the video is clear evidence of human rights abuse and that the three soldiers should face Indonesia’s Human Rights Tribunal. In addition, members of the Papuan Customary Council were able to meet with Kiwo, one of the victims in the video who had gone into hiding, and recorded his testimony.
In the testimony, Kiwo said he had been tortured for more than 48 hours, was repeatedly beaten, suffocated and burned with cigarettes. He said his toes were crushed with pliers and that soldiers rubbed chili paste, detergent and salt into his open wounds.
Despite these ample evidence of inhumane torture, defendants claim that they believed the victims were members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM) because Kiwo was wearing a type of blue necklace commonly worn by OPM members.
Many are coming together to condemn this trial.
Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), is one of them.
“This trial is biased, unreliable and offers no protection for the victims,” he said.
Mr. Azhar added that the National Commission on Human Rights should declare the incident a gross human rights violation, take over the investigation and push for the military chief to move the prosecution to the civilian courts.
Another joining this condemnation is Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s representative to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, who claims the government needed to hand out harsher punishments to stop such violations in the future.
The Military Tribunal Law is not enough of a deterrent and should be revised, he said. Most of the articles in the law treat infringements by soldiers as disciplinary violations, he added.
The closed-door trial is scheduled to resume on Monday.
For more information, please see:
ABC News – Torture accused soldiers front Papua tribunal – 5 November 2010
The Jakarta Times – Military Court Tries Soldiers Accused of Papua Torture – 14 January 2011
Radio New Zealand – Three Indonsians charged over Papua torture – 14 January 2011